Saturday, March 3, 2012

Blog On, by Richard Jonas

On the day I arrived in Pune the constructions gang began tearing up the road at the Toyota Chowk, then snaking their was along Lakaki Road, right-angling into our apartment parking lot and directly under our windows. The first step involved pick-axing, the next, jackhammers; the small but upright and strong-looking women seemed to do most of the work, including hoisting big disc-like metal containers full of rocks up and onto their heads to be carried away. The men helped a bit, and whole families, including very little children, would watch the work, which was signposted as the installation of a new natural gas pipeline, to reduce pollution in Pune (at once a worthy cause and a long shot). Throughout the length of our road there were piles of small, jagged rocks, and the already heavily-trafficked street became that much narrower, with two lanes of bicycles, scooters, rickshaws and cars jostling against pedestrians, pushed in off the sidewalks. With an odd feeling of completion and full-circle, the building caste members were back at work at the Chowk today, setting right what they’d begun tearing up a month ago.

The beginning of February brought a record-setting cold snap, but this week’s afternoons set new statistics for heat. Guruji is on fire too, sending students in the Ladies’ Class up into 14 long Urdhva Dhanurasanas, all the lift from the deltoids, the hip sockets, the skin of the thighs. Guruji’s eyes flash fire. Don’t let them come down until you say so, he tells his granddaughter Abhijata, who does most of the actual talking, acting as intermediary between the students and Guruji. He observes her, and them, from his perch, upside down on the trestler, and sometimes she holds the microphone up to him. “Don’t do your old pose!” he insists, “create a new sanskara.” Replaying the class myself when I practice that afternoon in my flat, I do the 14 backbends, trying to rekindle Guruji’s fiery intensity; others say they counted 25; everyone is happy and shaky-legged after the class.

Geetaji, back from Calcutta, teaches magnificent backbends herself on Monday night; I end up in the front row, my head to the platform, near her feet and warmed by her presence. Her directions are so precise, so just-right, that I do some of my best work ever.

Abhi, marshaling the last bit of their strength for backbends, reminded the Ladies’ Class students that next day Pranayama was to begin so they should give it their all, and indeed the Pranayama is, as always, the nectar of our time here. Prashant teaches a morning class beautiful for its thoughtful, thought-provoking nature. The ears, he reminds us, are the highest of the senses; knowledge passed through them, the highest form of knowledge; and we work to sanctify our own. The “tender exhalations” with which we finish are deeply quiet and beautiful.

Geetaji talks about the end of life; she used to leave the stage, walk around, move everyone’s body, showing them the correct way to do the asanas, she says; now she can’t do it anymore, and we must learn to “set right” ourselves.

Raya, the favored assistant, runs at full speed the length of the Asana Hall, holding a heavy teak Viparita Dandasana Bench high above his head, arms straight -- elbows locked. He leaps over the bodies of prone Westerners like Hanuman, making his leap from Ceylon to India.

Jake Clennell shows us a clip from his upcoming film, Guruji. Much of it was filmed last year, but in the Asana Hall here, and during Guruji’s teaching at the conference in Bangalore, Jake has added new footage to refine and amplify the story, not just a biography of B. K. S. Iyengar, but an exploration of his impact on many students, an exploration of the nature of yoga itself.

The rickshaw drivers go on strike from noon to 5 on Saturday, a particularly busy time as R.I.M.Y.I. students leave Ladies’ Class heading to Roopauli or Vaishali for lunch. Don’t go far, a friendly rick driver tells us, or you may get stuck there; don’t take a ride from a “scab” driver, or you may be the target of violence.

People have begun to leave, our month in Pune having, unbelievably, sped away; some are already gone, and the competition for space in classes is less pressing. Some of the best, though, comes last.

Geetaji teaches a beautiful Pranayama, having us lift our center chest up and hold it there with a back-to-front action; the top chest becomes a mountain, the slightly receded navel, a valley. In lifting our chests, we were lifting up our consciences – higher than consciousness, she said, the highest part of us, what separates us from the animals. And if one holds it up and steady, no thoughts will come.

I am fortunate to be in a small group talking to Prashant, who is generous, eloquent, charming. The asanas are an academy for mind-making,” he told us. “When you are connected in that embodiment you have different potentials.” He was asked about meditation. “To be in a sublime thought process: that is meditation. If you are absorbed in natural beauty, you experience this – and are steady.” One should choose to meditate on nature, on a noble ideal or on a religious ideal, he said. “You have to create an ambience or atmosphere so the mind will be quiet. Don’t try to meditate, and then try to quiet the mind.”

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