Friday, July 26, 2013

Greetings, Gifts, and Garlands     by Lisa Rotell

     As soon as I took my first step into India, I was greeted by the immediacy of this magical destination.  It requires your full attention but it returns fully and whole heartedly.  A plethora of sensory delights await and invite you without any pre-requisites.  India meets you exactly where you are and takes you where you need to go.
   My first step into the practice hall at the institute was like walking into India itself.  A symphony of activity where nothing is hidden but much to be uncovered.  The layers of history and dedication permeate the atmosphere calling to mind places such as the Sistine chapel.  It is alive and awake drawing you into all it's offerings.
   Then there is Guruji.  I will forever be amazed that he practices (and lives !) alongside hundreds of new students every month, year after year, decade after decade, without privacy or pretense.  It speaks volumes about him and yoga itself.
   The next gift comes in the form of Geeta.  Her presence envelops my cells and wakes me up to the many parts of myself.  An outstanding teacher who unifies each and every student into the tapestry of her teachings.
   Prashant is equally compelling.  He is a collection of thought provoking aphorisms bringing the yoga sutras into a live and tangible form.  Many times I left his class in a complete state of being.  I question just how many poses and instructions do we actually need when there is a teacher like Prashant.
   The institute is a garland.  A beautiful necklace of knowledge strung together by the remarkable generosity and commitment of Guruji, Geeta, and Prashant.  They have freely opened endless doors and windows for the world.  It is our duty as practioners of this method, to show our gratitude by continuing the journey inward.                          

    With love from India,  Lisa

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 by Tori Milner

I am wrapping up my fifth trip to Pune and reflecting on what an incredible month it has been here with the Iyengar's. This month the mixture of the non-Indian crowd was mostly from Russian, Asia, Europe, the UK,  Australia and a handful of Americans. As the month has gone by, we have gotten to know each other and have shared meals, exchanged emails, notes and appreciation for what we receive here. It is truly a unique and special clan of Iyengar Yogis from every corner of the world that keeps coming together each month. We are the variables. They are the constants - Guruji, Geeta, Prashant, Abhi and all the Indian teachers and students that are blessed to be here every day at the source of the three most skillful teachers of yoga that grace planet today.

Guruji seems very well except for a cough that finally seems to be clearing up. They have installed a lovely glass elevator for him so he no longer has to struggle up the stairs to go up to the practice hall. I am staying next door on the 2nd floor of "the tower", so I sometimes catch a glimpse of him out my window "levitating" in it on his way up or down with Abhijata by his side, their arms entwined around each other's backs so that he remains steady. Raya waits for them on the top balcony and helps lead him inside every morning. He has also been in the medical class quite a bit, working with various family members, a celebrity cricket player and whoever else may catch his razor sharp attention. Sometimes he gets quite fiery, which is quite comforting, except perhaps if you are on the receiving end of it!

The weekly schedule is somewhat changed since I was last here in January 2011. Most mornings, we have a two-hour class with Prashant followed by a three-hour self practice in the presence of Guruji and Abhijata, Raya and a cast of Indian teachers that are always ready for anything that he might need. He has been in great form, working closely with Abhi and her sister, the doctor, Raya and others. Raya is teaching the Monday night class and Abhijata is teaching a Thursday night class. There are lots of new classes filling the main hall as well as upstairs, especially in the early mornings at 6 and 7am and they are unbelievably PACKED!

Guruji continues to train Abhijata in the art of teaching during the Ladies Class on Wednesday's and Saturday's. The points this month have been a methodical building up from the feet and ankles to the "tube of the spine" which we were to feel during our pranayama practice this week. The points are fresh and

Geeta is resting and laying low this month. Her only "official" class is a Friday evening Pranayama class, which she has only taught twice this month, but both were wonderful. She came to a few medical classes and I had the good fortune to speak with her a couple times about a man who I was helping. She is such a complete teacher and although I have enjoyed all my classes immensely, I have definitely missed her teaching this trip. That said, I really admire and am relieved to see her resting and taking time to herself.

Prashant and his clever, ingenious teachings are creative and inspiring as always. He comes up with what seems an endless supply of metaphors to apply to our "embodiment" and it's intricate interactions between body, mind and breath. He is constantly expanding our perspectives on what, how and why we are doing in any given moment. One Tuesday morning, he challenged us to look at our practice as a construction site that has everything there (even the interior decorations, he said!) however, the foundation hasn't been laid yet! During pranayama class a few days ago, he said we are not human beings, but breath-o-beings, and that the breath should be like a swimmer inside the body and we should study how a swimmer moves the water with arms and legs and get to know the "arms and legs" of the breath so it can touch and soak every single part of our existence.

Now, I am breath-logged, with a full heart, sharp limbs, quiet brain and heading home to my family and friends in the chaos of "Frankenstorm" Hurricane Sandified NYC...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March in Pune, by Marcia Monroe

March 5, 2012:
This week forty students from China have arrived at the Institute to be trained under the guidance of the Iyengars. The first class taught by Prashant was very interesting. The hall was packed, and a translator followed Prashant's steps while the students quietly followed the directions. Prashant was very patient and used several analogies to Buddha and Lao-Tze, establishing a warm welcoming feeling throughout the room. Following the class Pandu came in and held an informal orientation meeting. Meanwhile Guruji arrived and greeted them warmly. He then proceeded to his daily practice and teachings to Abhijata and a few lucky bodies.

In the evening Geeta came in and divided the group, having the old students on one side and the Chinese on the other. She also instructed the translator to sit next to her. She was very methodical as some of the students are raw beginners. It was basically a level 1 class, but with Geetaji being very demanding on all levels. One member of the Chinese group was wearing a Shiva T-shirt. Geeta kept calling him Shiva and making remarks such as you should not make the mistake of wearing Shiva's shirt. She was very amusing and very patient throughout the evening. She taught the action of Adho Mukha Upavista Konasana to one of them who was overly flexible (her chest was flat on the ground, but the legs were rolling in). An assistant had her hands on the back of the outer thighs to provide resistance, as the trunk extended forward to adho mukha upavista konasana.
March 7, 2012:
Today the women's class was taught by Abijhata alone as Guruji was in Mumbai to attend a celebration event on behalf of one of the old yoga schools. As in Geetaji's class, the class was tailored to level one, consisting of the standing postures being methodically taught and held. There was no sirsasana, only sarvangasana and setubandha on a bench for the special needs. In the end of sarvangasana some of them were complaining about neck pain and she promptly had them sitting in svastikasana, turning the head from right to the left and vice versa, followed by adho mukha svastikasana,and parivrtta svastikasana. She then asked: Is the pain gone? And most nodded yes. The teaching was excellent, sharp, precise, and clear with not too many words.

*There will be no personal practice on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the month as the hall will be used to train the Chinese group.

March 11, 2012:
Today is Sunday and as part of the ritual over the years, I observed the children's class. The auspicious surprise was when Geeta came in the beginning of it addressing corrections, basically taking over the teachings. The whole atmosphere was transformed, even the little ones were following the clear directions and were able to stand still with the full extension of the limbs in Tadasana, urdhva hastasana and several turns of adho mukha svanasana, and virabhadrasana 3.

Some highlights of it:

Urdhva Hastasana to Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana, arms in urdhva hastasana are straight and legs in urdhva prasaritta ekapadasana are straight. If the arms are not straight in Urdhva Hastasana, the leg will not go up. The whole body has to work. The arms are up and straight, the leg is up and straight. Do this 3 times with the same leg(motion) then change legs. Synchronize the action.


Virabhadrasana 3: From the arm pit the arms and elbows are straight. The arms in virabhadrasana 3 are like in urdhva hastasana, arms and elbows straight.
Why do you clinch your teeth? Don't do that.

Repeat Virabhadrasana 3.
Those who fell to straighten the arm pit, they lost their balance. The balance is related to the arm pit extension.

Tadasana: Chest forward and shoulders back. In Yoga you have to be strong. The shouders are back, and the chest is forward.

Repeat Virabhadrasana 3. Synchronize the actions, shoulders back,chest forward, hands forward, trunk forward, all have to synchronize.

There were not so much motion as usual, but a few basic asanas emphasizing the extension of the limbs and lift of the chest. The class ended at 9:00am and was followed by the senior students' bash ( some of them are to become teachers).
A few highlights of the senior class consisted of: adho mukha svanasana, uttitha hasta padangusthasna 1(holding the foot) and 3 with the instructions to become tall. The trunk and the lifted leg straight are synchronized. The buttocks are sharp and the chest is up. Followed by ubaia padangusthasana with the instruction of the back lift synchronizing with the abdominal grip, and the balance on the buttocks. Krounchasana with the femur into the socket and the back of the thighs opened. The lower back should not fall. Open the back of the knees and thighs so hamstrings will not break.
Twists ending in marichyasana IV, the heel of the padmasana foot are in line with the navel and the toes are sharp on the root of the thighs. Use a blanket under the marychiasana leg for the padmasna leg to go lower . For stiffness, from dandasana sit straight with both shoulders back and open first the padmasana leg to the side, turn the padmasana leg out (decentralize it). This goes for arkana dhanurasana the knee and thigh have to go back. Followed by Kapilasana(bolster for the back), yoga nidrasana, and ending in supta padangusthasana.

March 12, 2012:
Women's class conducted by Abijatha under the guidance of Guruji. The standing postures being emphasized and taught methodically.
As there was no personal practice, just a few of us teachers and a couple of senior teachers were there. We all witnessed the fascinating class being guided by Guruji. In the end we helped with a few adjustments in sirsasana and setting up the special need group for bench setubandha.

March 14, 2012:
Women's class with the Chinese group class taught by Raia via Guruji.
The westerners moved to the Patanjali's side and Chinese by the props so Guruji could address the corrections.
Standing postures

March 16, 2012: Geetaji's Class
The entire class was devoted to how to use the ropes in their proper sequence. Geeta methodically introduced the various stages from rope 1, building to subsequent, more advanced stages. Because the restrictions of the ropes and the large group, we spend the entire class learning the ropes. We finished in brick setubandha.

March 17, 2012:
Class taught by Abijatha through Guruji. Revision from the previous classes
The sequence consisted of standing postures, twists, followed by sirsasana. In sirsasana, Guruji corrected several times the action of interlocking the fingers. Guruji says that the thumbs do not cross, that is for old people, also he told everyone to bring the legs away from the wall and attempt the balance. After that a sequence of back extension urdhva mukha svanasana,salabasana, dhanurasana, ustrasana, and urdhva dhanurasana on a setubandha bench with a bolster and 2 people sharing the bench. The bolster was used to give a horizontal support for middle of the back (not pelvis).
Sarvangasana with 4 mats, followed by uttanasana and supported paschimottanasana (sited on the sarvangasana mats). End of the class.

March 18, 2012: q/a from the Chinese to Guruji only. This has been video by Jay. In the evening there was the monthly lecture on the Bhagavad-Gita chapter 13 conducted by Geeta.

March 19, 2012: Class conducted by Abijatha and Guruji.

March 21, 2012: Class conducted by Abijatha and Guruji

March 22, 2012: Geeta's pranayama. The class consited of unsupported savasana, ujjayi, viloma, and gentle antara/bahya kumbhaka. Throughout the class there were long interruptions with a masterful teaching on how to see the subtle imbalances and choosing a couple of the students to correct. How to observe and break old habits such as the habitual way to cross the legs, and positioning the feet. She emphasized the importance to learn the asanas before pranayama to understand the gross alignment before addressing the subtle alignment of both sides and their correspondent nadhis(ida and pingala). She then had a brief q/a from the group.

March 23, 2012: Today is a celebration of Gudi Padva to mark the Marathi New Year in India. The New Year is celebrated only in the Maharashtra region. The institute is closed but there will be a celebration and an award for Guruji on behalf of his overall contribution to humanity. The event will take place at 5pm by the Aditya Pratishthan. Although most of the evening was spoken in marathi, Guruji eloquently spoke in English, giving us a taste of his life in Pune, and the depth of his system based on the embodiment of Patanjali Yoga Sutras. This has been filmed and hopefully will be shown.

It has been an auspicious experience to be part of this schedule and valuable learning being passed from the generations. It seems that a new generation is following the natural order of evolution, yet maintaining the roots and essence of the tradition as transmitted from Guruji. To be under his fiery teachings has been pure bliss and blessings.

Marcia Monroe

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.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pune 2012 — Bobby Clennell

My youngest son Jake and I arrived in Pune on Wednesday 1st February at around 4 am. I attended a 9.30 am Women’s class taught by Guruji and Abhijata. It was a special “jet lag class”. We began with some supported inversions, some of which I had never seen done in quite the same way before. This is my 19th trip to Pune — the first was in 1976 — and I don’t know why I am surprised that they are still coming up with new material!

Viparita Karani/Sirsasana: Sit backwards on a chair with the knees bent over the back of the chair rest. Slide back off chair and place the crown of the head on a vertical bolster. Thread your arms through the chair and hold the back legs. There was much emphasis on lifting through the dorsal spine.

Viparita Dandasana: Sit backwards through the chair. Curve back around the chair seat. Support top of the back of your head on a vertical bolster, and your feet on blocks. Hold the back legs of the chair.

Viparita Karani/Sarvangasana: Proceed as for chair Sarvangasana, with your shoulders resting on a horizontal bolster and the back of the head on the floor, but rather than extending your legs out, bend them over the back of the chair rest. As for regular chair Sarvangasana, there was lots of lifting through the dorsal spine.

Setu Bandasana. Sit backward through the chair. Keeping your knees bent, slide back off the edge of the chair and place the back of your head on a vertical bolster (build up the height of the bolster as needed).

Then, just when you thought that this was going to be a restorative class, we went straight into some simple, but extremely vigorous standing poses (including lots of Adho Mukha Svanasana).

This class was just what was needed to throw off the fatigue and fuzzy-headedness of the journey.

Geetaji taught pranayama on Thursday and standing poses on Friday — fabulous classes both of course. Guruji and Abhyjata taught Saturday’s women’s class, and it reminded me of Guruji’s classes in the 70s. This was a “remembering–what–it’s–like–to–be–taught–by–a–master” sort of a class. There’s just no other way of putting it!

Maty Ezraty doing Pincha Myorasana in the practice session

Mary Reilly in the practice room

One evening a few of us attended a Sufi music festival. Parvathy Bauul from the Bauul sect was the last act. She chanted and danced, and twirled, causing her hem length dreadlocks to swing and flare out like a mandala. It was all meditation for her and a part of her practice. Here is a clip of her from You Tube, although you lose much of the electrifying affect that you get when she is right there in front of you.

Bauul is the equivalent of Sufi in India, particularly in Bengal, where Parvathy comes from. Her impressive beauty, her personality and the intensity of her devotional chanting and rotating dance, Dervish style, make her unique. I will never forget her, or that class with Guruji and Abhyjata.

Guruji then left with Abhyjata and a group of students and teachers for a yoga convention in Bangalore. It had been fascinating watching him in the practice room each morning, coaching his students for a yoga demonstration that they were putting on at the convention.

On Tuesday (almost one week into the course) Prashant taught a class “for the mind”. About half way through the class he directed us through some nostril breathing as we practiced standing poses. Sounds fairly ordinary I know, but taught by Prashantji, it was profound. It was after that class that I finally shook off my jet lag and slept through the night.

With Guruji gone (and also Geetaji, who had gone to Calcutta for another yoga convention), we were left in the good hands of three truly excellent Instiute teachers, Navaz Kamdin, Rajlaxmi, and Gulnaas, and later, when Guruji and his entourage returned, Abhijata Iyengar and Raya Ud also taught.

Last night Prashantji taught a challenging back bends class. The sequence included: Padmasana/Setu Bandasana over a block, and Padmasana/Viparita Dandasana on a chair, Ustrasana, and Viparita Dandasana from the ropes. The objective was to come out of the class feeling as cool and calm (Prashantji used the word “sanctified”) as we had after his forward bend class “for the mind”.

This morning, Guruji taught a truly profound and masterful class with Abhyjata. We came onto the points of the fingers whenever the hand was on the floor (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, a version of Virabadrasana III with hands on the floor in frount of us, and Bharadvajasana I: “tiger claws”!).

We are exactly at the halfway point of the month.

Richard Jonas

I love Sunday mornings on Model Colony. There is no traffic. Everything is quiet. I stroll down to the neighborhood café, Lalit Mahal, for breakfast: upma and real coffee. The owner was starting the day with a puja for his garlanded deity, and the fragrance of incense permeates the entire place.


Interior of the Lalite Mahal

Monday, February 13, 2012

Update from Pune, by Richard Jonas

Everyone Emails that New York -- and much of the U.S. -- is unnervingly warm, no winter yet, but Pune’s February is the coldest in a decade, 4 degrees Celsius this morning as I walk to Prashant-ji’s early morning class, the sky still midnight-dark, the white moon overhead as full and bright as when I walked home last night.

The Punites shiver and pile on track jackets, scarves and woolen caps, but by afternoon it is warm and sunny, even clear, it seems, though the pollution is as bad as ever (on our Sunday off, I work from the Lung series in the back of Light on Yoga), the traffic rather worse.

Guruji and Abhijata, Raya and a few others have left for the Health For All International Conference on Yoga, Naturopathy and Aromatherapy Expo in Bangalore. They spent their time in the Asana Hall our first week here readying for a demonstration lecture, which is said to be Guruji’s last public teaching. My first day here was his first back in the Asana Hall in shorts, his wracking cough of last month cleared up, and I am told later that his teaching in Bangalore is energetic and commanding. Geetaji, too, after giving us two brilliant classes, has left for a conference in Calcutta for two weeks, so we are figurative orphans here, left behind, but it is a good chance to study with the Indian assistants, the lesser-known members of the faculty at R.I.M.Y.I. I have taken class with them before, but many of the students know them only from their helpful suggestions during our daily practice sessions.

Geetaji teaches us Virabhadrasana I completely from the shoulder blades – so we do it completely without pushing in at the lumbar. Abhijata taught several times before she left, notably interpreting Guruji during the Ladies’ Classes. In his long, propped backbends and inversions, Guruji talks to her, and she, with all the time more confidence and clarity, as well as her own developing personality and style as a teacher, interprets his words for the students.

Do not do according to convenience, Abhijata instructs. Leave out old ideas – leave out old samskaras. How many of you are open to see that new samskara of Halasana? Use your body as a prop to culture your intelligence.

Nawaz, one of Guruji’s students and teachers for decades, teaches a few classes while the group is gone, quoting “our Guruji” with nearly every instruction; she combines a gentle, motherly manner with demanding, crystal-clear instructions. “Once we understand the proper skeletal-muscular movements of the body, we can never go wrong,” she says.

“Let the breath be the benefit, the benefactor and the beneficiary” in your work, Prashant tells us. If you donate to a generous person, many people benefit as the largesse is passed on; so it is with the breath.

Each in their own way, interpreting Guruji.

I have been working on the Institute Archives, filing slides of the original photos from Light on Yoga which Martin Brading then scans for preservation. I've seen pictures of Guruji doing incredible asanas, meeting with the famous like Pope John XXIII, visiting yoga centers and Institutes around the world, including ours in New York. At another desk, students file letters testifying to the great benefits of Guruji’s work.

There is a big New York contingent in Pune, including Faculty teachers Carrie Owerko, my housemate, Bobby Clennell, Carolyn Christie and me, plus Association teachers Marcia Monroe and Harshad Shah, who has Bobby, Martin, Association member from Woodstock, NY, and me over for a lavish Jain lunch. Also here: Association members Alisa Grifo and filmmaker Jake Clennell, Bobby and Lindsey’s son, who travels to Bangalore to film Guruji’s teaching.

The authorities are on an ‘anti-Encroachment’ drive on Ferguson College Road; a week ago, a big truck came by and sliced off the front porch of Roopali, where we go for upma and chai after 7 a.m. class. Evidently it was projecting into the public right-of-way, but by the next morning they had built it right back up and tables were set up again for breakfast

An election is underway here, as in the U.S., and we come home to handbills stuffed under the door; roving trucks move up and down the streets sending out highly-amplified political announcements in Marathi. -- Richard Jonas