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Archive for June, 2011

Prashant Iyengar is a unique and demanding teacher of pranayama. He used fifty percent or more of the class last night to explain how consumer culture and the mind that goes with it cannot exist in the same embodiment that is practicing pranayama. First of all, he said, that if you define a relaxed body as one devoid of tension and stress, you have defined yourself in a negative way. After all, it’s the pranamaya kosha that must be relaxed for pranayama to happen! When the mind is set on getting, hoarding, having, consuming, prana cannot flow. I’m in agreement with that. It was interesting to hear his definition of the annamaya kosha, too, as consisting of body, mind, thoughts, emotions, brain, organs, everything we think of as “material.” I had been under the misconception that mind was in manomayakosha. Will have to do some research there…
We finally did recline for some viloma II, then viloma I, experimenting with duration and depth of pauses and in or ex-halations in this pattern: nominal, significant, and substantial. You can tell just listening to him that Prashant is in love iwth language (and knows at least three well).
Abhijata’s pranayama in women’s class this morning was quite a contrast to Prashant. She has her own way with words, and does a good job of interpreting B.K.S.’s constant stream of ideas. The subtleties of the teaching this morning on the eyes, the back of the skull, the armpit and a movement of eyes and armpit towards the legs in downward dog can only be mentioned here. I’ll have more complete notes when I return home. But the airplane metaphor in the movement from standing into prasarita padottanasana will stay with me for a long time. “Which direction does the nose of an airplane go when it is taking off? Which direction does the tail of the plane go? Your tailbone is your tail and your sternum bone is your nose. The sternum bone must take off and the tail remain DOWN when you come into prasarita padottanasana, back buttovcks forward. This way the lower spine is supported and lengthening back and up as the lumbar extends and the thoracic moves in. We discussed this at lunch at the Ashram where I am staying. We will practice together to be sure we understand!
I won’t say much more today. There are so many things to accomplish before the end of my stay! Still everyday we have a sprinkling or two of rain, which keeps the air fresh and relatively cool, the plants and trees green and happy. But, the mosquitoes are also proliferating and hungry, especially when they find me! So I’m armed, thanks to Chris Nounou, now with some Off, which I plan to use. There are reports of people from the west returning from Pune with mosquito borne illness, which I am fighting against!
New moon soon!!

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We are relaxing in savasana on our bolsters spinewise at the beginning of Geeta Iyengar’s pranayama class last night. She mentions relaxing the brain cells. Yes, they are tense. The back neck can be lengthened, the shoulderblades NAILED to the bolster and then relaxed, the neck softened. So, brain cells a little less tense (how many years of tension, I wonder? Decades, at least). Watch now, she says, if the chin starts to lift, if the outer shoulderblades roll up, then the brain is active again–and there it goes. It is a little as if she is reading my mind/body, and the room is full of people, so it must be everyone’s mind/body.
Then as we sit, she tells us to put our minds in our chest and take the chin down, throat back towards the cervical spine (this after using the fingers cup-shape, of course, to the sides& back, to lift the side chest, roll armpit chest forward). Watch this lift, don’t lose it, she cautions. We do some viloma, just a few cycles. then we have a lecture on using the right hand, then the left hand for nadi shodhana. My left hand feels so awkward, though I do practice using it at home sometimes, clearly not enough. It is just not as agile as my dominant right hand.
A student asks a question at the end about the rolling of the upper arm from inside out and the way the thumb and fourth and fifth fingers press on the nostrils. This launches Geeta into a discussion of transformation (with a demonstration of correct finger and thumb technique).Third chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, dharma can 100% be transformed. 100% possible, she says. I think maybe we are working a little too hard with our brain cells. This transformation seems gentler and more accessible than I ever thought possible.
This morning, combing through the third chapter of Patanjali, I find a sutra that contains the word dharma. Iyengar’s commentary on it contains a discussion of transformation. Usha from Rishikesh said that she would look at it with me later today, so more on this topic, this ever elusive, amazing topic of yogic transformation, in the next post.
This morning’s practice was blessed with the presence of Iyengar himself, freshly back from China. He seemed to be enjoying chatting with Raya, his number one right hand man and assistant in practice, about memories of the Summit in Guangzhou (Raya was with him, as were Abhijata, his granddaughter, Manouso Manos, and Patricia Walden, these last two well known to many of you). Then Guruji enjoyed telling Dr. Naik, one of the Pune regulars, about what the experience of China was like. THEN, most amazing of all, he was instructing Abhijata in sirsasana without being able to see her at all. He began his practice in supported urdhva dhanurasana at the rope wall on the backbender. The sequence also included salamba sarvangasana and halasana with support, then supported setu bandhasana. Of course, Iyengar knows his granddaughter and her yoga asana practice very well. I still found it amazing that he was teaching her without being able to see her!I I thought that the morning practice was extra well focussed, since all of us were feeling the presence of B.K.S. Iyengar himself, but I later learned that some felt distracted by his being there. Add nothing to this moment, I kept reminding myself. There was a fine breeze, the practice room fans were on, the room was not too crowded, not too noisy. It was, from my perspective, perfect.
Afternoon jaunt to the Bookworld Bookstore in Sagar Arade on FC Road.Yes, they have the Naipaul I was looking for (“India: A Wounded Civilization” AND “The Idea of Justice” by Amartya Sen, one I’ve been looking for and longing to read for some time. Hooray!
Six pm class tonight, sky filling with clouds. So it may rain. I’m ready with bright yellow umbrella decorated with red hibiscus blossoms. Photos coming!

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Geeta’s Class, 13 June 2011 (This will be posted out of chronological order. Initially, I was having some challenges figuring “wordpress” out, and thought I had lost this draft!)
adho mukha virasana, take arms and head up, take back ribs in, then go down
janu sirsasana, take arms and head up, take back ribs in, then go down
triangamukhaikapada paschimottasanana, take arms and head up, long time, take back ribs in, then hold foot, elbows up, then go down
paschimottanasana, use belt around shoulderblades and feet
paschimott. use belt around thighs and below shoulderblades, feel how you fall on the prop, you have to feel how to USE the prop to learn to extend more
navasana, keep the belt on
uttanasana facing the wall, do twice, then quickly do paschimott again so you don’t forget (we bent our knees some to get more of the back on the wall, then slowly straighten, be careful of hamstrings!)
marichyasana, belt around trunk and bent shin, lift and go down, stay in the center
What happened to your back? It rebels, it is confused, angry, in a chaotic state, then it becomes sober, learn that!
Tadasana
Utt. trikonasana, Gulnaz showing how to extend bottom ribs then take top ribs back
Utt parsvakonasana, same extension of bottom ribs, then trik FROM parsvako
Then trik from pras padott, walk hands to sides, why do we give this to heart patients? bECAUSE heart is down, safe. Does it give a new feeling? YES.
SIRSASANA
UPAVISTHA KONASANA
BADDHA KONASANA
While we sat in the previous two poses, Geeta told the story about her father’s heart attack. More on that later.
HALASANA ONLY WITH BOLSTER AND BLANKETS, FEEL HOW IT IS A TOPSY TURVY FORWARD BEND
SAVASANA

There is so much more to tell about her story of  Iyengar’s heart attack (he’s is China right now, the attack was a few years ago. There is also so much more to tell about meeting Swami Sundaranand, practicing yoga meditation and pranayama with him, about climbing up from Gangotri village to Gomukh glacier. But all this will have to wait, internet cafe closing, me exhausted. More tomorrow.

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Saturday morning ladies’ class turned out to be a pepppy one. First pose out of the box: adho mukha vrksasana followed by pincha mayurasana. Gulnaz was in a jolly mood. Apparently, recently when she was teaching backbends Iyengar himself was present and gave her some pointers. We worked very hard on bring the armpits forward in adho mukha vrksasana and pincha, and then on bringing the armpit chest forward in urdhva mukha svanasana. We did sirsasana with bent legs and then worked on urdhva dhanurasana from the floor. Gulnaz decided that more work was needed on armpits, so out came the benches. We were two on a bench, fiercely concentrating on bringing the outer armpit it. Maybe some headway was made. Bent legs also in Salamba Sarvangasana, dropping optionally both legs at once into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (“if you can drop QUIETLY”).
Melissa, a young yoga teacher and I, had lunch at Lalit Mahal after class–she is from Barcelona and is working in medical classes on a neck/shoulder injury that has made her hand and sometimes arm numb (right side only). I went on a trek after lunch to another bookstore in search of Swami Tapovan’s book, but no luck .Everyone wants to sell me Swami Rama’s “Living with the Himalayan Masters.” Wrong swami, I tell them.
Usha has arrived from Rishikesh. Today we used this computer to look at her website. Just searching on Omkaranand Ashram, Rishikesh will probably bring it up. Iyengar visited there in January and there is good video linked into the site. Usha runs a school for about 250 children there, from all religions and castes. From the look of the school performances (ages about 3 to 7 years old), she is doing a mighty good job. We also saw some photos of Iyengar’s granddaughter Abhijata’s wedding in April. Here in India, it is traditional for the bride to wear red. She looked beautiful! I’ll try to get the link for those photos too. Her husband is a very lucky guy, not only for marrying her, but also for being allowed to have private yoga classes with Iyengar himself!
We have almost a two day break from Saturday at 11:30 am to Monday at 6 pm, NO, that’s MORE than a two day break. So I’m making some headway on my book on yoga and ayurveda. Trying to polish each and every chapter like a little gem. We’ll see……..

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It’s been just a week since Genoveva, Ramon and I marched up to Gomukh Glacier from Gangotri, and my blisters are barely healed. Soon enough the feet will be back to normal. Whenever I’ve pushed beyond what I thought I could physically do, strong memories remain, so this trek to Gomukh will be with me a long time. Slowly arriving above the treeline, looking back on the village and the river way way below, and then rounding hills to find the river was actually up where we were was such an amazing experience. Swami Sundaranand almost insisted that we see the glacier; it’s a very holy place for all yogis and hindus, as the source of mother Ganga, giver of life to so many people in this country.
The differences I’m referring to in the little title of this post are those I’m experiencing now, in yoga classes of 70 people from all over the world. What a contrast to spending time with Swami S., just Genoveva and me, and once only me, when she had to spend some extra time with her son. The tradition of guru and sisya, which historically held here in India for the transmission of yoga has certainly changed! At least at the Iyengar Institute. Mind you, i’m okay with crowded classes, just thinking over the differences in how yoga is transmitted when the group is large rather than one or two. Geeta has tob e such a task master to be sure we are paying attention, or she seems to think that she has to be. If someone is looking around, it’s good for a lecure about how none of us knows how to focus the mind! The mind wanders, she said, just like the body wanders to the bathroom if you are at a concert and need to go to the toilet. Not sure I completely understand the metaphor, but I do know that my mind will wander given half a chance! She managed to get us all focussing so well in Ustrasana tonight, I’m sure it was the most symmetrical camel I have ever experienced!
This does contrast sharply with time at Swamiji’s, where he made a point of saying: “all is love, and we are all friends!” More later, perhaps after a jaunt to Manny’s Bookstore on MG road to hunt for Swami Tapovan’s “Wandering in the Indian Himalaya.”

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At last a few minutes to reflect on time in Gangotri. Meeting with Swami Sundaranand was a blessing and a gift. His definition of yoga: perfection! The practice to balance the nervous system. I felt as if I were cleaning out the Augean stables while meditating with him, so much junk to get out of the way. That’s just me, I suppose, carrying around so much baggage! And I do my best to travel light….

Amazing to hear him speak of his life’s work in photography and mountaineering and yoga practice. The art gallery model stands beside his “kuti” or hut, which he inherited from his guru, Swami Tapovan. His small meditation hall adjacent to the front entry of the kuti will be completed, he said, this summer. Teaching us simhasana, he made such a point that after doing the pose, the lion is so happy! And his face was beaming. Genoveva and I felt more than lucky to be with him, if only for a few days.

The hike to Gomukh was wonderful and grueling, both at the same time. Have to admit that I don’t usually walk 18 kilometers per day. And that’s what we had to do. Ramon, Genoveva’s son, of course at 16 years old, had no problem. Our guide, Vishal, had no problem, it’s his job and he’s only 19. Good thing we spent several days at altitude before even trying. Holding a piece of the glacier, and then eating that chunk of ice was a religious experience, not soon to be forgotten. Maybe next time we will trek all the way to Tapovan!

Sunita, Geeta’s younger sister, was teaching ladies’ class this morning. The transition from Gangotri to kuPune in my mind is this: the workings of yoga on the nervous sstem are well known. Sunita mentioned also the way the motor nerves move with the muscles as we practice asana. And the sensory nerves are with the skin. What an interesting and subtle distinction. Swami Sundaranand spoke of the ida and pingala nadis as Yamuna and Ganga Rivers, and Saraswati being kundalini nadi. So practicing nadi shodana pranayama, we cleanse ida and pingala and make way for prana in the central channel. So many different stories to tell about how energy or prana move through the vahana, the vehicle of the body.

Here at the Christian Ashram, where I am staying, I look out to a garden, a central courtyard, around which the rooms circle. We are a multinational community: a yogini from Varanasi and her son, studying for his English masters exam, a yogi from Germany and his Australian girlfriend, a yogini from Korea, whose computer I am so graciously being allowed to use, in the luxury of my room, no less!

More after pranayama class tomorrow evening. Here’s to the balancing of all human nervous systems!

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Though the sun is hot today there is a cool breeze here on the terrace. A walk earlier this morning yielded finally a view of the snowy peaks of the HImalaya in the distance. Crystal clear blue sky. SHould be a thin crescent moon hanging up there shortly after sunset, so we’ll be sure to be out then, too. I don’t like to miss that beautiful sight!
Children are chattering around me in Gujarati this afternoon, a man is sweeping the terrace with the classic India rush-broom. It has no long wooden stick, but rather is a bundle of dried grass rushes tied together at the top. It makes a very distinctive sound that always says India to me. Moti the golden retriever type of dog is asleep by my table. Shamool, the girl who befriended me yesterday had warned me that Moti sleeps a lot. Shamool likes the climate here; she said
“Imagine how it is in Lucknow now!” Though only eleven years old, her English and Hindi were perfect (of course I could not tell about the Hindi, only the English), and she enjoyed visiting her aunt in Dallas. Many Indians have family members in the USA, and lots in Texas.
Practicing asana in our tiny room was a challenge this morning. The dogs (not Moti, I’m sure) barking nonstop between 3 and 4 am did not help my concentration powers, nor the late night trucks on the road near the hotel. Not to complain, these are just the realities of being here at this moment. Genoveva and her son Ramon went to the internet cafe and train ticket office this morning and had good success buying tickets. She has a hard time with the English accent of the Indians and they have a hard time with her Spanish/English accent. But apparently, this morning, communciation happened!
I have some misgivings about the altitude we are about to experience tomorrow, but only time will tell if my fears have any foundation, so better not to worry at all! On to Gangotri in the morning.
I mentioned Ginsberg because it’s his birthday today, by the way. Probably I only heard him read a handful of times, both in Canada and in Austin. He was a fine reader with a fine voice that he cultivated well, often inviting local musicians to join him as he sang his
Blake songs and other poems. I miss him.

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