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Emotional Stability in Vata Season



Anyone out there finding themselves on an emotional rollercoaster? Those with vata sensitivities, much vata in their constitutional make-up, or with seasonal allergies or a job that requires much travel in the fall will probably join me in feeling somewhat scattered.


Thankfully, there is help out there, both from the Ayurvedic Tradition and from the Yoga Tradition, which are seamlessly interwoven.  A yogi can follow some dietary restrictions with a mono diet plus appropriate herbs for a period of a few days to two weeks in order to create a little more internal digestive balance. More  details on seasonal cleansing are given below.



AND a yogi who follows the Iyengar tradition has the boon of a sequence specifically designed for emotional stability from B.K.S. Iyengar himself.  It takes an hour and a half to two hours to complete (depending on holding times), requires several props, and is summarized below:


Adho mukha svanasana, head supported, 2 to 3 minutes


Uttanasana, head supported, shoulders resting on high stools or bolsters on chair seats, 3 to 5 minutes


Rope sirsasana, as long as comfortable


Viparita Dandasana, on two stools or two chairs, holding front legs of stool or chair, 3 to 5 minutes



Chair Sarvangasana, 5 to 10 minutes


Niralamba Sarvangasana (arms resting), 5 minutes (can also be done starting from a chair, head near a wall then toes to the wall


Niralamba Halasana, thighs on a chair seat or stool with appropriate height, arms resting, 5 to 10 minutes


Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, on a wide bench or two blocks for 10 minutes


Viparita Karani in Sarvangasana, pelvis on one or two bolsters, 5 minutes


Paschimottanasana, head resting on a bolster, 3 to 5 minutes


Upavista Konasana, 2 minutes, holding big toes or hands behind hips


Baddhakonasana, 3 to 5 minutes


Supta virasana on a bolster, stay as long as you can with ease


Viloma pranayama, with interrupted exhalation either sitting or supine, 5 to 10 minutes (no more than 8 minutes if sitting)


Savasana, chest elevated, weight on thighs optional, 10 minutes.


May your autumn days be stable, filled with family, friends, yoga and good food!


Seasonal Cleanse


For centuries, Ayurvedic tradition has recommended a period of cleansing in the spring and/or the fall. For years, I’ve wanted to share some of this information with students, and now it’s time.


If you are basically healthy, have a few days when you can be extra quiet (about 5 of them) and wish to experience the transformation possible by going through this process, please read on and take these recommendations under consideration.


When the summer or winter seasons have extremes of heat or cold, sometimes we react by overindulging. In Sanskrit, this is called Pragna Paradha, or living against wisdom. Overindulgence in carbohydrates or in the sweet taste is one of the possible reactions we may have had. This may have taken the form of an excess intake of calories in the form of sugar, alcohol, dairy or even whole grains. Such a period of excess can lead to clogging of the lymphatic system, a large portion of which resides in our lower intestine.


When such clogging occurs, our digestion can become unbalanced in some subtle or not so subtle ways. Constipation, bloating, muscular aches and pains and a general feeling of sluggishness may result. Ayurveda has long viewed the health of the digestive system as the indicator of general health. This is why an Ayurvedic practitioner may ask so many questions about your digestion and elimination.


The cleanse has three parts, a few days of pre-cleansing, during which the diet will be low fat, vegetarian and regular (three meals at regular times, a practice continued throughout the cleanse and recommended for daily living), five days of the actual cleanse, during which a monodiet of kichadeee (a blend of brown basmati rice and split yellow mung dal/lentils, lightly spiced) is recommended. During the actual cleanse, we monitor our energy and blood sugar closely, and if we experience a radical reduction in energy, we do supplement with steamed vegetables or nonfat vegetable soup, and possibly even free range chicken or deep ocean fish if we have not been vegetarian.  Each day of the actual cleanse begins with a dose of ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil, which serves to loosen built up toxins in the body (called ama by Ayurvedic practitioners). As this internal oiling process occurs, the body prepares to eliminate these toxins, which continues during the days of the post cleanse, when digestion is reset to accommodate a wider variety of foods.


Because Ayurveda views the mind (which is present in every cell of the body, not just the brain!) as primary—as far back as the time of Charaka, who wrote one of the primers of Ayurvedic healing in the second century BCE, the teaching has been that our food creates our thoughts and our thoughts create our body. For this reason, a major component of the lifeplan for the precleanse, the actual cleanse, and the postcleanse, and for life thereafter, is the combined practice of yoga asana, meditation and pranayama. Our daily routine is the framework for this transformational approach to living. The Sanskrit word for daily routine is dinacharya. A life in harmony with the seasons is called ritucharya, and because fall and spring are transitional seasons, they are traditional seasons of cleansing and resetting our inner bodies for the shift from cold to hot or hot to cold. When we have had a season of extreme heat or cold, a cleanse is a particularly good idea, and should bring especially transformative results.


MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: I am an ayurvedic practitioner, trained by the American Institute of Ayurveda, the Wise Earth School and Dr. David Frawley. I am not a medical doctor. If you have any doubts about whether this program is right for you, please consult your doctor. If you have any ongoing conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, an autoimmune disorder or any other condition that you think might warrant special treatment, please let me know and be sure to consult your doctor before beginning. This program is not suitable for pregnant or nursing women.


Note: Before embarking on the cleanse, you will have to take a dosha test to determine your predominant dosha. It is given in the last pages of this article. If there have been recent changes in your regular habits, or you have a recent rash (but don’t usually get them) , for example, answer the questions to reflect how you have been most of your adult life (rash-free). If you come out with even numbers for vata, pitta and kapha, or an even number of two of the doshas, choose the kapha digest for even numbers in v-p-k, the kapha digest for even v-k, and the vata  digest for even v-p, and the pitta digest for even p-k. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.




For the first three days, we will begin shifting to a low fat, nutrient dense diet, focusing on three regular meals per day with the main meal between 10 am and 2 pm.


Weeklong Cleanse


This phase may have slightly different regimes for different people. Some may eat only the rice and lentil mixture mentioned above, some may add to this seasonal vegetables, and some may even add some animal protein (for example eating a small portion of skinless white meat chicken or low fat fish with the mid day meal), depending on blood sugar levels, the feeling of hunger, and overall condition—mental clarity, physical energy level and ability to deal with life’s duties during these days.


Four Day Post-Cleanse


During this phase, the digestive system will be reset after its cleansing has completed. Seasonal vegetables and fruits will be added back into the diet, and animal foods for those who eat them.


The following herbs are recommended for all who undertake this cleanse:


A digestive formula appropriate to your dosha: either Vata Digest, Pitta Digest or Kapha Digest, available from Banyan or from AYI.


Plus, everyone on the cleanse will take two of each of the following formulas following each meal:





Blood Cleanse, containing, among other herbs:


Turmeric, latin name: Curcuma longa

This is a commonly used spice in Indian cooking and is the powdered root of the plant, It will discolor clothing, so be careful when measuring and handling. It has been shown to be effective in keeping cholesterol levels down to healthy levels,a nd is a good overall anti-inflammatory herb, and


Manjistha, latin name: Rubia cordifolia

Manjistha is not commonly used in cooking, but is an excellent lymph destagnator, because of its lymph cleansing properties.




Liver Repair (a combination of Bhumyamalaki—Phallanthus fraternus, the supreme liver detoxifying herb, along with other assisting herbs.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and is critical in the digestion of fats. Because our modern environment contains so many heavy metals and other pollutants, which tend to cluster in fat cells when we inhale or ingest them, keeping the liver functioning well can be a challenge. Of course, it can be overloaded by our own dietary habits, especially if we happen to eat a diet high in fats or alcohol or use recreational drugs. Raw beets and apples are also cleansing to the liver and act to thin the bile.


If two of the above herbal blends, Liver Repair and Blood Cleanse prove to be too much for your system, cut back to one tablet of each.


During the two weeks of the cleanse, these foods are to be carefully avoided:

1) Wheat and all gluten products (which include most prepared breads, cookies and cakes as well as pasta unless it is made from rice or quinoa or some other non-wheat flour)


[Rice cakes, cooked rice, amananth, quinoa, potatoes, oats and millet are all okay.]


2) Coffee (green, black, and herbal teas are fine in moderation)


3) Alcohol


4) Dairy


5) All sweeteners except raw honey

6) Nuts, including peanuts (seeds are okay: hemp, chia, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame)


7) Eggs


The daily routine should include:


10-15 minutes of pranayama practice, reclining or seated, followed by

15-20 minutes of yoga asana practice two times per day if possible, followed by

20-30 minutes of silent meditation, practicing breath observation to still the mind


In addition to the above,  exercise moderately for 20-40 minutes per day outdoors—walking in your neighborhood, hiking the trails of local parks, cycling, or swimming in an outdoor pool Breath rhythmically through the nose during your yoga asana practice as well as during your outdoor practice.


Eat three meals a day, at regular times, with no snacking in between.


Daily hydration:

Drink one half your body weight in ounces of water per day, e.g. 60 ounces if you weigh 120 pounds.  A good practice is to purchase a thermos that will hold a quart or more of warm water and sip it throughout the day, refilling it at midday with warm water. DO NOT DRINK ICE WATER.  Sipping warm water during the day is in addition to the 60 ounces of water, which could include smoothies and apple juice.


Daily external oiling:

With your daily bath or slower, use sesame oil or coconut oil on warm wet skin. Sesame is better for vata types and coconut for pitta types. Sunflower oil is sometimes recommended for kapha. If your skin is naturally very oily all over, either oil very lightly or skip the daily external oiling. Have a dispenser near your shower or tub. Put a nickel sized bit of oil in your palm and rub it in long strokes over a limb, Do both arms and legs this way, then put a bit of oil in your palm to rub into your abdomen in clockwise circles, another bit to rub over your chest and another bit to rub over as much of your back as you can reach. Let the oil sit on the skin for at least 5 minutes, then lightly shower off and pat dry with a towel. The tub or shower and the towel will take on some oil. Be sure to scrub down the tub/shower so no one slips, and wash towels with a good detergent in warm water.


Special guidelines for the three days of precleansing:

Eat a low fat diet focusing on rice, beans, vegetables, soups, salads, seeds and fruits, avoid nuts and oils, seeds are okay (chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower). Use non fat salad dressings: fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Avocadoes are fine, but no oils without the food they came from!

Eat a raw beat or two per day (see recipes following)

Eat as many organic apples as you can for their cleansing properties.

Drink four 8 ounce glasses of organic apple juice a day (at room tempoerature, this can replace 32 ounces of water).


Drink a green smoothie once or twice a day. See recipes starting on page in the Appendix. These can also replace water.


Add a small portion of low fat chicken or fish only if you are used to animal protein and find the lack of it affects your ability to get your work done or keeps your blood sugar from becoming too low.


During these first three days, if you do get hungry between meals, eat another apple, and/or add some nonfat organic whey powder to your smoothie, or even low fat skinless chicken or low fat fish to your midday meal if you are used to animal products and feel that more protein will keep you from needing to eat between meals. Not eating between meals is essential for the cleanse to be effective.


A word about organic food. It is wise to grow or purchase organic foods whenever possible. We know from experience that food grown with chemical pesticides can be toxic to us. In Austin, we might have the best grocery stores in the entire world, and even the large chains (HEB, Randalls, Fiesta) carry some organics.




A possible daily schedule for the three day precleanse:


6 am rise, drink some warm water and/or herbal or green/black tea

pranayama, yoga asana and meditation


7 am breakfast Take two tablets of your Digest formula before eating breakfast, and two each of Blood Cleanse and Liver Repair after eating. Breakfast could consist of steelcut oats or rolled oats cooked (try soaking your oats in water the night before cooking and eating them—this makes them more digestible), including a green smoothie with organic apple juice.


between 10 am and 2 pm main meal (before eating take two tablets of your Digest herbal tablets), soup, salad with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, almonds or walnuts, cooked rice (and quinoa if you like it, adding a little seaweed is a good idea), Apple for dessert. Take two tablets of Liver Repair and two of Blood Cleanse after eating.


5 or 6 pm pranayama, yoga asana, and meditation


6 or 7 pm light supper. Before eating, take two tablets of your Digest formula and after eating take two tablets of Blood Cleanse and two of Liver Repair. Dinner could consist of soup, salad, apple for dessert.





The seven day main Cleanse


Follow the schedule above beginning the day with the ghee or olive oil cocktail and following with three meals at regular times, consisting solely of kichadee, OR, if this proves to be insufficient, add steamed veggies, nonfat veggie soup or lean chicken or fish with the MIDDAY meal.


NOTE: Do not drink ghee if you have gall bladder problems or any other difficulties with digesting fat. Try the same or smaller amounts of olive or flax oil (ghee is best for vata, other doshas should try the ghee; if it becomes difficult, try olive or flax oil)..


Day one, take 2 tsp of ghee

Day two, take 4 tsp of ghee

Day three, take 6 tsp of ghee

Day four, take 8 tsp of ghee

Day five, take 10 tsp of ghee

Day six, take 12 tsp of ghee

Day seven, take 14 tsp of ghee, only increasing the dose each day of the previous days’ dose went down well, was digested well, and caused no discomfort


NOTE: three tsp equals one tablespoon


If drinking the ghee or oil causes nausea, sip up to a cup of warm water with fresh squeezed organic lemon juice and grated ginger. Eat some kichadee about half an hour after taking the ghee or oil. You can also try mixing your ghee with warm rice milk, almond milk or soy milk. Be sure ghee and milk are at the same temperature, mix well and drink down.


On the evening of day seven, take 4 to 8 tsp of castor oil, or 1.5 cups of prune juice. This should lead to a strong elimination on the following morning or even the same night. Before taking the oil or juice, have a hot bath or hot shower if a bath is not possible. Have a light dinner on this last day.

If the taste of the castor oil is unpalatable, mix it with half a cup of warm water plus the juice of a fresh organic orange. After mixing juice, water, and oil very well, hold your nose to drink it and suck on slices of another orange afterwards to purge the taste of the castor oil, not everybody’s favorite!


During the main cleanse, each of the three daily meals will consist of the rice and lentil dal, unless this becomes too boring, or too difficult, or your energy levels on this regime do not permit you to continue.


In this case, add to the lunch meal steamed seasonal vegetables or simple nonfat vegetable soup, and a small amount of low fat animal protein if you are used to it. If this is still not enough, add a lunchtime salad with nonfat dressing. Aim to eat one half to three quarters of your usual amount.


Keeping a journal during the cleanse might be helpful. Do your grocery shopping in advance, and keep restaurant meals to an absolute minimum (rice and beans and steamed vegetables are available in many restaurants these days). Remember, as you surely will, that eating is an emotional subject, and that much of the world’s population eats a mono diet with little variation in any case. I’m told that a third of the world goes to bed hungry every night. The cleanse is temporary, always remember this.


Herbs to take during the main cleanse: Continue taking one liver repair after each meal and two manjistha and two turmeric after the midday and evening meals.


IN ADDITION, before each of your three meals on the seven days of the main cleanse, take two of your Digest tablets, and after each meal take two of Liver Repair and two of Blood Cleanse, unless two of each is too much for you, in which case, take only one of each.


Four Day Post –Cleanse


During these four days, digestion will continue to be improved by maintaining a non-fat, non-dairy, non-wheat, non-sugar diet.  In addition, before each meal during these four days, take your two digest tablets with an 8 ounce glass of water with the juice of an organic lemon. Finish the lemon water with your meal, and after each meal take your two Liver Cleanse and your two Blood Cleanse tablets.  Stick as much as you can to the schedule you have followed since the beginning of the pre-cleanse.


See these books for good low fat vegetarian recipes:

Food for Life by Dr. Neal Barnard

Recipes for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe

Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners, by Amadea Morningstar

Eat to Live and Eat for Health by Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Ayurveda, a Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari

Ayurvedic Cooking by Usha Lad










Preparation time: About 30 minutes

Good for all doshas


In a heavy medium saucepan, heat one pound (4 sticks) butter—unsalted is best– over medium heat. Continue to cook at medium low heat. The butter will bubble and make bubbling sounds. When it is almost done, milk solids will begin to collect on the bottom of the pan. They may also rise to the top, if so skim them off lightly with a spoon and discard. When it is done, in about 15 to 20 minutes, it will be clear and become very quiet. Quickly take it off the heat before it burns, which it can do rapidly (if this happens it will begin to foam again rapidly and turn brown instead of golden). Cool slightly. Ghee is the clear golden liquid. Pour ghee through a fine metal strainer into a sterilized glass container. Store at room temperature. Note: you can sterilize a 16 ounce jam or canning jar by putting it in a large pot, pouring water over it, and bringing it gently a boil, simmer for five minutes or so, then turn off heat and allow to cool.  Yield: About two cups.





To reduce the gas producing potential of the lentils, you may soak 1/2 cup of split yellow mung beans over night or bring to a boil twice and rise after boiling twice,

Then combine the dal with ½ cup of brown basmati rice and rinse together till water runs clear

Dry roast the following spices

1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled or peeled and grated  ginger roont

half a teaspoon each of

turmeric powder

cumin powder

coriander powder

whole cumin seets

whole mustard seeds, yellow or brown


add to the above a pinch of hing (asafetida) and stir frequently to avoid burning while dry roasting.

Add 7 to 10 cups water and the rice and dal. You can experiment over time with the ratio of rice to dal, the amount of water and the amount of spice to find a formula that suits you exactly. Many of us find twice as much spice or even more can be delicious.

Bring mixture to a boil and boil 10 minutes. Then simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding 1/2 teaspoon rock or sea salt and a handful of freshly chopped cilantro or parsley leaves  when done.  Bragg’s Liquid Aminos can be added to taste, or to make this is a breakfast food, omit the spices above, substituting cinnamon and nonfat rice milk for all or some of the water.




Green smoothie


Lightly steam for 10 minutes:

2 medium zucchini

1/2 bunch parsley

1/4 pound green beans

3 stalks celery


then blend with organic apple juice or vegetable broth in a blender or vitamix.

Add fresh ginger and/or garlic as desired to taste



Raw Beet Salad



One peeled and grated raw beet

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Prepared mustard to taste

2 tablespoons flax or olive oil

or just add raw grated beets to your green salad



Shopping List


Organic brown basmati rice

Organic split yellow mung dal (not yellow split peas, as these are different)

Organic unsalted butter, OR flax or olive oil

Castor oil or prune juice for the laxative on the last day of the main cleansing week


Rice cakes



Pasta made with rice or millet


Apple juice






Green beans




Fruits in season for the post cleanse, particularly recommended:

Organic Texas ruby red grapefruits


Oranges and tangerines

Apples and pears

Kiwis, papaya, mango and pineapple


Other spices:

Ground turmeric

Ground and whole cumin

Ground coriander

Whole mustard seeds, yellow or brown

Asafoetida powder, also called hing


Braggs Liquid Aminos


Massage Oil: Sesame for Vata, Coconut for Pitta, Sunflower for Kapha






The Doshas are the five elements harmonized into the forms of life. The Vata dosha contains the elements air and ether, the Pitta element air and fire, the Kapha dosha the elements water and earth. Here are two dosha tests designed to help you determine what your dominant doshas are, both mentally and physically. Circle the adjective in the column that BEST describes how you have been for most of your life. If there have been changes in your weight lately, or in your bowel movements, indicate what your weight has been and/or what kind of bowel movements you have had for most of your life.


Ayurvedic Physical Constitution Chart

For each category in the left column, please circle the description that MOST CLOSELY describes you as you have been for most of your adult life. If more than one description fairly describes you, circle more than one in that row, Then tally the total number of circles from each column at the end of the chart on page two.


                            VATA (air)                PITTA (fire)              KAPHA (earth/water)


Height                        tall or very  short                        medium                   short or tall&large-boned

Frame                        thin, bony, good muscles            moderate                   large, well-developed

Weight            hard to gain, thin                        moderate                   heavy, hard-to-lose

Skin Luster            dull, dusky                                    ruddy, lustrous                  white, pale

Skin Texture   dry, rough, thin                        warm, oily                        cold, damp, thick

Eyes                        small, nervous                                    piercing,                        large, white

easily inflamed


Hair                        dry, thin                                    thin, oily                        thick, oily, lustrous

Teeth                        crooked, malformed                        moderate, soft gums            white, strong

Nails                        rough, brittle                                    soft, pink                        strong, white

Joints                        stiff, easily cracking                        loose                                    firm, large

Circulation            poor, variable                                    good                                    moderate

Appetite            variable, nervous                        high                                    moderate

Thirst                        low, scanty                                    high                                    moderate

Sweating            scanty                                                profuse,                    slow to start

Stool                        hard, dry                                    soft, loose                        normal

Urine                        scanty                                                profuse, yellow            moderate, clear



Sensitivity            cold, dry, wind                        heat, sun, fire                        cold, damp

(This asks you to identify what kind of weather “riles you up”, what kind you don’t like)

Immunity            low, variable                                    moderate                        high

Disease type  nervous                                    inflammation, fever, rash            lungs, congestion

Activity            high, restless                                    moderate                        low, moves slowly

Endurance            poor, easily fatigued                        moderate, focused            high

Sleep                        poor, disturbed                        variable                        excess

Dreams            frequent, disturbed                        moderate, colorful            romantic, infrequent

Memory            quick, absent-minded                        sharp, clear                        slow, steady

Speech            fast,            frequent                                    sharp, cutting                        slow, melodious

Temperament nervous, changeable                        motivated                        content

Positive Emotions            adaptability                        courage                        love

Negative Emotions    fear                                    anger                                    attachment

Faith                        variable, erratic                 strong, determined                  steady, slow to change



TOTALS                        ______(vata-air)            _____(pitta-fire)            _____(kapha-water)





























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Last evening Claire (our Australian) and Melissa (our Barcelonan), Pilljae (our Korean) and I were talking abou Abhijata’s class on Saturday morning. Claire has worked as a gardener, Pilljae as an artist. Melissa is a yoga teacher working on her neck injury in medical classes here, and I’m an innocent onlooker to everything. As usual, as in the past, as so many times before. More than one of us agreed that the asymmetrical leaf that Guruji gave to Abhijata to show us as an example of a mis-aligned asana (we were working on standing poses) had its own beauty. The class full of July newcomers, including all of us, was working very hard in only three asanas-trikonasana, parsvakonasana and parsvotanasana (tadasana, uttanasana and prasarita padottanasana I won’t count). We struggled to find the apex of an equilateral triangle when we shifted from utthita hasta padasana to parsva hasta padasana, and we struggled to find equality on the two sides of the rib cage in trikonasana and parsvakonasana. In the hips it was hard to find equilibrium in parsvottanasana. Many points were given, and we were exhorted to “synchronize” which we all struggled mightily to do. After talking with Usha in the morning (she was in the class, too), about how in our yoga practice we really have to, in a sense, work AGAINST nature. The body is so tamasic, and especially when there is an injury, it can be supremely difficult to get on the yoga mat, to the yoga hall, into a yogic frame of mind. Usha has had at least two serious pedestrian accidents, where she was hit by a rickshaw or car or motorcycle. I don’t know the details. But she, especially has worked incredibly hard in medical classes to recover from them. Melissa now is on the path of healing, as am I with my three numb left fingers. When there is something amiss, “practice and pray” can seem like paltry advice. It is in fact that advice that one senior teacher apparently gave a student with a knee injury. Some of us were offended, and thought that more details should have been given to the knee-injured student about HOW to prpactice, but in retrospect, I think that practice and pray is not completely bad advice. We have to experiment ourselves and see “what happens when.” There may be conditions that we develop which make certain kinds of poses contra-indicated–long headstands for neck injuries, for example. Or even NO headstands for some neck injuries, only “rope sirsasana.” Sometimes we become disconsolate when we come up against our limitations. Yet, some day we will be giving up everything, body and mind, friends and family, everything. What we could do, instead of completely fighting with nature in our “regular” practice, or practice during injury or illness, is create more of a friendly alliance between the rajasic mind and tamasic body. We can practice with respect and sensitivity for the gift of life we have been given, and use the practice for enhancing our awareness of where energy is flowing well and has a shape, and where is not flowing well and is instead abstract and unformed.
I know I’m rambling a bit today. A lot is on my mind in these last days here. Please bear with me and understand that we take in a lot when we make this journey. It can be overwhelming. But always food for thought. Asymmetrical leaves though we may be, we can still take the advice given at the last moment in Saturday’s class: let the brain be the tender part of the leaf where the wind catches it. Not the tough part of the leaf that attaches to the twig. We are, or at least I can speak for myself, I am, dug into my brain activity so strongly that to let go, even a little bit, is a huge shift. Yet this shift is what we are asked everyday to make, and we can continue to ask it of ourselves when we return home. So that way, life can be a little more itself, a little less “brain-centered.” Not to imply that willpower is not important, but that’s a topic for another day.

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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!
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.
While we sat in the previous two poses, Geeta told the story about her father’s heart attack. More on that later.

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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The drought in Austin almost had me wondering what I was hearing in the middle of the night in bed in Mussoorie–RAIN!
We had a good two hour storm. The clouds cleared this morning and it’s sunny now. Fresh air is a real blessing after the heat and pollution of Delhi. Harshada, the owner of the hotel we are staying at, is the mother of Swati Chanchani. Some of you may know Swati from her workshops in the States–she coauthored with her husband the book “Iyengar Yoga for Children”. Now they manage a yoga center in Dehra Dun. Swati is travelling now, but Harshada said she may be back before I leave. So I hope we can at leastl have a chat. It’s been a long time that I’ve wanted for her to come and teach in Austin. We’ll see what develops.
The town is in the foothills of the great mountains and full of tourists and Tibetans. We are just getting our bearings here–the traffic out of Delhi was horrendous and we were late arriving last night. I can feel the altitude already, and since the plan is to travel even higher soon, it’s a good thing that we are allowing a couple of days to acclimatize. Unlikely that I can write anything while we are actually in Gangotri,but who knows? Maybe there is an internet cafe there! We’ve heard that Swami Sundaranand is not feeling well and want to get his warm jacket, gloves, fruit and nuts to him as soon as possible. Maybe we’ll even leave a day early. A tour guide here in town has advised us to trek to Gaumukh from Gangotri to see the glacier, spending a night in Bhojbasa. If the legs and the lungs hold out, we will definitely do it. Genoveva and Ramon are adjusting to the time change as well as the altitude. Lots of changes at once to deal with. Pranayama here does not even compare to Delhi–Gangotri can only be better.

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