Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pune to Portland

When in India, I read Indian authors.  This time it was Chitra Banerjee, One Amazing Thing and Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies and The Glass Palace.  Toward the end of my stay, I traded books with my friend Elise and, for a change of pace, I read Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over.  A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys.  It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness.  A journey is a person in itself: no two are alike.  And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.  We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip: a trip takes us…….......…..Maybe understanding is possible only after.”   
~ Steinbeck

After a mere 36 hours from door to door I arrive home.

During my last flight from Seattle to Portland all the mountains from Baker to Bachelor stood highlighted by the sunshine to welcome me home.  Our moist, verdant city feels comforting…………….ah, back to my own bed!

Practice Tip for just about anyone:
Make it a habit of putting yourself in unfamiliar positions and situations.  Observe your reactions, resistances and insights.  Does it change you?
Asana, life, asana, life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pune Traffic

Pune traffic circa 1989.  Notice the two camels and the number of bicycles.

Pune traffic with pollution, 2006.  This photo is not very clear, but I couldn't resist showing you the elephant in the street along with the motorcycles and cars.

Pune traffic 2011.  Motorized vehicles only.

There used to be only one traffic light in Pune.....and I am talking about during my lifetime.  Now there are not only many traffic lights but also many busy, crazy intersections.  

When Geeta Iyengar was in the USA for the very first time in 1996, as the chair of the Estes Park Iyengar Yoga Convention, I asked her what surprised her the most about the USA.  She replied that the cars all stay in their own lanes!!  This is unheard of in Pune and most of the rest of India.

On Sunday we witnessed a most amazing drama unfold in front of our eyes.  We were in the rickshaw with Nana doing a tour of some temples in Pune.  We pulled up to an intersection, the light turned red and one car went speeding through anyway.  Nana pointed out a policeman at this intersection and he explained that the traffic policeman was using his mobile device to send the license plate ahead to the policeman at the next intersection who would pull the speeding motorist over and give him a ticket.  When we reached the next traffic round about, it was just as Nana had predicted. Policeman was busy writing a ticket the chagrined driver was arguing with him.  Portland take notice!

Pune Practice Tips for our Portland Iyengar Yoga students:

Level 1 students:
Bring the spirit of Savasana to an upright, seated position such as Sukasana.  What does this teach you?

Level 2 and 3 students:
The movements of the shoulder blades and the spine are important elements in both Salamba Sirsasana and Salamba Sarvangasana.  In one of these poses, the spine ascends easily and the shoulder blades require considerable concentration and precision to engage.  In the other pose, the opposite is true (the shoulder blades ascend more easily and the spine needs more attention in order to lift in and up.) Practice these two poses.  What is your experience?  Figure out which is which.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Typical Day

7 am – 9 am:  Class with Prashant Iyengar  (4 days a week)

9 am – Noon:  Open Practice

Noon – 4 pm:  Lunch with friends, rest, visit Institute Library (Guruji is usually there), or shopping, etc.

4 pm – 6 pm:  Assist in the Medical Class

6 pm – 8 pm:  Class (The Indian teachers rotate teaching the class.)

8pm……….Dinner and fall into bed!

Most hours of my typical day are spent in the practice hall above.  Notice the photos on the walls from B.K.S. Iyengar’s definitive book, Light on Yoga, the ceiling ropes (similar to JLYC’s pelvic swing) and the variety of wooden props against the windows.  Imagine this room filled with 120 people doing yoga…......mat to mat!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Language of Asana

In the practice hall yesterday, I overheard a conversation in an unfamiliar Eastern European language.  Although I could not understand what they were saying, at least I knew they were discussing yoga poses.  Let’s say it was Czech…………make up your own translation!

Myslim ze Sirsasana je netezci prace.  Kdyz nejdriv delam Gomukhasana, pak je to lechtci.  Jak je to pro tebe?  Mam rada kdyz delam Prasarita Padottanasana jako preparace na Sirsasana. A pak muzu nekdi stat na hlave s Sarvangasana. Delat Savasana na konce mam nejradsi!

Pune Practice Tips for our Portland Iyengar Yoga students:

Level 1 students:
In Utthita Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana II and Utthita Parsvakonasana do the pose by concentrating primarily on taking the front of the back leg thigh back to its hamstring as you bring the front leg groin forward toward the front of the room.  From there ascend the spine.

Level 2 and 3 students:
In Baddha Konasana practice the pose with one strap around each thigh.  Place the strap high up on the thigh and in the external rotation position.

Then practice the pose with one strap around the back of the sacrum, between the knees and around the feet. 

What is your experience of the difference?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Light on Guruji

There are sculptures of B.K.S. Iyengar that are attached to the sides of the Iyengar Institute building.  As I was coming out of class today, I caught the morning sunlight reflecting on this one of Guruji doing Padmasana (Lotus Pose).

The word “Guru” (gu=darkness and ru=light) means the person who takes one from darkness to light.  The Guru takes one from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom.

The suffix “ji” indicates a personal respect.

Guruji translates as my esteemed teacher.

Pune Practice Tip for our Portland Iyengar Yoga students:
Practice any simple pose.  Let the body, mind and breath communicate with each other.  Prashant Iyengar says "Let body, mind and breath have a conference call."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Country of Contrasts

Pune is a city of 2.8 million people.Theses photos are of the Laxmi Road area of Pune, which houses the traditional Indian shopping markets.  “Laxmi” means prosperity.  You can find everything from fabric, ready made clothes, gold and silver jewelry, bangles (stay tuned for a bangle shopping blog post), candy, legumes, fruits and vegetables and trinkets of all sorts.

Now fast forward to the Pune Central shopping center, which is right across the street from the Iyengar Yoga Institute.  Notice the “Shop.  Eat.  Celebrate.” motto and the hip young woman that is depicted on the side of the building.  This is quite a switch from the sari-clad women of days gone by.  I went into Pune Central and turned around and came right back out.  The loud pulsating music made my head ache.

Pune Practice Tip for our Portland Iyengar Yoga students
Do Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose) on the lower or middle ropes.  To improvise the rope set up, loop a belt around secure doorknobs.  Instead of taking your hands to the floor, take your arms behind your back, clasp a pole (read broomstick) with the palms facing your back body.  Slowly bring the pole up toward the ceiling and toward your head. What is the result in your body of these actions? 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Open Practice

At the Institute, each week of the month has a different focus for the regularly scheduled classes.  The first week concentrates on standing  poses, the second is forward extensions and twists, the third is back bends and the fourth is traditionally pranayama.

In addition, during the daily open practice session each person is free to work on whatever they choose.  B.K.S. Iyengar (Guruji) is present in the same practice hall doing his daily practice along with us.  I find this both remarkable and deeply humbling.

In order to work on my Padmasana (Full Lotus Pose), but also to prepare for the rapidly approaching back bend week, I have been working on Simhasana II.  Featured here is a rare photo of me smiling in my attempt to bring the topmost part of the front thighs (nearest the pelvis) onto the bolster while both lifting up and coiling back.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nana Waghchaure


Nana is everyone’s favorite rickshaw driver.  He is not only reliable, informative and speaks great English, but he offers assistance in so many ways.  He bargains for us with the shop keepers, takes us to the Xerox booth that has no line, makes sure that the promised 24 hour activation of the cell phone (EVERYONE has a cell phone here) does indeed happen even after 72 hours of waiting and makes sure we buy only the best quality saffron.

Bill Mosser discovered Nana when he arrived in Pune during his first visit to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.  As I remember it, Bill was deluged by rickshaw drivers trying to grab his luggage and offer him a ride.  Nana was in the background.  Bill chose Nana that day and he not only took the ride, but also befriended Nana.  Because of Bill, Nana’s life has changed exponentially.  Word of mouth has a powerful effect.  Nana is now the rickshaw driver of choice for many of the international students at the Iyengar Yoga Institute.  He is mostly punctual; he says that it is the cell phone that makes him a few minutes late.  On my trip with him yesterday, his phone rang four times within about 10 minutes!  Each time he pulls over to answer the call.  These calls are friends requesting his services.  He even asked specifically about his Portland yoga friends.......Terry, Barb and Care. 

Among Nana’s finest attributes is that he has a generous heart.  Upon my arrival in Pune, he came to where I was, transported my jet-lagged self and my luggage to the flat that I had rented sight unseen, and made sure I was settled in before he left.  The twinkle in his eye, his words of wisdom and his generous heart are what I love most about Nana.

Pune Practice tip for our Portland Iyengar Yoga students:

Level 1:
Pay attention to your simple, normal breath in all poses.  Move into the pose on the exhalation.

Level 2 and 3: 
First….move into the pose on the exhale.  Do all of your refinements on the exhale.  Then…. move into the pose during the pause after the exhale.  Do all of your refinements during the pause after the exhale.  What is the difference?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking Class

Abhijata Sridhar, B.K.S. Iyengar’s granddaughter, teaches the class today.  Imagine Mr. Iyengar, 92 years old, in a supported back bend or headstand while coaching Abhi in her teaching of the class.  He talks to her in a low voice, she is near him, maybe even doing the pose herself for a moment as she instructs us.  Assistants encourage (read “correct”) us when we fail to grasp what she says.

This passing of the teaching from one generation to the next is a wonder.  He is sweet with her; she is respectful in accepting and relaying his information to us.  So…..yes, he is still teaching!

Pune practice tip for my Portland yoga students:
To keep the hips more evenly balanced when practicing Parsvottanasana or Virabhadrasana I, start in Tadasana and step one leg back into the pose.  Bring the back leg hip forward to keep both sides of the sacrum evenly broad.  Practice the pose.  Experience the pose.  What did you learn?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Arrival

The Institute’s sign makes my heart do a little flutter, just as it did when I saw it for the first time almost 30 years ago.  It means arrival at the source of our tradition.  It presents both promise and possibility.  I never know exactly why I come, but try to stay open to receiving whatever it is.


After the bombing of the popular German Bakery in Pune in February 2010, the Iyengar Institute has guards flanking the entry.  But once past their watchful eye, we sign in, exhale and proceed along this beautiful little path to the practice hall.