Tamara is in India for the month of January, studying with the Iyengar family at the institute in Pune. Read her recent posts below and see her full blog including pictures here.
Tamara’s Indian Experience
Tamara in Pune, India at the fruit market, photo courtesy of Jenny Jones.
Day 1 at RIMYI
Class started at 7am with Prashant. We arrived with ten minutes to spare, of course all spaces were taken by this point, but somehow we managed to squeeze in right at the back. January is the busiest month at the institute and the room was packed. Among the students were Rajiv and Swati Chanchani. We started with cross legs twist, bharadvajasana, rope sirsasana, trikonasana, parsva uttitha hasta padangustasana, parsva upavista konasana and ended with a choice of Viparita Karani, setu bandha or janu sirsasana. Poses were held for a long time. The focus of the class was Prashant’s discourse on joining mind, body, breath in the asana and creating a good strong network of communication in the body. We did trikonasana from the shoulder blade, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. We should be able to start from any point and through that strong network communicate throughout the body. Very little (if any) instruction was given on the physical work in the asana and no corrections were given.
After class was the personal practice session, where students are free to use the hall and equipment for their own practice. Without my noticing Guruji made his entrance into the hall and began his practice on the backbender with the assistance of Abijata. How amazing to share the same practice space!
Later we observed the medical class and it was fascinating to watch the team of teachers in action. Guruji, Geetaji and Abijata were all present and Guruji was very involved in the treatment of a number of students, especially a young girl of around 8, who once treatment was finished ran around playfully much to everyone’s delight. As observers we weren’t told what each medical condition was so we could only guess at what was being done and why.
In less busy months observers would be asked to assist, if only to fetch and carry equipment. However with so many senior teachers present our help wasn’t needed – partly a relief – you wouldn’t want to get anything wrong and partly a disappointment, it would have been useful to begin putting some of the work we have been doing with Stephanie Quirke into practice.
Tomorrow class with Abijata and Guruji!
Day 2 . 32 Tadasanas Abijata and Guruji
What a day! Class began at 9.30am and after yesterday’s experience of being at the back with all the traffic noise, we made sure we arrived 45 minutes early and chose a good space. Abijata took the class with a microphone and relayed instructions directly from Guruji – it was amazing! I was so moved to be receiving instruction from the master himself. The class was excellent and I learned much. I am brimming over from all this new learning and that was only the first class! The method of teaching between Guruji and Abijata worked brilliantly. Abijata’s instructions were crystal clear and her delivery assertive but with humour.
First a lecture on coming to class with an open mind – as Guruji put it, if your cup is already full how can you receive anything?. We were to leave our egos at the door and approach the class as students whatever our certification as teachers.We began in swastikasana with no props unless truly needed. Lifting up the sides of the spine, every single vertabrae involved in upwards extension – we were told we were pushing our spines forward and there can be no extension in this case. There should be 32 tadasanas in your back!
We did a dynamic standing pose sequence: Prasarita Padottonasana, Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Vira 2, Ardha Chandrasana, Vira 1, Vira 3,Parsvottonasana, Prasarita Paddottonasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Sirsasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Janu Sirsasana, Upavista Konasana, Paschimottonasana, Sarvangasana, Karnapidasana.
So much brilliant teaching contained within that I felt completely engaged and challenged throughout. Spirits soaring all round, yesterday’s despondency about class size and difficulty hearing etc. transformed
Later on in the day I was in the lobby looking at books for sale, when I noticed Guruji sat just opposite me. There we were face to face. I nervously bought my hands together at my heart and bowed my head. When I raised my gaze he gave me a nod of acknowledgement and I felt an unexpected sense of grave respect contained within.
Administration info for future students (Correct currently, likely to change at any point!)
We were told by Pandu after class that anyone who hadn’t completed registration by 5.30pm this eve, need not come back tomorrow – no excuses. Registration not always straightforward. A sheaf of documents required: 1. Acceptance letter 2. Photocopy of passport and visa 3. Letter from landlord / hotel confirming residency at that address 4. Balance of payment 5. Passport Photo 6.Completed Registration form.
In previous years there were 2 separate timetables allotted to students (Geeta’s or Prashant’s cycle of classes).Now everyone is on the same cycle, but we are free to choose any other class on the general timetable, provided you only attend one class per day.
DAY 3 GULNAZ
Today we had a choice of classes; Prashant at 7am or Gulnaz (timetabled as Abi) at 6pm. We opted for the later class. We arrived at the institute at 9.30am for the personal practice session but found there wasn’t room anywhere. We bought a chair, pranayama pillow and blanket from the shop and headed back to the flat to practice instead.
We returned for Gulnaz in the evening to find it busy but manageable. She taught standing poses followed by seated forward bends, all with no props.
To me it seems the overwhelming message we are receiving in the classes is to MOVE not all this slow careful thinking with the brain, but dynamic movement with the body, just GO don’t keep putting the brakes on. So fingertips to floor in trikonasana and whole palm on the floor in parsvakonasna. Gulnaz’s class contained a lot of work in urdhva namaskarasana and we did this in Vira 1 and 3 – the classical pose but not often taught.
We left class feeling strong and motivated and headed for the fruit market. There was a fabulous array of fruit, looking forward to breakfast – pomegranate, strawberries, fresh figs, chinese gooseberries, guava, banana and porridge
I feel that I am adjusting to city life, the noise, the fumes, the traffic. Also feeling very priveliged to have a bright spacious apartment and grateful not to be stuck in a hotel.Its great to be able to clean and prepare salads and fruit and not just be stuck with what is safe to eat in restaurant. We have hired a cook for the month who comes in daily to prepare simple food, enough for lunch and dinner. The cost for the month is £15 and we supply the food. Bliss!
Photo courtesy of Jenny Jones.
DAY 4 Geeta Pranayama
Holy Moly! I reckon there were 200 plus people in class in a space smaller than main studio of Yogawest. First we were told to go mat to mat, then we were told to fold our mats in half and use every spare inch. The organisation done by Gulnaz with microphone took 20 minutes before Geeta even entered the room. I wish cameras were allowed inside as I’d love to have captured the scene for you. Never again will I think a class is too crowded to teach, that was the mother of all crowded classes and still Geeta managed to teach some beautiful pranayama.
We had to make the brain like the balloon with the air draining out on the exhalation and the chest with the balloon inflated. Even the pores of the skin had to recede. Despite the close proximity of so many people I was able to find some internal space and enjoyed the clarity of her teaching very much.
The group had been divided so that all the first timers at the institute were in one area. We began lying down in crossed legs on a tri folded blanket and worked on creating the necessary quietness inside, we did some ujayyii to aereate the lungs and then seated ujayyii with a pause at the end of inhalation.
After this the first timers were asked to leave while she went on to teach some digital pranayama to the students who had attended the institute before.
I felt a bit sad about this as whether you have been to the institute before doesn’t necessarily dicatate your level of maturity as a practitioner. However the separation according to your level had to made somehow and this was how it was done. I found out from Jenny later that the remaining students had received the bxxxxxxxing of a lifetime for their lack of knowledge / preparation. They were doing anuloma pranayama and Geeta was extremely discouraged to find that most did not know what this entailed. She fired questions at individuals and was upset that people did not know. The whole class left humbled and chastened at their lack of preparation and self study.
So I doubt we will be the only ones buying Light on Pranayama from the institute shop tomorrow and we’ll all be there with nails shorn ready for next weeks class!
Day 5 Guruji and Abijata
We arrived 45 minutes early to class and had that sinking feeling as the shoe racks came into view already full to bursting. It was with some relief we realised that the shoes were for Prashant’s class that had started at 7am.
Good! The crowd would be split, unlike the previous evening. Guruji and Abijata’s class was again busy but manageable. The parameters for ‘busy’ have changed for ever!
A standing pose sequence was taught: Tadasana, trikonasana, parsvakonasana, vira 1, ardha chandrasana, vira 3, parivrtta trikonasana, parivrtta parsvakonasna, prasarita paddottonasana, parsvottonasana, adho mukha svansana, paschimottonasana, janu sirsasana, paschimottonasana, sirsasana, halasana, sarvangasana.
It was gruelling, I was internally begging for mercy by the 4th repeat of Vira 1. At this point Abi said “I was intending to teach you a whole sequence of standing poses but you are so slow to learn we are stuck here still!”
The class was again packed full of learning from the very beginning in tadasana to the very end in sarvangasana. The attention and concentration required to follow was demanding and constant. A new focus in every pose and also a consistent theme running through the entire class. Teaching at it’s very best, this is exactly why I am here and I am so grateful to have finally made it!
I plucked up the courage to go and thank Guruji afterwards for the class and received the same nod of acknowledgement.
Now you might think after a class like that we would have had the good sense to stay home and rest, but no after a brief respite to eat and write notes, somehow we found ourselves in a rickshaw weaving through heavy traffic to Laxmi Road Market. This was a real assault to the senses; the Ganesha Temple (see pic above), the stalls selling garlands and coconuts as offerings (shame you can’t smell images).
Home via the fruit market again
Day 6 Day off!!
The institute is completely closed on a Sunday, so the day was ours to fill as we pleased. I opted for a morning practice followed by afternoon at The Mariot Hotel at their rooftop swimming pool. Have spent the evening skyping partner and kids. I have really started to miss them badly and its hitting us all at the same time. My youngest (Josie 5) was upset tonight. Thank god for skype – I’d bought the book I’m reading her with me and we were both able to curl up while I read a chapter to her – I’m not sure who it soothed more!
Day 7 Prashant
Another 6am start, must get to bed earlier!
Sequence – Uttanasana, Baddangullyasana,Sirsasana Trikonasana x 6, Rope Adho Mukha Svanasana, Marichyasana 3, Swastikasana bend forwards, Savasana in Supta Swastikasana.
The main themes I picked up from his discourse were:
Pragmatism not dogmatism – using discretion when to apply force, determination and when not. We say “I’ll do as much as I can” we believe this is what makes us sincere students of yoga, why? When we eat do we always eat as much as we can, when we shop, do we shop as much as we can? Why do we have to perform posture as much as we can? Stay until we die there? Determination is manifestation of ego. Although there is certainly a time for determination – quietly and with discretion for example to overcome lethargy.
Illustrated in Trikonasana, if you let go the legs a little how you can more easily access the sacrum, rotation there.
We worked on closing off the determination / ego and working with mind, body, breath awareness.
We worked on using the breath in many different ways. Making the breath the giver and the asana the receiver. Making the asana the giver and the breath the receiver.
I came out of a class in a very peaceful (and yes yogic!) state and floated home for some more practice.
In the evening we observed a beginners class. Yikes! How we pamper our beginners! They used no props and gave short, sharp
instructions. No details just the minimum. Class included some really tough poses; sirsasana, vira 3 and bharadvajasana 2, nothing held too long and nothing taught in depth.
We finished off the evening with a lovely thali and a very busy walk to Ferguson College Road, it’s when you’ve to cross a sea of speeding, beeping traffic you just wish you could press a button and wait for a friendly green man. Dream on, but somehow if you can find the rhythm you make your way through it.
Day 8 Prashant
Barely managed to drag myself out of bed bleary eyed at 6am, still dark as we set off through the park from our flat to the institute. The weather is unusually cool for India at the moment and shockingly I had to dig out a cardi from the depths of the suitcase.
It was a classic Prashant class (hark at she, the Prashant expert after a week!). Many repetitions of simple poses and plenty of food for thought:
Asana should be iconic not photographic. The temple does not need to be outwardly beautiful, we go there to worship and receive the bounty of the peaceful energy there. It does not matter what the outward presentation of the pose is, the bounty inside is what is important.
We worked piece by piece within the pose 1. With body awareness 2. With Breath awareness 3. For the mind 4. For the senses
Then worked on combinations 1 and 2, 1 and 4, 2 and 3 etc. And finally all four simultaneously.
After class we headed to the upstairs studio to observe a Senior Citizens class. Absolutely fascinating to watch. The first time I’ve seen props used, the teaching was excellent (Sushma), the pace slow but continuous, the tone kind but still firm. So for example Prasarita Paddottonasna from Urdhva Hastasana to fingertips on bolster x 3 up and down on the inhalation / exhalation then move on. Will definitely get to all that I can manage to observe over the month. And who knows I may start one of my own when I return.
In the afternoon we headed off in the rickshaw (Complete with face scarf to try to avoid the fumes) to Dorabjees (International supermarket where you can find everything from soya milk to Evian water, which Jenny accidentally spent £3 buying a very small bottle of!).
Looking forward to a small lie in and Guruji and Abi tomorrow.
Day 9 Guruji and Abijata
Started class thoroughly disgruntled after arriving 45 minutes early and still losing my space at the last second. Ended up sharing a mat that had seen better days right at the back window. The demand for absolute concentration began from the second the class began. Don’t sit down sit UP as if you are sitting on thorns you don’t want to sit down heavy, instead stretch UP. Is your skin of the shoulder blade in contact with the bone? If no then you are disconnected. The prana is the force you employ to connect psycho and soma – mind and body. It was absolutely insisted we maintain this connection, even the invocation was interrupted “Is the skin of the shoulder blade touching?” Not casually MAXIMUM. This is my favourite expression that is peppered throughout the class whenever a half-hearted effort is detected (imagine shouted with full Indian accent to get the complete effect).
Jenny was positioned close to Guruji and Abijata today and was able to observe at close quarters how the teaching is relayed. At times as Abijata is teaching, Guruji is leading her through the pose too, so she can feel first hand the teaching points she is relaying.
An interesting development for me today, as of next week I will be attending the medical class as a student to learn how to work with my Type 1 Diabetes and Coeliac’s Disease. It all came about as a bit of a fortunate misunderstanding! I hadn’t even realised this was a possibility and was actually making an enquiry about assisting with the medical class as a teacher. Anyway a wonderful opportunity for me to learn how best to work and it will be my one-a-day chosen class for Mondays and Thursdays so I won’t have to miss Guruji / Abi or Geeta pranayama. I can’t say I’ll miss the 6am starts either.
Day 10 Gulnaz
10 hours sleep! After snuggling up in bed and skyping with my step-daughter Aggi (in first year at Portsmouth Uni) last night had a full 10 hours before Jenny felt compelled to come and check I wasn’t infact in a diabetic coma!
Right so today is the day for a really thorough practice, feeling a bit unyoga-ed. Began working through Guruji’s class from yesterday trying to really embed and understand the teaching points. Prasarita Paddottonasana keeping the back hip sockets DOWN, makes the legs very dense, very connected.
First the electrician turned up to give us more sockets in the front room, so decamped to the bedrooms and tried to shut out the noise of the drilling, only to find someone else was drilling outside so had it in stereo. Then the Cook turned up, followed by the Landlady, at the same time Jenny had an important business skype – it started to feel a bit like a Carry On Film! Carry on Yoga? Ah well Gulnaz this evening…
Jenny had an appointment to see an Ayurvedic Doctor opposite Fab India, so Nicky and I jumped in a rickshaw with her to go and check it out. Thursday is one of the days where there is a choice of classes and Nicky had opted for early morning Prashant. Today the imagery he used was that of a painting. The asana is just the frame. You don’t go to the store and just buy the frame. The breath, the internal energy is the picture.
Fab India is full of beautiful bedding, clothing, cushion covers etc. High quality, well made and more expensive than your normal small shop stuff.
Back home and straight out again for Gulnaz. She was evidently surprised at the size of her class – I guess we’re not the only ones looking for some variety to balance the early morning Prashant classes. I strongly suspect next week she’ll have a bigger class still, as she taught a blinding class and there were a lot of observers. A thorough forward extension class starting with the most intense Uttansana concave back sequence I’ve ever done – we had to look up enough to see her whole head AND she was up on the platform. By the end we’d held it so long I felt my dorsal was burnt into my back. Followed by forwards bends reaching beyond the feet (bramacharyasana), ubyaya padangusthasana, urdhva mukha paschimottonasana 1 and 2, krounchasana catching the wrist around the heel before extnding the leg up. So no more complaints, am definitely feeling yoga-ed now.
Tamara blogging from Pune, photo courtesy of Jenny Jones
Day 11 Abi/Rajalaxmi Pranayama
Class wasn’t until 6pm today so we had the day for ourselves. Practiced at home, working with each other on forward extensions. Great to have a (real, live, willing) yoga buddy!Unlike my normal press-ganged ‘volunteers’ As my poor long suffering partner and children will testify.
Enjoyed transforming my space in the apartment with my own colours and cushions, making myself at home. Thriving on the wonderful variety of fresh fruit on offer. Every morning the fruit man pushes his cart down our street and I have finally realised that the loud singing I’ve been hearing is his way of announcing his presence. Will try and get a pic tomorrow. Have a new fruit to try today which Hindi name is Chikoo – I haven’t the faintest idea what it is, looks like a cross between a potato and a round pear.
Arrived early for Geeta’s Pranayama with nails dutifully shorn and a head full of the different digital pranayamas incase we should be put on the spot. Fat lot of good it did us. I was sent upstairs into the nursery class with Rajalaxmi while Jenny remained downstairs with Abi.
Rajalaxmi gave us a good explanation of the main points of sitting well – the back armpit cutting forwards . We started lying over the bolster with extended exhalations then we were seated on the bolster for a thorough explanation on the pranayama mudra for digital pranayama. First though was an extended lecture on the fashion for long nails. How can you call yourself a yoga student if you have long nails? How can you be a teacher to others if your own practice does not include the digital pranayamas for emotional stability? Are you aware just how unhygienic long nails are?
All the while I was sat there comfortable in the knowledge of my freshly clipped nails. Turns out they were STILL not short enough. Rajalaxmi showed how the tip of of the fingers have to slightly burrow under the bone (higher than the fleshy, flared part of the nostril) to find ‘the secret passage’ where a much more delicate control of the breath flow can be found. When done this way my very short nails still dug into the flesh.
The class was very informal with individual students able to call Rajalaxmi over to check whether they had got the action correctly.
Meanwhile Abijata downstairs was teaching supine for preparation, then seated for ujayyii and viloma. She tried to explain the subtle movement of lifting the chest from the inside rather than the gross adjustment of hoiking it up from the outside. The breath was to be invited in as a revered guest.
No internet access tonight, so today’s post will be late.
Day 12 Guruji and Abijata
What a full on day! Right I want to start by correcting an earlier inaccuracy that is nagging at me. Right at the beginning I said the teaching hall at the Institute was smaller than Yogawest, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s actually much bigger. It’s a really strange shape with lots of angles and long and thin – there’s no way it could physically fit that number of people if it was smaller.
Had a dreadful night’s sleep last night. As the internet was down I actually managed to get into bed before midnight (we’re five and a half hours infront of the UK). Just as I’d happily drifted off there came a huge explosion outside. It frightened the life out of me (and Jenny) partly because we had no idea what it was. There were no sirens or sounds of panic and eventually I nodded of again, only to have two smaller explosions again at close proximity – though these were no louder than very loud fireworks. Spent the rest of night tossing and turning and felt I’d just dropped off when it was time to get up and head in for Guruji and Abijata.
This was possibly the most intense experience of my yoga career. As usual the requirement for absolute concentration began from the very first moment and continued to the very last. There is no winding down, no sense at any point that the work is done and now it’s time to take it easy. In Sirsasana as we were endeavouring to put into practice the many different teaching points that were being relayed, the sweat was rolling down my back, pouring down my face. When I came down there was a complete imprint of my hands, arms and head on the mat. And this was only the very beginning. We were led through the Parivrrtas, turning from the abdominal viscera, the seated twists, Urdhva Dhanurasana – lifting from the top waist just below the armpits. Abijata demonstrated on stage to great effect the difference this made and then Guruji asked her to explain that she was using support because she is now carrying (pregnant) and that we were to get the same results without the support. There were some magnificent groans and sighs reverberating around the room, but good humour after one particularly uninhibited groan that made everybody laugh. We were all pushing ourselves well beyond any previously held belief of where our limits lay. Still the pace was kept up; Adho mukha svanasana, Sarvangasana (we worked so hard here that even my tongue was trembling uncontrollably), dropping back in to setu-bandha and finally Paschimottonasna – not resting, working so that the bottom back rib was in deeper than the top.
By this point I was literally weeping – the yoga had taken everything I had and there was no room left for anything else. If you’re holding on to anything you just have to let it go. I headed off for a quiet walk home to reflect and came across a barrow selling beautiful flowering plants. The perfect therapeutic activity – I bought a selection and headed back to the flat to plant up a pot for the balcony.Gradually we’re making the space feel like home.
In the evening Nicky and I headed over to the rather posh Mariot hotel for a green salad and soya milk hot chocolate. What a treat!
Day 13 Day Off
Another lovely day off. Started with practice – I am really noticing the influence of the work we are doing here. Standing poses now much more dynamic – buttock bone below the thigh in the bent leg poses – no more hovering! Also I think before I came here I was 90 per cent in my head, 10 per cent in my body – whereas now the balance is really shifting the other way.
Then headed off to Solaris Pool, Koregaon Park to meet Nicky. Often the rickshaw drivers will have a range of deities displayed in the front cab to keep them safe, I was intrigued by the flying-scorpion-monkey-dog hanging from this driver’s roof. Perhaps a blending of more than one deity in a single body? Sort of three for the price of one? Upon arrival I was greeted by sunloungers, palm trees and cold cold pool. What more could I want?
After swim and a little sun we headed to the Yogi Tree where we had it on good authority that we could get safe green salad. Great super-healthy menu, probably because of its proximity to the Osho Ashram. I had tofu, brown rice salad and ginger juice that was bright pink. I was a little concerned until the waiter explained it was from a little added beetroot, not as it appeared from shocking pink food colouring.
On the way home as it was getting dark I had a sobering reminder of the poverty that exists side by side with all this new wealth. As we crossed the bridge back over to the other side of Pune there were so many famlilies huddling round cheerful little fires as their food was cooked at the roadside. The contrasts here are so stark – all the glitzy new shopping malls with UK prices, the rich Indians beeping self-importantly round Pune in their Mercedes and yet still the slums, the people living on the streets, the ragged and weary begging for a few rupees as the rickshaw stops at the traffic lights.
So to tomorrow and my first medical class …
Tamara’s day off, photo courtesy of Jenny Jones
Day 14 Medical Class
Lay in bed until 9am, happy not to be getting up early for Prashant. Though of course I heard afterwards it was a wonderful class – backbends; brick setubanda and padmasana, chair back arch -legs in padmasana, rope sirsasana, standing backbend (preparation for drop back), ustrasana, urdhva dhanurasana, ending with bharadvajasana. The rule is, you may only attend one class per day, though actually if I was being particularly diligent I could have got up and observed Prashant’s class.
Instead I am giving you Nicky’s experience of the class in her own words: “The theme of the discourse – arrival and departure – the analogy being flights – from some airports you can get flights anywhere but not from others ..so from some you can arrive from anywhere and depart to anywhere but not all..
The same in yogasana, you can arrive in the asana from many places ..physical, mental, from the senses.. and leave from anywhere..it is a manifestation of many qualities..
If you go for a picnic you bring certain things with you ..what do you bring?…what is your condition?…if you come to a yoga class what do you bring? what is your condition?
Prashant then said how do we hear? (the instruction)..do we hear with the intellect, with the mind? How do we hear? What do we hear? When we listen to music we hear differently to when we listen to yoga instruction..How do you see? when you observe asana that is being shown?.
Try hearing from the hind ear, front ear, inner ear, outer ear. With the vision try and see through the front of the eye, the back, the side..
The class ended with laughter as Prashant spoke of I-anger!
Its possible to think you were in a different class to another student as each persons take on a Prashant class is different!!”
I practiced at home, though Jenny went to the Institute for the scheduled practice session and reported back that the excessive numbers have thinned out a bit. Also she got the benefit of watching Guruji teach a student Pinca Mayurasana, so I think it is time to take my practice back there.
Ordered a big bag of salad online from http://www.greentokri.com. What astonishing value! A carrier bag full of leaves, 2 big bunches of dark green rocket, cucumbers and tomatoes delivered to the door for 150 rupees!!! (£2) The delivery day for Model Colony area is Monday and you can text, email or ring your order through. Amazing!
Showed Rika (our lovely cook /maid) a picture of my children today – the point was to show her my children so that she could tell me if she had any. We have been told not to “spoil” her by overpaying too much, what we can easily manage with our budget is not so easy for people living on local wage. So we thought it would be nice if we could show her our appreciation by buying small gifts for her children. Not sure how much she understood – she kept pointing at Josie and laughing saying “You? No?” in disbelief. Anyway despite the confusion managed to ascertain that she has 2 children – 1 big 1 small.
Headed off to medical class at 4pm and worked with Stephanie and a couple of assistants. Wasn’t sure whether I was going to spend the afternoon lolling about on bolsters in various states of bliss (treating the coeliac’s) or whether it would be afternoon spent in various different kinds of hell, stimulating the pancreas (treating the diabetes). Guess which I got?!
Intensive forward bends with Pranayama pillow under ribs, using the back ribs to press the front ribs forward on the pillow. Sequence of Janu Sirsasana, Parsva Janu Sirsasana and Parivrrta Janu Sirsasana. Then some killer abdominal work perched on the edge of the platform with legs extended out straight – she’s building me up to 2 minutes hold. Jathara Parivartanasana hugging the pillar to keep side ribs in contact, backbender sirsasana, sarvangasana, pindasana, parsva pindasana, set bandha.
Now medical science says my pancreas cannot be stimulated to produce insulin once Type 1 Diabetes has set in. Yet whenever I do this kind of work with Stephanie the pump has to come off and I end up glugging the glucose as there is too much insulin in my system (what I have taken manually with the pump and hypothetically what I am stimulated to produce with this work). Would be fascinating to find a way to study this empirically.
Felt strong and vibrant after the class, just the right balance of working , strengthening and calming / resting. Thank you Stephanie!
Jenny went to Gulnaz in the evening and I had to try not to have ‘class envy’ as it was again a really thorough, challenging class – lots of padmasana work, ardha matsyendrasana 2 and marichyasana 4!
I want to do them all! I am seriously thinking of booking my place for next year – I want to carry on with this learning while the opportunity is still here. So any of you Yogawesties that have been meaning to come to Pune, now is the time to get organised!!
Day 15 Prashant
Bit of a pants day. Went to bed too late and then had robust hypo in the middle of the night. Yesterday’s pancreas squeezing activities still making their mark. Struggled out of bed for Prashant’s class and pre-dawn walk through the park.
I’ll pick out a few key points from the class: “Postures consume energy, Asanas generate energy” “Doing to the maximum is not Yog, Doing very little is Yog”. We have to learn the different ways of working with the breath, the bandhas and kriyas, breath retention so that we become like a nuclear reactor and can generate energy.
We again worked on a few key backbends and twists. In Bharadvajasana 1 we had to first establish a breath pattern before turning. Then as we turned we had to take great care not to disturb the pattern we had created i.e we made the breath the absolute priority. Prashant told us that doing this way meant that women remain women “Women are becoming men and men are becoming extra men!”
After class went to the upstairs studio to observe Sushma’s Senior Citizen’s class. It was very busy today and again had the feeling of watching someone very skilled at their job. Great learning.
Got home and collapsed into bed for a couple of hours sleep. Managed a bit of practice before an evening walk around Pune to gather bits and pieces that we need. Have made the decision not to do any more Prashant classes on this trip. My practice needs to evolve further before I can really get much out of the classes – a bandha or a kriya is mentioned in his very quick dialogue and you would have to be so on the ball to pick it up, know what it was, interpret it and put it into action before he has moved on to the next thing.No instruction is given. At this stage in my practice I am getting so much more out of the other classes – each one is precious and I don’t want to waste a minute! I am also a little puzzled as to how his method of working and Guruji’s can co-exist in the same Institute – he is very scathing about classes where you are given precise physical instructions where he feels the priority of uniting mind, body, breath is lost. It is one of the Great Pune Mysteries along with Why does the park close right in the middle of the day for 4 hours?
Am researching a little weekend trip down to Goa for the weekend of the 25th when the Institute is closed for the weekend. Thought I might try the Blue Lagoon beach resort. Will get the sleeper train down on Friday, a bargain at 260 rupees and fly back up in time for class on Monday Any Pune blog-readers welcome to join me!
Day 16 Guruji and Abijata
Had a productive organising kind of a day here. Managed to get up in time to do a little Pranayama before class this morning and have realised this may be the key to preserving my energy once I am back to my teaching schedule / busy family life. I feel unbelievably jammy to have had this opportunity to step right outside of normal life and follow my passion in this way (Big thanks to my partner Louis, currently bearing the double load x)
Another cracking class from Guruji and Abi this morning. We managed to get a good spot close to them so we could hear Guruji’s dialogue with Abi. It’s a fascinating interaction to watch – the fondness they have for each other is so apparent. Guruji is going through his daily practice while teaching through Abi and yet it really does seem that he is aware of every single student in the room. It is quite extraordinary to be in a room packed full of people all working at the very limits of their ability – absolute commitment is required from every single person, for every single second. Aside from his exceptional knowledge, it is his persistence and insistence that sets him apart and he expects nothing less from you too. If a point isn’t understood, he doesn’t shy away from it, he keeps on going until he is satisfied that you have GOT IT. And then he will come at it another way so that you have DOUBLE GOT IT and woe betide you if you let it slip with the next instruction, they build up one on top of the other and you have to try and keep them all going at the same time. Maybe I am imagining it, but I genuinely feel that I have a connection with him and the teaching is for me personally – I believe this is the sign of a good teacher, when every student feels that he is teaching directly to them.
Today’s class mainly focussed on forward bends and parivrtta forward bends – infact exactly the work I was doing in the medical class with Stephanie (told you it was for me personally!). We worked on bringing the intelligence into the ‘dark’ areas of the feet and knees. We learnt how to open fully and maintain the one-pointed concentration there. We did another sweat inducing sirsasana and came down with such relief, only to be sent immediately back up because we let the attention slip from the ‘bund’ of the foot on the way to the floor!
After class Nicky came for lunch and we took class notes. We have booked an Ayurvedic Retreat for the weekend, leaving after Guruji and Abi’s class coming back on Sunday evening I have also broken my own rule that has held strong for 17 years – not taking buses in India! I have booked an overnight sleeper bus to Goa on the following Thursday evening so that I will have 3 full days in Goa before flying back up for the last few days of classes. Bus takes 13 hours, flight is 1 hour, but because that is the holiday weekend it is really booked up and only the expensive seats are left. I am intending to make the absolute most of my time here!
Day 17 Medical Class
Managed to stay awake far too late last night and then just as I was about to turn light off, Lynda popped up on Skype from New Zealand which is 7.5 hours ahead so she was in morning mode!
Woke up early for personal Pranayama practice then had a couple more hours sleep. Did practice at home then headed in for Medical class, again working with Stephanie. Today I started more restfully, supta baddha konasana over 2 horizontal pranayama pillow and rope adho mukha svanasana before starting the intense forward bend sequence working from the bottom back rib -lifting in and up to push the front rib forwards.
I worked hard and then had the same scenario as last class – the pump had to come off and I needed glucose. Once this happened I was moved onto more restful poses. First supta virasana then inversions: Sirsasana and Sarvangasana with feet hooked over trestler – suggested by Abijata so ‘there would be no load on the organs’.
It’s very difficult to understand exactly what is happening – vigorous aerobic activity would cause the sugar levels to drop, but I am sat on the floor doing supported forward extensions. The sugar drop I experienced last week was roughly equivalent to what I would expect from a 8km run, particularly in the way it was sustained over a period of time, so the levels were affected overnight and well into the next day. If I was doing a ‘normal’ yoga practice I would not expect to see any effect on the sugar unless working aerobically (strenuous standing poses for example) and even then it would be very short-lived. Either the pancreas is being stimulated to produce insulin or the body is becoming much more sensitive to the insulin I am taking. Spent the evening researching online to see if I could find any anecdotal evidence of similar experiences or diabetes reversal.
Jenny came skipping back from Gulnaz’s class, another good one and a new pose she’d never been taught (and neither have I) – parsva salabhasana!
Pic below is of our jolly laundry man- the clothes come back so beautifully washed, ironed and presented, it seems a shame to actually wear them! There is a lot to be learned from him – he works from his road side shack which is a haven of good vibes, cheery music playing in the background, he unashamedly charges 50 rupees per piece (That’s what 60p? even for smalls) which is loads and he does his job brilliantly. Simple.
Day 18 Rajalaxmi Pranayama
The day began well – singing in the shower so happy to be here! After 15 years of childcare it’s so nice to get the chance to rediscover who I am when the cloak of responsibilities is shed (albeit temporarily).
Headed into the Institute for practice session to find it was every bit as busy, but I figured I have every day of my normal life for solitary practice and the atmosphere was cooperative rather than competitive. Was able to use the platform to practice the killer abdominal thing and am beginning to make friends with it.
Completed my inversions at home and then headed to Mariot to meet my friend Lorna who is staying there, we had a swim and then sorted out her travel arrangements for Goa.
A speedy rickshaw ride later and we arrived just in the nick of time for Pranayama. The old timers had Geeta in the main hall and the first timers were upstairs with Rajalaxmi. First I’ll reproduce Jenny’s words on Geeta:
“Just had a Pranayama class with Geetaji – she was nicer to us this week, but I still have a sense that we have disappointed them. She says that we give Guruji a headache since every time he teaches us something ‘new’ we forget everything that has gone before. This particularly aimed at senior teachers who have been coming a long time. She said something like ‘It is his destiny’ and gave a small sigh. Maybe he’s thinking he needs to come back and teach us all again in his next life”.
Meanwhile upstairs Rajalaxmi taught us a really thorough and warm Pranayama class. Her explanations are vivid and easy to understand. We began for the invocation with the correct positioning of the hands joined infront of The Atman – not higher up the breastbone as so many of us mistakenly do. There should be no muscular effort but the palms together like two friends reassuring each other of their presence.
After supine pranayama we sat for some very basic digital work with Kumbhka on the inhalation (only inhale from the back armpit to the front for Kumbhaka). As we ended with savasana we were told “Nothing belongs to you, not even your exhalation, just let it go and surrender yourself to the Mother Earth. Do not impose inhalation on the body, just let it take care of itself spontaneously. Surrender yourself to its rhythm”. Bliss.
On my way up to Pranayama Stephanie pulled me over to ask if I would speak along with Doctor Manoj at the Annual Day Celebrations tomorrow about my experience with Type 1 Diabetes and Yoga. EEEEEK. Oh and double eek because we have booked to go to Ayurvedic Retreat tomorrow. I had been feeling uncomfortable about missing the Annual Day but comforted myself with the knowledge that the Institute is completely oversubscribed at the moment and that not only would our presence not be missed, we would be doing them a favour by leaving more space for others.
Small dilemma before I realised my priority is here and my absence would certainly be noticed if Manoj is talking about me and I’m not there. So the others are heading off in a taxi after class tomorrow for Massage, Ayurvedic Consultation etc. and I will attempt to organise my own transport tomorrow evening after celebration is finished for the day.
Day 19 Geetaji Pranayama and Annual Celebration
Well that was an unexpected surprise! We were awaiting Guruji and Abijata, but in came Geeta – explaining that as the institute is closed at the end of the month for the weekend, during Pranayama week she had come instead today to teach Pranayama.
I felt very moved during the invocation to find myself sat in front of Geetaji – I had not been able to attend the Convention when she came to the UK. Sadly she was not in the best form, very cross with everyone and I found myself feeling acutely uncomfortable, not wanting to take something that is not willingly given.
For a while the telling off paused and we did get to the day’s teaching. I am so sorry to have missed Geeta’s teaching in the preceding years and also feel sad that she has come to this place of absolute intolerance of us all (reminded me of me, during my last pregnancy!)Honestly, I just felt she was too unwell. More than one went home in tears
Waved Jenny and Nicky off in their taxi for the Ayurvedic Retreat. I arrived at the Institute at 6pm for the beginning of The Annual Day celebrations. We were in the main yoga hall for some talks given by The Doctor, Zubin and a Philosophy Professor who is also a long term student of Guruji.
Guruji had a kind of throne between the two pillars facing the stage and received a rousing round of applause as he came in , beaming, smiling emitting good energy all around. Now the one time we were allowed to take photos inside, where was my camera? In my suitcase downstairs. Grrrh. I took some pictures with Myka’s camera and will upload them when she emails them through. I had prepared a few notes, as recommended by Stephanie, for my part which was to talk a little about diabetes and what has been happening while I had been attending the medical class.
As it turns out The Doctor’s lecture was overrunning and I was never asked to take the mic, for which I was eternally grateful. I had a taxi booked to meet me outside the Institute to take me to the Ayurvedic Retreat (www.karehealth.com). He was waiting as promised in a rather rickety old car and it turned out he didn’t actually know where we were going, which was a bit unfortunate because neither did I. Somehow I managed to get online from the back of the car (it’s surprising how many people’s password is password!) and got some directions from good old Google Maps. I also rang the retreat and they talked him through it. So off we went, no seat belt in the car for me so I was clinging on to the door handle the whole way. As we climbed up and up out of Pune the temperature got cooler, the road got bumpier and the driving got riskier.
So I am arrived, I know not where- I’ll find out when the sun rises. There was a tiffin waiting for me full of promise. Unfortunately I had forgotten peopIe come here to follow strict ayurvedic diet –and to detox, lose weight etc. So was a little deflated to find some green liquid (not nice) some yellow liquid (in my famished state, good) no rice and two chapatti / paratha type things of unknown ingredients which I could not risk eating because of my coeliacs, though I’d just about have sold my soul to – it was very tempting as there was a good chance they were made of millet! Noone on reception and no response from Nicky or Jenny who were probably fast asleep at this stage. No phone signal and no internet access, so no blog till I get home tomorrow. I have a 6.30am wake up call with herbal tea ready for 7am yoga class in the morning, so will attempt to sleep now!
Day 20 Mountain Ayurvedic Retreat
I Was woken pre-dawn with promised cup of herbal tea, had an actual hot shower! and headed off for yoga. The sky was a hazy purple over the lake as the sun began to come up, but I didn’t appreciate the true beauty of the place until an hour later when the surroundings became clear in the crisp morning light.
Tropical birds and trees and a open vista over the lake. Colour and light and bird song. Divine.
I arrived at the fully equipped yoga hall to be told by Jenny that, really we would be better off doing our own practice and the teacher may or may not come.The retreat prides itself on being led by BKS Iyengar and his pictures adorn the walls of the studio (I think he may have opened the building when it was built). There were actually quite a lot of resident students there who all began with 12 sun salutations (rather aptly as indeed the sun was rising). When the teacher did come he taught a very interesting beginners class – not at all sure you could have called it Iyengar. Still I appreciated the studio, the views, the space and so much equipment – an Iyengar students paradise!
After class went for breakfast followed by Ayurvedic consultation. It was my first one and I discovered I am strongly Pitta type. I was given a list of foods to avoid / seek out and told I need good yoga / excercise and good sleep to be balanced. Well yes.
Headed off for my first treatment – a full body massage. Haha not for the faint hearted! First stripped, then given string and paper loin cloth, smothered in fragrant oil from head to toes (even face and hair), then thoroughly pummelled, then steam cabin which – well I had to laugh – it’s a kind of wooden box you get into with a hole for your head, fed with steam coming through pipes attached to a pressure cooker on a gas ring!! Still was very effective, finally covered in salty brown goo and washed off in shower. Skin was smoother than a baby’s bottom and I was completely relaxed.
So relaxed that I lost my insulin pump and had the whole staff including the manager searching high and low – they insisted I chill out and eat lunch while they looked for it, so nice. Just as I was fearing the worst and praying that one of my insurances would cover it, one of the housekeeping girls found it. Made her day and mine! and of course left her a nice tip too.
I saw the strangest bird in the trees. It’s chirping attracted me and then I noticed it had along curled tail that it rolled forward when it chirped – it was so coordinated it almost seemed to be the tail that was emitting the chirp. I watched it for some time and was most surprised when it scampered up the tree on four legs – so not a bird at all, some kind of squirrel / chipmunk / bird? Can anyone enlighten me on this one? Never seen anything like it – Oh and Jenny did see it too, incase you’re momentarily considering madness / hallucinogens.
My stay finished with a second treatment that involved hot oil and alternately being whacked with a hot poultice bag and chopping hands. My muscles were quite tender after the amount of yoga I’ve been doing, but still was great. Arrived home feeling rejuvenated and ready for the next week of classes. Finished the weekend with a lovely dinner at The Ambience with Nicky and Cindy and planning on going to visit Women’s Shelter and Orphanage tomorrow – would be great to organise things so that it’s easy for people to give something back while they’re here.
Day 21 Orphanage Visit
Jenny got up early to observe Prashant’s class while I planned to have a lie in – my neighbours and their revving car antics had other ideas. Ah well, up for some Pranayama instead.
At Midday went across to The Ambience to meet the driver who was to take us to the orphanage. Headed off into the fumes and traffic for what was to be an unexpectedly long and arduous journey. After an hour of careening along we passed back by where we had started from. At this point I thought Nicky was going to spontaneously combust. Another hour later we eventually arrived at the first of the Maher homes where we received a warm welcome and some much needed refreshment. We were met by Sister Lucy herself, the head of the whole organisation – a modern day Mother Theresa.
After food she sat down to tell us her story (in brief here). She grew up in a sheltered and relatively privileged environment in Kerala and was shocked upon reaching adulthood to find the suffering that was to be found in other areas of India. She became a nun because she wanted to help the poor and was working on the outskirts of a slum in Bombay when she was approached by a pregnant woman in need of shelter. Her husband was violent and also involved with another woman. She had no means of offering shelter and had to send the woman away. Later in the evening there was a commotion in the nearby slum. She hurried to assist – the husband had poured kerosene over the woman and set fire to her. She rushed her to hospital but both mother and unborn baby were dead.
Never again was she going to turn anyone away. Maher means Mother’s home and there is ‘Always room for one more’.
I was very impressed with her frankness, her openess and her warmth. Her work is not just confined to battered women and orphans, she helps wherever there is need. Food is cooked daily in the kitchen of the home and taken to the nearby slums. She appoints teachers and social workers and goes into the slums to feed, clothe and educate. She will pick up anyone in need of help – women and children rescued from prostitution, the mentally ill, children who have no choice but to beg are given an education and daily food instead. Although her background is Catholic she has equal respect for all religions and she has no time for the caste system. The woman and children are given training in various trades and put through school – she even funds them through University and beams with pride as she recounts the success stories. She invited us to a wedding on Friday – the sixth this year of one of her girls.
We visited two of the many Maher homes and were greeted with songs from the children. Then we went to a slum and went inside the school she is funding there. So basic – a tin shack, with a few toys – one rusty old bike between maybe 25 kids, but they looked clean, happy and well fed thanks to Sister Lucy’s work. They’ll also have a proper education and a real hope of a good life.
Sister Lucy is not just the figure head of the organisation, she is available 24 hours a day and often gets very little sleep. She and Suprabha (her assistant) tell each other they may not get much sleep, but they know because their work is good, the sleep they do manage to get will be sweet.
To donate for people abroad:
Maher S.B Account no. 0261101061493
Swift Code – FD Pune CNRBINBBBID
IBAN NO: DE41500700100953458710
Canara Bank, Deep Heights, Nagar Road, Ramwadi, Pune 411014, Maharashtra, India
For people in India – please give Cindy cash she is visiting for wedding on Friday or they need toys, bed sheets and saris.
Day 22 Medical Class
Slept late and missed the opportunity to observe the Senior Citizen’s class. Yesterday’s trip was really worthwhile but it meant I missed an excellent backbend class last night and slept through a class I wanted to observe this morning. I think you do have to keep any other interests to a minimum if you are going to maintain the focus required to get the most out of your trip to The Insitute.
Here are Jenny’s notes / observations on yesterday’s Prashant class:
‘A now familiar theme of the relationship between body-mind-breath-senses-consciousness in the performance of asanas. Phrase of the day was ‘composite dynamics’. Instructions were to exhale further and further in each asana and finally to perform Udiyana Bandha – a sucking in of the abdomen after exhalation – and see what happens! Not to be undertaken lightly and definitely not during menstruation. He talked on esoteric philosophy; the tongue is the root of all wisdom with all sense organs represented – sight buds, hearing buds, sensation buds, smell buds as well as taste buds. Needless to say in modern culture the tongue can only be described as ‘stupid’. We should beware of the senses pulling us away from ‘yog’, also the draw of physical action. No limb of yoga is dedicated to the body. You can’t perfect the body first and then work on the mind…
(Jenny thinks that the senses are a bit like a dog on a lead, pulling the owner after it as it chases smells, rabbits, postmen, cats, other dogs….)
On the positive side – how to get a hold on all this? Set up the right ethos for your practice: clean and tidy your room, burn incense, create calm, quiet conditions, have an image to focus on (most of us use Patanjali) and exclude bright light.
Try this in your practice when calm and steady in tadasana: eyes open, find the centre of the eyeballs, now look from the edges of the eyes. How did each one make you feel? (You can let me know in your comments!)
Final quote from Prasant: “I may not be civilized, but I am cultured.” At least I think that’s what he said!’
I headed in for medical at 4pm. Today’s the day I decided to really test what is happening re insulin and pancreas practice so I took only one unit of insulin with breakfast. Normal range for blood sugar is 4 – 7 mmol. I tested upon arrival at class and mine was 15.9 mmol. I took no corrective dose. After a sequence of pancreas poses (Started resting SBK horizontal, rope AMS, Janu , Parsva Janu, Parivrtta Janu, Parsva Upavista, Parvrrta Upavista, Pillar Jathara Parivartanasana, Pasasana, Sirsasana & Urdhva Dandasana, Sarvangasana, Pindasana, Parsva Pindasana) it was 5.9!. Something really quite amazing is happening. Stephanie says I should write to Guruji and request an extended stay next year to work intensively on it. Any volunteers to put this to my partner and children?
After class I booked some lovely accommodation for my Goa trip this weekend on beach front at Patnam Beach. I think Lorna is now going to fly down on Thursday afternoon, while I’ll follow on down after medical class on Thursday night in the overnight bus. I have a flight booked back on Monday morning in time for Raya’s class in the evening. Then I’m into my final week – flight home on Friday.
We went to the OM Supermarket for supplies – we’d heard you can get soya milk there, but it was one of those ones where you have to stay behind the counter while you ask for what you want – no browsing and often problems being understood – so we hopped into a rickshaw for good old Dorabjees. Speeding and weaving and dodging through the traffic it occurred to me how well I’ve adjusted to life in an Indian city. I could live here – just to be close to such excellent teaching. I really feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders when I am led in this way rather than always being the teacher it’s great to be taught!
Bed now so I can be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Guruji in the morning – hope it’s backbends! Yesterday’s blog had a bit of a malfunction some of the text was missing – it’s all there now.
Day 23 Geetaji Backbends
Yes once again expecting Guruji / Abijata combo and in came Geetatji, thankfully in better form today. Some wonderful Geeta instructions: In Sarvangasana it should be like flying, never sink down heavy, the cervical the dorsal has to lift up, FLY! and in Savasana imagine there is a staircase going down the throat and the tongue has to descend down those stairs.
We did a bankbend sequence (AMS / UTT sequence, Sirsasana, AM Vrksasana, Standing Back Arch x 5 interlock the fingers to roll back the shoulders and swing your arms inbetween your legs, ustrasana – divide the knee, the bottom half belongs to the shin, the top half has to lift up with the thigh same interlocking and swinging, Urdhva Dhanusrasana, Dhanurasana, Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, Rajkapotasana prep (bhujangasana arms, dhanurasana legs), supta swaskiasana, chatushpadasana, sarvangasana).
Geeta has the same ability as Guruji to make you work harder than you ever thought possible (though not as constantly), in Sarvangasana she had us bending the legs into virasana and pounding the pelvis and thighs forward, so much we had to push there was groaning and almost gutteral moaning – in response to which she said “That sound, yes that is it, that is the movement”.
We spent the evening shopping, shopping, shopping on the MG Road, note to self – DO NOT BUY ANY MORE PRESENTS FOR JOSIE. We had fun and both enjoyed not being with partner who is (and I quote) “Glazing over” at the first shop.
Day 24 Medical Class
Veg man taking his siesta atop his barrow.
Mini Blog today as heading off for Goa bus shortly – internet connection uncertain over the next few days.
Woke up feeling wonderful after Geetaji’s class yesterday, lots of springy energy in legs, sacrum and spine. Couldn’t put my finger on why – partly I think it is the cumulative effect of the programme here. Day after day after day of well taught yoga. Partly I think it was the work we did pushing the pelvis and thighs forward in virasana sirsasana / sarvangasana – I think I’m losing a lot of energy there normally.
Medical class at 4pm. Stephanie was caught up working with Guruji on a patient so she didn’t have time for much input. Didn’t manage to make the movements quite as effective and my motivation wasn’t as strong today, so the results good but not so profound. Sugar started at 11.9 and ended at 6.1 – those kinds of drops can happen just anyway, so nothing conclusive. Fingers crossed for a smooth journey tonight – all fine so long as the taxi shows up, it can find the bus pickup place and bus arrives (often they can be delayed by many hours!)
Jenny has just skipped in after a super-dynamic backbend class with Gulnaz. Is there a niyama which states “Though shalt not covet thy neighbour’s class”?
Day 25 Travel Nightmare!
Possibly one of the most stressful nights ever. First my taxi failed to show up, then as I set off dragging my enormous suitcase down Lakaki Road I had the misfortune to happen upon the least competent rickshaw driver ever. After collecting Lorna from the Mariot we headed off to the bus pick up point with only just enough time to make it. Frustratingly it soon became apparent the rickshaw driver did not know where he was going. In desperation we rang the concierge at the Mariot who managed to contact the bus company to get the bus to wait for us and gave our driver fresh directions. Many wild goose chases and phone calls later we were still driving around hopelessly – up back alleys, the wrong way up dual carriageway twice. Eventually he spoke directly to the driver of the bus who arranged to meet him somewhere he did know, but somehow he messed that up as well. Two and a half hours squashed into a rickshaw only for the bus to leave without us and we ended up back where we started (and had to pay 850 rupees for the pleasure). The concierge at The Mariot booked us on to another bus at 11.45pm which again agreed to wait for us. This time there was a problem with the booking, they couldn’t accept cash or UK card, so that bus again drove off into the night without us. Just when it looked like all hope was lost our hero at The Mariot once again found us an air conditioned sleeper bus, leaving right now that would take cash on the bus. We set off, this time in super luxury Mariot car(and super pricey at 2200 rupees for this short spin to the pick- up point). Our bus was found without any bother and on we got, only to find that they actually had no sleepers for us at all – instead we had to share an unbelievably cramped, low ceilinged space used for luggage.
My relief at finally getting on a bus was gradually replaced by a growing sense of panic. I needed the loo, there was not one on the bus plus I was trapped on the inside of this tiny space with Lorna between me and the small gap to get in. I endured probably 4 hours like this before the first stop, where I was able to use a roadside toilet (Imagine how bad it could be and then add some). Thankfully I was able to explain to Lorna who was now awake for the stop, my predicament with the claustrophobia (by this point I was trembling from head to foot) and I was able to go on the outside with my head in the gap. Again the relief was short lived – I felt I couldn’t breathe it was as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air. It dawned on me that everyone else seemed to be breathing just fine and I was in fact hyperventilating. I dimly remembered hearing that you have to inhale less and exhale more to correct it, so I spent the next two hours doing viloma on the exhalation which helped enormously, as long as I didn’t stop. Once the bus was coming to its final stops the crowd started to thin out and we were able to get a bunk each and breathe freely. Hallelujah, the relief……
Mere seconds later our final setback was realised – the bus wasn’t going to Margoa at all, the closest stop to our destination was Panjim. Darn.
So another 2000 rupee ride later we arrived at Patnam. And here I’m delighted to say the misfortune ended. It’s just beautiful, perfect. I’m sitting on my shady porch at the lovely Home Beachfront hotel listening to the waves breaking on the shoreline surrounded by palm trees. Bliss.
Day 26 Holiday!!!
There’s no place like Home!
Slept deeply and soundly so woke up refreshed and the previous day’s travel a distant memory. Started the day with a dynamic yoga practice – trying to assimilate the various pointers we have received from Guruji over the last three weeks. I am relishing having the space and the energy to practice this way – work / family life often leaves me only fit for restorative work, although I was interested last week to observe a late evening’s beginners class that approached this problem of tiredness with sharp, focussed,energetic sun salutation / baby backbend sequence.
As I practiced some pranayama it occurred to me the process is a little like my experience yesterday, diving in the sea on my arrival – the stress, the toxins are broken up and dissolve into the vast space of the inhalation breath. In this way we can cleanse the mind, body, breath.
Headed off to April 20 for a lovely fresh fruit salad and to catch up on blog and emails. Although I came to India to do yoga, this part of the trip is also so important. The chance to be in such a beautiful natural environment and to absorb and assimilate the warmth of the sun, the cool of the sea and fresh vibrant food. This will help to bring me to health along with the yoga.
In the afternoon jumped into a rickshaw to the local town of Chaudi to get a few supplies. It was market day so there was plenty to see, taste and smell. Hoping to organise a dolphin trip for the morning ….
Day 27 Last weekend in the Sun!
My last weekend in India – this time next week I will be safely back in rainy UK. Both dreading it and looking forward to it in equal measure – can’t wait to see the kids 🙂
After dinner last night wandered up the beach and happened upon a German couple booking a boat trip for this morning, so I invited myself along – you pay per boat (2000 rupees) so the more people aboard the less it costs. Slept terribly – partly because I knew I had to get up and partly because it’s so damn noisy. Packs of dogs barking, the driver’s of the overnight trains absolutely uninhibited in their copious and gleeful horn use, birds, locals – you name it, it was having a ball on or near my room.
Got up as the sun was rising and went for a little stroll along the shore. At night the beach belongs to the dogs and they were running along beside me, snapping at my dress and the ends of my shawl. I however was in no mood to play after they had kept me up half the night. Nowhere was open yet for breakfast, the beachside restaurants littered with sleeping bodies – no luxury hotel rooms for the locals.
Instead I returned back to my room for some pranayama and really enjoyed the freedom in my breath after a month of good practice. The pranayama is coming easily and sweetly, enabling a finer, subtler experience. As Guruji says “the breath should be welcomed in like a revered guest” the heart has to be open.
At eight I headed off (with Lorna who had decided to join us) to the meeting point – a fine sized boat in front of the Namaste cafe. The two man crew arrived shortly after and it soon became apparent that launching the boat was going to be no simple matter. It started off with me, a couple of kids and the two crew.The rocking and pushing was coordinated by a simple, rhythmical chant. Half an hour and about ten more people later, we finally managed to haul the boat the twenty or so feet into the water.
We sped off out to sea, past Palolem beach and over to Butterfly beach where we went ashore and had a look around. It is a small, isolated cove named for the large butterflies which were flitting around. Not quite as idyllic as no doubt it once was, due to the rubbish left behind by previous visitors.
Then we spent an hour or so cruising around hoping to spot dolphins, though by this time it was late for prime viewing. First we sighted a few glimpses of baby dolphins then some bigger. They were darker in colour than the most well known bottle nose dolphins and they seemed quite shy. By this time there were a few other boats cruising around and every time there was a sighting all the nearby boats would hone in on that spot – we didn’t feel so happy to be part of that circus so we headed off back to Patnem for a deliciously cooling swim.
Spent the final day making the most of being here, relaxing and enjoying the beach. Looking forward now to getting back to Pune for the last week of teaching – presumably pranayama. Flight at 13.45 tomorrow so back in time for evening class.
http://youtu.be/AXL8rXkDXYU – A fleeting glimpse of dolphin http://youtu.be/UkOQnZcq61I – Launching the boat
http://youtu.be/m2P-JRg18GE – Children chanting at slum school in Pune
Day 28 Reya
I must have had a sixth sense when I put blog up so early yesterday. The internet was down for the whole beach area throughout the evening. Spent the time doing forward bends moving on to the more obscure padmasana ones which come so much more easily in this hot weather.
Slept well and woke up just before 8am for last swim in warm sea I am likely to experience for some time (particularly as our Summer holiday this year is west coast of Ireland, brrrrrrrh!). Just time for a little yoga and breakfast before heading off in taxi for flight. I had allowed 2 hours for the 1.5 hour journey, which was just as well because we needed fuel and the filling station was in chaos. Every pump had its own impatient queue and nothing was going to happen anytime soon as a fuel delivery meant that the station was temporarily closed down. I felt surprisingly relaxed as the minutes ticked by and the car got hotter and hotter, which turned out to be justified when after finally filling up and leaving, I got a text from Air India to say my flight was delayed (could have squeezed in another swim!).
En route to the airport we passed an accident where a motorcyclist and all his parcels had come off his bike in the middle of the busy carriageway. A few other bikers had stopped to help and my driver pulled up close and stuck his head right out of the window. ‘Ah good’ I thought, he’s going to offer his assistance. Instead, having got a really thorough ogle he made a little click of disgust and sped off to the airport. I asked if there would be an ambulance available and he indicated there would – but I wonder how it works here? Do you have to prove you have funds before they will assist you?
Upon getting to the airport I was hurried to check in by an attendant, when I mentioned the text informing me of the delay he said it was not delayed at all. Oh. This gives me a little thrill of worry about my travel arrangements for getting back to UK on Friday. I have a total of 4 separate flights that need to coordinate and flow seamlessly …….
The flight seemed almost obscenely quick in comparison to the 13 hour bus journey – take off, peanuts and orange juice, land – 45 minutes!!
Reya’s class was worth coming back for, though we didn’t get to any actual pranayama – mainly we worked on what happens in the abdomen in the various leg positions, whether seated, supine or inverted. He gave a rather impressive demonstration of a good padmasana in sirsasana – not the weak crossing that we all settle for but a really compact cross is needed to draw the length into the abdomen and keep the lumbar long. At the moment I would be lucky to aspire to his weak version, never mind the strong one. He also strongly warned against tying the legs together in supta virasana and implored us not to continue passing this method onto our students. He showed clearly on Uday how it causes the thighs and groins to become aggressive and hard and the abdomen to narrow and tense. Instead the feet should be made wider and then rather than slamming the legs together the outer knee has to lengthen and turn in from there.
He finished with a lecture: when westerners come to Pune, don’t come looking for your understanding to be validated – come with an open mind not to pick and choose what you’re hearing to suit what you think you know. The wind blows in many directions not just one and so the teaching emphasis will vary many ways. And then very important, that once you have ‘mimicked’ you move on – by far the most important teaching comes from your own internal genuine experience.
Day 29 Medical Class
Got up and headed over to observe the Senior Citizens. As I arrived Guruji was sat on the bench just beside the door to the Institute. I went over and greeted him, feeling much more relaxed around him than when we first arrived. There were 35 in the class today – a testament to the excellent teaching they receive from Sushma.
Both the practice session and the observations have become SO much quieter, a lot have gone home already – missing Pranayama week, the crazy fools!
Had to completely amend my medical programme today to accommodate menstruation / the dreaded Delhi belly. Stephanie also gave me some grapefruit seed extract which is excellent for intestinal parasite / infections. This can’t be bought locally so it’s a good idea to bring it with you. My programme consisted of lots of supine work, with plenty of support so as to climb up on to it and make lots of space between the lower ribs and a real separation between abdomen and chest. (Supta baddha Konasana, Supta Virasana, then repeat both t-shaped 4 bolster support, like setu bandha chest, finished with x bolsters) It took a while, but eventually I could feel the tension releasing and the breath becoming spontaneous, deep and healing. Guess I’m tensing up with the travelling fast approaching Friday.
In the evening I headed over to Dorabjees, Jenny decided to skip it because she’s recovering from a cold and the fumes are always terrible. I was slightly nervous because it gets dark early (it’s also Winter here, even though daytime temperature is 30 degrees). Got quite an aggressive and not very careful rickshaw driver. Usually even though I spend quite a bit of the drive with my eyes squeezed tightly shut I kind of know it’s fine and they know what they’re doing. Not so with this one – he kept making bad judgement calls and screeching to a halt until eventually he actually did smack into the side of another rickshaw, unleashing a torrent of abuse in Maharati and driving off. Felt the tension I’d shed creeping back in and was very glad to get out of there in one piece.
Rounded off the day reading a bedtime story to Josie (and inadvertently Jenny!) over Skype. Only four days till we are reunited. Final Guruji class in the morning.
Day 30 Geetaji Pranayama
Woke up pre-dawn from a deep and sound sleep and lay listening to the quietness gradually transform into a cacophony of sound. The birds voiciferously announcing the rising of the sun, slamming doors, revving engines, unselfconscious footsteps on the staircase – an Indian city doesn’t tiptoe around the wishful sleeper.
Hopped out of bed with a spring in my step, more singing in the shower. My mood is noticeably chirpy on the mornings where I have a Guruji class to go to – Is there any better reason to get out of bed?
Arrived at The Institute enjoying the much more chilled atmosphere in comparison to the frenetic early days. Many have gone home and those that remain know there’s no point getting too territorial about mats and space cos nine times out of ten someone from the Institute will come and completely rearrange things.
Sure enough we were told to remove all our carefully placed sticky mats and instead we had military lines of thick mats, three per mat.
Reya led the Invocation and when eyes were opened there was Geetaji! She keeps telling us she is retired and it’s the last time we’ll entice her out and then she’s back.
She was noticeably more at peace than the previous classes and was able to give her beautiful teaching unhindered by irritation… ok, well almost: (Uttanasana; AMS; Virasana Seated – eyes closed, coiling the back ribs in, lift the lower breast UP; Sirsasana (menstruation chair back arch) – Be on the crown of the head. Connect the legs into the hips, if you do in dull state, stay for 15 mins, what’s the point? When buttocks go back mind becomes dull, buttocks forward mind is sharp, becomes a mental challenge; AMS; Prasarita Paddottonasana – For menstruation don’t roll the buttocks up; Chatushpadasana; Sarvangasana (Menstruation setu bandha on viparita karani box, bolster for head, feet level) Other schools of yoga (incorrectly) teach with the legs forward, buttocks back – this is the only way they can soften the throat. Use this viparita karani shape to bring the soft well to the throat and then maintain as you assume the correct pose; Paschimottonasna – Not to take the head down in isolation from the spine. Whole spine has to move DORSAL /BACK RIBS IN/ DOWN to the floor to take head down. Hold feet strongly, open armpits; Supine Pranayama – Allowing (rather than pulling) the breath to fill the vessel slowly. Extended, smooth exhalation – let the inhalation follow but don’t force. Exhale smoothly and with that exhalation wash everything away; Seated Pranayama – If you must have a sense of ‘I’ somewhere, make it in the chest (not the brain). Anta Khumbhaka retain inhalation Listen to the voices inside – they will tell you what has to lift, what has to move.
“Lift your diaphragm UP and make a kind of plinth for the Lord (Krishna) to be seated. You cannot make a small seat for the Lord”
As the class finished , I realised that for many this was their last class of the month (I’ve got one more medical tomorrow). I’m so sorry to be leaving but so glad to have been. Any of you Iyengar teachers and students that have always been meaning to come to Pune, I strongly urge you to get organised if you want to be here while Guruji is still teaching. He is 95 next year – you do not have time to lose!
We did a trial pack to see how much the suitcases weighed – there is a guy called Vasant who sells Iyengar kit and also offers a posting and packaging service. It’s quite pricey to send stuff home – about £80 for 20 kilos (that’s six bolsters and some belts) but of course so much cheaper for the actual purchase. Currently in the Institute shop a bolster costs 330 rupees (less than £5).
Last day tomorrow 🙁
Day 31 Medical Class
Well a mini blog to say goodbye! Am exhausted and up in the morning to catch the first of many flights home. My mammoth trip is Pune to Goa, then Goa to Bangalore, Bangalore to Paris, Paris to Bristol.
Do yourself a favour, if you are coming to Pune from UK just get yourself a short direct flight from Heathrow to Mumbai! From Mumbai you can get a taxi (takes 4 hours and costs about £10) or you can fly (about £50). Jenny has started a Facebook group, full of info. and a good way of hooking up with people to share taxis and apartments or air any concerns with people who are experienced Pune regulars. The group is named Visiting Iyengar Institute (RIMYI) Pune? and anyone can join. Or you can type in https://www.facebook.com/groups/252155194915746
Medical today was divine and feeling much better. I do have the option of getting up for early Rajalaxmi class tomorrow which is 7-8.30 am, but suspect by the time I get to bed it’ll be too late for such an early start.
After practice went to the Mariott with Nicky for swim in their ice cold pool (do they refrigerate the water??). It was interesting to swap experiences with Nicky who had a much more Prashant orientated month and loved it. She really got a huge amount from it and was going off to book for 2015. Evening spent organising and packing, can allow myself to think about seeing the kids now.