Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tamara’s Trip

Tamara has been in India during January to study with the Iyengar family. We’ve enjoyed hearing her stories of one to one tuition with Mr Iyengar himself! We are very much looking forward to sharing in Tamara’s refreshed insights; she’s back teaching from Feb 3rd. You can read about Tamara’s journey on her blog here.

Many thanks to Janet, Lizzie, Luke and Sam who covered Tamara’s regular classes during January.

Easter Intensive April 18-19

Edgar-400-full length-cutoutEdgar has kindly agreed to teach a two day intensive workshop over the Easter Weekend – Good Friday and Easter Saturday. Details are being finalised but it’s likely that the Friday session will be suitable for intermediate/experienced students and Saturday for all abilities. Full information will be on the website soon and will be published in next month’s newsletter…in the meantime hold the dates!

 

Half Term Feb 17-21

halftermimageDuring half term we will be running a slightly reduced timetable, although most classes will run as normal. Check the online timetable that week for full details.

The following classes will not run:

Wednesday Feb 19 – 9:15 (beginner) We invite you to attend the 10am general class instead
Thursday Feb 20 – 9:30 (general) We invite you to attend the 10-12 class instead. During half term this class is open to all levels and men are welcome too!

Please note the Friday morning 10-12 experienced class is running.

February Love Yoga Offer

Valentine Yoga Gift

SONY DSCWe all know how good yoga is for the heart, and to celebrate the month of love, we invite you to give a free yoga class to someone you love who hasn’t yet been to Yogawest: perhaps a family member, neighbour or friend. Your nominated friend can choose to come to a class (between Feb 14th and Mar 14th), or have a £15 discount off a 5-week foundation course (to be booked before Mar 31st and started before end April).

How to Get A Free Class Voucher

Email Yogawest and give us the name and email address of the person you’d like to give a Valentine Yoga Gift to. We will email them a voucher which can be redeemed at reception (no booking required for drop-in classes).

Or if you prefer the tangible, we can make you a gift voucher – ask us to leave one for you at reception to collect.

How to Redeem Your Voucher

heart-mandala4webThe free class is valid between February 14th and March 14th and is for any beginner or general class on the timetable: email us to book your place (quote your voucher number LOVE+Vxx or LOVE+EVxx ), or just turn up 10 minutes early with your voucher to register. Please bring your voucher with you when you come.

Alternatively you can use your voucher as a £15 discount off any foundation course starting before end April 2014 (must be booked before March 31st).

Which Class is Good to Come To?

All our classes are listed here and you can drop in to most of them without booking (except foundation courses). We would recommend attending a beginner class for the first visit, (one of the quieter classes is on Wednesday at 9.15am). If you are quite fit you could also come to a general class (one of the quieter ones is e.g. Friday 12.30pm). Either way, do let the teacher know you are new. Find out more about Yogawest and read FAQs here.

Thank you to our teenager class for the wonderful heart images for our February newsletter.

SONY DSC

Yoga for the Brain, part 2

Penetrating Postures, Part II: The Psychology of Yoga

This is the second of a two-part series on yoga by Alice Walton. The first, “The Science of Yoga,” examined the biological changes that yoga produces in the body and brain.

Having explored the nuts and bolts of yoga’s amazing health benefits, it seemed natural to switch from the objective to the subjective, and take a look at what yoga has been shown to do in the mind. After all, many people say that after starting yoga they feel mentally stronger, more relaxed, less depressed and more level-headed than before. Heck, I’m the first to admit it’s the best therapy I’ve ever had. So to discuss how and why these changes occur, I turned to two well-recognized  and seasoned practitioners.

Stephen Cope, director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, explains that yoga itself is a form of meditation, and herein lies its power. “Yoga provides attentional training and self-regulation,” he says. “In practicing yoga, we’re training our awareness to attend to the flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations in the body – and to be with these different states without self-judgment or reactivity.”In other words, yoga teaches a new kind of attention. People who practice yoga learn how to accept all the stress-inducing thoughts that flit around in one’s head – negative self-talk, worries, snap judgments – as just that: thoughts, and nothing more. Since reacting to our thoughts is typically what gets us into trouble, learning to attend to them and accept them nonjudgmentally is key. Then we can let them go, says Cope, and “make wise choices – not based on reactivity to these states, but on our best interests.”

This idea of paying attention to one’s thoughts in a nonjudgmental way is what mindfulness meditation, or mindfulness training, is all about. This ancient practice has gained a lot of interest from researchers (and regular folk) in recent years. Scientists have studied how mindfulness courses can change people’s reactions and behaviors, and how they can literally change the structure of the brain. Attentional training and mindfulness have been shown to provide major benefits in treating everything from stress and depression to serious addictions. And yoga seems to work in much the same way.

Elena Brower, Anusara® yoga teacher, and co-founder and owner of theVirayoga studio in Manhattan, tells me about the personal changes she’s witnessed in her own mind as she’s practiced over the last 15 years. She starts by explaining the shift in attention that yoga can bring: “We each have two aspects of ourselves; one that is inward-drawn, super focused and alternately afraid; one that is expressive, open, ready, available and downright brave. In our mind, yoga helps us create a patient relationship between those two aspects of ourselves. Yoga brings a level of patience and listening I’ve never found with any other discipline.”

Both experts agree that there’s something powerful and fundamental about syncing the mind and body as yoga does. Researchers, too, are beginning to grasp the depths of the mind-body connection. As Cope explains, “yogis came to believe that the mind and body are linked in every way, and indeed, that the mind is just a subtle form of the body, and the body a gross form of mind.” What we do for the one benefits the other. And as Brower articulates, “when fed and led well, a strong body helps us see the mind’s hilarious machinations more clearly.” Indeed, life is a lot more pleasant when we learn to see our thoughts not as grave realities to be reacted to, but as harmless, almost comical, little clouds that float in and out of consciousness.

Brower also points out that you don’t have to practice for hours on end to reap the mental benefits that yoga can bring. “Even 15 minutes, consistently, shifts my ability to be present. My daily practice consists of 15-20 minutes of asana and 5-10 minutes of meditation, and to keep that promise to myself creates a rich quality of presence in everything I do. And I notice when I don’t do it.”

To people who are on the fence about trying it out for the first time, Brower offers this: “Know that it may take some time to find the teacher who really speaks to YOU in a way that you can hear, but once you do, be prepared to feel stronger, more secure, and, in many cases, ridiculously fortunate and thrilled to know the strength in your body that comes with a consistent practice.”

The bottom line is that aside from its obvious physical benefits, yoga is great for those of us who are in our heads all the time. “When you have a few yoga classes under your belt,” says Brower, “the first thing you’ll notice is the space between your thoughts. Literally, a pause is revealed, through your breathing, that grants you a moment of time between one thought and the next.”

If you’re ready to get out of the tangle of those pesky cogitations, I’d highly recommend giving yoga a try.

Follow Alice @alicewalton

Yoga for the Brain

Penetrating postures: the psychology of yoga

Article from Alice G. Watson for Forbes
“The Psychology of Yoga,” looks at the psychological changes that yoga has been shown to bring about.

Judging from the number of yoga mats I’ve seen toted around Manhattan in the last 15 years, I’m pretty sure I was the last person on the island to try it. My relationship with the practice started about six months ago, and I must admit, I fell for it – and hard. I was amazed at the changes it was effecting in my body, and even better, my mind. But the science nerd/Western medicine part of me wondered how, exactly, it was doing this. I could wager some guesses based on what I know about the body, but wanted to talk to some people who actually study this stuff for a living.

Stephen Cope is a therapist and director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.  He heads a program at the Center entitled “Yoga and the Brain,” in which researchers are studying yoga’s effect on the brain with MRI and other clever techniques. Cope explains that yoga brings about measurable changes in the body’s sympathetic nervous system – the one charged with propelling us into action during the “fight or flight” response to stress. However, because our lives today include business emails at 10 o’clock at night and loud cell conversations at the next table, our stress response often lingers in the “on” position at times it shouldn’t. Yoga helps dampen the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions, but it can wreak havoc on the body when one is chronically stressed. So reducing the body’s cortisol level is generally considered a good thing.

Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three neurotransmitters are the targets of various mood medications like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs. The fact that yoga is linked to improved levels of these coveted chemicals is nothing to sneeze at.

Yoga has another bonus, says Sarah Dolgonos, MD, who has taught at the Yoga Society of New York’s Ananda Ashram. She points out that in addition to suppressing the stress response, yoga actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stressor is over. When the parasympathetic nervous system switches on, “blood is directed toward endocrine glands, digestive organs, and lymphatic circulation, while the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered,” says Dolgonos. With the parasympathetic nervous system in gear, “our bodies can better extract nutrients from the food we eat, and more effectively eliminate toxins because circulation is enhanced. With parasympathetic activation, the body enters into a state of restoration and healing.”

There is also consensus that yoga boosts immune function, says Dolgonos. This benefit is probably due to the reduction of cortisol, mentioned earlier: too much of the pesky hormone can dampen the effectiveness of the immune system “by immobilizing certain white blood cells.” Reducing circulating cortisol “removes a barrier to effective immune function,” so yoga could help prevent illness by boosting immunity.

So let’s zoom in on yoga’s effects on the body even more (bear with me, this is really interesting). Researchers have discovered that yoga improves health in part by reducing a major adversary of the body: inflammation. Chronic inflammation, even low grade, is responsible for a litany of health problems from heart disease to diabetes to depression.

Paula R. Pullen, PhD, Research Instructor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, studies yoga’s effects on inflammation by looking at what’s happening in the bodies of heart failure patients who enroll in yoga classes. She has shown that after being randomly assigned to yoga or to standard medical care, patients taking yoga have significantly improved levels of biomarkers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). If your eyes just glazed over, these findings are quite remarkable because they illustrate that yoga can actually affect the tiniest molecules, the ones that are widely known to predict risk for serious disease. Pullen underlines that reducing the body’s level of inflammation is incredibly important from a preventative standpoint.  And yoga can help with this. “Yoga balances the body, the hormonal system, and the stress response. People tend to think of yoga as being all about flexibility – it’s not.  It’s about rebalancing and healing the body.”

Though it’s been around for thousands of years, Western science is just beginning to understand how yoga exerts its effects. It will certainly be interesting to follow the research as it continues to reveal just what yoga is doing in the body and brain.

Having explored the nuts and bolts of yoga’s amazing health benefits, it seemed natural to switch from the objective to the subjective, and take a look at what yoga has been shown to do in the mind. After all, many people say that after starting yoga they feel mentally stronger, more relaxed, less depressed and more level-headed than before. Heck, I’m the first to admit it’s the best therapy I’ve ever had. So to discuss how and why these changes occur, I turned to two well-recognized  and seasoned practitioners.

Stephen Cope, director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, explains that yoga itself is a form of meditation, and herein lies its power. “Yoga provides attentional training and self-regulation,” he says. “In practicing yoga, we’re training our awareness to attend to the flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations in the body – and to be with these different states without self-judgment or reactivity.”

In other words, yoga teaches a new kind of attention. People who practice yoga learn how to accept all the stress-inducing thoughts that flit around in one’s head – negative self-talk, worries, snap judgments – as just that: thoughts, and nothing more. Since reacting to our thoughts is typically what gets us into trouble, learning to attend to them and accept them nonjudgmentally is key. Then we can let them go, says Cope, and “make wise choices – not based on reactivity to these states, but on our best interests.”

This idea of paying attention to one’s thoughts in a nonjudgmental way is whatmindfulness meditation, or mindfulness training, is all about. This ancient practice has gained a lot of interest from researchers (and regular folk) in recent years. Scientists have studied how mindfulness courses can change people’s reactions and behaviors, and how they can literally change the structure of the brain. Attentional training and mindfulness have been shown to provide major benefits in treating everything from stress and depression to serious addictions. And yoga seems to work in much the same way.

Elena Brower, Anusara® yoga teacher, and co-founder and owner of the Virayogastudio in Manhattan, tells me about the personal changes she’s witnessed in her own mind as she’s practiced over the last 15 years. She starts by explaining the shift in attention that yoga can bring: “We each have two aspects of ourselves; one that is inward-drawn, super focused and alternately afraid; one that is expressive, open, ready, available and downright brave. In our mind, yoga helps us create a patient relationship between those two aspects of ourselves. Yoga brings a level of patience and listening I’ve never found with any other discipline.”

Both experts agree that there’s something powerful and fundamental about syncing the mind and body as yoga does. Researchers, too, are beginning to grasp the depths of the mind-body connection. As Cope explains, “yogis came to believe that the mind and body are linked in every way, and indeed, that the mind is just a subtle form of the body, and the body a gross form of mind.” What we do for the one benefits the other. And as Brower articulates, “when fed and led well, a strong body helps us see the mind’s hilarious machinations more clearly.” Indeed, life is a lot more pleasant when we learn to see our thoughts not as grave realities to be reacted to, but as harmless, almost comical, little clouds that float in and out of consciousness.

Brower also points out that you don’t have to practice for hours on end to reap the mental benefits that yoga can bring. “Even 15 minutes, consistently, shifts my ability to be present. My daily practice consists of 15-20 minutes of asana and 5-10 minutes of meditation, and to keep that promise to myself creates a rich quality of presence in everything I do. And I notice when I don’t do it.”

To people who are on the fence about trying it out for the first time, Brower offers this: “Know that it may take some time to find the teacher who really speaks to YOU in a way that you can hear, but once you do, be prepared to feel stronger, more secure, and, in many cases, ridiculously fortunate and thrilled to know the strength in your body that comes with a consistent practice.”

The bottom line is that aside from its obvious physical benefits, yoga is great for those of us who are in our heads all the time. “When you have a few yoga classes under your belt,” says Brower, “the first thing you’ll notice is the space between your thoughts. Literally, a pause is revealed, through your breathing, that grants you a moment of time between one thought and the next.”

If you’re ready to get out of the tangle of those pesky cogitations, I’d highly recommend giving yoga a try.

From Alice G. Watson for Forbes

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Tamara’s blog from Pune

i82528590._szw565h2600_Tamara is away in India for the month of January, working with The Iyengar family at the Institute in Pune.

Day One

Arrived into Mumbai at 4am and headed out of airport to get a taxi to Pune. I had been previously advised to expect to pay about 850 rupees. Of course they took one look at me and said 3000 rupees. I explained I didn’t mind waiting and splitting the fare and was told that as it was New Years Eve all the shared taxis were booked well in advance and nothing was available. I stuck to my guns and surprise surprise, there were already 3 people sat there waiting to go to Pune and off we went for 850 rupees( about £8.50). My flatmate was charged 100 usdollars and this didn’t seem like a bad deal after her hotel had quoted her 300 usdollars.

The sun came up as we were driving on the expressway through the dusty mountainous area between Mumbai and Pune. Arrived at 8.30am local time (3am by my body clock) and spent the morning traipsing round to look at apartments – I’d only been granted my place at the institute in mid December so unsuprisingly last year’s apartment was taken. Eventually settled for the first one I’d looked at which is pretty good but a little far away from the institute (15 mins walk) and kitchen is rubbish – just a single gas burner on a bottle of the type you might use when camping (and to be honest even then I’d have 2 rings!).

Saw a gorgeous apartment right by the park that was not available till the tenth, so hope to move in then. Sank into bed gratefully for a few hours rest, feeling a bit lost without Jenny who I travelled with last year Sad

Day Two

Felt much better once my flat mate arrived – Nicola from Canada and passed out the second my head hit the pillow waking at 6am.

Headed into the institute for practice starting at 9am and sat outside chatting waiting for the session to start. As we chatted Mr. Iyengar came out of his home (just opposite institute) and sat on his usual perch. We both went to give our greetings – some bring their hands together and simply say namaste whereas other kneel before him and kiss the ground at this feet. He didn’t acknowledge my greeting and we sat to resume our wait.

Shortly after Gerry and Lynda arrived (my 2 teachers who have sponsored my visit here, kindly offering to look after me in the medical classes under the supervision of the medical team here). Shortly followed by my medical class teacher who took me over to formally introduce me to Guruji and remind him of the purpose of my visit. (Gulp)

Guruji has given his permission for me to attend a month of medical classes to work on my Type 1 Diabetes after the amazing results we had on last year’s trip (see wordpress blog Tamara’s Indian Experience). This time I am going to take a c-peptide test before and after the month. This test will hopefully verify whether insulin is being produced by my pancreas or whether there is some other reason for the amazing effects that were felt on my blood sugar.

During the practice session I realised I was still exhausted and not fit for much more than lying in supta tadasana to realign and reconnect after all the travel. I left early and spent the afternoon resting before my first medical class.

We focussed today on a restorative sequence to recover from the travel and build up some energy for the work that lies ahead. Also I haven’t had my pre-trial c-peptide test yet so no pancreas stimulation yet! We did however use a polystyrene cylinder behind the pancreas in the supine poses to lift and open the area using the posture and breath combined to open out and broaden the ribs to the side and breathe life and energy into the whole area. Inversions were done with the feet hooked over the trestler so as not to ‘load’ the organs. After the session felt completely restored and energised.

Myself and Nicola headed to Shrivan on FC Road for some good food and went to bed feeling very grateful for all the support and help I am receiving here.

 

Day Three

Got up still tired after tossing and turning all night – anxious about getting the c-peptide test organised, things are rarely straightforward here and also about the possibility I might be working directly with Guruji.

Eventually got through to one of the laboratories recommended by Dr.Manoj (local doctor and teacher at the Institute). They confirmed they could do the test for a mere 1090 rupees – about £11 compared to the £167 quoted in the UK. They needed a 12 hours fasting blood sample so I headed for practice with the intention of getting a rickshaw over straight after practice.

The hall was noticeably busier and difficult to find a space (though NOTHING compared to last year) and I ended up in the nerve-racking position of having to do my sirsasana (headstand) directly infront of Guruji. The only space left in the entire room! It certainly gave me the motivation to strive for best ever pose!

When I came down I had been caught by my medical teacher’s eagle eye and she explained one of the most important things I could do for my organ health would be to learn to take my lumbar back in Sirsasana. I was sent into the cupboard to practice with the hands wrapped around the leg of an equipment rack, so whole spine could be supported and aligned.

After practice it was interesting to reflect on the difference in how I felt after medical yesterday. Although I had done some much needed work do loosen stiff shoulders and reconnect with my legs I felt depleted compared to yesterday, which was a totally passive receipt of energy.

Managed to negotiate the rickshaw and find the laboratory with minimal difficulty (a first!) had the blood taken as was out in 5 minutes. Let the work begin!

Medical class was TOUGH today. I was taken through a strong standing pose and inversion sequence to give me an understanding of how to work to benefit the organ body in a ‘normal’ practice. Plenty of sweating and groaning and feeling wonderful now.

 

The pigs take care of the rubbish

 

Day 4 Women’s Class

The day got off to a great start with the women’s class taught by Gulnaz. She was very relaxed and easy going but still taught a really thorough and deep reaching class, starting with 20 minutes of AM swastikasana! So helpful to be reminded the power of repeating poses so that they can fully evolve – we did at least 5 repeats of parivrtta janu sirsasana and parivrtta upavista konasana and then the parivrrta standing poses that followed were incredible – the body could just turn so freely and without any specific instruction many of us took the whole palm to the floor.

After class we headed for Dorabjees to stock up on brown rice and all the other bits and pieces that are difficult to get anywhere else. It has a big gluten free and organic section and just about anything else a westerner might need – at a price. Note to self: next time remember to pack balsamic vinegar, olive oil etc. These items are available, but for at least 3 times the price of back home. A small bag of Tesco (yes really) quinoa £3.90. On the bright side watermelons about 20p and the fruit is utterly divine. Juicy deep red pomegranate heaven! Although we can get these fruits back home something major is lost in transit. Across the road from Dorabjees is the toy shop where I was delighted to find the sister of the small indian doll I bought my daughter Josie last year. She will be made up! Most days I read her a chapter of her storybook over skype and for the rest of the month the doll will have to be with me in view of the camera. It’s the small things …

The institute is closed completely on a Sunday so I bought a bolster from the shop there for £3.30 so that I can practice in the apartment tomorrow. Although I am sure for many it was a disappointment that Geeta wasn’t teaching today I’m glad she is taking a break. As I was sat outside taking notes after the medical class yesterday I noticed Prashant loitering – coming in and out of the house and institute. I wondered what he was waiting for and soon a whole family procession came back. First Guruji escorted by Abi, then Geeta with Abi’s beautiful baby daughter (she’s unbelievably dainty and pretty), Prashant instantly appeared to carry the baby inside – it was so sweet. But it really made me aware just how intrusive it is to have the home and institute together. Never a second away from the hoardes and hoardes of foreign students, many of whom behave like tourists. Teaching can be exhausting, hence the reason we all come here for our month of respite to be fed with inspiration for our own practice and the year’s teaching ahead. But where do you go if you are an Iyengar? Always giving.

 

Overlooking Pune

Day 5 Day off

No classes or practice sessions today so spent the morning at the apartment making creative use of tables and beds to replace usual yoga equipment. Spent a lot of time wrestling with antiquated twin tub washing machine trying to get a load of washing done without completely flooding the apartment. Lets just say the floor is very clean now.

Headed off to join Lynda for her 60th birthday celebration lunch at La Pizzeria – a rather nice italian restaurant with UK prices but good food. Salad that’s safe to eat and desserts such a melting chocolate bomb. We followed with afternoon tea and cake at the flat and then headed out to see if we could find our way up the hill that overlooks Pune.

We weren’t sure how to get there so just ambled in the general direction and ended up walking through the slums and seeing a completely different side of Pune. Narrow streets and higgledy piggedly mix of tin shacks, colourful houses, shops and stalls, people working, children and goats scrubbing around on wasteland – it almost had a festival atmosphere.

You might imagine it would feel unsafe but in fact the opposite was true – a friendly and relaxed vibe. I stopped to take a photo of some goats and the people nearby wanted their photo taken too and of course wanted to see their image on the camera amid much giggling and chattering. It was a shame I didn’t have a word of Hindi nor they of English.

We finally found our way up the hill and scrambled up some rocks to sit and enjoy the vista over Pune just before the sun went down. A good day Cool

I spent the evening catching up with the family on Skype and doing some Diabetes research online and was dismayed to find out that I had been incorrectly advised by the laboratory to fast before the c-peptide test. Basically if your blood sugar is already low why would your pancreas bother to produce insulin? (and therefore c-peptide). It would have been more useful to go and test when the sugars had been raised for a while. So I may go and re-test tomorrow. On the plus side my test result was 0.13 ng/ml which is very low (normal fasting range  0.78 – 1.89 ng/ml) but it’s not nothing – indicating perhaps that a few beta cells have survived despite having type 1 diabetes for 16 years.

 

Day 6 Medical

Goddess Durga symbolizes the divine forces (positive energy) known as divine shakti (feminine energy/ power) that is used against the negative forces of evil and wickedness. She protects her devotees from evil powers and safeguards them. It is believed that Goddess Durga is the combined form of powers of Goddesses Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati.

 

Practice was really busy and Guruji seemed to focussing his teaching on his nearest and dearest. Each day there is a small group of select students close to the trestler where he works and as he does his practice he teaches them. There is always an audience that gathers to learn from what he is giving them and often he teaches to include the audience. Today though he spoke very quietly and so I stayed away – he wanted to teach just them. Though from where I was I could clearly hear Abi’s tortured groans as she endeavoured to stay in Sirsasana and follow his instructions.

I cannot help but marvel at his tolerance – I don’t believe I could share my daily practice space with 100 plus ‘yoga tourists’ and I’m sure I would be deeply irritated as they all gawked at a personal lesson I was giving a family member. I went about my practice with Guruji’s voice in the background just a few feet away, almost shaking my head in disbelief – it’s amazing to be sharing my practice with such distinguished company – it’s like a devout catholic kneeling down to pray with the Pope every morning!

After practice I disconnected the pump, drank a 1/3 of a bottle of lucozade and jumped into a rickshaw to the laboratory to repeat the C-peptide test in non-fasting state. Upon arrival I was told I would need to wait until 2 hours after the glucose so I went next door to the ‘Shoppers Stop’ to kill time and found a nice blouse suitably modest to wear in India. Test results tomorrow and it will be interesting to see if there is any slight response in the insulin level to the glucose intake. Clearly there won’t be a full response as I’m type 1 diabetic, but will there be anything at all?

Medical class was quite an experience. I went in with a blood sugar of 7.2 and started with resting poses with my new understanding of correct positioning for the organic body. So AM Svanasana, Uttansana and Prasarita Paddottonasna with concavity in the dorsal AND lumbar spine, head and mid thigh supported. Then we moved to trestler for supported ardha chandrasana with organ body in mind. When I came down Raya came and spoke to me and told me I was firing on all cylinders at once and I need to learn to do just one action, stabilise that action and the move onto next action. Not everything at once as it made me become hard or tense in the pose.

As I was given the next pose I realised I was hypo and checked sugar which in 30 minutes had dropped to 3.2. I disconnected the pump and took lots of Lucozade to bring the level back up, which normally works almost instantly. Today though it took longer and a few more doses of glucose, so my teacher called a halt to the active work and we moved to resting poses. Just as well as I had exhausted my glucose supply – enough to last me at least a week usually. The power in this work is incredible. It is well understood that aerobic activity can bring a sharp drop in blood sugars – but contrast this with the super-tough sequence of standing poses and inversions she gave me on Friday, where the sweat was dripping off of me and I didn’t need even a swig of glucose during it, yet here with a supported sequence designed to work on the pancreas the effect is immediate. It lasted until late in the evening where normal insulin requirements resumed. (later update here – up 3 times in the night for glucose, so effects have continued and will need to adjust insulin regime accordingly).

After class brought Lynda flowers for her birthday and stayed with them for some food. Cool

This family pulled up alongside us at a junction, to my left, out of shot is a veritable throng of cars, motorbikes and rickshaws all with engines revving, horns blaring and fumes spewing. See baby fast asleep oblivious to the chaos!

 

Day 7 Guruji

Had a very interrupted sleep as I woke needing glucose 3 or 4 times. Got up and headed into the institute to observe the seniors class. A different teacher this year, the class was busy with about 35 local senior citizens. She gave them a tough class, which they clearly enjoyed very much.

Just in time for the final 30 minutes of the practice session afterwards. Once home I declined an offer of going to the Mariot for a swim as much as I would have loved to, my instinct was telling me to stay home and rest.

Good thing I did. When I got to medical at 4pm Guruji was there and it wasn’t long before he came over to teach me. He is an exacting and demanding teacher and certainly does not suffer fools gladly. It was pretty terrifying. Sweat pouring off of me, trying very hard to understand and perform what was being asked and not let myself or my teacher’s down. I was deeply grateful for the preparation time and guidance I had had since arriving as some of the actions had already been shown to me.

I just kept going and said very little, which afterwards I was told was the correct way. Towards the end of the session all was a little calmer and it wasn’t quite so terrifying. I was asked to tell what was happening inside as a result of the actions I was given, requring perhaps a greater level of sensitivity than I currently feel confident of, but again I just did my best and tried to be honest and clear.

What an incredible honour, I am extremely priveliged.

On my walk home I had a rare experience of being in an abundance of connected energy so that instead of feeling weary and that the walk was drawing from me I felt I could walk a thousand miles. The feeling inside my organ body at the back was hard to describe – the complete opposite of sluggishness, light, euphoric, vibrant.

Day 8 Guruji

A beacon of colour and light as I walked home.

 

Started the day observing the women’s class with Geetaji. Was sad not to be in it but it was interesting to watch and get the opportunity to take some thorough notes. Although she was not too well, her voice struggling despite the mic – she taught a beautiful forward bend sequence.

Spent the afternoon resting and headed for medical class at 6pm. It was perhaps the most physically and mentally challenging experience of my life. I ended up with a face like a big red tomato and in tears – the inevitable release of held emotion, that was actually preventing me from breathing properly – so good that it’s begun to come out I guess. I would however have preferred not to have been quite so observed. Aside from all the teachers and students, there are always many people who come to look and learn. I’d probably be quite upset if the milkman was mad at me, so Guruji’s stern disapproval was intolerably hard to bear.

He has told me I need to put my intelligence aside and be more like an animal, then he might be able to teach me. Part of the problem is being so much in my brain, so it may be that the blog now becomes much more sporadic – spending my evenings writing up notes and blogging is not helping me to be less brain orientated. There was so much heat in my head and body that when I came home I spent a loooong time in a cool shower – as the cold water hit me it was running off hot. I was like a furnace pumping out heat. Managed to sleep okay to begin with but was woken up at dawn by an unwelcome game of hide and seek with a lone mosquito.

Got it?

 

Day 9 Medical

 

Woke up feeling physically well, but mentally shell-shocked.

As I walked to practice the little stray puppy that hangs out by the Toyota Chowk who has always been completely benign, suddenly decided to attack – not teeth bared scarey attack – but little puppy jumping and nipping.I couldn’t seem to deter him, so I bent down to try and push him away and he then started jumping and nipping at my arms. I was aware it wouldn’t be a good thing for him to break the skin so in the end I had to just run away, much to the amusement of watching school kids!

Used the practice session today to cool the body down and recover some emotional equilibrium after yesterday’s trials. Today Guruji was being interviewed so I had my usual medical teacher, it was good to explore the work I’ve been set with less immediate pressure. I got the non-fasting c-peptide result back which was 0.14 ng/ml – a weeny rise from the fasting one. So just a flicker of life in the pancreas.

Moving apartment tomorrow, to one closer to the Institute right next to the park Cool

Day 10 Medical

Guruji is away for 10 days down south, so I won’t have the possibility of being taught by him again until the 20th. I will use this time well to practice the work he has given me and strengthen myself for the next onslaught. While I am grateful for this space to prepare, I thought class might be a bit flat without fresh input.

Infact it was wonderful, consolidating some of the more familiar stuff and also some new work which was great. Feel like I’m wearing someone else’s pelvis now (someone younger and fitter). I was working with Gerry today and had a bit of a smile to myself that to think I have ended up in a world where Gerry gets to play good cop! A walk in the park after working with Guruji!

Arrived at the new apartment to collect keys, only to find that someone is already in the second bedroom, so poor Nicola had to go back to our old apartment, I will miss her.

The new apartment is like another world, spacious, homely, huge balcony big enough to practice outside and best of all, no more leaky twin tub washing machine. It’s in a quiet and leafy street next to the park. The lift is a bit random though – taking you to whatever floor it feels like at the time. I am now sharing with Eva from Switzerland – I must say I enjoy the opportunity of making new friends and connecting with like-minded people almost as much as the yoga.

Speaking of which I was invited over for dinner with the lovely Laura this eve and had a very pleasant evening eating and chatting. On our way to her place we stopped to buy some veg from one of the many barrows and Laura asked where the kids were. The woman running the stall pointed to underneath the barrow and we bent down to have a look, there they were curled up fast asleep inside a piece of sacking suspended from the bottom of the barrow like a hammock! So very resourceful!

Surprisingly good children’s play area in the park.

Day 11 Geetaji

View from the back balcony, coconut palm right outside

It was such a different experience waking up in the new apartment – cool, leafy and quiet. The sun was just up when I went out onto the terrace to take some photos.

My only ‘normal’ class today and it was a cracker! Hall was busy but not unbearable. It’s a wonderful sound to hear the invocation with so many voices filling and lifting the space – quite moving the first time you hear it. Geeta taught a challenging padmasana based sequence. Baddha padmasana bending forwards, matsyasana and plenty of simhasana where we had to ‘pump’ the back thigh crease to prepare us for padmasana in sirsasana. She was in great form, teaching beautifully and making us laugh. Not without the odd telling off too, there is that slight dread that next time it’s going to be you “Hey you Blue t-shirt” everyone in blue t-shirt develops an instant anxiety that the eagle eye has spotted their mistakes. I floated out of there with a brand new pair of buttocks and had to have two coconuts from the barrow outside to recover. One of the many things I love about being here is it seems that just the right thing is available when you need it – on practically every street, refreshing coconut water, fruit stall ,veg stall … (though Gerry tells me Tesco has arrived in India Sad)

Later realised I was utterly exhausted – it had been a tough class, so I used the practice session to indulge in the most wonderful restorative sequence. I set myself up right in the corner for chair sarvangasana rolling over into a supported halasana and hands in san mukhi mudra. When I finally came down I discovered that I had been so completely absorbed that the practice session had finished, everyone had packed up and gone and the next class had started!!

Fresh chickpeas!

Day 12 Day Off

A wonderful day starting with yoga on the balcony, getting my teeth into practicing the new work Guruji and Stephanie have given. Although I didn’t have a trestle, the fence around the balcony worked just as well.

Met Lynda at lunchtime and headed off in the rickshaw for the Solaris pool out at Koregan Park. It’s getting a bit run down these days and no longer has a cafe or bar so you have to remember to bring your own food. It was deserted except for half a dozen Iyengar students. Palm trees, sun loungers and ice cold water to swim in, great to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Lynda didn’t want to sit under the coconut palms because every year people are killed by falling coconuts and I thought she was being a bit cautious, but sure enough as we were sat chatting, there was a huge cracking sound and a whole section of tree came thumping down.

In the evening I joined Lynda, Gerry and Laura for dinnner, the picture below is of the two children that sleep under the veg barrow and spend their days playing on the pavement, today having a whale of a time with an empty plastic bottle!

Day 13 Medical

This is the veg barrow with the sacking tied underneath for the children to crawl into and sleep at the end of the day.

Got up feeling a bit ropey after swimming yesterday – very mild cold symptoms. Got ready for practice session at the institute, only to find that I was locked into the apartment – my flatmate Eva had bolted the door on the outside when she left for Prasant’s class at 6.30am.

Undeterred I got out the equipment here and practiced at home instead – it was probably nicer to do here anyway. As Guruji is away there is not much to see during the practice sessions at the moment.

Medical class was really tough today. Lots of abdominal and back body organ strengthening work. At one point I was suspended from a rope hanging from the ceiling, I had to take my legs out straight, catch my feet with my hands and draw my body up between my legs. Raya came and said I shouldn’t be using my arm strength to pull up, but the mid back body. Very tough work. A lot of the stuff I have been doing, Guruji has been giving to his senior students over the last week or two, hence Raya’s understanding of this obscure pose.

Didn’t have the energy to cook, so went for a rare meal out and am happily tucked up in bed.

 

Day 14 Medical

Day started with observation of the older folks class and then practice session. After practice headed outside for the obligatory coconut and straw. I’m building up quite a coconut habit – at least 2 a day now, it seems way more thirst quenching than mere water. They cost 30 rupees each (30p) and the seller will ask Mali?? meaning do you want a coconut where after you’ve drunk the water you can eat the soft flesh inside. So it’s panee if you just want water and mali if you want to eat the flesh as well. He has a machete type knife that he uses to make a hole in the top and then if you want the flesh, first he cuts a piece of the husk to make a scooping device, then he chops the whole top off so you can scoop out the soft flesh. Yum.

I was given a day off the tough stuff in class today – learning how to take the load off the brain. So supported poses with a helper fixing the occiput down steadily (or this could be achieved with the placement of a weight). I felt I could happily have stayed in dog pose a whole hour like this.

I had a real breakthrough with my sirsasana (headstand) – for years people have been trying to teach me to take the lumbar back, to no avail. The work Guruji has given me to keep the organ body drawn in and up can be done in sirsasana, only here as you’re upside down, you are actually drawing the pancreas towards the floor. Anyway this work done in sirsasana  pulls the lumbar into the correct position – hallelujah!

After class headed to the oil shop with lynda. What an amazing place – it feels as if it is unchanged for centuries. It’s like an old-fashioned apothecary, selling pure essential oils, perfumes and incense. Old wooden cabinets filled with mysterious glass bottles of all shapes and sizes. We were sat on chairs, offered chai and bottle after bottle of scent was brought out for us to try. The owner proudly told us that the shop has been in his family for 6 generations and each of his predecessors has a portrait on the wall.

I’m not a perfume kind of a girl, but Lynda slected three different scents (two types of rose and a frangipani) which were then meticulously decanted into teeny weeny glass bottles, placed in a special envelope and finally each put in it’s own small draw skin bag. All for the princely sum of 45 rupees each! (45P) So if anyone at home wants me to bring some back, let me know!

We had dinner at Rupali – a bustling Indian eatery and shared masala dosa and another savoury bread, both gluten free.

 

One of the murals adorning the outer walls of the institute

Day 15 Geeta

The snazzy new Toyota Chowk

The day started with my own practice at home, remembering feeling lousy as I sat and watched Geeta’s class last Wednesday. All the work to strengthen my back body is really starting to take hold and I did best ever navasana. I’m finally tackling those avoided areas of difficulty. Geetaji taught a wonderful class. It was quite a sight to behold, her expertise at wringing out every last drop was on full display “Do or Die”.

It’s sad to say that it does help to be just a tiny bit scared of the teacher to reach this level of depth – we all really enjoyed Gulnaz’s class, but did she wring out every last drop “NO!”

She taught a compelling sequence of forward bends and twists, taking them further and further, deeper and deeper. The uttanasana towards the end of the sequence was enlightening to watch. Everyone was beautifully warmed up, so one and all were taking palms to the floor. Then she had them walk the palms beyond the feet, lengthening the side trunk and walking the hands more and more, more and more. People were getting so deeply into it their noses were practically buried inbetween their ankle bones! Afterwards she reminded them how they put such limits on themselves – how often do we go anywhere near our maximum?

I love it here!

After class went to MG Road with Lynda for shopping and lunch. Afternoon spent chilling before another wonderful medical class. Unfortunately poor Julian joined me as one of the students after slipping a disc in his back. I wondered where he’d got to!

About 5 years into my yoga life I was surprised to find during a routine medical that I had gained a full inch in height! Well after this work in the medical class, I reckon I’ve found at least another half inch – I’m like a leaf gradually unfurling!

On my way home walked straight into what seemed like a festival – as far as I could tell, to celebrate the unveiling of the newly adorned Toyota roundabout, now resplendent with huge replicas of Indian musical instruments. There were banners and fairy lights, loudspeakers and speeches, horns a beeping as the traffic was being held up and ridiculously loud and low to the ground fireworks. Complete and utter noisy chaos!

Chaos!

Day 16

Breakfast!

After practice headed off in rickshaw for FabIndia, stopping at Rupali for breakfast on the way – a Thali! see pic. Was tired after having big hypo in the night, despite only taking a teeny 2 units of insulin with my dinner. I chatted to Dr. Manoj about the diabetes work we are doing and he warned me not to place too much importance on the c-peptide test – there are many other ways the effect of the yoga may show itself. To be honest I’m happy just to be here and doing the work – I haven’t my heart set on any particular outcome – having the chance to work with Guruji is reward enough.

We had a lot of trouble finding FabIndia but we ran across this intriguing demonstration by local women – absolutely no idea what they were protesting about, but it made an interesting sight, the whole lot of them in their saris chanting and waving their arms about. We were just beginning to think about giving up and heading home, as one after the other rickshaw drivers gave us a blank stare when we said where we wanted to go – when we were rescued by a lovely young indian man who called up the shop on his mobile and got directions for us. It’s a strange fact that most places aren’t known by their address, but by a nearby landmark. You could be only two streets away from the Institute and nobody would know what you were talking about – you have to ask for the Toyota Showroom and direct them from there! BKS Iyengar is MUCH more famous in the western world than in his own home city.

Tomorrow I have been given permission to attend Geeta’s pranayama class instead of medical Cool The system this year for allocating classes is different to last year, when we could choose whatever we wanted as long as it was only one per day. Now most people are doing Prasant Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Geeta Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.

 

Wonderful practice space, complete with minature Patanjali

Day 17 Geeta Pranayama

From the sweet shop – coconut and date balls, they taste uncannily like the doughnuts I had as a child.

Woke up this morning completely deaf in one ear – ever since swimming there has been water slooshing about in there and now the ear is completely blocked. Have been putting drops in hoping to clear the blockage, but instead just filling my poor ear canal even more. Anyone who suffers with this will know how completely disorientating it can be.

Decided to skip practice session at the Institute in favour of the peace, space and solitude of practicing in the apartment. Good call! It was a real luxury to spend some time reconnecting with myself – especially in the medical class where you always have at least one assistant helping you, there can be a tendency just to get ‘pulled along’  without making any real internal connections. And even in the practice sessions, there is a feeling of being observed and lots of distractions that can prevent you from doing any real work. Not to mention complete over-crowding, lack of wall space etc.

Spent the afternoon with Lynne who is compiling research on the medical class students – what effect the yoga is having on their physical, mental, emotional condition. Headed over to Geeta’s Pranayama class for a 6pm start. It was not too busy because only people who have been to the Institute before are allowed to attend. I arrived later than most and found I had a choice between sitting right at the back or literally right at Geeta’s feet. Ah well in for a penny!

I took the risk and sat at her feet. She taught first supine and then seated for digital pranayama. Quite a complex surya sodhana and chandra sodhana. Last year I had been relegated to the beginners class with Rajalaxmi and now suddenly I was in the advanced class with Geeta – it felt like quite a leap! However I couldn’t have been that intimidated as I managed to fall asleep and woke myself up with a tiny snore – yikes, definitely not the time or the place. Even in the supine she encouraged us to actively press the outer shoulder and the outer pelvis down, shoulder blades remaining engaged, not to go into a sleepy or dull state (ahem!). She explained that we were looking for a state exactly between asleep and awake and this is why dawn is the perfect time to practice Pranayama.

In the digital pranayama she taught us how there is stretch of the nostril down on the inhalation and up on the exhalation to create the right channel for the breath to have the right effect on the energy. We sat for a looong time and again I was grateful for the the work I have been doing with the organ body which helped me to maintain the sharp upright extension required. One lady who was struggling was reprimanded “This is the advanced class, you should not be here if you cannot sit”. It was with a sigh of relief we returned to supine and I was able to stay fully present as we ended the class with fifteen minutes of ujayii, inhaling from the tip of the nose staying close to the septum bone, exhaling on the outer side of the nose so that you almost flared the nostrils. As we led for savasana I realised that the room had filled with lots of mosquitos who were probably having a field day with all those plump exposed thighs (mostly in the regulation Pune bloomers).

 

Day 18 Geetaji Backbends

Inside the practice hall, Patanjali statue adorned for the festivities.

I suspected it would be a backbend class today so spent some time at home in chair back arch before heading to the institute – experience has taught me that in such a large class the teacher is unlikely to get the chairs out (it’s enough of an organisational nightmare to get a blanket each) and I always feel that I’m not at my best without good preparation.

I ended up at the back of the room, which was a bit of a shame as I am still at least 50% deaf at the moment. It was a TOUGH sequence 6 or 8 parivrtta trikonasanas interspersed with standing back arch, ustrasana, dhanurasana, urdhva mukha svanasana and salabhasana. All this building up to dwi pada viparita dandasana with the feet together – not my strong point and was grateful to be hiding at the back out of the firing line. We finished with forward bends, feeling how the spinal muscles spread again to the sides and halasana, karnapidasana sequence.

After class I had arranged to go with Lynda to have ‘our feet done’ though I had no idea what this entailed. She took me to a flat near the institute with a young female beautician and the tele blaring out indian soap operas. It turned out Lynda had made other plans so she quickly bailed out on me, leaving me with feet in an old babyliss foot spa and the beautician wielding an array of strange instruments. Definitely NOT a treatment for those with sensitive feet! They were ‘threaded’ which involved her pulling some cotton very taut with her mouth and crossing two very tight threads to yank the hair out (yes ouch) and then she ‘shaved’ off any excess skin (weird) and then vigorously rubbed them with something that looked (and felt) like a lemon zester. The torture abated while she slathered them in moisturiser and then resumed while she tackled the cuticles. I kept my attention on the TV which although I couldn’t understand a word was strangely compelling – all close up shots of angst ridden faces and dramatic music. I left half an hour later with thoroughly scrubbed and chastened feet.

Today was the institute’s ‘Annual Day’ it’s 39th Anniversary. We arrived at 6pm to find the whole building dolled up to the nines with petals and garlands and a red carpet laid out over the path. Inside the Iyengar family and students gathered for a series of speeches and lectures. It was a VERY long time to sit. The architect who is working with Guruji to create a fabulous new yoga university in Bellur talked us through the grand plans, which include a huge practice hall, guest accommodations, an infinity pool and large cafeteria. We also got to sit through the same slide show on Yantra’s that Rajiv gave at Yogawest, with a few extra photos he had taken recently and a slightly random lecture on face reading.

At the end Guruji gallantly posed for photos outside the house and many students got shots of themselves with him. I felt a bit uncomfortable and scuttled off home for dinner.

Day 19 Day Off

More RIMYI 39th Birthday celebrations today. I skipped the first part of them, opting for a more thorough practice at home (memories of yesterday evening’s agonisingly long sit still fresh in my mind). I arrived at 12.30 which was when I had been told lunch would be served and found everyone still packed into the yoga hall watching some beautiful local girls (and students of the kids class) performing traditional indian dance (see video, Guruji just visible in the final few seconds of recording).

We also had a stunning performance of yoga asana, choreograped to music by the children themselves, including many extremely challenging poses. Guruji seemed to particularly enjoy that one. Traditional sitar playing by a sweet young boy and his sister,who said very  formally ‘Please forgive me for any mistakes I make’ and the Indian national anthem on the violin! I felt I’d timed my arrival pretty well given that everyone else had been sat since 10am, though I’m told I missed an amazing band. The catering was very well organised, with a thali type meal and plenty to go round.

In the afternoon headed with Lynda for the organic veg market and did some shopping on FC Road. My activities this month are deliberately low key and non-distracting. My priority is staying focussed for the work with Guruji, which if I’m lucky will recommence tomorrow (gulp). Nicola is spending the weekend at KARE, the ayurvedic retreat in the mountains just outside Pune, which I would have LOVED – but not this trip.

Instead just enjoyed the sunshine, threw open all the windows, washed the sheets and my yoga mat – the great thing about this weather is it’ll all be dry within an hour or two. Cooked a big spinach, chickpea and tofu curry, with gorgeous dark, chewy ragi (millet) flour chapatis. Take note Jenny Jones! Had a comedy moment with the blender and managed to decorate both myself and the kitchen with great luminous green splats of spinach.

Is there anything better than freshly washed sheets?

Day 20 Medical

The plan was to get up and go to the ear / nose /throat clinic to get my deafness sorted, so set the alarm early. Sat up in bed and the ear popped, deafness finally gone.

Good practice session today. Abi’s husband bought the baby up for a visit and it was delightful to watch Guruji play with his great grandaughter, holding her upside down for her first headstand (no doubt plenty more of those in her future!). As I left the session the Iyengars disappeared into the house and Guruji was stood at the open window being unceremoniously clunked over the head repeatedly by the baby amid giggles from Abi.

No Guruji in the medical class today, worked with Stephanie on strong abdominal work, including the hanging in the rope catching the feet one and mayurasana over the trestle. I wonder if Guruji’s input is finished now?  The work that I am doing has changed since Guruji’s involvment and is no longer having such a direct impact on the pancreas / blood sugar levels. His approach seems to be more holistic, strengthening and enlivening the surrounding muscles, organs and tissues. Bringing awareness where there was complete lifelessness. Oh and making me release held emotion ….

As I walked through the park this morning I was really struck by the difference between the way men relate to each other here and the more reserved culture back home. It is not at all unusual to see men leaning on each other, arms round each other or even holding hands. There is a sense of complete ease about this – no suggestion that there is any refection on sexuality. I remember on my first trip to India in 1996 being stunned to see two cops walking down the street hand in hand! It’s good to witness this freedom just to be.

 

Guava Anyone?

Day 21 Medical

Started off observing the old folks class, the days and weeks are taking on a rhythm that is starting to speed up alarmingly. After practice headed off to the market and bought tons of fresh produce. Breakfast of figs, strawberries, chinese gooseberries, watermelon, pomegranate and porridge. Felt so much better afterwards.

Medical class was great – Guruji and Geeta were both in attendance, but I was left just to get on with my programme with the help of Lynda and Stephanie. The work is definitely getting easier, but not sure whether it’s because I’m getting stronger or if I’m not doing it right!

Glided out feeling really well and headed off to see the tailor recommended by Lynda. I had a top to be mended and another to reshape. There are so many beautiful indian fabrics and designs, but often they have no shape to them, so this is a bit of an experiment to see if it’s worth getting them moderated. My daughter Kizzy has also sent a picture of a pair of trousers she wants making, so thought we’d give that a go too.

Had a busy evening on Skype, first catching up with my step-daughter at Portsmouth Uni, whose skype status is ‘probably drunk’ , then big sister Lucy in Bristol and finally the rest of the family back home. Read two chapters of her current book to Josie, so now I’m happily settled for bed!

If it’s heavy, why not carry it on your head?

Day 22 – Geeta and Guruji

What an extraordinary day! Started with observing a phenomenal Geeta backbend class. She gave no less than 13 Urdhva Dhanurasana – gradually aligning and refining until the class stopped the gross poses, grunting and groaning and became sleek and aligned and able to work quietly despite the monumental effort they were putting in. She had them starting from dandasana, observing their exact central placement on the mat and placing palms and elbows with meticulous attention, making sure that the body worked evenly, calmly to go up. It was a sight to behold and you could see how people were able to go inwards working in this way.

After class headed for lunch with Gerry, Lynda and Laura followed by a trip to Laxmi Road Market which was quite something. Narrow lanes filled to bursting with stalls and shops selling anything and everything; bindis, fake hair extensions, kitchen implements, clothes, fabric, shoes, belts. A shopper’s paradise.

Went home with a couple of hours to rest before medical. Both Guruji and Geeta were in attendance and once again I had the privilege of working with Guruji. I felt calmer and less emotional than last time. It was still very hard and he was still displeased with me, making similar observations to last time. He said I am a teacher not a student, because I could not submit to him. I was unsure what more I could do – I felt I was doing my utmost.  He also said he was rude (as in bad mannered!) on the outside because I was rude on the inside – not sure what to make of that, perhaps he was referring to my uncooperative pancreas! It was a similar pace to last time with the work continuing right to the last second of the class. During parts of it as I struggled to lift and activate those weakest and dullest of areas it felt like the monumental effort required to give birth and I heard myself making noises not dissimilar. This time at least, I managed to thank him before he disappeared at the end of the class.

On the way home I felt light and elated (again reminded me of the relief after a labour is finished). Now I am dog tired and ready for a good rest.

 

Day 23

I love walking through the park in the mornings, Indian music blaring out of the speakers and the sounds of the nextdoor school kids excited chatter.

Our second day without internet connection, so gawd knows when I’ll be able to post this. Feeling the squeeze not being able to communicate with the family.

I awoke early and not as refreshed as I would have liked, but it meant I got to the practice a little earlier than usual. As I rounded the corner I saw that Guruji was still sat in his special spot and I went and greeted him. Most days when I arrive he is already up in the practice hall. Since arriving on this trip he has steadfastly ignored my greetings or thanks which in itself has made me hesitant to approach him. This morning though, I was awarded with a lovely smile and he said Namaste. My spirits lifted tremendously with this – I really have found his displeasure so hard to bear.

I found I was too tired to be much good in the practice session. Once again Abi’s tiny daughter came and paid a visit to her great grandfather and mother. They took a ten minute break from the daily teaching session to sit and coo at her and again she got the Guruji headstand treatment. I was surprised to see three hours had passed, I didn’t feel I’d done anything in particular and left feeling a bit fed up to go home for a sleep.

Medical was much the same, I knew Guruji would not be attending today as I heard him leave instructions with Stephanie to repeat yesterday’s work. The practice hall felt hot, over-crowded and chaotic. Somehow nothing quite clicked and it was hard to recreate the same sense of purpose. I think I might practice at home tomorrow and see if I can get more solid grip on the work I am doing in quieter surroundings.

 

Day 24

Gadzillions of fabrics to choose from!

Had perhaps the best practice of the month, staying at home suits me so much better. Headed off to Laxmi Road in the hope of finding presents for the girls, this experience also better solo. The time to wander in and out of shops without inconveniencing anyone else. No pressure, no hurry. Well perhaps not quite ‘no pressure’ – if you even so much as glance at a stall or shop there is an immediate “Yes Mam?” said in an expectant and demanding tone. It gets kind of irritating after a while, so today I greeted every loud “Yes Mam?” with an equally loud and expectant “Yes Sir?” and nine times out of ten we ended up smiling at each other and they just left me alone to get on with it.

Went into a marvellous fabric shop and purchased 6 different fabrics to make into tops when I get back to Bristol. Should keep me busy in my dressmaking class for a good while.

Pranayama with Geeta this evening and again I found myself sitting right at her feet. Before the class had even begun we got a telling off for waiting for instruction and watching her put her socks on when we could have been preparing ourselves to sit well.  She told us watching her put her socks on was ‘very spiritual’ in dryly sarcastic tones. The thing is, I’ve got very fond of Geeta over this month and fully understand why people have previously talked about her as being motherly. It’s certainly not motherly in a soft, nurturing kind of way – much more in a ‘tell it like it is, cruel to be kind, whichever way you play it is the wrong way’ kind of motherly and yet all the while she is giving with every ounce of her being. It would be much less effort to ignore all our faults and just deliver the information.

The class followed a similar format to last week, alternating between long periods sitting for digital pranyama – Surya bhedana and Chandra bhedana and lying down ujayii breathing. She said we always start and finish with ujayii and we even die with ujayii – death is not something to fear but another gift that we receive. I find her teaching very clear – she is very adept at articulating elusive ideas in a colourful and often dryly humerous way.

After class headed off to eat on my own as I had nothing prepared and it felt too late to start cooking. Went to a new place just at the crossroads and had a very pleasant meal with plenty left to eat tomorrow. If you want a ‘doggy bag’ you have to point to your leftovers and ask for ‘packing’.  One of the good things about eating Indian in India is there is a choice of gluten free options to have instead of chapatti or naan. Today I opted for uttapa – but could also have gone for a dosa.

A very pleasant and productive day.

Day 25

Huge Ganesh Shrine in the middle of Tulsi Market

Pranayama week began today with Geeta’s class this morning. A sequence of supine poses and rope sirsasana / chair sarvangasana followed by ujayii and anta kumbhaka. The tone was very different to how we teach pranayama back home – very severe and strict despite the peaceful nature of the subject matter.

After class went off to the perfume shop with Eva and Lynda and got the oils people back home had requested. Some of it was for Tanya who had asked me only to get if it was completely pure. As I was buying the neroli oil, I was double checking it’s purity and he let slip that he had a higher quality one but insisted that we wouldn’t need such a high grade oil for our purposes – he was extremely reluctant to sell it to me and was quite cagey about mentioning anything again in case I made him sell me any other unnecessarily high purity oils that he deemed me undeserving of!

Went to Laxmi Road again in an attempt to find fabric for my daughter’s trousers – but no luck, they simply don’t seem to sell that kind of cotton here. Lynda took me to a packed Indian eatery right in the heart of Tulsi market and the food was delicious.

We had a farewell dinner for Laura tonight who is leaving tomorrow. I was rather chilled to hear from Kirsten that the little puppy who had been jumping up at me and nipping at my legs had a crowd around him today. He was writhing around on the floor with blood pouring out of his mouth and she wondered if he had rabies. Then Gerry said he’d read in the local paper that nine people had died from rabies in Pune recently. I think I may have had a very lucky escape….

 

Day 26

A wonderful day! Woke up naturally (always a good start to the day) and practiced in the cool solitude of the apartment. Worked very hard on the realignment of my body in sirsasana – it’s going to take some time before my body will accept this new shape, somehow when my lumbar and dorsal are correctly placed there isn’t enough room for my legs and hips in the pelvis, trying to keep them back in line feels like ancient millstones grinding laboriously against each other or trying to move tectonic plates that are wedged!

I understood with great clarity today that I have been allowing difficult emotions to chase me around the place – like bullies the more you avoid them the bigger they become. The value of yoga practice is to give you a forum to face the suffering head on and only then is there freedom from them. It made me realise that both as a parent and teacher I am doing my students and children a great disservice by trying to protect them and only give them pleasurable experiences. Far better to support them in facing difficulties and suffering so that they become stronger and more resilient.

The more we stay in a posture and meet the negative feelings with a steady breath the more we purify the body, but if at the first niggle or distracting thought we move on, we have lost an opportunity to thrive.

After practice headed to the Mariot Hotel for a swim. It’s great if you want a bit of luxury. When I got there I soon realised that the sunbeds were full of Iyengar students, so I had a lovely sociable day swimming in the ice cold pool and drying off in the pleasant heat, whilst comparing our experiences at the Institute. I felt more relaxed and energised than I have all month. Afterwards Nicola and I headed to their cafe and I indulged in a soya milk hot chocolate – the only place I’ve come across in India where you can buy this. Then we went up to the 24th floor where they have a rooftop terrace. We were greeted with a complimentary glass of bubbly (which I donated to some of the drinkers – don’t envy them going to Prasant’s class in the morning Blink) It had an amazing view looking out all over Pune . The food was great and I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the rather obnoxious music pumping out of the speakers at full volume.

I strolled home via the fruit market stopping for delicious Chinese gooseberries. I am irresistibly sleepy now, the way kids are when you take them swimming!

Day 27

Painting wax for batik t-shirts

Great practice at home, I should have done this all along  – I am feeling much stronger and happier with my own yoga. After practice headed to Dimplex – a small shop selling handmade batik items; yoga shorts, t-shirts, mat bags as well as Iyengar Yoga supplies; ropes, belts, blankets etc. After I had placed my order I was shown the workshop in the back where there were 3 women working. One handpainting the wax for batik and 2 on sewing machines making yoga belts.

Back home I made another batch of delicious coconut and pistachio truffles. I blended; soaked dates, creamed coconut, grated fresh coconut, cocoa and pistachios and formed ball shapes which were rolled in grated coconut and put in the fridge to set. Seriously yummy.

Medical class was great. I continued to follow the exact sequence given by Guruji last time I worked with him. I feel I’m making real progress with it now and am very sad to be leaving on Friday (though very excited to be going home to family).

Was pretty fed up to get back to the apartment and find still no internet and no answer from landlady’s phone. Must be a whole week now and I’ve no hotel booked for Mumbai and haven’t been able to Skype the kids either. Bah Humbug!

Sewing the yoga belts

Day 28

Slept about 11 hours last night! I had expected to be up in time to practice before observing the older person’s class, but alas having woken at 5.30am and decided it was too early, didn’t open my eyes again until 8am. The health of this place is really beginning to sink into my bones.

Enjoyed my walk through the park to the institute, the morning energy is lovely, there is always something happening, always something to see, smell, hear. First I walk past some kind of temple where at this time there is always music – bells ringing, cymbals clashing, chanting. A joyful cacophany of worship. Today outside was an old oxen and cart.

Then the park itself is a bustling hive of activity – there are always half a dozen or so women sweeping up the leaves from under the trees and gathering them in huge baskets which they carry on their heads. It’s a liitle like painting the golden gate bridge though – a never ending task and I’m not sure why it’s necessary anyhow, wouldn’t the leaves help to preserve mositure and nutrients for the trees above? You know how they say you’re never more than seven feet away from a rat (or from someone who’ll tell you you’re never more than seven feet from a rat) – well in India you’re never more than seven feet away from someone sweeping. It’s a national occupation and the sound of a swishing besom is an almost constant back drop. It’s hard to understand why – what would happen if all the sweeping stopped? We seem to manage at home without continuous sweeping.

Guruji was in attendance at medical class but didn’t work with me today. Sometimes I think he is observing and next time he comes he will have planned the next course of action. Gerry got some personal tuition from him in sirsasana during the practice session today. I spent some time selecting and ordering photos for Yogawest and also getting quotes for ropes for the new studio I hope to open in the coming months. Finally the internet guy came to fix our internet, I felt like hugging him so pleased I was to see him!

Day 29

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Oh what a BUSY day. Regretfully skipped observing Geeta’s class in favour of practicing myself and getting on with the jobs that need to be done before I return home. However I did get a full report from Eva (see below) when she floated through the door after a ‘Geeta special’ pranayama class.

“The eyes have to sit in the pockets of the cheek bones and the brain will follow and quieten, eardrums also withdraw inwards. On the inhalation observe how the eyes rise again. They are like naughty children who continue to repeat the same behaviour, and in the same way as with a naughty child you have to repeat often, kindly and firmly the behaviour you expect of them.

In the viloma she used the pauses to put the eyes back in their pockets. The chest opening had to come very naturally – not as a result of a command from the brain.

I spent a long time trying to speak to Air India and even with my unflappable yogic calm it was impossible to get anywhere with them. Incorrectly advertised telephone numbers, menu systems that didn’t work and when I finally did get throughto the right person I explained the problem and yep, you guessed it, they hung up one me. I am NEVER flying Air India again!! On the trip out here I rang them no less than three times to check and double check they had ordered me a gluten free meal for the flight and then checked again when I checked in. When the meals came out and I asked for my gluten free one the steward looked utterly mystified, as if I’d asked for the moon and then proceeded to give me a bread roll! I ended up with a little sachet of cut fruit served with cut fruit, with a side order of cut fruit and cut fruit for dessert. It would have been funny, except somehow on a plane the food becomes a magnificently important event and I was HUNGRY.

Headed out for my final shopping mission to get Josie a little indian outfit and also a supply of ragi flour which I can’t get in the UK. You get millet flour, but not this dark coloured chewy stuff that I love. I am feeling quite anxious about how I’m going to pack all this stuff to get it on the aeroplane, am hoping the ropes are not too bulky.

When I arrived for medical I was surprised to see Guruji on the stage lying in savasana with an enormous weight on the thighs – this was what I needed for my head, my brain was hopping about all over the place. My sequence stayed pretty much the same, with some adustments from Guruji where he felt a pose could be done more effectively. Each time he makes a change you are required to give a quick response as to it’s effect. One very nice pose (and I use the word ‘nice’ in the yogic sense, meaning exquisitely uncomfortable) is a rope sirsasana on the ceiling ropes so I’m dangling in the centre of the room, I fold the elbows and then weights are tied to the forearms. This makes the whole organ body feel like it’s being drawn into a long, skinny line along the length of the spine (it also drags and scrapes your bare calves on the rough, fibrous ropes, ouch).

When I came home I realised the taxi company hadn’t confirmed my online request for Friday’s cab, so I rang them and yep, they hung up on me too …….

Day 30

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Sure is quiet around here! Half the people have gone already and not many of next month’s intake have shown their faces in the practice room yet. Though the newbies are fun to watch as they catch their first sight of Mr Iyengar relaxing on a deck chair on his porch not five feet away from them. Lots of whispering and surrepticious glances! It is surprising how freely he mixes with everyone, though mostly students keep a respectful distance.

Speaking of which, after I had greeted him this morning it was my opportunity to talk to him about how I was feeling from the work he has given me and to thank him for his teaching. I hesitated and the moment passed as someone else came to discuss matters with him. I’ll try and catch him (and my courage) before practice tomorrow.

I have a car booked to take me and Nicola to Mumbai tomorrow afternoon stopping en-route at the Mumbai Yogashraya to purchase ropes for my future studio, which Lynda assures me are of a superior quality to the ones I could easily have purchased here! I’ve also got twenty empty bolster covers to fill with cotton in the UK as the size and weight of the filled bolsters makes shipping expensive.

This month’s work has been challenging and interesting and hasn’t led at all where I originally expected it to. We have worked very little on the rinsing and stimulating actions that we focussed on last year, with very obvious results on my blood sugar levels. Instead with Guruji’s guidance we have focussed on work that has strengthened and energised the organs of the back body. He gave me a supported Navasana in such a way that I was actually able to feel my pancreas and with this I was able to draw it right up into the body – energetically it feels as if it’s lifted and toned. Interestingly, whatever pose I work in, if I can get this ‘drawing up’ feeling in the pancreas (which is between the stomach and the spine, behind the V shape of the front ribs) it completely corrects the positioning of the lower body – abdomen feels long and lean and no more lordosis. So now I’m doing ‘navasana’ in tadasana, sirsasana, full arm balance etc. It just goes to illustrate how it’s all connected and I’m so glad I’ve found a way to work on this – it just didn’t feel right trying to slam the lumbar back artificially. I do hope to continue the work when I get home, with a view to coming back to Pune as soon as I’ve raised the funds.

Things I am going to miss about Pune: 1)The excellent yoga and excellent teachers 2) Sunshine 3) Luscious fresh fruit 4) Spiritual Vibrancy

Things I am NOT going to miss about Pune: 1) This bloody rock-hard bed (I am getting arse ache just sitting on it, never mind sleeping on it, might as well put a sheet on a concrete slab 2)Pollution 3)YES maam? 4) The utter impossibility of organising anything in a straight forward manner.

When the cab company (that is the one most often recommended by others KK Travel) that didn’t respond to my online booking and then cut me off when I rang them, finally rang to confirm the booking I was very relieved – that is until the confirmation email arrived with the WRONG date on it. Three phone calls later (each one getting passed around, so that I had to explain the same thing and answer the same questions continuously) they are refusing to send me a confirmation with the correct date on it, I just have to trust that they WILL turn up…

Day 31

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Managed to arrive just in time to see Guruji – I knelt down and told him that it was my last day and thanked him for allowing me to come and for his teaching. He said “God Bless You” and blessed is exactly what I felt.

Surprisingly managed to get absorbed in my practice even though my departure was so imminent. Headed home with two hours to eat, pack and relax with a cup of tea before heading off to Mumbai in a taxi booked with Nicola. Almost as soon as I was through the door the phone rang and it was the taxi driver from KK travels confirming the pick up location – trouble was he didn’t have a word of English and I didn’t have a word of Marati. From previous experience I knew this was not a good scenario, so I rang KK travels who said they’d sort it.I got a call from another driver whose English was great and confirmed the pick up for 2pm.

I was not best pleased when at 1pm the door bell went and there was the original driver – I was completely unable to make myself understood that he was way too early and not who I was expecting. I rang KK to see if they could help and when I eventually got through they said ” No Mam, our drivers are not so much educated, no speak English”.

Mostly they are used to just taking people directly to the airport, so to avoid any confusion or difficulties with communication I had booked via email with the two addresses of the Yogashraya for the ropes and the hotel, complete with maps of their locations. As a further precaution I also saved route maps on my phone. Of course this did me no good whatsoever as the driver hadn’t been given the information and he couldn’t read my maps. In the end we rang the Yogashraya several times and got them to explain their location and we stopped at least twenty times to ask people for directions, it took FOREVER. Despite leaving at 2pm Nicola started to be worried about missing her 1am flight! Now for the second leg of the journey, but this was to the airport hotel, so that had to be straightforward right?

Mumbai is a BIG place, the traffic was terrible and the driver not the sharpest. Another 20 stops for directions and many sweaty hours later, we finally pulled up outside the Hotel Kohinoor Continental. Sweet air conditioned Heaven! It was so good to arrive: comfy beds, showers, kettle in room, bliss. I wished we had arrived earlier as they also have a nice outdoor swimming pool. I managed about 2 hours sleep before my 3.30am alarm to get to the airport. As the plane waited for take-off I was surprised to see how close the slums were to the runway – they came right the way to the fence not 200 yards away. My last view of India as the plane taxied down the runway at dawn, was of several slum dwellers pulling down their trousers and crouching on the bare earth. Goodbye India!

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Hotel Kohinoor Continental

 

 

Updated timetable now online

Timetable-Jan14-fcThe new Yogawest timetable is now available online and can be downloaded here. Printed copies will be available at the studio in a couple of weeks’ time.

A new 10am Saturday morning beginners class is being taught by Sam Xenofou. Sam is a newly qualified teacher and we are very pleased that she is teaching at Yogawest after having been here as a student for many years. You can read more about Sam here.

Frances is now teaching the Wednesday evening 6:15 intermediate class, and Luke has taken on the Saturday morning intermediate (9:45) and general (11:30) classes. During December, we said goodbye to Annette. Annette has taught for many years at Yogawest and we are very sorry to see her go. We wish her all the very best and look forward to seeing her at Yogawest events in the future.

There are a few classes which are not continuing due to low attendance numbers – the Tuesday evening experienced (6:00) Wednesday early morning general (7:30) and the Sunday evening general (6:00) classes. Julian is away for a couple of months  but once he’s back we may re-introduce the Sunday evening class if there’s enough interest. Likewise we are happy to consider adding new classes if we can – let us know which time slots would be good for you.

 

Pranayama Class January 10th

pranayamaimageWe have a regular Friday morning pranayama class at Yogawest taught  by Edgar Stringer. Suitable for all levels, if you are new to the practice, please let Edgar know when you come.
Classes are usually the first Friday of the month, but during holidays/half term/special events it may be scheduled for the following week so please check the online timetable for information. Cost £8 for Yogacard holders or £10 drop-in.

Upcoming Dates in 2014

Jan 10
Feb 7
Mar 7
Apr 4
May 9
June 6
July 4

More info