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Travel Yoga

A Chat with Mr. Pandurang

September 27, 2016

 

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A few Iyengar Yoga publications

 

The other day I walked into the practice hall and saw Mr. Pandurang sitting on the stage and the Chinese students gathered around as the audience.  I found out that the Chinese students had requested him to give them a talk about his experience with yoga and the institute over the years.  Pandu’s talk was informative and interesting.  Here’s what I remember from it.

Pandu came with BKS Iyengar to look at the site for the institute in the early 70s.  By this time there were many Iyengar schools around the world and none in Pune.  Guruji used to travel all around the world conducting workshops, but there was no institute in India where he could teach.  The earliest students used to convene in Guruji’s house and practice in whatever space was available.

The decision to build the institute was also fraught with uncertainty.    The fear that no one would come to practice at the institute was in everyone’s mind throughout the construction process.  At one point Guruji told Pandu that if they were unable to use the building for yoga classes, then they could always rent it out as a wedding hall!

The weekend that the finishing touches were being made to the building, Guruji was in Bombay.  His wife had been ill for a long time and she got worse during that weekend.  She eventually ended up passing away and Pandu and everyone else at the institute weren’t sure of how to tell Guruji.  Finally Pandu called Guruji and told him to head back to Pune as his wife was very ill.  Guruji would later talk about how he had in inkling that there was something seriously wrong.  By the time BKS Iyengar came back to Pune, his wife had already expired.  They decided that they would name the institute after her.

The first students to come to the institute were from England.  Some of the 70 odd pomelo_20160924112514_save.jpgstudents brought along thick mats with them.  Those thick mats (sort of like workout/gym mats) were a novelty here in India and localites were very curious about the mats.  BKS Iyengar, being the innovative man he was, thought of different ways to use the mats.  His creativity and love for his subject was such that he was constantly thinking of how to make the poses better and more accessible.  That is how he came up with different ways to use ordinary objects such as chairs, blankets and blocks.  According to Pandu there are 250 ways to use the Setubandhasana box.  He also added that if he were conducting the teachers’ exam he would fail everyone because nowadays teachers aren’t as innovative as they used to once upon a time (referring to the fact that we don’t know the 250 different ways of using a prop).

The story of the sticky mats is pretty much the same.  This time it was a German student who brought  the mat.  In Europe they were using such mats under their carpets so that the carpets wouldn’t slip.  The student thought out of the box and brought it back to India.  Mr. Iyengar looked at the sticky mat and his little grey cells started working.

 

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Mr. Iyengar’s many watches.  Useful when you need to do 20 minute Sirsasanas. 

On the subject of modern teachers he said Guruji always said that you should only follow one teacher.  When he came across students who followed multiple teachers and schools he would say that you are not a lover, but a gatherer.  You are just going around gathering the knowledge of yoga.  There are many instances where people want to become yoga teachers without having practiced for any significant amount of time.  Pandu emphasized the importance of a teacher being fundamentally sound.  .Teachers with no personal practice and little experience may end up hurting students.  This would give a bad name to a discipline which was already infamous.  At the time Mr. Iyengar was teaching, yoga was looked upon with a bit of trepidation.  The vast majority of people thought that it was circus tricks at best or black magic at worse.  Changing people’s perceptions was an uphill task.  And teachers at the time had to ensure that yoga as a practice shouldn’t be vilified.

 

On the nature of Guruji’s practice and teaching Pandu said Guruji was a hard task master.  Students attending his class would be sore for a week afterwards.  And as for his own practice, though he had a large family; he would never make any excuses.  He practiced daily.  Early morning he did pranayama.  In the evening he would practice inversions.  Pandu emphasized the importance of a daily practice.  He said that those who don’t practice daily shouldn’t teach.  He also mentioned that he’s noticed that when teachers start to gain popularity, the first thing out the window is their personal practice.  All RIMYI teachers are regular with their own practice.  Remember that once you lose a pose, it’s a struggle to get back to it.  A Chinese girl in the audience asked how to balance teaching and learning if your livelihood depends on teaching yoga.  Pandu thought for a moment and said that he would always recommend teach less and practice more.  Give preference to your own practice.  That’s what Guruji did.

 

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The secret behind the ubiquitous tilak.

 

In the early 50s (between 1953-1954) Guruji was asked to teach at NDA (National Defence Academy).  BKS Iyengar had to cycle for about 20 kms daily in order to get to class.  Because of that he developed hernia.  He treated hernia as his guru and allowed the condition to guide his practice in order to get rid of the condition.  I was interested in knowing a bit more about the NDA days and found out that classes are going on their even now.  When Guruji was no longer able to go he sent Pandu.  Eventually Pandu also passed on the responsibility.  Pandu remembers that the classes were for one and all, from the cadets to the officers.  I do wonder if anyone posted in NDA during those days would have any pictures from that time.

 

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Playing catch is exhausting.

The oldest running class at the institute is the women’s class (these days conducted by Gulnaz Dashti).  Pandu was asked why was there a separate class for the women.  In those days, was it to separate the sexes?  Pandu replied that in Pune during those days women would be free only once the husband and the children had been packed off for the day and the housework was finished.  This was typically between 9 am – 12 noon.  So it was actually the women of Pune who requested that a special class be conducted for them, and that class continues to this day.

 

Your body is your guru.  However, don’t do asanas when you ‘feel like it’.  Sequencing is very important, else you will definitely experience problems.  When Pandu and Prashant were practicing under Guruji, the practice was different every day.  Tuesdays they would practice only forward bends.  They would practice the Janu Sirsasana for 40-50 minutes at a time.  Prashant and Pandu used to do all the forward bends in the sequence.  Pandu also advised us not to do only the sirsasana and end the class.  He said it’s important to do the Sarvangasana and Halasana.  Also practice the Setubandha Sarvangasana.  As far as be the body is concerned, there is a lot of bending in the circus.  Ballet also has a lot of flexible bodies.  But what happens in these disciplines is that the spine suffers.

Someone in the audience asked Pandu about the asana sequence that is described at the end of the books.  Pandu said that the books were written many years ago and that many things have changed since then.  Props have also changed.  The ideas expressed in the books are a product of those times, and as time passed, the practice, ideas and philosophies evolved.

Pandu then told us a story about yoga.  He said a long time ago when someone would fall sick they were told to take sanjeevani (a medicine).  Then one day all the sanjeevani in the world finished and people went to God to ask for more.  God told people that He couldn’t give them sanjeevani but he can give them yoga vidya. God told people that with yoga they will be able to maintain their health.  However, the yoga vidya went to the rishi munis.  And unfortunately, the rishi munis weren’t easily accessible to the common people.  That’s when yoga teachers came into existence.  They bridged the gap and brought the knowledge of yoga from the rishi munis to the common people.  This is the tradition that Krishnamacharya and his disciples are a part of.  For centuries they have de mystified an esoteric practice.  They have brought it to the masses, but; emphasises Pandu; they have done it properly.

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Lifestyle Yoga

A Yogi in Pune – Day 16

September 16, 2016

I’ve practiced more in these 16 days than I ever have in my life.  In Mysore practice used to be for an hour and a half.  That was for 15 days.  During my teachers’ training at SVYASA we used to have practice for up to 2 – 3 hours a day.  Here we practice for up to 5 hours a day.  Some students even opt to observe classes, so that’s more yoga during the day.  It is intense, it is powerful, detailed, thorough and it’s amazing (I may already have mentioned that before.)    In the past 2 weeks I’ve had time to really work on my asanas.  I’ve also had a chance to see the practice in a different way.  To kind of lift the asana lid and peer into the pot to find the importance and relevance of yoga in our lives.  My own steadily improving practice and watching all kinds of people practice day in and day out.  Doing the Trikonasana (and other asanas) over and over again drives home a few important lessons.

  1.  Practice makes perfect.  But nobody’s perfect.  So perfection is a process and practice is the means to it.  In the age of beautiful Instagram filters, it is difficult to believe that even the jaw dropping and awe inspiring pose has scope for improvement.  There is scope of improvement in everything.  Your projects are a work in progress.  Your relationships are a work in progress….your life is a work in progress.  You are a work in progress!  So accept your mistakes.  Internalize the lessons they teach you and don’t make them again.  Remember, a mistake made over and over again is a habit.
  2. Spend a lot of time on your fundamentals.  Here we have practitioners of all levels.  However, what we practice day in and day out (yes for 5 hours daily) are the fundamentals.  Trikonasana, Uttanasana, Downward dog etc.  The other day the entire 2 hour class was about Uttanasana.  That is all we did during the entire class.  In fact, I’ve heard Abhijata say that your inversions will never be stable unless your standing poses are stable.  Next time you find yourself fumbling in a pose, try and analyse why and what you can do to make the pose better.  And next time you find yourself getting impatient or bored of the fundamentals, remember there’s always scope for improvement.
  3. Cultivate discipline.Be strict with yourself because when it comes to your body no one else will be.  Make the time to move your body, however inconvenient it may be.  Make the time to cultivate a hobby which requires you to move.  Enjoy the process of movement and getting in touch with yourself.  The tragedy of our times is that people will set reminders on their phones to take the medicines they have now become dependent on, but they won’t throw back the covers and go for a quick jog.  Every little bit matters, but you need discipline.  To start and to stay on track.

[Above: Healthy food choices always.  Remember my 80/20 rule.]

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

Yoga and the Menstrual Cycle – Pune Day 8

September 8, 2016

To practice or not to practice – even the most devoted yogini asks herself this once a month.

Here in Pune, women on their period are given a different, more restful sequence to follow.  So they will do all the standing and seated asanas and the twists with the rest of the class.  When the class goes into inversions (which is what we practice towards the end of the session), the menstruating ladies go into either forward bends or restful supine positions.

When I was in Mysore last year I found out that in the Ashtanga tradition, women are allowed 3 rest days while on their period and these days are called the ‘Ladies’ Holiday’.

Now that we know that two very old traditions of yoga recommend rest during this time, it’s worth dwelling on why.  I’m sure I’ve talked about it in a previous blog, but the most obvious reason is that inversions force the flow of blood to go against the natural course, which may lead to unhealthy periods.  Also, when you start to integrate bandhas with your asanas, the mula bandha opposes the flow of blood again.

Mensturation is also the time when a woman’s body regenerates and gets ready to procreate again.  This ability to procreate is held holy and revered in many cultures.  This is a time for a woman to slow down and give time and space to her body, spiritually and physically.

When I first started practicing yoga, I admit I thought not practicing when you’re menstruating was just a myth.  And so I practiced all the time.  A lot of us can get away with intense challenging practice sessions even while we’re on our period.  However, your body will change and it’s important to be attuned to these changes.  Your flexibility levels vary day to day, as does your stamina and state of mind.  As your body and your practice change you can expect that one day you may just want to relax during your period.  Listen to your body, don’t just obey your mind.

How did I make peace with easing up on my practice?  I decided to take it the Iyengar way.  During my self practice I spent a lot of time in Supta Baddhakonasana and in various forward bends.  I did a lot of hip openers because I find that feels good.  I worked on my Hanumanasana as well.  My back feels relaxed and flexible and I still feel like I did a good practice.

On to other related topics.  Lately I’ve started looking into having a zero-waste period.  As many readers may know, sanitary napkins and tampons are non biodegradable or recyclable and end up in landfills.  There are reams online about TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) but my primary interest in a zero-waste period is the environment.  Pads and tampons started to feel like the deep-fried, coated in refined sugar, unhygienic sweet that I didn’t even want to look at.  I discovered alternatives.  Here’s a video that will shed more light on this:

 

And if you’re interested in getting your own set of re-usable pads, you can get them at the link below.  The reason I like this organisation is because they are involved with lots of rural initiatives.

https://ecofemme.org/domestic/

Travel Yoga

A Yogi in Pune – Day 3

September 3, 2016

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I had a 7 am class this morning and boy was it jam packed!  I think the practice hall can accommodate about 25 people comfortably but we crammed in about 50 people.  We were told to keep our mats right next to each other.  To adjust and to understand.  In life and on the mat.

My self practice was in the evening today and it was simply AMAAAAAAAZING!!!!  I had been avoiding practicing back bends for a while.  I’ve analysed why in my head several times, however will take reams and reams of blog posts to get into why.  Anyways, what I really like about the self practice sessions here is that the students come and practice with unwavering dedication, even though there are no teachers to help out or to guide.  I come across so many people who say that they need to join a class else they slack off.  Until now I understood this as a lack of inspiration to work out, to dance, to practice yoga etc.  However, when I look around at the self practice room and see people practicing intensely, I have a new found respect for those who maintain a regular fitness regime.  For myself, yoga isn’t a fitness regime.  I’ll risk sounding clichéd, but it’s like brushing my teeth.  It sets the pace of my days, it makes me feel balanced, it helps me focus and express myself.  Yoga simply defines my days.

 

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Soup of the Day: Tomato and Carrot

 

Today also marks the momentous occasion of me buying my very first Iyengar yoga shorts.  There is a local man here (a Mr. Vasanth), who along with his wife makes yoga shorts and tees and props too.  I’m going to upload his contact details here so that all who are interested can contact him.  They customize the shorts as well, so I’ve asked for plain black.  Until then I will make do with the blue tie and dyed ones I chose from amongst the ones he had.

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And finally my first weekend in Pune has arrived!  Anuja and I are going out for a meal so that we can let our hair down and set the tone for the weekend.  I have two complete days to work this exhaustion out of my system (maybe going out tonight isn’t in line with that goal…).  Anyways, girls who work hard need to play hard too.

Also, we watched ‘Hush’ last night.  Completely forgettable.

 

 

 

Lifestyle Travel Yoga

A Yogi in Pune – Day 2

September 2, 2016
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Soup of the Day: Ghia soup.  I’m telling you, a hostess after my own heart.

I’m not sure whether it’s the my cold or it’s the intense practice here, but by the end of each practice session I’m EXHAUSTED.  This level of exhaustion is new to me.  In Bangalore I’m up super early and I have loads of energy to teach morning AND evening AND to do my self practice AND to write AND go to work.  Here I’m too tired to even eat sometimes and I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.  This morning I woke up at 6, but lazed around in bed because I had to be at the institute only by 10.30 AM.  These small luxuries will only be available this month to me, I reasoned.

Today I had my self practice session first.  I got there early and spoke to  a few other first time students. And then it was time to quiz Mr. Pandurang for all everything he could tell me.  Who was this Pandurang Rao and how was he so intimately connected to the institute?  What was his story?  I decided to start asking him in Hindi about how long he’s been here.  He peered up at me from behind his thick glasses in surprise.  After a few questions we fell into an easy conversation.  He told me that Prashaant, Geeta and he used to practice with Guruji in the early 60s, in the house in the city, which is where the family used to stay then.  The loyal students at the time felt that Mr. Iyengar should have a place of his own to teach and practice in, similar to how he had studios all across the world.  Mr. Pandurang was a part of the original group of people who toiled hard to secure and create the space the world knows as RIMYI.  The opening was in 1975.  Pandurang speaks in the same low voice and neither his face nor his voice have any expression.  “What year where born?” he asked me abruptly.

“1982,” I replied.

“Hmmm…abh dekho, yeh 1975 se hai.  Aap thoda time do.  Yahaan ke barre mein bahaut hai seekhne ko.”  And with that our tete a tete came to an end because I had to go for my self practice session.

My self practice today went a lot better than yesterday, partly because I vegetated the morning away, conserving my energy for the session.  Here I encountered another luxury, the luxury of practicing with no time limits.  At home we all have time constraints.  Having what seems like all the time in the world and all the tools at your disposal, can put you in your happy place.  However, it can be overwhelming too.

 

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Room where my led class happens.  Pink ropes, what more could a girl want?

 

My led class was in the evening today and I met a Korean student while crossing the road and we chatted all the way to the institute.  After changing into the ‘uniform’ (more on this later), we trudged up three flights of stairs to the Women’s class.  Twice a week the institute has a women’s only session and I get to take the Friday eve women’s class.  The teacher is a bundle of energy.  She keeps a nonstop banter going through the class.  And she keeps her sharp eyes on everyone.  The caught me looking at the floor and shrilled, “BANGALORE!!!  Keep your eyes open!  Always!  You are with me!  You are with the class!  You are with YOURSELF!!!

It’s my turn to be at the receiving end I thought to myself as my mouth curled up into a smile and I nodded lightly.

While doing the Trikonasana: “BANGALORE!!! Look straight at me!  You are in my class!  Stay in my class!  Stay with us!  What are you looking at the ceiling for?!

Next time, she caught me glancing at the clock and she bellowed, “Why do your eyes always go up?!!! TRANCE mein chali jaati hai (giggles).  Trance mein jaana hai par meri class mein nahin.  In this class just go into the Trikonasana.”

During Sirsasana she bellowed, “BANGALORE!!!  Again!  Be with the class!!!  Come to the centre of the room, place your mat HERE and now face that way and now up you go

During the Sarvangasana: “BANGA-, wait what’s your name?”

Me: Pragya

Teacher: “Ek to itna lamba naam leke aa jaati hai.  Look!  Your blankets are uneven!  Make the even end on one side and odd end on the other side.  Yes, like that.”

As we filed out of class,  I said my customary thank you to which she said a simple: Good.

Hmmm, go figure.

I walked home and sat to pen down the day.  As I tied together some lose ends at work, Anuja (provider of the hot soups) and I made plans for the weekend.  I want to see the sights and sounds of Pune.  See different facets of the city.  She’s proving to be a great storehouse of info…and she’s following this blog too :).

But first we’ve decided to watch a scary film on Netflix tonight.  Turns out, both of us love scary movies, but prefer watching them with people.

Until tomorrow, stay healthy, stay happy!

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Lifestyle Travel Yoga

A Yogi in Pune – Day 1

September 1, 2016

The first day is always a day of exploration and learning.

My first class was on the second floor and we went through the standing asanas.  However, because it was the Intermediate class we were expected to know how to do the Sirsasana, Halasana and Sarvangasana.  In my class in Bangalore we did the Sarvangasana and Halasana with the help of chairs, however, here the only props we used were thick mats under our shoulders.

Post the class we had a break of 30 minutes after which the hall on the first floor was free for self practice.  During this time we are allowed the use of the hall and all the props to further our practice.  Since I wasn’t sure of what to expect, I decided to repeat what we had done in the led class and take my time with the asanas.  Since I’m working on my Hanumanasana, I built up to that as well.  Unfortunately, by this time (after almost 4 hours of practice) I was completely depleted of energy and didn’t give the practice my 100%.  However, tomorrow my self practice and led class have a gap, so I think I’ll be able to use my time much more judiciously tomorrow.

Once I got home I searched for a good spot for wifi reception.  The flora and fauna and the monsoons ensure the wifi signal is weak.  However, good karma came to my rescue and my sister’s friend (who lives in the house next door)n offered me her wifi and the use of this space:

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She happens to be a designer with a flair for interiors and this is her office.  So for the entire month, this is what my workstation looks like. My desk is right next to hers, so I’ve got good company too.  And hot homemade soup in the evenings (today it’s pumpkin soup).  I I will be designing plans and blogging from here.

As for my pratice schedule, here it is for your reference:

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