Friday, July 25, 2014

Back in Austin and a bit about Arun’s workshop

We landed in Austin around  3:30 pm Thursday.   It took a while to get through customs. (Apparently, Austin is in the middle of a much needed customs upgrade.) Mom and Dad picked us up (their Honda Accord  is a much nicer ride than the rickshaws we are used to)  and they graciously stopped at the Central Market on the way home.  Central Market  has a great deal more to offer that More supermarket.  Chips, salsa, goat cheese and mushroom quesadillas, goat milk, pomegranate juice, Mexican coffee.  Sharp cheddar cheese. (Also, basmati rice, Jenn.)   All the comforts of home. It   costs a great deal more as well. I’m  really struck upon  return this time about how much  things cost in the western world.  We pay a lot for the luxury of our life. Much cleaner and  calmer, but there's a cost for sure. Cost in many ways.

Happily, my friend James, who has been house sitting for us,  was still at our house when we got in and we ate dinner and  hung out with him for a few hours  which helped get us to the  9 pm  hour.    I  woke up at 12:45 am  tried to sleep until 1:45  stayed up until 4  then slept  until  7:30. Jeff managed to sleep through the night. 

This morning. I went out to pick up Milo at Ron’s  and stopped by Taco Deli      on the way home.  It is great to be back in the land of the tortilla and the land of  the GOLDEN RETRIEVER!!!!  

We wrote some,  unpacked a bit, and picked tomatoes. Because of the relatively cool weather, rains and the watering efforts of our neighbor, Charlie, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes and greens.  Very exciting.  

I also got to text and  talk with Christina who has been at the PW retreat in Durango.

Jet lag wise things were going okay until around  4:00.  Jeff ran some errands, I did some yoga  and we managed to make it to Arun’s  workshop at  6:00 which has now kept us up until 10:00. We are hoping to sleep through the night.

Arun  is great as always.  He asked about Guruji and talked some about Prashant and how there were intensives for study back in the day. He  explained more about the  intensive structure  and how groups from various countries would come in for 2 or 3 weeks.    Apparently, the whole raising the toes up thing  came about from a German student intensive where many of them had flat feet.  (It’s still alive and well in Pune this summer, maybe a lot of flat footed folks)  So having come from  two months  of  lift the toes up, pull the toes back, activate the arches,  it was quite nice to do something else with the feet. It is interesting to think that things were segregated by country back then.  Now,  one of the  greatest things about  going to Pune is doing  Iyengar  yoga with Iyengar yogis from all over the world. 

Arun gave a nice teaching at the beginning of  class about artha- purpose and meaning.  He said there’s a reason for everything that we do.  Why sit in in Sukasana,  why belt the legs, why sit on blankets, why focus on  where the hands are in  Namaste,  why chat.  Every pose has a purpose. 

If you are  going through  what’s going on in Pune withdrawal.   Check out  my Pune roomie, Jenn Kagan’s   blog.   Bryan Rogers  also posts  sequences on Facebook.    Jory Serota  also has a blog and  is posting on Facebook (though he has not updated his blog since June 20--  It's time for a coming up on month three post  Jory).  

If you are blogging about Pune, let me know  and I'll post your links.   Maybe I'll add a  blogs about  Pune side bar to

More later,  fading fast.  

Link to the Pune 2014 Blog

Hi All, 

We are home.  I'll continue to write about  teaching yoga and philosophy and specifically on integrating what I learned in Pune this summer into my non-Pune life and classes.

I  created  a link to the first post I wrote about  Prashant this summer on the side bar.  2014 Pune Blog starts wth the  June 2  entry.

There are  a few posts about preparing to go in the couple weeks before that if you are interested.

Looking forward picking  up Milo,   doing some post jet lag   asana  and Arun  starts tonight.

Thanks for  reading  a long.

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

About Halfway Home: Aurora Hotel Heathrow

Well,  it is nice to be back in the land of  clean sheets, fluffy comforters,  bathtubs, drinking water from the tap, clean air (or at least air that feels clean and comfortable on the skin)  and  taxis that understand where you want to go. (Of course, the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel only about 2 miles away  cost more than our entire two month rickshaw expenditures), but there you go. 

A cleaner and radically more expensive world back here in the west. 

So far the travel home has been quite nice.  The new  Mumbai airport is really lovely.  We ate a nice brunch before getting on the plane.  No upgrade this time, but the flight was very, very  empty so we were able to move into the back and have a row to ourselves and even a row for a nap for a while.  It took a bit longer to get through customs  in London (about an hour) than I thought it would  but not so bad.

We were in the lovely Aurora hotel by   7:45 pm, ate a really good meal in their garden patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  We were  asleep by 10 and woke up around  5:15 am.  The food has also been great here.  Fabulous breakfast buffet.  Anyway, if your travel plans include  a stop in London on the way back, I highly recommend this place.

Also, I do feel rested and ready for the final  leg of our journey home.  Just a hop across the pond.

Not much yog or yoga wise to  report.  Other than  Jeff doing chair sarvangasana first thing when we got in   and having the time to  do a few poses and a bit of pranayama this morning.   Physical comfort wise, I think the massive hip opening did make my travel  easier.  

Next trip,  I think we'll look into flying into Pune.   The Pune Mumbai leg is really pretty long and tiring.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Our Last Class with Prashant Summer 2014

Well, I’ve been avoiding sitting down to write the last post from Pune about Prashant’s class. But after the good bye lunch at Ambience and a couple hours of packing, and a bit of a rest, now’s the time.

I’m actually a bit more emotional about leaving than I expected to be. I almost cried leaving the practice hall. It was funny for the first 45 minutes or so, I actually forgot it was the last practice in the hall and was just practicing.

We decided not to stay all the way to the 31st for a variety of reasons but now I’m kind of wishing we decided to stay another 9 days. But that would have ended up being almost 10 weeks away from home with the travel days on either end and it was seeming like a lot of time to be away. And I’d just be feeling this way 9 days later.

On the plus side, we will get home in time for the Arun workshop in Austin and I love studying with him. I'm excited about seeing Mom and Dad and how they are doing and there’s Milo, the glorious golden retriever awaiting us as well. I started to get worried that he would not remember me and Jeff said, “Well, it really doesn’t matter. Think how happy he is seeing a random stranger who is willing to pet his belly.”

Anyway, enough about my state of mind and its various experiences of raga and dvesa.

sukha anusayi ragah

Pleasure leads to desire and emotional attachment. (I)
Attachment stems from [experiences] of happiness. (B)
duhkha anusayi dvesah

Unhappiness leads to hatred. (I)
Attachment stems from [experiences] of happiness. (B)

By the way, I can’t remember if I mentioned what the (I) and the (B) stand for. The I is Iyengar’s translation of the Sutras. The B is Edwin Bryant’s. I got the original transliteration without diacritical marks and the Iyengar translation from Leanne, a former BKS Dallas yoga person. She got it from a student of Mary and Eddy’s. I’ve been adding in the Edwin translations and slowing working on adding the diacritical marks and also the Sanskrit but am not making huge progress on those.

Anyway, here’s a bit about Prashant.

In many ways, I still feel like yesterday was the real last class in terms of the grand vision of the soul that Prashant articulated so beautifully.

We twisted and worked with the breath for most of Prashant’s class today. He didn’t talk as much about the grand vision of yog but more technically about how to use breath with the actions of poses. We worked with altering action before and after and during exhalation and before and after and during inhalation.

In the last part of class, we worked more with Violma actions. He had a funny metaphor for Viloma. We interrupt the breath to increase our overall capacity. He said you can’t eat a bag of cashews or chips all in one sitting, but with various interruptions over the course of the day, the cashews or chips will disappear.

I really have been struck by how much he uses food and drink metaphors. Today, he talked a lot about various Indian food delicacies that we Westerns don’t really have the experience of. Come to think of it he actually talked more in Marathi than he usually does today, so there was time to just take in what I wasn’t understanding and wait for some understanding to come. Which was actually one of his major philosophical points for the day. That learning happens. We don’t make learning happen.

Prashant aimed at getting us to observe the effects of the action more than focusing so much on the doing of the action. I think that’s one of the reasons he uses metaphors from every day life so much. We are in a sense experts at tasting food and knowing the effect and knowing preference and we don’t often reflect necessarily on the process of knowing around those everyday sorts of knowing and doing and receiving the effects.

What would it be like to know our practice, its actions and its effects, as intimately as we take in the foods that we eat?

Even though yesterday’s class was more inspiring, today’s was a more practical take home message. The power to learn is within you. You already have it. Learn to observe beyond the realm of doing. Learn, observe, relearn. Cultivate the literacy of your own practice.

As always, there’s more to say.

Practice was great. Jenn and I worked on the hips, Jeff did a really nice Hanuman IV.  Lunch was also really nice. Got to talk with Jose and Andrea and Chris Briney a bit. Hakka Noodles are quite tasty at Ambience, by the way. Also, though I did not have it today, the tandoor cauliflower is fabulous!

We had great timing getting home before the rains. We packed and showered.

Jory stopped by to pick up some laundry detergent and I gave him the umbrella that Lisa left for me.

Jenn, Jeff and I were just having a conversation about learning and suffering and access to teaching and being willing to share more of what it like to be here.

Now, we are all off to Gulnaz’s class.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prashant on True Being


"What if, in your sleep, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?"
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My old friend and former yoga student from Waco, Marie Martin, posted this as her Facebook Status today. Marie and her best friend, Pam, (another good friend and former yoga student), picked me up from Dallas on my return from India in 2007. (The sisterly pod had recently separated and Christina went onto Atlanta to meet up with Kelly and Mom and Dad who were still in Lavonia) and I waited for Marie and Pam to arrive. I was really alone for the first time in a month. An hour or so later, Marie and Pam swooped in from the outlet malls. I managed to stay awake long enough to crawl into the back of Pam’s Land Rover and fell sound asleep. 2.5 hours later I was in my house in Waco. They were both good friends to me at a very different and difficult time in my life.

Anyway, that seems like another lifetime ago. Almost another person ago.  Another I ago.  I hadn’t moved to Austin yet, hadn’t met Jeff, was still a cat person (3 – now I have 0) wasn’t a dog person, didn’t have Milo. Hadn’t finished my book. Wasn’t full professor, wasn’t director of BIC. Mom and Dad hadn’t moved to Texas. All these things about who I am have changed and yet there’s another level of me than has not, and still another beyond that that has nothing to do with all I call me at all. That’s the level of being Prashant evoked today. Being beyond being the I that we know and love so well.

Back in the world of the ego, (As Prashant talked about the ego, I got the impression that it is sort of like a very pesky and persistent fly that you can’t quite kill and just won’t leave well enough alone.) This time, I’ve travelled here with my beloved husband, Jeff.  I am so grateful that we shared this experience together. We will be returning to Austin, a city I love living in. No cats to worry about. Though occasionally I think I want one.  Ron is keeping Milo, and Mom and Dad will pick us up because they live in Austin and the flight gets in at a more or less reasonable time. Maybe we’ll at least be able to stay awake until we get to the house. Though with Austin rush hour traffic that might be harder than it sounds.

Anyway, Coleridge. Coleridge definitely had some insight into ultimate reality, probably not from the means of deep meditation, backbends or contemplating collective dynamics, but he was a pretty amazing poet with a pretty amazing drug habit. Both those aspects of his ego level of being enabled him to see to another level of reality, of being beyond the being of the I. I think he saw quite deeply into that reality of true being and struggled a lot with how to express the insights one gleams from that realm and how to express them in the language of this world. Anyway, I like that Marie posted the quote today on the eve of my return back to Pune. It has a nice temporal symmetry and it gets at the dynamic between the true essence of being and our attempts to grasp it which I took to be one of the major points of Prashant’s amazing class.

As we listened to his ending discourse on true being and the ego’s relentless attempt to make true being its own experience, Scott from Australia turned to me and said, “You are here for class tomorrow right?” I nodded. He said, “That would have been an amazing note to end on.” So true.

We started off in AMVrk. Prashant led us through some pretty intense backbends and we ended with another AMVrk (before doing a long Sarvangasana). He asked us to reflect on the difference in our experience of the first AMVrk and the last one.

Simply put, the level of ease and integration was palpable. It really did feel like the pose was being done to me or that I was the pose or that the pose was me or maybe collectively all of those ways of looking at it, where as the first AMVrk was very much an activity of I am doing the pose. I even think I'm doing the pose reasonable well and with integration and collective awareness particularly for 7:00 AM first pose post prayers. But I was very much doing it. I was my ego.

I was reminded of  Nietzsche’s formulation of this dynamic,

“‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.”

To edit Nietzsche slightly,  the doing is everything.

After Sarvangasana, he had us come closer and asked us if he had ever anywhere along the way given any instruction at all about how to do AMVrk more effectively. He then elaborated on all the numerous detailed things that an Iyengar Yoga teacher might say about how to improve AMVrk and said, did I do any of that. No. So how did that transformation take place? What brought about that change in our relationship in the doing and the being of and in the pose?

1 hour and 45 minutes of preparation. He said it can take that long if you only have two hours to practice to get 15 minutes of real yog.

Prashant then talked about the relationship between the ego and the true being. We are true being in those moments of integration, those moments of divine insight, those moments of deep sleep. Part of the trap of the ego, part of the trap of language also (two different traps) is to say or to think, “I had that experience.” It is not the I that feels cleansed and purified by such experiences of let’s call them moments of  transcendence for lack of a better term, plus I think Prashant actually used it.

He said, sure the ego can get cleansed to some degree,  but think of it like cleaning the toilet. Is the toilet, even when really clean like the cleanliness of the space of the meditation room? He elaborated on that metaphor for a while. It was reasonably hilarious. It also got me thinking about the value of humor in getting us to see beyond ourselves. He’s quite gifted at that as well. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were masters of this use of humor as well.

In some of the Geeta interviews I’ve been reading, she talks about that nourishment of good sleep. It is where we touch the true self. I remember Rajiv Chanchani talking once about what feels so go to us about a good pranayama practice or a good savasana is that we get a break from the ego. We get a break from being who we inexorably are qua being who we are in ego-land. What is  it like, then, to come back with Coleridge's flower?  Is that experience of true being the flower we come back with?

As wonderful as  Prashant's metaphor of the toilet was, the most powerful part of the last part of his discourse today was what he said about the soul that experiences god. We do not experience God qua Hindu, qua Muslim, qua Jew, qua Christian. The soul does not partake in those distinctions. I think that’s what Paul is getting at in the saying “In Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.” But this takes it one step further said; in God there is no specific religiosity. Prashant suggested that this is what even the most devout and tradition faithful of us truly want this experience of the true soul. Even the Pope, he said wants this.

For a variety of reasons, I am a close observer of the evangelical Christian world. Though I think Prashant is right,  I do wonder if this is in fact true for the felt experience of the average devout Christian. Maybe in the sense that it is what the Christian truly wants even if they are not aware of wanting it, but I think the average Evangelical or  any devout worshipper of God through the prism of a particular tradition get very attached to a particular vision of faith and sees the essence of the soul in those specific hues or tones that the prism reflects of the divine. Even as much as we might recognize along with Augustine, that we see through a glass darkly and never face to face, I suspect that a Christian expects to see a Christian face on the other side of that dark glass.

Be that as it may, Prashant is making clear that the yogic vision offers us a level of insight into the nature of God, the nature of the soul, the nature of the affinity between God and soul that is much deeper and more essential than those particular inflections of particular faith traditions.

A beautiful vision, the vision of yog.

I did manage to work up the courage to talk with Prashant after class. I asked him some questions I had about the body and reincarnation. My homework: Read Discourses on Yog.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The People with Props

I went to a Manouso Manos workshop ages ago in Atlanta and he said something like, “That’s who we are. The people with props.”

Props do seem to be an integral part of the Iyengar system. It is even in the official definition of what makes Iyengar Yoga that we memorize for the Intro I test along with reasons to use props.

Here’s what the Official BKS Iyengar Web page says about Props,

“Iyengar yoga is meant for all and is a way of life. The use of props, designed by Guruji , such as wooden gadgets, belts, ropes helps the practitioner to achieve perfection in any asana.”

It is interesting the official web page says wooden gadgets given the blog post I’m about to write. First of all, wooden gadgets is a good way to describe the range of props in the hall at RIMYI. Gadgets ranging from a simple wooden dowls, wedges, and bricks, to dwi pada benches and tresslers and setu bandha and pavanmuktasana benches and wooden. Not to mention straps and ropes of various lengths, blankets, bolsters, chairs.

I mentioned that in the RIMYI class Gulnaz taught Wednesday we gave up all our props, even the sticky mats because of space issues. Even though Iyengar Yogis are the people with props, there’s also a strong thread in the practice of not using them. Of cautions about becoming too dependent on them. Using them as a crutch, thinking we need them when we don’t, not knowing why we are using them. Here, not following the various rules about their use. No wooden bricks on mats, not putting your full weight on foam bricks, not using the rope wall unless o you are using the rope part of the wall not just the wall part of the wall, not using wall space unnecessarily, not putting feet on blankets, etc, etc, etc.

Gulnaz taught a rather prop-less class on Sunday though at points she did let us us them because we do all have issues.

However, she said we have to watch our mind and language around the use of them.

satyapratisthayam kriyaphalasrayatvam

When the sadhaka is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization. (I)
When one is established in truthfulness, one ensures the fruition of actions. (B)

The example she gave was our tendency to call a wooden brick a “block.” Gulnaz had a great teaching about that terminology yesterday. She said words are powerful. If we are using a block to help us, really the block is blocking us. It is blocking our progress to the floor in Trikonasana, for example, Think of how the word block affects the mind. We are blocked in our thinking, so anyway, choose the words carefully. Brick, not block. Issue not problems or “insurmountable obstacles.” 

She also talked having to choose words carefully in the RIMYI room because there are so many different languages there and how easy it is to be misunderstood in large group contexts. In many ways, learning the language of yoga is like learning another language. We have to learn what words mean in the context and how to apply them to our own learning process.

I think in the US we have a tendency to over prop. One example of this happened to me yesterday doing Adho Muka Virasana (the one in LOY, from actual virasana)
Not the one with your toes together and knees wide.

I was sitting in about my best virasana ever completely on the floor no pain in knee or ankles actually having some semblance of ability of lift the spine up. And was saying to myself, “wow. That’s some progress Then we folded forward, which is super hard for me (I do actually practice this regularly, but with a BLOCK under the buttocks because my buttocks don’t stay on the floor once I go foreward.

So I gave it a try without the brick and had no success keeping buttocks down and so I reached for the prop as I have been taught many times by many different teachers and have done pretty much every time I try the pose. (Okay, I also use blankets and smaller bricks and use a bolster for the torso. I’ve tried a lot of props, but not so much working prop-less. ) She said, “Anne why are you doing that ? The buttocks are already flying off the floor why put something underneath them to keep them there?”

Good question. I do have an answer according to how I’ve been taught, several actually, but did not say any of them in my out loud voice and really was not all that attached to them in my inner voice as I could recognize my way really wasn’t having the desired effect. So, gave her way a try and three or four times later, it was somewhat better and I realized if I practiced without the prop more regularly I would in fact be able to do it from the floor, not like the previous practice is wasted effort (because no effort is wasted) Gulnaz also talked about that yesterday, “Every action counts.” Even what we call the brick.

Looking forward to our last 48 hours in Pune. VIkram will be picking us up at 6:30 AM Wednesday.

Time to get ready for Prashant.

A Great Day: Gulnaz’ s Class and the Gandhi Museum.

Our  Last Weekend in Pune

Jeff and I were talking about our respective classes yesterday over dinner last night at Hotel Ambassador.s I was telling him more about how wonderful Devki’s class was and he was reporting on Prashant’s Saturday morning class, which Prashant described as a culmination of the week’s teaching.

Devki had us do a long Sirsasana from the spine and then we did Trikonasana and she said that celestial deities reside in the spine. Which in and of itself is a pretty lovely image. For the second side of Trikonasana, she asked us to work with nasal breathing. Jeff listened and said that Prashant said that celestial deities reside in the nose.

Anyway, the similarity of those two descriptions on two classes from the same day motivated me to spread the word. The ancient Greek philosophers believed something like this as well

“All things are filled with gods.” Thales of Miletus

“I looked inside him once and saw he was filled with images of Gods.”
Alcibiades describing Socrates

There was a similar quote at the Gandhi Museum today. “God is in all things.” So why not celestial deities in the nasal passages and the spine? In the west, we just don't usually look for the  divine there.  Yet, even with in Christianity,   "the kingdom of  God is within."

We went to bed reasonably early and got up for Gulnaz’s Sunday class. It is really great. There were quite a few people there this morning.  We  worked a lot with staying compact in twists and mula bandha  but what impressed me even more than the great asana instruction was how insightfully she  talked about the process of teaching and learning  the various challenges of transmitted knowledge and how confusion inevitably arises even in the best of pedagogical circumstances.  She talked a lot about how to practice and how to process information. I have found my own mind oscillating between “Wow I feel so intensely grateful to have learned all that I have learned.” And “Wow, there’s still so much work do to. It is a bit depressing and overwhelmed.”  

I was trying to formulate this as some sort of question like “So how do you remain cheerful in the face of the vastness of the subject rather than daunted?”  Not that I don’t have my own resources to think through the oscillation, but I was interested to hear what she would say.   Anyway,  it is like she sensed the question in my mind that I was not quite willing to   formulate in my out loud voice.  At the end of class she offered this observation.

“So, If you’ve understood some little bit of this lesson, you are ready for something more.”   

It was such a simple way to look at the learning process. The learning, when we have learned it,  prepares us for the what’s next. We don’t have to have the whole in mind. We just have to be ready for the next step.”

Anne Lamott has a great image about faith being like driving through a heavy storm. With the headlight, you can just see a little bit a head of you. But you can make the whole journey that way.

Gulnaz is a really great teacher.   Even though there’s not much space left in the room, I encourage you to seek her class out.  It’s really lovely to have the small class experience  while being here.  It shows a very different dimension of the depth of teaching and learning that is  the Iyengar Yoga Tradition.

  Lots of other teacher have their own studios and classes as well.  I really enjoyed and benefitted enormously from  the  private lesson I took with Anjanali for instance. She has a studio and offers classes as well.  She gave me lots of great things to work on that I’ve practiced pretty much every day this week.   My Baddha Konasana is so much better in just  five days because of what she taught me.   Anyway,  my main point is don’t limit yourself to the offerings of the Institute alone, there’s so much to learn here from the many people who have been trained for so many years from the Iyengars  and it will make you appreciate all the Iyengars have given us  all the more.  Maybe that would be a good addition to the Pune Guide. 

We caught a rickshaw back home and went to Lahit Mahal for a dosa and lime soda with Jenn.

Jeff and I decided to go over to the Gandhi Museum instead of our usual Marriott indulgence. Somehow, it seemed less necessary with only three days left until our return to the West.

The Gandhi Museum is well worth a visit. We have watched the movie several times, including once at the beginning of our trip here.  (Maybe we’ll even watch it again tonight!)  The Museum is in the Aga’s Palace where Gandhi was imprisoned for while. His secretary and wife both died there. The secretary died very soon after then imprisonment. From what I understand, they were not arrested themselves but simply went with Gandhi because that was their place of service to be with him. That was actually one of the things that struck me most about the place, how venerated they were, the ones who served the him most directly.

The weather was wonderfully cool and the rains held off. Really a perfectly peaceful afternoon contemplating the life and work of that great yogi of ahimsa, Mahatma Gandhi.

If you are still in Pune or are planning a trip, please go. It is well worth the rickshaw ride across town.

Here’s a link to the museum.

I’ll end with my favorite Gandhi quote,

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.”