End of a Month at RIMYI

As the month at RIMYI enters it’s final week, my colleagues and I are frantically trying to cram in as much observing, classes, practice and shopping as we can before we have to fly back to our various countries and homes. With the money situation as it is right now in India, coordinating enough cash to buy all the books, equipment and presents we can cram into our suitcases takes a little organising to say the least.  There are only a few hours a day when the ATMs have money and you are in for around a 45 minute queueing time, with a restriction on withdrawals of just 2000 rupees per card. It’s certainly been a challenging month with Prime Minister Modi’s decision to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes over night, sending the country into panic – however many Indians we spoke to welcomed the action, but it did leave many people with no access to their funds, or, worse still, with money that had become suddenly worthless.

So now, every day is precious as it will be at least 12 months before we can return again and there are mixed emotions – excitement at coming home, seeing loved ones, getting back to teaching or work, family life etc, but also sadness at not seeing all the faces at RIMYI, not hearing Prashant’s voice as he offers us his ponderings on the “mystical, intuitive, creative process” that is yoga, not having Geeta piercing your very soul with her brilliant insights and sharing with us her 70 years of love and devotion for her father’s work, at the same time taking us further in our practice than we imagined possible. It is hard to leave this “temple of yoga” and not walk the familiar daily route along Hari Krishna Mandir Road, greeting the various street sellers and familiar faces, signing in at the gate and removing shoes, climb up the stairs to the practice hall where you may be practicing alongside RIMYI’s senior teachers like Abhijata, BKS Iyengar’s grandaughter, Raya, Rajlaxmi and Gulnaz as well as senior teachers from around the world and teachers from every country as well as local students.

I personally will miss some of the “patients” in the medical classes who I have watched over the month, sometimes assisted, and observed their progress. One lady in particular who must be in her 90s, I remember her from 2 years ago, she knows exactly what to do, all the props to use to support her body and she shows no fear or hesitation when going upside down or bending backwards.

It is, in fact, very hard to describe how much the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute means to many of us, how the very fabric of this place becomes part of you, the sights, sounds and smells seem to merge into the experience and you can feel the lifetime of practice and service that BKS Iyengar and his family have given to the community, local and worldwide. RIMYI is a humble building in comparison to more “glamorous” type ashrams, but the design was so clever, so forward thinking that for over 30 years it has accommodated the huge rise in numbers that you see in all the classes today, compared to when they first started when Guruji’s friend Pandu said, “well, if it doesn’t work, we can rent it as a wedding hall”!

This afternoon, we have a special extra practice with a recording of Prashant teaching in around 2000 – we will all meet and follow along (I wonder if he will be listening in to see how we get on….) and then there are only 4 days of classes left before I fly back to Portugal. I’m looking forward to starting my own medical/remedial class when I get home, to help people in my local community and also to work on my own yoga practice with a few of the wonderful insights I have picked up here in Pune. And I will be working hard to save up for my next visit!

I hope you have enjoyed these few blog posts. I will leave you with a gallery of photos (mostly of motorbikes and food!) and memories from my month here in Pune.

 

Free Time in Pune

The program for studying at RIMYI is a full one – we have classes every day except for Sundays and practice sessions daily which we are expected to attend. (It’s in these practice sessions that the fruit of all Geeta and Prashant Iyengar’s teachings and our observing of the other classes, along with our own interpretations can really manifest, so missing them is not an option for most of us that really “get” the importance and privilege of being here.) The only classes on Sundays are the two children’s classes which take place one after the other from 8am. These are fast moving and highly active and you can come out of observing them exhausted just by seeing how hard the teachers work!

So, apart from watching the local children put through their paces on a Sunday morning, we visitors to Pune have several options for our “day off” – more practice, at home this time as RIMYI is closed to all visitors for the rest of the day, catching up with our studies, visiting friends and sharing lunch, shopping or taking a day out to visit a temple or other historic site, or to go further afield to the countryside surrounding Pune. There is a also great tour called the “Pune Heritage Walk” which gives a 3 hour walking tour around the historic sites of Pune. In fact, you are spoilt for choice and my advice to anyone visiting for the first time would be to not plan too much and always allow for things to take longer than expected. If you are sensitive to bad air, always carry a mask when travelling in rickshaws as traipsing across town for longer than 20 minutes, you will be exposed to every type of vehicle emission imaginable – if you can, early morning is best when the traffic is at it’s quietest (the walking tour starts at 7am on Saturdays and Sundays). Here in Model Colony, where RIMYI is situated, the air is noticeably better than in downtown Pune and there are more trees and greenery here and a lovely park nearby where people come from 6.30am to do their exercises, and school children come and play. It’s always nice to come “home” to Model Colony where it also has a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the more built up areas of Pune city.

Krishna TempleThis Sunday at 6.30am, we visited a ISKCON temple – very interesting with lots of chanting, dancing, ceremony and beautifully dressed people. Our guide, Krishna, skilfully navigated his way with 4 of us in tow, across Pune to the south of the city, on local buses, foot and rickshaws – at one point with 5 of us in a rickshaw, plus the driver in a vehicle built for 3 passengers maximum – “Don’t worry,” they said, “It’s only 2 kilometres” and when we arrived we had to peel ourselves out one by one.

Approaching the impressive temple, we take our shoes off which go into a white bag and we receive a token to exchange for them later. Then we are instructed to wash our feet before entering the temple grounds. Our bags are searched on the way in by fierce looking female security guards who greet us with, “Hare Krishna” before going through our things with a scanner. On entering the temple itself, we see a throng of men and women with chanting and dancing and welcoming smiles. It’s a great atmosphere, they’re really having fun. Lots of prostrating going on, prayers being given at the altars and we are welcomed warmly without the feeling that we are being judged at all or expected to join in.Krishna Temple Inside

Downstairs, after the ceremony there is usually a discourse on some aspect of one of the sacred texts which we were also welcome to attend, but today it was in Hindi, sometimes it is in English, so we were out of luck – the speaker was obviously very eloquent and articulate.

Afterwards, the bookshop is open – no more books please! I already have a full suitcase and although everyone in our little group agree that we can’t possibly want more gifts from the giftshop, we have a quick look round anyway and all sheepishly come out with another “little something” – I’m a sucker for stickers and the 3d Hare Krishna welcome sticker was just too much of a temptation, although I managed to resist the cow dung and cow urine remedies for mosquito bites…
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Then finally, dangerously sweet chai tea and a tomato uttapa – it’s a kind of pancake with fresh tomatoes inside and a little spice. Very delicious and freshly cooked at the temple kitchen. The array of Indian sweets and cakes on offer, all baked there, thankfully didn’t tempt me this time and we left in the heat of the day back to our rickshaw journeys across town amidst the busy Sunday traffic. The atmosphere had completely changed since 6.30am and the two rickshaws we were travelling in weaved in and out of the mayhem effortlessly and without a hint of road rage or agitation whatsoever, even though there were several, what appeared to me, near misses from all directions. Despite the honking of horns, drivers in Pune are quite calm. The horn honking serves the purpose to just let you know that they are trying to over take (or under take) or to warn you to stay back in case you step out into the road unexpectedly. You could actually just set up a chair on a busy junction and watch the traffic all day, it’s an amazing spectacle of cooperation, skilful riding/driving and daredevil attempts to get somewhere fast. It’s not uncommon for someone to be driving the wrong side or even the wrong way along the road if it means they can cut corners (literally) and yesterday we even saw someone riding his motorcycle around the roundabout the wrong way to reach his exit quicker. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be hiring a car here any time soon!

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Description of a Class

When you register at RIMYI, you pay your fees for the month and any extra for observing classes (you can observe and take notes for any of the timetabled classes, including the remedial/medical classes). You are given a personal timetable of classes you will be attending during the month plus your allotted practice times. If it is your first time studying at Pune, this will be slightly different than for someone who is more experienced. As this was my third visit, and I’ve done more years Iyengar yoga now, I was put in the main group so that means, 3 times at 7am with Prashant Iyengar, twice with Geeta Iyengar at 9.30am and once with Geeta or Navaz for Pranayama. Each class is for two hours and you are expected to attend the practice sessions which are for 3 hours every day except Sundays.

RIMYI Timetable

When you enter the hall, as a first timer it can be quite intimidating, not knowing what to do, what props to take etc. You simply just have to find a space and look to see what other more experienced people are doing and follow their lead. With up to 100 people in each class, there are certain rules and procedures that have to be followed to keep everything running smoothly and for health & safety, care of props, respect for others etc etc.  The two main teachers and directors of RIMYI are Geeta and Prashant Iyengar and other classes are conducted by Abhijata, BKS Iyengar’s grand daughter and other teachers at the Institute. All have their own unique style and as well as attending classes, you are encouraged to observe the classes at all levels from beginners, to seniors to advanced.

Prashant is the great philosopher, he interjects the poses with discourses about the body, mind and breath connection, getting us to look beyond just “asana” (physical poses) and more into ourselves, which is the purpose of yoga ultimately. I love his classes as he gets us to “be” in the postures, not much technical detail about alignment or structure but more about the alignment of the breath, what effect the breath has on the mind and the body and how the body relates to the mind and breath, how the mind relates to the body and breath.  We quickly move from one pose to the other but then hold them for a long time, exploring these themes. And in between he sometimes gets us to sit, while he extrapolates further – when I first came these sittings were a welcome rest from the intensity of the practice! Now I look forward to them for the pure reason of wanting to listen to him.

RIMYI Practice Hall
RIMYI Practice Hall

Geeta’s classes are very different – there is more asana instruction, minute details that take us further and further into the postures and how to improve them. Her guidance helps us as teachers to teach better, practice better and take care of our students’ well being. She has such a sharp eye and will catch many mistakes so we do again, with more emphasis, more corrections, more effort. Sometimes, she will include a mini teaching practice where she will ask someone to teach a pose in front of her and the group of around 80 students. Thankfully she hasn’t picked on me for that yet!! She is such a skilful and insightful teacher – her craft is unique. She loves to mix in the occasional joke to illustrate a point, and she has a great sense of humour which sometimes sends me into giggles. This helps to break down any tension, especially when you are doing some of the more advanced poses which can bring up some fearful moments – “Fear should not be there!”, she was saying on Saturday when we trying to jump up into hand stand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) with hands more than 1 foot from the wall to learn how to balance – I made it eventually with help from one of her assistants. Again, as a newcomer, I was definitely very nervous when I first went to Pune in 2006, and quite intimidated by Geeta, but after the first class, I couldn’t wait for the next one. I saw in her eyes years of experience and a deep compassion and love for her students, and for her subject of yoga which she and the other teachers have dedicated their lives to.

RIMYI Library
RIMYI Library

After class is over, there may be a practice session scheduled, we all practice together, teachers and students in the main hall, working on our own poses, or a break until the afternoon classes which we can observe, or you can visit the library downstairs, where Guruji, when he was alive would also be every day, writing correspondence, researching or being interviewed. Or there may be a special event such as chanting the yoga sutras or, like today, a film showing in the main hall – today’s film is a workshop with Geeta Iyengar on how to use the props. In the next blog, I will tell you the story of how some of the props came into being and are now used by yoga practitioners of all schools all over the world.

My Pune Blog 2016

I’m in Pune for the whole of November studying with the Iyengar family at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI), the headquarters if you like of Iyengar yoga worldwide. If you are interested in finding out about studying at RIMYI and life in this busy Indian city, please scroll down below this message for the latest post from my personal diary – not a daily diary as too much happens every day, but some choice insights into this amazing experience and wonderful country!

Small Steps – Love & Devotion

Not a lot of sleep the last two nights – I guess I should be used to barking dogs living in Portugal all this time, but Indian barking dogs take it to a whole new level. I have special double-glazed windows that seem to let more sound in that they keep out and I can (happily I may say) lay awake for hours working out which bark is from which dog, what vehicle is making that particularly peculiar noise and what bird that is squawking away at 4.30am. But all that aside, it is the sound of Pune, a sound I know and am somewhat fond of, the background sound to our classes at the Institute – listen to any recording of a class taken there, and you will hear the birds as well as the honking of horns and tinny rumble of rickshaws out in the street below. RIMYI is bang in the middle of a busy urban city, serving the community near and far with a full timetable of classes to help all comers, no matter what age or ability. In fact, Prashant’s theme today in his 7am class was just that, practice according to your ability, to what is necessary for the organic body and the mind.

Charus for Lunch
Charus for Lunch on Ghokale Road
Dhal, Rice and Lime Soda
Dhal, Rice and Lime Soda

As visitors, we are eligible only when we have completed a certain number of years of Iyengar practice and then we can apply to join the month long intensives. 2nd November was registration day for that month and we queued up at 8.30am eager to get the paperwork done. When you hand in your documents and payment, you are given your timetable for the month and we learned that our first class was already that morning at 9.30am with Geeta Iyengar herself.  So no time to collect yourself, as soon as the hall was available, we raced upstairs to lay out our mats and be ready for Geetaji to arrive. She is still recovering from a recent illness but doing much better and her eyes still have that sparkling fire, and keen observation. As the holiday season of Diwali was still lingering, the class was small, just 60 or so people, so there was no hiding place from her penetrating observations! She gave us poses taught in a way to help with the jet lag, “stretch the skin to release the tiredness of the jet lag”, and gave us a teacher’s workshop on how to help people in Sirsasana (head stand) and how to improve our own poses. It was an intense introduction to the month ahead.

Ah, it’s good to be back. It feels so familiar and yet is a long way from home. So initially there is that 48 hour or so adjusting – you are excited to be here but then you have to settle into the way of life here – busy roads, no pedestrian crossings, sights, sounds and smells, getting from A to B and then adjusting to RIMYI and all the rules and regulations that have to be adhered to to keep the “home” of Iyengar yoga functioning like clockwork, with literally thousands of visitors every year and over one hundred students coming each month for intensives.  They have a very well trusted routine and patiently answer the same questions time and again from new visitors. Help is always at hand and on the whole everyone is very kind and accommodating.

The routine itself is centered around that timetable of classes – we have one main 2 hour class then up to 3 hours practice time which we are expected to attend. Then there is lunch and afterwards the library is open for 2 hours for study followed by the medical class which we can observe or assist in (by application) or other classes that take place such as seniors, beginners or the popular children’s class on Sunday mornings. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to watch the other teachers such as Raya, Abhijata, Rajlaxmi or Devki and how they weave all their amazing knowledge gained from years of study with BKS Iyengar, into the very fabric of the Institute.

Well, I could write so much more and it’s only day two. So much happens each day, so I leave you with a quote I found today while studying in the Institute library which touched me. It was said by BKS Iyengar to one his pupils, Patricia Walden who at the time was suffering from depression: “When confronted with difficulty, take an action, no matter how small.” From that lesson and the example set by her Guruji, she learned: “Anything is possible, if you act (and reflect) with love and devotion.”