Yoga Blog – Perfection in Practice

“Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you”.

This quote by BKS Iyengar came to my mind this morning during my yoga practice. I’ve heard it many times but today it rang loud and clear in my head as I was berating myself in Adho Mukha Virasana (forward facing hero pose) for feeling stiff and aching. I was, for want of a better word, “crock-like” in my body, feeling a little older, a little less capable, weak maybe and all the negativity that could seep into my mind came with full force – why am I feeling like this when I’ve practiced so many years, I shouldn’t be like this, I’m a teacher, I’m not THAT old surely? “It must be my fault”, I decided, “I’m not good enough.” All these negative thoughts and feelings are common place for so many of us, but thankfully, yoga and the teachings of BKS Iyengar and all the great teachers he has inspired over the years, plus all our other good teachers in life, help us to nip these paths to negative thinking in the bud, to pull us back from the brink of defeat and despair.

So I did not stop trying. Although my body felt achy and not at all it’s usual strong and eager self, I carried on, but instead of forcing, I decided to listen to my body in every posture – what were those aches and pains trying to tell me, where were they coming from? How did I feel in my hips in one pose, compared to how they felt in another similar pose? Was it the same and if not, why? I went through my programme for the day with this attitude of perceptivity, listening, observing, recording, discarding actions that led me away from connectedness and gathering information and links between poses – I was building a road map through my practice.

I eventually came to a pose that I “knew” I would struggle with, that it would be challenging for my stiff shoulders and hamstrings. But again, I surrendered to my imperfections and my mind was clear, untroubled. The pose was Prasarita Padottanasana II, where the hands are in pascima namaskarasana and the head should reach the floor, but because the hands are behind the back, invariably the floor is a little further away than usual as you can’t use the hands to press and extend the trunk downwards. Also, the mere action of putting the hands behind the back in this position, when you are stiff, can be very difficult and painful.

Prasarita Padottanasana
Prasarita Padottanasana with the hands in pascima namaskarasana

To my surprise, my hands went into position relatively easily with little shoulder ache, my head, went straight down and touched the floor – my body actually felt good! It was as if the pose did itself, the mind, having changed its “mindset” from negative to, let’s say, positive curiosity, had given the body the freedom to do the pose to its best ability, and achieve better results than if I had decided instead to beat myself up and force, or like the quote says, to stop trying altogether. It was far from a perfect pose, but it had a perfectly positive effect on my mind and my attitude. It brought lightness, playfulness and optimism to the rest of my session and I ended with a feeling of determined enthusiasm.

Whatever your challenges in your practice and I daresay, in your life, surrendering to the imperfections (“feel the fear and do it anyway”) and seeing where the road takes you can be the best way forwards at a time when negativity starts to cloud your thoughts and your judgement. Be an optimist and keep getting back on the mat, keep trying.

 

 

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.