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.

 

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.