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.



End of a Month at RIMYI

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…

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!


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!