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June 2019

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute

Hellooo from Pune! Unbelievably, the first 2 weeks of study are already under my belt. I can’t believe how quickly time is passing!

Not surprisingly, there have been several changes here at the Institute. On the one hand it’s obvious that something (someone!) is missing, on the other hand there is great energy and a passionate commitment from the RIMYI teachers to do justice to the Iyengar legacy. Abhi has taken on several additional classes and her and Raya are managing the medical classes. Prashant is teaching the Pranayama class. Sunita is teaching one of the Women’s classes (which is now titled a General Class) and Abhi is teaching the actual Women’s class.

As I reflect on my time here so far, the teaching seems to have a specific flavour. In truth, I don’t really know if it’s the teaching itself or if it’s the who/what/how of myself that I’m bringing to the mat which makes certain themes ring louder than others. Regardless, at least to me, there is a particular air about things. The core teaching is the same, it’s what I consider to be the essence of Iyengar Yoga: develop & harness new awareness & sensitivity through Yoga. But there seems to also be a renewed emphasis on personal responsibility – finding the inner teacher in each of us. For example, Abhi began the first class with some work in Tadasana. She looked at our legs from the front, from the back, and with clear and penetrating instructions rooted us in a solid foundation. At one point she said to cut the mid-buttock in and in the same breath told us that it is our responsibility to honestly and genuinely work on this. WIth reverence she said that Geetaji had the eyes to observe if we were doing this to the best of our ability but sadly, those days are no longer.

Prashant, not surprisingly, is also teaching to this point. He has been asking us to reflect on a ‘priority’ for each pose. Given our chosen priority, what is the ‘field of activity’ and how does it change? As you practice, are you witnessing, or are you being witnessed? How does shifting from ‘seeing’ to ‘being seen’ affect your consciousness? As always and as no one else can, he is challenging us to move beyond a yoga practice that is simply ‘body for the sake of body’.

Last week, there was a special Q&A session with Prashant. One student talked about how she tends to become very involved in her teaching and by extension with her students. She essentially asked Prashant to comment on how he maintains personal boundaries. He provided an interesting perspective and said that he used to teach students but now he teaches the subject (Yog). In the beginning, students need to be told everything but as they progress, they can assume that responsibility on their own. The teacher’s role changes. Again…another nudge towards personalizing our sadhana, be it in practice or teaching. My takeaway: as students, we need to open ourselves up to what lays beyond ‘place your foot, turn your leg, etc.’ and as teachers, we need to empower students to venture towards these different aspects of the practice; to understand that ultimately, asana is a means and not an end.

The medical classes (or remedial classes as they are locally referred) continue to be some of my favourites. I was about to write that each class is like a symphony of activity with many students and many teachers all working simultaneously but in truth, it’s less like a symphony and more avant-garde jazz. There’s this delicate balance between knowing ‘the rules’ and embracing spontaneity and creativity. The work done in these classes is multi-dimensional.  Which asana has the potential to facilitate the desired response? Why??? How can the principle of that asana be translated into/onto/through the student? (side note/pet peeve: So often, people think yoga therapy means ‘do these 5 poses to address such and such problem’, which is a wildly misinformed interpretation of the work. Sadly, it leads to much confusion, disappointment, & sometimes even worse. If only they could see these classes/teachers in action!)

What I love most about the medical classes is that they are an incredibly fertile learning environment. Whether I’m observing the skill and nuance with which a senior teacher adjusts a student, fetching props and in turn, learning to anticipate which prop will be needed when (ideally before it’s even asked for!), or given directives from a senior teacher to work directly with a student, I inevitably feel like a sponge (a sopping wet one, in fact). It can be overwhelming at times because there is so much going on. I’m hungry to absorb as much as I can (it’s such a privilege to be here!) but ultimately I know that I am missing more than I’m catching. On the flip side, it’s hard to do justice to the feeling I have at the end of these classes. It’s like a perpetual reminder that the depth of Yoga will provide me with a lifetime’s worth of meaningful study…and this truly is a tremendous feeling ☺️ 🙏.

All that said, the daily practice sessions are really the crux of this whole experience. Dedicating 2 to 3 hours daily to (uninterrupted) practice is simply put, a gift. I especially love when the RIMYI teachers are practicing in the hall too. Abhi & Raya will often offer them some feedback and I get to catch a little bit of their training. I love how the teachers are always working with each other both for practicing their own asanas but also helping one another to develop their skills re touch and adjustment. It’s amazing to see and it further highlights how inextricably linked practice and teaching really are, not to mention the unearthed potential that comes from having a community of yogis to practice, explore, & troubleshoot with.

Alright, that’s all for now but I hope to piece together a few more posts before my time here is complete…