This year’s trip to RIMYI felt a bit like watching a shooting star blaze through the sky. Like a shooting star, the trip itself took me by surprise – I felt shot through the night sky to Pune, experiencing the whole trip intensely and very quickly. And just like a shooting star, it all ended so quickly. Here I am at home again, preparing to teach tomorrow and slip right back into daily life.
I wish that I had been able to write while in India. I tried many times, but found it impossible to encapsulate the depth and breath of my experience while the experience was going on. Guruji himself warned us of how expressions are limited, but experiences are unlimited. Expressions are finite, and experiences infinite. Lucky for us, there are several who were able to do the work of documenting our experiences. We had three fantastic American bloggers – Kwi-Seok Hong, Lisa Walford and El Grabar in Pune this month. Plus, Chris Havener, my roommate, is doing an incredible job of photographing what our senses are experiencing, and Aretha McKinney captured the poetry that was in our hearts. If you want to get a flavor for life in Pune, I recommend you read all of these resources. They each reflect a different part of the daily experience here.
Those who have read my blogs from past trips are familiar with the basic schedule: We go to class two hours a day, six days a week. We do our own practice for two – three hours, six days a week in the practice hall. With any remaining energy, we observe and/or assist the beginner, intermediate, remedial and therapy classes. In between, we cycle between gorging ourselves; sighing loudly on the couch; and engaging in boisterous discussions with our roommates, friends, and senior teachers from around the world. There is not much time for anything more. This trip was a bit different than others. There were 100+ people from over 35 countries gathered for this month of general classes, and another several hundred for a special Immersion with Prashanji. Because of this, I was able to spend a significant amount of time with other yoga studio owners learning more about how Iyengar Yoga plays out around the country and around the world. I was also able to carve out extra time with my Sanskrit Professor. Our work together included Vedic studies – chanting, reading and writing in Devanagari, and study of ancient literature including the Sutras, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana.
Every trip to Pune brings me closer to the heart of Iyengar Yoga. Being in Pune is part of the journey toward the abode of my soul, abiding in santosa. Living is Pune is, on the one hand, a complete assault on the senses. The nose and throat are at war from the pollution. The stomach always asks the eyes, “is that safe for me?” Living as an American in Pune for anything more than a few days is a true test of one’s determination. Yet the heart is completely satisfied. I am at home in the arms of my chosen family. Like any family, we laugh together, love together, and shout at one another. This togetherness, after two years of being apart, allows me to observe how much I have changed and also what parts of me are still the same.
This trip to Pune was absolutely incredible. Studying at RIMYI is an opportunity of a life-time. It’s my chance to evaluate my own commitment to this path, to see where I am in my life and what work needs to be done. I will admit that there is a huge hole in the practice hall where Guruji once stood. It would be easy for us all to spend the days just pining for him. But our community is using the memories as important opportunities for reflection on who we are, how we got here, and where we want to go next. Nearly every day, I heard Geetaji, Prashantji, Abijata and others tell stories about Guruji. I learned more about his process of becoming a yogi, about his approach, about what he said and what he didn’t say. Being in Pune has made me once again double-down on my commitment to this practice. I am excited for the future, as we are part of a worldwide journey together.
I encourage you to read each of the blogs listed above, because they give an important synopsis of the questions I am asking myself now that my feet are back on American soil. Every trip leaves me with several “homework assignments” until I return.
- Iyengar Yoga is a practice of self-inquiry. We don’t do asana for asana’s sake, we do it to get to know ourselves better, to bring the head, heart, body, and breath into closer contact with each other. As practitioners, it is easy to have our practice stay in the head not exist also in the heart. As teachers, it is easy to get trapped in a vortex of teaching technique only, without getting to the self-reflective qualities of the practice. If we teach only technique, we make our students dependent. My task in the coming years will be to chart a more clear path into the heart of Iyengar Yoga. I can see that, in America, it’s easy to get distracted by the commercial nature of American yoga and avoid looking inward. That direct, meditative, one-pointed gaze at the good, the bad, and the ugly is the point. I plan to spent much of 2018 looking at every way we manage the studio and our classes, so that we teachers, can stay better focused on the heart of our practice and help our students better access their own personal practice.
- As we begin a year of celebration for the 100th Anniversary of Guruji’s birth, Geetaji implored us to carry on Guruji’s work by making Iyengar Yoga accessible to others. She cited examples of the variety of programs that we could offer – to those who don’t have access to a studio, to those who need yoga in their communities, to those within our communities that need extra support. In Pune, a similar message played out in different ways. In the teachings, several new avenues for approaching asana were opened for me. For example, it is easy to go into a pose, look at a few points and come out. But for many of us, that static approach keeps us trapped in our own bodies. Many of us need a lot more movement to develop courage and awareness of our potential and freedom in our bodies. In the coming weeks and months I will bring a bit more of dynamic movement into my practice and teaching. We shall see where it goes.
The depth of the teaching, the depth of the caring, the depth of courage displayed by my colleagues and teachers in Pune is quite simply indescribable. We are truly a family. I am happy to be home and look forward to unpacking all of the teachings with you. If you are in town this Sunday, Christmas Eve Dec 24, you are invited to a brief chai and chat I am hosting from 12:30 – 2 pm at Adeline Yoga. I brought back plenty of Pune shorts, Patanjalis and stories for all to enjoy. If you cannot attend, please join me for the special New Year’s Day practice on January 1. Details here.