All roads do not lead to Pune! This is a road less traveled but one I always look forward to taking. Like all roads less traveled it take courage, strength and discipline to do what is needed to get there. Responsibilities along with life’s daily changes and challenges may make the process difficult or at least look different than imagined. Many circumstances may and did arise between the time I made the decision and when the time came two years later to take the next step, and board the plane. I find in life’s journey there is always the unexpected, fortunately I was able to hold my vision in site long enough to travel this road.
Pune is a city located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The 8th largest urban agglomeration in India with a population of 4.5 million, it is the second largest city in India. It is located 150 kilometers east of Mumbai at an altitude of 560 meters above seal level. Pune, widely considered the cultural capital of Marathi-speaking Maharashtrians, has a reputation for many esteemed colleges and educational institutions – the reason why it is called the “Oxford of the East”. It seems then that it is no accident the BSK Iyengar institute would be located in this area know for the best in higher learning.
The unique design of the Iyengar Institute draws your attention to the fact we are entering an environment which will assist in taking us deeper along the yogic path. The three floors represent body, mind, and soul. Its height is 71 and has eight columns which represent the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga i.e. yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhrana, dhyana and Samadhi. With this in mind before even walking into the institute, you are preparing mentally, physically and spiritually to embrace this path of yoga.
I have been an Iyengar student since 1992. My first teacher spoke about often about his time in India, which had me dreaming of a time I might be able to do the same. My children were young and India didn’t look anywhere in sight. Now in 2007 reflecting back, I can see how this dream has blossomed as I have been to study with the Iyengar family three times, each time adding another layer of depth and richness. Each experience is set upon a backdrop of Indian culture rich with ancient wisdom and history. Its beauty touches me deeply and simply. The people are friendly and open and I always feel welcomed. These layers of experiences are like applying layers of lacquer all laid one over the other, which over time have provided a solid foundation and grounding for this path. I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to have sat at the feet of these masters B.K.S. Iyengar, Geeta S. Iyengar and Prashant S. Iyengar, as they so generously shared their wisdom.
I went to the institute to study, practice and consolidate, these were my main objectives. The opportunity to attend classes in Pune is always exciting for me as I am able to remove myself from my usual daily life and allow myself to be with myself in a much more reflective way. Living in Hong Kong we are all busy with our families, work, commitments and responsibilities. Being a wife and a mother for the last 30 years has helped me to see it is important to take breaks to nurture myself, taking time to refuel, reflect, learn and consolidate. To take time to focusing 100% on something I am passionate about is a rewarding experience and a unique gift that fills me with renewed energy, inspiration, and clarity.
Since I have been teaching I always take notes while in workshops and senior level classes. Usually these notes are to help me organize my thoughts to pass them on to my students. Here in India I decided to have the month for myself and my practice, leaving all else behind trusting what needed to be passed on would come, notes or not.
This time was rich in many ways. The following are some thoughts and words from my time with Prachantji:
“Here we are learning about life by and through the asanas. There are techniques for getting into the asana for the body but here we will talk about using the breath for the body, using the breath for the mind and using the breath for the breath. The breath is not static but always changing and changing the way you are doing a prose and being in the pose. It is changing for the good so we must use it as a good thing.” In downward dog he encouraged us to access changes in the body by using different breaths. “Bend the legs and see the breath, now straighten and see how the breath changes. Breath into the spine and see how it works on the spine.”
Prachantji challenged us to identify different parts of the body through the breath. “Inhale through the spine, exhale through the spine. Inhale through the legs, exhale through the legs. Spine..ize, chest…iz, leg…ize, abdominal…ize. Focus on these areas with the breath and see how you can have the breath work for you bringing intelligence to each area. Body knowledge has to be seen differently, not by getting it through a book.”
He asked us to begin to focus on the unprepared-ness level in our body as we began class. “Begin to use the breath for your benefit to over come your unprepared-ness. Understand what kind of mind you are using. A learning mind, objective mind, subjective mind or is the mind frozen. What is your mental conversation?” Here we turned to the mind and the breath for the sake of the body. Later we focused on the mind for the sake of the body and the breath. Finally we focused on the body to release the mind and the breath.
All asanas create a certain state of being, mentally and physically. We learned to become aware of that state and then take that state of mind into the next pose (or in the next moment off the mat) which may not necessarily create that state. For example ropes sirsasana creates a quietness in the abdominal area which affects us on a physical level. When doing supta padangustasana, could we bring that same state to the abdomen, the same quiet mind to that pose. The same quiet breath. We worked at an organic level moving beyond the body. Beyond… moving this foot to the right, drawing this kneecap up, bringing the shoulder blades down, thighs back, moving from here to there moving our mind continually. Here we worked to focus on one area for the benefit of all areas. Using our “breath intelligence” to affect out body and mind intelligence. We used our mind to affect our breath and body as well as using our body to bring intelligence to our mind and breath. We were spreading our awareness in a quiet focused way. In doing this we were able to move deeply into each pose for the sake of our whole being not just done, by the body for the body. We experienced meditation in action. Taking one step at a time along this path, being aware of each breath, thought and action, another layer was applied.
In the end one must make their own decision on how they will walk each step of his or her path. This trip assisted me to be aware of a more conscious journey with small steps, one at a time, observing the quality of my process as well as my mind, my body and my breath along the way.
I wish the same for you. Namaste, Kathy.