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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Final Days of the Geeta Iyengar Birthday Intensive

It seems throughout Geeta's Birthday Intensive the idea of time and what we choose to do with it seemed ever present. We celebrated Geeta's birth and we honored her father’s life and death. Opening up to this span of time via the path of Yoga means learning to be more present from the beginning to the end. 

The last two days, Geeta maintained focus on Pranayama and the key preparatory actions to begin a Pranayama practice and sustain it.  It is easy to overlook these actions and rush through.  ‘Oh, I’ve done Ujjayi. I’ve done Viloma, so I am good.’ I feel Geeta wanted to get across the imperative of slowing down and paying better attention. 

In our yoga practice, that means being even more attentive to the actions in our Asana so that when we move into our Pranayama practice, we can be more present in our inner world and really experience what the breath is doing.  From there, we can be present to our life force energy, which in turn makes us present for even more.

Our personal yoga journey is very much our own. Geeta encouraged us not to lie to ourselves. She didn't want us to allow our egoic self to take us places we are not ready for. Pull back. Be present with yourself.  What is working?  What is not? What is the right side doing? What is the left side doing?  Is my brain in my head?  What if I put it in my upper back, my thighs, or in the openness of my floating ribs?

Am I overworking or under working?  Where are the dark areas? What is my skin doing, my muscles, my organs, my bones, and my cells?  Question.  'Decentralize'.  We have to break everything down to little bitty parts before we can put it back together and really know how every part is working. 

When I remember her words, I can’t help but think of a watchmaker I met in Atlanta. He’s the only watchmaker I’ve ever met and the last one I know of in our area. I used to have coffee with him at Aurora Coffee some mornings. I divert to this story because BKS Iyengar somehow reminds me of a watchmaker. Like a watchmaker, he was fascinated with all the many intricate parts and how those parts work together to create a beautiful timekeeping device:  our body.

To be a watchmaker or to fix a watch you have to know how it works. You have to take it apart – experiment, explore, experience what does what and why, so that you understand how to keep even the most intricate parts working beautifully. I feel Geeta wanted to convey that her father gave us the tools to learn about ourselves in that way. I believe BKS Iyengar was a physical learner. He wasn’t as we say in America, a box learner. I believe his approach to Yoga is unique to his style of learning.

I don’t know if you have followed some of the comments on Day 6 of my blog; however, there seems to have been a bit of a ruckus going on there. Piety is an easy thing to slip into (for all of us) especially when we want to defend something that means a lot to us. However, we know so very little in the scheme of things that it's hard to justify piety ever. I don’t care how long we've studied something, how many degrees we have, or how many books we’ve read or written. We basically all just study what already exists, whether that’s what’s physically in front of us or something that has been taught or documented by someone else. 

Most of us just regurgitate what we think we’ve learned, which is probably why Geeta was so fierce about us checking and rechecking what we think we know -- even when speaking to the most senior Iyengar teachers. Others, like BKS Iyengar, explore further. They experiment on what they’ve learned and may put it in some new form or explain it in a whole new way. Sometimes that new way resonates with others and gets attention or notoriety of some kind – but that still doesn’t mean that any of us has absolute knowledge of anything.

What I respect most about BKS Iyengar is his integrity. He wasn’t afraid to be BKS Iyengar. He never claimed to be an academic and freely admitted his strengths and weaknesses. When he discovered his ego had ruled his poses in his youth, he wanted his students know it, so they could be watchful of that in themselves. He was quick to tell students when he discovered something wrong in his teachings and (much to his granddaughter’s chagrin) was willing to admit it publicly to millions of people.

I feel BKS Iyengar was a true explorer and reported on what he found on his personal journey as honestly as he knew how. He didn’t need to be famous or even right – he needed to explore every aspect of his path. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe he ran around acting like he had absolute knowledge of anything or saying his yoga is better than someone else’s yoga. He stayed true to his personal path and explored it in every detail. 

We are fortunate to be able to benefit from his explorations. However,  if we choose to learn from him or someone else is a personal choice. I like the thought that BKS Iyengar mentions in one of his books, the idea of letting the ‘yoga do the yoga’. I feel you choose to learn from a particular path because it resonates with you and you feel you can get further along by studying it.

However, Geeta reminded us how we are always in a rush to get there. Wherever “there” is. We rarely want to take our time and many times we get stuck along the way.  I often site one of my favorite stories in Light on Life by BKS Iyengar. It is the one about the great 19c. Bengali saint, Sri Ramakrishna. This fellow could go into (a seeded) Sbija Samadhi relatively fast. If you know the story, his Samadhi involved going to a place where he was blissed out in a divine love state with a goddess named Kali.  Who could blame him for hanging out there, right? 

The story goes on to tell about a Vedic ascetic monk who was wise enough to recognize that though Ramakrishna abilities were impressive, he was actually stuck. He let Ramakrishna know he could go further. So Ramakrishna went into his state of Sbija Samadhi and the wise monk watched him. To make Ramakrishna "unstuck" the monk took a shard of broken glass and pressed it between Ramakrishna’s eyebrows.  The result of this shocking act was that Ramakrishna was able to metaphorically kill the goddess. An awful experience, but one that took him to a whole new level of (seedless) nirbija Samadhi. BKS Iyengar goes on to describe this state as “…the final state of aloneness, a Oneness with no Other, like the pure beauty of a prime number to a mathematician – an indivisible state.”

What I want to get across by this story is that Ramakrishna thought he'd gotten "there".  He didn't know he hadn't. We know so little. The sooner we can be okay with that, the sooner we’ll stop feeling the piety of any practice we choose. BKS Iyengar was a humble man. When I saw the Institute, it drove that point home for me even more. And as far as I can tell, he never claimed to be anything he wasn’t. What we call Iyengar Yoga is an incredibly passionate man’s personal quest to answer his own questions, put words to his personal discoveries, and be courageous enough to share them.

I choose to listen to his words, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going on my own personal quest. I believe that is part of the journey and what he would want for his students. That is what I feel Geeta was trying to get across during this Intensive. She didn't want us to assume we know anything.  She wanted us to keep experimenting, exploring, and experiencing what is being taught. She constantly asked what is your experience? She didn’t judge our answers.  She wanted us to tell the truth and learn from our truth.    

I would hope those who choose to use the Iyengar system during their personal journey choose it because they are learning something from it. I know I am choosing to use information gathered by the Iyengars to aid my journey, because it is what I can relate to – other people may not relate to it.  I may not relate to it any longer one day.  I don’t know.  All I know is right now I am learning from it, and it is a system of learning that makes sense to me.

At this stage of my learning, it seems to me that as much as our individuation separated us into unique parts of a whole, our union back to that whole will be just as unique. However, we do need teachers and guides. While it is very easy for us to want to defend whatever path or teacher we are choosing, and to desperately want to share what we may think is a faster way to get ‘there’, perhaps we should just be happy with the idea that more of us are seeking to learn more about ourselves and the nature of our existence.  If for anything else that is a step in the right direction.

We could try to categorize those who choose to utilize the lessons of BKS Iyengar as perhaps more physical learners. However, if you look at the demographics of Iyengar students, you see a lot of PhDs and highly educated academics as well. Therefore, putting his students into a category seems a bit silly. His students, whomever they are, find encouragement to learn through his systematic method. A method that moves us from the external to the internal – from the gross to the subtle. 

By exploring all the intricate parts of our incredible timekeeping device (our body), Iyengar helps us begin to understand being free of it and merging with a timeless universe. As I've mentioned before, he's been an impeccable role model for how to live and how to die. I figure, if we follow his lead by staying humble, open and true to ourselves (exploring, experiencing, and experimenting) we can learn to be truly present wherever we are, so we can appreciate our life more from beginning to end ---and anything that just might be beyond it. 


Thank you, Geeta for your time, your dedication, and your energy; thank you for your patience, your knowledge, and your wisdom; thank you for your fierceness and gentleness, your fearlessness and courage, your humor and criticism, your charity, your beauty, and your peace.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Impressions of India: Geeta's Intensive Day 8 - Tapping into the Suksma of Pranayama

Prana means energy.  Ayama means expansion. Pranayama is a practice that teaches the regulation of the breath. The breath is like food for the Prana. By practicing various ways of breathing we tap into the the subtle energies of the body. There are four basic parts of Pranayama:  Recaka, exhalation, puraka, inhalation,  Abhayantara Kumbaka, pause after inhalation, and Bahya Kumbaka, pause after exhalation. It’s the fourth limb of the eight-limbed path of Astanga Yoga. From day one, Geeta explained how Asana prepares the body by giving it the flexibility and awareness needed to begin this fourth limb of the yogic path. 

Today, on Day 8 of our Intensive, Geeta spent most of the day helping us understand the basics of Pranayama.  Pranayama has many variations just as Asana does. Each variation offers a particular benefit to aid in our emotional stability. One variation can calm our anger and another can heal our sadness.

So, why don’t we practice it more?  Geeta said if she’d made the Intensive a Pranayama Intensive, no one would come to it, except her committed advanced students.Even today, if she’d said it was going to be a session on Pranayama, many of us would probably have found an excuse not to come.

Once again, she intrigued us with her knowledge. Is there Prana in our big toe? You bet. The entire Intensive Geeta has been talking about the energy channels or Nadis.  She has taught us about how to activate several of these channels. She explained that is why sometimes we focus on the inner or outer heel, the spreading of the toes, and the ball of the big toe. These channels go from toe to head. Today, she explained how blocks in these channels can have an effect on our emotional stability. 

Consider for a moment, the idea that a block in an energy channel that begins in our big toe could throw off our system’s balance. Now, I'm over simplifying of course, but if that’s the case, we could become sick or sad, because of an energy block in the Nadi along our big toe. Pretty wild, huh? Does that bring a little more interest in Pranayama? 

I haven’t been mentioning the Pranayama sessions in my blog and I asked myself why. My answer (read excuse) was that I couldn't put words to what I was experiencing. Geeta has been systematically setting up experiences in Pranayama that should have everyone of us becoming more interested in learning more about it. 

One session, we studied the actions of the Jalandhara lock, a tilt of the head where the chin rests in the netting of the throat. It is basically a bandha or lock that is the first one learned because it helps keep the heat from going into our heads when we breath.  

Jalandhara kept the breath from agitating our head while our body "warmed" up through specific Pranayama  practices that Geeta gave us that day to counter the coldness in the stadium. Yesterday’s Pranayama after a long Sirsasana and Sarvangasana put us in wonderfully calm state where we got a hint of Citta Vrtti Nirodha, the stilling of the fluctuations of the consciousness. We all probably had a great sleep that night. I know I did. Today's Pranayama put us in an energetic yet calm state. Granted, I'm not giving justice to the experiences, but what I want to get across is that we experienced three significant states of being through specific variations of Pranayama. 

Many students are still in the mode of getting a workout from yoga.  However, some of us are beginning to understand that Pranayama is a huge workout, but it’s much more subtle than Asana.  As Geeta explained in the beginning of the Intensive there is also a fear complex associated with Pranayama. 

If we consider, Patanjali's explanation of Pranayama, it seems worth getting over our fears or whatever is holding us back and practice it. Once we learn to align ourselves and commit to a regular practice the moving inward process becomes a new world of experience. Patanjali
--> explains Pranayama in Sutra 2:52 as tatah ksiyate prakasa avaranam. B.K.S. Iyengar translates it: Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom. While Asana prepares us for Pranayama, Pranayama prepares us for Dharna, concentration or one-pointed focus. 

There is a systematic Parinama or transformation of Citta, consciousness. Nirodha parinama, Samadhi parinama, and Ekagrata parinama.  It goes from restraint to single-pointed focus to no pointed attention.

Asana and Pranayama take us from the gross to the subtle - from the Sthula to Suksma.The more we practice Pranayama like Asana, we tap into the subtle transformations that the practice brings. Do we gain more fire or energy?  Do we calm down? Do we become more focused? Do we become healthier and happier? With practice, we can begin to understand what effect each variation has -- like what effect a very vocal Pranayama like Brahmari might have versus the effect of one of the many Ujjayi variations. 

However, we will only learn the powers of Pranayama by experimenting, exploring, and experiencing with the guidance of a good teacher. She talked about how poor we are without tapping into the Suksma of Pranayama

We may think we are witnessing such poverty here in India when in fact, we are the ones suffering from poverty - poverty of self realization, poverty of wisdom, and poverty of spirit. As I mentioned in my first blog on India.  There is such courage and fearlessness here. There is such calm.

Geeta encouraged us to practice by telling a story about how she began with a very simply and over time she naturally wanted to do more. Her point being, we don't have to get too ambitious with our Pranayama practice . We just have to begin.  

Thank you Geeta for the inspiration.



Sunday, December 07, 2014

Impressions of India: Day 7 - Geeta's Real Surprise Birthday

On day seven, Geeta gave us a surprise party for her real birthday. Hundreds of children from the children’s program took the center stadium. The energy of the entire space changed when the children ran into it.  It became so light. 

To celebrate her birthday, Geeta wanted us to feel what it was like to take a children’s class. We marched like soldiers. We flapped our arms like birds.  We moved through poses quickly and my energy lifted. We played and had fun. I loved every minute of it. I wanted to do more. I wanted to be in that energy more.

Before Mr. Iyengar passed, he wanted to be sure Geeta knew his wishes for the children’s program. There have been several books written on it now.  Teaching children is very different than teaching adults. Children are not as attached to their bodies as adults are. Children are willing to take risks. It’s easier to build courage and remove fear complexes.

The lesson for adults taking a children's class is the value of movement.  Geeta wanted us to see how moving quickly can also break through stuck places – even for adults.
Personally, I believe the sense of playful movement is a value to adults as well as children.  I witnessed the energy of the room change.  It lifted so many of us out of the heaviness of adulthood and ignited the smrtti of our inner child with its belief in endless possibility.

It felt like Geeta wanted to share that feeling with us. There was lightness.  There was laughter. Geeta’s sense of humor came out so lightheartedly with quick quips about the camera’s watching. It was such a playful morning and yet I learned a lot. Once again, she used experience to teach us  - along with the element of surprise.

The second session began by breaking down Sirsasana, headstand and Sarvangasana, shoulder stand complete with physical supports, adjustments, and strong verbal cues for teachers. These two poses are the two most important poses in Iyengar Yoga.  They are considered the King and Queen of Yoga poses, because of all of the benefits these two poses offer.

However, students have to be ready to do them. Geeta impressed upon us the fact that Yoga does not harm anyone.  Doing the poses wrong is what harms people.  No student should go into Sirsasana if they haven’t practiced Sarvangasana.  No student should go to backbends or more advanced poses unless they have learned Sarvangasana and Sirsasana. 

Strength and courage are developed systematically. Teachers can’t just let a student say they’ll “manage” in Sirsasana. That will not do. The upper back actions have to be developed.  The interlace of the fingers and the extension of the upper arm and armpits have to be developed. There’s a system to Iyengar Yoga.  If you follow the system of teaching, the students gain the strength and courage they need for these wonderful poses.

The understanding that Geeta seemed to be expressing during the day is that adults are so attached to the body – whether they are working or playing adults tend to quickly turn to excuses that are attached to the body – my knee, my neck, my hip. They will say they “can’t” do this or that because of being stuck in places that are attached to the body or fears and the biggest fear is abhinivesa, fear of death. BKS Iyengar taught us how to live, work, and play through yoga.  He also taught us how to die.  His system of learning yoga develops the body and the courage and mental awareness to release our attachment to it. When it is time to live, we know how to live. When it is time to work, we know how to work. When it is time to play, we know how to play.  So that... when it is time to die, we are ready to let go and move to whatever is next.

Happy Birthday Again, Geeta.

Thank you for the surprise.




Saturday, December 06, 2014

Impressions of India: Day 6 -Happy Birthday Geeta Iyengar

Saturday December 6, 2014 Geeta Iyengar turned seventy years old. She chose to celebrate her seven decades on this earth by sharing a bit of the legacy of wisdom her father left to his children. Geeta knew her father like no one else. Her 10-day Birthday Intensive is proof of that. However, we all know our parents, but few of us have honored their gifts with the earnest commitment that she has.

Walking onto the stage with thousands singing Happy Birthday was our humble way of honoring her personal life’s work, which is in and of itself an incredible gift to us.
The other way, of course, is to honor and respect the integrity of Iyengar Yoga. There is also a moral imperative associated with this style of yoga. The Yamas and Niyamas are not taken lightly.

While Mr. Iyengar in the recent documentary film Light on Sadhana, he talks about learning from the drinkers and partiers. He would sip his lemon water and watch what happens as young men drank their beer or whatever.  Geeta said on one of the days of the Intensive that he never judged drinkers or smokers or those who got off track in addictive behaviors. He let the yoga do the yoga. He let the yoga purify them.

There is a saying that Geeta used and I am not going to give it justice here, so forgive me, I believe it is called, Rasa Mat Jnana. Rasa is like squeezing the juice from a lemon. Jnana means knowledge. What Geeta wanted to convey throughout the day had to do with this idea of getting everything you can out of our Yoga – everything out of our poses, our learning, our body and our mind -skin to soul. 

If you wanted to make orange juice or lemonade or the wonderful lime soda they make here in India, then you wouldn’t just squeeze half of the fruit?  You would want one of those juicing devices with ribbed rounded top to turn each half sliced piece of fruit left and right, right and left to get as much juice out of it as you could.

That is what we need to do with Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana, and even Samadhi, if by some miracle we get there in this lifetime. It is what her father did.  He didn't have Light on Yoga as a guidebook. His body was his guidebook. He tirelessly explored what taking his arm this way or that would teach him about a pose. He asked, what do I discover if I overdo something or under do it? If I move fast or slow?  

It is what Geeta wants teachers to encourage in students. What more beautiful way to emphasize the squeezing of a lemon action than through Parvrtta Shiti, seated lateral extensions or twists. 
In our seated twists, we worked several different ways to gain more rotation in the abdomen. Here she emphasized that Iyengar Yoga is not to be thought of as a “technique” or series of exercises.  What happens in Iyengar Yoga happens in the moment.  Atha Yoganusasanam, the first Sutra of Patanjali:  NOW, begins our yoga. Observe, study, experience what needs to happen now.

It is not about a list of procedures to go through. It is about being curious, exploring, experimenting and extending our efforts to understand our own bodies in asana at a deep level. There are thousands of different articulations and adjustments that can be done in asana. Only through our personal experience can we know what needs to be “adjusted” in ourselves or on a student and the best way to go about it.

Geeta brought an older student having trouble in the seated twists onto the stage. It took two assistants and Geeta to push, pull, and press her body to break through the fear complexes and tamasic (inert, unmoving) parts so the student could feel where her body can go.  Yes, touching a student is very much part of this style of yoga. The mind doesn't know what it doesn't know - to learn a physical shift we have to feel it. The student was able to go much deeper into the pose than I'm sure she ever thought possible.
Once again, another miracle witnessed on stage. Needless to say, by the time we finished our seated twists, I had also experienced a significant rotation I didn’t know I had. I feel as if I’m at a revival of some kind here. “You are healed!”  But there are no shenanigans going on behind the curtain –it’s simply Iyengar Yoga.

Thank you for your birthday present, Geeta

Impressions of India: Geeta Iyengar's Birthday Intensive Day 5

Parvrtta Sthiti is a category of poses that involve twisting of the body.  Day 5 began with the standing preparations for these poses known as Utthita Parvrtta Sthiti. We worked on Parvrtta Trikonasana and Parvrtta Parsvakonasana. 

Challenged by the weather in the room and the sitting between poses as re-demos and discussions took place my body didn’t want to open to these poses.  As is always the case in an Iyengar lesson, there was a new articulation of the Parvrtta Parsvakonasana. Not new in the sense that I’d never heard of it, more that it is an articulation that is not usually demanded of less advanced students.

The back foot had to be down this time, when usually we are given the “leeway” to pull the heel up.  However, as Geeta so brilliantly brought to our attention, when we lift the heel, all our body ‘sleeps’ on the front the leg. When we work that back heel down, there is more evenness in the hips and less dead weight in the front. 

Finding equanimity in our poses is part of the journey. Geeta’s small change made that journey shorter. We learned to fix the front arm then get the heel down. Simply by getting our heel down we shift some weight to the back leg and our body has to equalize on the feet. It is a standing pose after all, she explains. There we can work the actions of the pose with more freedom.

Finding balance. Right side, Left side, Vertical and horizontal. Balancing our efforts between the work of the skin and the muscles, between the work of the brain and the body.  It needs constant awareness. We have to decentralize the body in order to bring attention to each part of it. Abhijata in one of her talks differentiated the difference between attention and awareness. When we bring attention to something awareness follows, but we have to first work to be attentive.

Mr. Iyengar fragmented the body in his lab to research what every part was doing in order to bring attention to these parts to help us be aware. Of course, his body was his lab and his eight-hour-day practices involved analyzing what the skin needed to do, what the muscles needed to do, what the bones needed to do, and what the eyes, ears, tongue, breath, brain, and cells needed to do. I can’t list everything here.  There is a vast world within us and Mr. Iyengar traveled that world in a way no one else has.

Granted, B.K.S. Iyengar may have been born with a yogic mind. Hearing the heartfelt homage from a doctor who had the opportunity to study with Mr. Iyengar and his son, Prashant, it is even more apparent what a yogic mind he had. And it could be argued that his wife, Ramamani had such a mind as well to raise five children on the stipend of a yogi.

It was Mr. Iyengar's yogic mind that impassioned him to live, work, vacation, and sleep his yoga so he could share the amazing gift of his learning.  Learning which he was always challenging and re-observing. Geeta explains we will never understand who her father really was – because it is like a child who does not yet know that 4 + 3 = 7. There is a limit to what we can understand.

Therefore, we have to train ourselves to be attentive with our eyes, our ears, our muscles, bones, and fibers of the skin. We have to be open to learning. Geeta asks us if for just these 10-days can we strive to have a yogic mind.  Can we strive to not allow the challenges of the weather in the room, the growl in our stomach, or other unexpected changes in time or plan deter us from our attention to the lessons she is so fervently determined to teach us?

She could turn a blind eye to the incorrect actions.  She could not take the time to explain what it is to have a yogic mind.  She could just call out poses and various pranayama with no care to share what she knows that will give us more freedom. But she doesn’t turn a blind eye to us. She sees our escape mechanisms – our yawns, our hungers, our thoughts of what can where we can go once this class ends.

Geeta explained how she's never traveled really.  She teaches all the time. She says she never gets bored.  I imagine looking upon the thousand of us day after day she knows her work will never be done. Geeta sees us stuck in our human condition and with unconditional love and respect she still wants to take the time, patience, and effort to show us the doorways out of it.  

I can’t thank you enough, Geeta.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Impressions of India: Geeta Birthday Intensive Day 4

The attendees of the Geeta Iyengar Birthday Intensive are all given an ID number and color.  Each day the quadrants of color move around the stadium giving students different a perspective and ultimately giving them a spot right in front of the stage.

On Day 4 of the intensive, I was at a better angle to witness Geeta’s morning ritual on the stage.  It is one that always brings tears to my eyes.  Her niece Abhijata lights a candle and Geeta bows to a statue of Patanjali who codified the Yoga Sutras over 2500 years ago. She bows to Krishnamacharya, the Guru who helped put the tapas, svadhyaya, and Isvarapranidanani (steadfast discipline, self study, and devotion to God) in her father.  She also bows to her father, B.K.S. and her mother, Ramamani whom the Iyengar Institute in Pune is named after.

I feel so grateful to be a part of this moment. I know so little. My avidya, ignorance, is vast. Yet the feeling of love and respect for the people who take the time, patience, and effort required in helping make us better human beings is something I do understand. The moment I described above is a moment of deeply honoring those Teachers every morning. Patanjali codified 196 Sutras to teach us step-by-step how to practice yoga, Krishnamacharya was a teacher to B.K.S. Iyengar who became a  teacher, and Geeta's mother, like mothers all over the world are teachers.

The intensive is very much about the responsibility, the effort, the time, and the patience it takes to be a great teacher.  B.K.S. Iyengar set very high and exacting standards. The intensive is a reminder of how much we have to keep learning, never letting our attention waiver in order to pass his teachings along accurately – not rigidly, but with deep understanding, respect, and love.

Every part of the day reflected this imperative. As we moved through our poses, Geeta once again spotted individuals out in the crowd of students to help demonstrate specific points. On the stage, we have witnessed miraculous changes in the bodies of otherwise stiff and stuck individuals. However, she also brought up students who we might otherwise overlook, because they are thin and flexible.  Don’t overlook them, she insists. 

Once again, she challenged our yogic eye to spot a young girl’s caved-in floating ribs. Geeta asked us, why is this area coming in when it should be opening? Perhaps because by opening it, it would make her feel fat. We have to understand these things. It is a wrong action. However, it is easy to overlook. As Geeta worked with the young girl, she realized the girl didn’t understand, even though the action had changed, the full understanding wasn’t there.

Geeta continued her teaching efforts by putting the young girl in Supta Virasana, a supine hero’s pose that naturally expands the floating rib area. Geeta had Abhijata place two blocks on the sides of the ribs a little away from the rib and encouraged the girl to expand the area and touch the blocks. This simple action gave the girl a visceral experience of what action is required. Therefore, new intelligence resulted.

The young girl, such a trouper, took the stage a couple of times to demonstrate how we must make the efforts to align students in such a way that they not only become unstuck, but that they gain the intelligence to work in the pose effectively. Geeta demands that of herself.  Her father demanded that of himself. We must demand that of ourselves.

While Geeta honors Patanjali, Krishnamacharya, her father and mother, she also honors the students who are also her teachers.  Like her father, she talks about how she is always learning. We must honor the fact that she and her father have worked tirelessly with hundreds of thousands of students with all kinds of issues.  We must honor that they are showing us a way to help all kinds of students become unstuck.

I have not written about the medical talks that have happened here. However, students have come up on stage to talk, like Mark Zambon, the veteran who lost his fingertips and both his legs and told his inspirational story of how much Iyengar Yoga has helped not only his mind and body, as we might experience, but his entire system, which was severely thrown off balance. I’m sure there are thousands of these stories of personal experiences of transformation from Iyengar Yoga.

Honoring the tradition and the legacy of BKS Iyengar is honoring what it means to be a teacher in our chaotic world, in our chaotic countries, in our chaotic cities, in our chaotic neighborhoods, in our chaotic lives, in our chaotic bodies, in our chaotic minds, and in our lost spirit. Light.  Discovery.  Transformation.  Let us all bow down to those who have given us and continue to give us that. May we all strive to teach what we know, what we've experienced for ourselves in whatever humble way possible to open a door or a window or a peep hole for someone else.

With palms folded, thank you, Geeta.  

Thank you to all my teachers.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Impressions of India: Geeta's Birthday Intensive Day 3

Geeta Iyengar came onto the stage today with a fierce desire to reinvigorate the preliminary actions of poses.  I don’t know if she spent the last couple of days looking upon the vast number of us and seeing tragically incorrect alignment or what, but it was apparent she was determined to be sure the details of the actions were coming across clearly -- even to advanced students and teachers.

Perhaps she feels the weight of her responsibility to assure we all understand the precise actions. She alluded to not knowing how much longer she would live and if we don't pay attention, once she is gone these details will be lost forever. We can’t assume we have it and let our attention waver. Attention fails us all the time.  We have to constantly check in with ourselves and make sure we are present.

Though she is teaching to over a thousand students, she teaches as if it is a small group. Somehow, she can effortlessly spot an error on a student in the third row quadrant of the back corner of the stadium.  How? It is her well developed yogic eye, and through her ability to see us all she creates a very unifying experience. 

We started in sitting poses and moved to standing poses. She made a point to discuss what she was doing and why.  Sitting poses should never be done first for beginning students, because their backs are not experienced enough to start that way. However, the students in the intensive have at least three years experience; therefore, she expects them to be able to sit upright from the beginning or know what props are needed to do so.

Once again, she spoke about the nadis or energy channels.  When we broke down the stages of Baddha Konasana to Upavistha Konasana and repeated the two poses, she talked about how the first pose activates the energy and the second holds it. She used this as an example of the importance of not only understanding the detailed actions of the pose, but to also understand what energy is being activated and how to work with that energy.

The two poses also enhanced our efforts in the next pose Ardha Padmasana, half lotus. This pose became a very interesting subject where some of the preliminary actions were emphasized with great attention to the rotation of the calf, knee, and thigh that was also taught in Baddha Konasana earlier. The pulling of the metatarsal of the top leg was taught in an early lesson in Svastikasana. Linking the lessons from all the earlier poses she gave the deeper instructions needed in the half lotus pose. 

Apparently, she wasn’t seeing that we had learned from the earlier poses or even seeing how she was furthering the lesson. So, she stopped and started again. She re-demo'd the action and had the camera's point in different directions for better viewing. She reiterated again and again our responsibility to pay attention. It is this outer attention that teaches the inner attention needed for Pranayama.

In our standing poses she talked about the infinity in the skin and the connection between the brain and the skin. 'Tell the skin what to do.' It will respond. She's right. You'll be amazed. We also worked a lot in Urdhva Namaskarasana, upward prayer pose and on "breaking the stiffness" by keeping our elbows straight, pressing our arms behind our ears and engaging the upper 'dorsal' area.

Geeta's attention never waivers.  She has such developed yogic eyes and ears.  I believe her reasoning for not allowing note taking in class is not only because attention waivers, but because we miss the opportunity to develop this yogic eye and ear. I have not taken a single note during class and have challenged myself to develop my ears and eyes and not be so dependent on my pen to remember.

Developing our yogi eyes and ears is a skill that will serve us in so many ways on the mat and off it.
It's worth the extra effort. When you witness Geeta's tireless efforts you want to put forth more in every way you can.

We ended with Sarvangasana and Sirsasana. Take a moment and imagine over a thousand people doing shoulder stand and head stand at the same time.  It's a kick to be a part of this.

Thank you, Geeta.


Impressions of India: Abhijata on being an Iyengar Student

Abhijata spoke again on the second day of the conference about how to be an Iyengar student.  It is a subject that I’ve wanted to understand from different perspectives. I find myself wanting to share this style of yoga and encourage others to come to a class, but since Iyengar Yoga is such an experiential style of yoga – words never seem to do it justice.

However, Abhijata explained through metaphor.  Metaphor enables people who have never experienced Iyengar Yoga to get a better sense of what to expect by using a memory of something else they have experienced.

In this case, Abhijata used the metaphor of a journey.  Most people have experienced a journey of some kind in their lifetime.  Therefore, it is a readily available, universal experience. Something they can access to help them learn what is being taught.

As a teacher in training, we are encouraged to be direct and simple in our speech. However, if a student is unable to understand the experience of lifting up their legs and kneecaps, utilizing figurative language might help them create the action needed.

For example, in an Iyengar class you might hear something like, “Stand tall.  Act Tall.” While that may not be as direct as pull up your kneecaps, at least you know the direction the teacher wants the action go, because everyone knows what direction acting tall takes you, right?

Abhijata explained that in a journey we first plan and decide where we are going to go. In the case of yoga there are many styles of yoga you can choose and the choice is yours. However, once you choose where you are going you buy a ticket. The ticket is your commitment to the journey.

From that commitment you have to open yourself up for everything that journey offers. Those of us who committed to coming to India for the first time to take the Geeta Iyengar Intensive had to open ourselves up to a multifaceted set of variables: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.

Abhijata continued by saying that even if the journey is not what you expected or wanted, you can’t hold back or allow fear to take over once we have committed. Once you commit you have to commit to being a student of Iyengar Yoga whole-heartedly ---with unconditional love.

The journey metaphor was a beautiful segue from her earlier words about how her grandfather practiced his yoga, worked his yoga, and vacationed his yoga.  His unconditional love of yoga was second to none. He will forever stand as a shining example of how to be an Iyengar Yoga student.  

Thank you, Abhijata.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Impressions of India: Day 7


After the prayers on the second day of the intensive, Geeta asked us to get into Dandasana staff pose. She reiterated lessons from yesterday that involved lifting up the apana energy from the feet.  She furthered the concept today using the word Nadis or energy channels. As many of you know, Yoga is an art and a science, as well as a philosophy. In learning the art and philosophy of Yoga, you also begin to understand the science of Yoga.
It is said there are some 72,000 Nadis in the body and throughout class she would refer to specific channels for us to bring our awareness to. She encouraged activation of the channel because by activating the pose long enough the energy becomes the pose - that is when, I suspect, we begin to reach the sensations in Sutra II:46 Sthira Sukham Asanam and move towards II:47 and II:48 (Yes, I want you to look them up). 

Alignment of body, mind and soul brings stability in a pose. It is there that we can begin to discover the infinite within. Geeta spoke about things like finding the infinity in the skin of the armpits. When we understand correct alignment and the directional flow of the pose, we begin to discover the infinite places we can go. Geeta demonstrated this several times over the course of the session by bringing students on stage and putting them in correct alignment such that they could actively work in the pose. She got them unstuck. Once we are unstuck, our mind opens to the possibilities.

She brought one student having trouble in Upavistha onto the stage. With the student's back to us she took the pose on stage. Geeta asked us to developed our yogi eyes as she pointed out the variations in the sacral and buttock area and explained how that was why the student was having troubles. The right side wasn’t working and the other side was. 

I am still very early in my yogic-eye development, but when she brought the variation to our attention I could see it. I could also see the change that happened when Geeta made a correction to the left side so that the right side would begin to work. Once the right side began to work - a light went on for the student - she was out of pain so she could begin working in the pose correctly.

Still not satisfied she had helped the student gain the understanding needed, Geeta had the student stand and walk the “cat walk”.  As the student walked, we were able to observe a very distinct difference between her right side and left.  Her right side shifted outwards and the left inward. Geeta helped bring awareness to the student of her natural tendency by having her widen her stance mat distance, and walk with her heels out slowly back and forth. The student’s new awareness enabled a correction to take place. But why all of this effort for one student? 

Because that is what Iyengar Yoga is all about. Geeta's work today set good examples of B.K.S. Iyengar’s dedication to making sure students have the right information in all stages of their practice to intelligize the body.  Students with wrong actions can't develop the asana.Therefore it is important to take the time to teach right actions.

When we got to Utthita Trikonasana, she corrected another student and asked, “who is your teacher?”  The student finally answered after trying to avoid the answer for a minute. Geeta asked the teacher to come onto the stage with the student.  She reprimanded teachers in general, not in a mean way, but in a deeply heartfelt and soulful way in order to impress upon us how Iyengar teachers cannot let even the smallest detail go unattended to, because it can turn into a big problem later.

The student with the hip issue earlier may not have pain today. She is young.  Geeta sited Sutra II:16 heyaim dukham anagatam, which B.K.S. Iyengar translates to be, "The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided. It is the responsibility of the teacher to be sure the student is aligned correctly.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes attention and an incredible yogi eye, but it takes what it is to be an Iyengar teacher.

She closed with a story about when her father was sick and not attending the classes. One day, he saw a student doing a wrong action through the window.  Mr. Iyengar couldn’t allow it. He wanted to go and help the student immediately. This was just before his passing, and yet he still felt a duty to correct a wrong action. 
Therefore, it is our duty as practitioners, as well as teachers to learn to see the corrections that are needed and make them. It is this kind of dedication that makes Iyengar Yoga Teachers such phenomenal guides in learning the benefits of the art, science, and philosophy of yoga.  

Thank you, Geeta.