IYISF teacher, Brian Hogencamp reflects on his time in Pune, India and shares his thoughts and experiences from his time there.
Humbling and Inspiring
I have now been “home” in San Francisco for 18 days. The teachings and imprints from one month of study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India are still fresh, the depth and width of which I will only come to realize as my practice continues. It will take time to digest – to penetrate, percolate, sift, and filter the teachings through my practice. Our system is based upon keen observation and experience. Words are only indicators. Practice goes beyond words. Practice reveals. Practice can transform.
While in Pune, I go into low-distraction-mode – sleep, pranayama, class, practice, friends, coffee, assist medical, observe class, study, and back to sleep – and remain open to what the day may bring in the rhythm of the Institute. Each of these extended-study trips provide an extraordinary experience – a unique, intricate web of study, practice, and teachings from Guruji, Geetaji, and Prashantji. This particular December was no exception, as it also held the anticipation and celebration of B.K.S. Iyengar’s 95th Birthday.
Leading up to the birthday celebration, Geetaji, B.K.S. Iyengar’s daughter, surprised us by teaching a 5-day pranayama intensive, “On Pranayama”. Participation was for Indian teachers, but others were graciously provided access to the teachings via closed circuit television in the upstairs asana hall. Throughout the intensive Geetaji conveyed the sequence of learning, and therefore, of teaching. She explained how to develop sensitivity, to experience and understand the method. She pointed out that her own learning was based upon her keen observation of Guruji, and she emphasized the importance of this skill by saying if we are not watching, observing, then we are not doing Iyengar yoga.
The day following the birthday celebration, Geetaji continued her ongoing Bhagavad Gita lecture series with Chapter 12 – The Yoga of Devotion. Here she observed and marked the appropriateness of this particular chapter as it was followed Guruji’s birthday. She then proceeded to beautifully summarize the chapter and skillfully weave in the Yoga Sutras. It was hard to miss the relevance of the qualities of a yogi discussed to B.K.S. Iyengar’s own exemplary life.
Attentive Devotional Practice
The theme of the birthday was yoganganusthana from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
2.28 - yoganganusthanat asuddhiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakyateh,
“By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed; the crown of wisdom radiates in glory.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
Compare this to a later translation from Guruji:
“By attentive devotional practice of all eight aspects of yoga, the impurities of body, mind and intelligence are eradicated and the essence of knowledge and wisdom radiates throughout life.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sutras)
Dedicated practice. Attentive devotional practice. yoganganusthana.
In his commentary in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Guruji writes, “Patanjali sums up the effects of yoga in this one sutra.” He explains that in this sutra Patanjali has used the word anusthana instead of the usual word abhyasa (repeated practice). He explains that while abhyasa brings stability, anusthana develops maturity of intelligence. He concludes his commentary on this sutra with, “Yoga can cure or lessen our physical, mental, moral and spiritual sufferings. Perfection and success are certain only if one practices with love and whole-hearted dedication.”
Beauty, Knowledge, Serenity -
The birthday celebration was held at Govinda Gardens with students offering chanting and words of gratitude. Guruji followed with a heart-felt acknowledgement and then proceeded to give a message to us all. In the message, he coins beauty, knowledge, and serenity as marking his own transformation in the eyes of the public.
For our practice, he requested that when we are practicing, we should not think of the extension and expansion of the body, but the extension and expansion of our intelligence and consciousness. Watch the entire 95th birthday message by clicking here
In past years, Guruji would receive the good-wishes of each and everyone who had come to celebrate, one by one. This year the plan was for him to acknowledge everyone as a group from the stage. As this became evident to the crowd who wanted to individually express their birthday wishes, Guruji tenderly transformed their emotional unease into a beautiful moment of connection:
“I revere you, therefore you need not come each individually to express your reverence.
I love you all, I’ve got reverence to you all as you have reverence to me.
As you are devoted to me, I am also devoted to you.
So please accept all, at this single moment, that I and you are all one…”
Flow of Intelligence
During the morning practice in the main hall, Guruji inevitably pauses his own practice to teach. While these teachings are usually directed to his granddaughter, Abhijata, or a visiting or local senior teacher, interested practitioners gather close to listen, watch, learn – and then, do.
His teachings almost always intertwine practical aspects of asana and elucidation of the yoga sutras. In a flash while observing a student think on an answer to one of his questions about the asana she had just come out of, he said “Do not think about the asana, study the flow of intelligence.” He challenged us to perform asana with no breaks or interrupts in the flow of intelligence - vivekanimnam. A common theme was emerging, wherein he prompted us to expand and extend the intelligence.
So many poignant moments and teachings surfaced from these precious interactions. There was the quick, comparative study of various asana wherein we were prompted to note particular qualities or signature aspects of the asana. Then the subsequent culmination wherein the presentation of one asana was enhanced by the inclusion of signature aspects from one or more other asana. He emphasized and reminded us all that the simple asana must be understood thoroughly to carry forth to the advanced asana. He instantly and clearly pointed out our mistakes or lack of understanding, and then compassionately proceeded to correct and illumine. At other times he revealed the subtle aspects of an asana which had a profound affect on the gross body and mind.
A master of interaction and teaching, Guruji generously shaped and transformed these interactions into teaching pearls, guiding inquiry in the asana with prompts for the faculties of awareness and intelligence. He guides how to study, how to learn – sharing insights into some the methods and techniques he has used throughout the decades to propel his own practice and understanding to its zenith, viveka-khyati, and beyond. A hallmark of his teaching is to hone in on an aspect of the microcosm and yet provide context within the macrocosm. This is especially true in his writings. His mastery of the subject as a whole shines in these moments – art, science, and philosophy are interwoven and skillfully presented for all to catch.
Fund of Experience
At another juncture during practice, Guruji was teaching the intricacies of Lolasana so swiftly and effectively that we were awestruck. Our attempts at incorporating these actions dramatically improved our poses and sparked understanding. Abhijata asked Guruji how he was remembering all of these things, to which he responded that he was not “remembering” – that this did not have to do with memory. He quizzed us by asking what is the definition of memory according to Patanjali. As we flipped through the mental pages of Samadhi Pada to the vrttis, Guruji was ahead of us. He referred to smrti parisuddhau from Sutra 1.43 and then proceeded to contrast his use of memory with ours.
1.43 smrti parisuddhau svarupasunya iva arthamatranirbhasa nirvitarka
“In Nirvitarka samapatti, the difference between memory and intellectual illumination is disclosed; memory is cleansed and consciousness shines without reflection.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
In his commentary on this sutra, he writes, “Memory is the recollection of past thoughts and experiences. It is the storehouse of past impressions. Its knowledge is reflected knowledge. The sadhaka should be aware that memory has tremendous impact on intelligence. By perseverance in yoga practices and persistent self-discipline, new experiences surface. These new experiences, free from the memories of the past, are fresh, direct and subjective; they expunge what is remembered. Then memory ceases to function as a separate entity. It either merges with consciousness or takes a back seat, giving predominance to new experiences and bringing clarity in intelligence. For the average person, memory is a past mind. For the enlightened man, memory is a present mind.” He later continues, ”
Even for the unripe mind, there is a right and wrong use of memory. It is not for recollecting pleasure, but for establishing a fund of experience as a basis for further correct action and perception.”
We are all immensely fortunate to be the beneficiaries of this man’s lifetime of hard work, experiment, experience, and generosity.
In You and Me
On a Sunday afternoon, as a dear friend and I were stepping out of a rickshaw in front of the Ganapti Mandir in Pune, a local man approached us. He smiled, and said ”All gods the same,” and gesturing to his chest and then to us, “in you and me.” He then climbed the steps and disappeared into the temple.
Practice, my friends!
See Brian’s Schedule HERE
Chai & Samosa after class
Breathatics, Practicing with Literacy, and Thinking with Your Ears
By Michael Lucey
About a year ago I wrote a blog post called “Prashantisms,” about some of the kinds of things Prashant Iyengar says in his classes, and about the flavor of his language, and about his philosophy of teaching. Recently back from another month in Pune, where I took four classes a week from Prashant, I have his voice still very much in my ears.
Prashant’s teaching encourages students to focus on the interrelations between the body, the breath, and the mind. This, of course, means that he talks a lot about the breath itself, and his language in doing so is quite creative. He enjoys making up words modeled on other words, words that don’t really exist outside of his classes, but that capture your imagination. For instance, we know it is important to keep machines lubricated. In yoga, Prashant says, the embodiment should be kept breathicated. Different asanas “give you different breathicating possibilities.” Similarly, Prashant points out that in order to work on swimming, diving, and other similar sports, we often go to aquatics centers, and we call all of these activities aquatics. Think of yoga as breathatics, he says, as if you immerse yourself in the breath as you practice. Prashant regularly drives home the point that our actions when we practice should be composite actions. They don’t just involve the body. They involve the breath and the mind as well. His classes are meant to provide a space to experience, as he puts it, how breath and breath awareness permeate the body matter and create a different biodynamics.
In my blog post last year, I wrote about what Prashant calls vachika kriya, the act of speaking silently to yourself about the “whys and hows” of what you are doing as you practice. A few days ago, I was practicing along to a recording of one of Prashant’s classes that I brought back from Pune with me, and he spoke about vachika kriya as a kind of mental running commentary that goes on during your practice and that should produce in you a kind of yoga literacy: you should be learning to read and write the effects and consequences of what you are doing on your body, breath, and mind. Without cultivating this kind of literacy, he insisted, it is not possible to progress. But you shouldn’t just blabber, Prashant pointed out. The commentary you perform in vachika kriya involves speaking “when required as much as required.” Your commentary should be commensurate with what you do, and it should be a practice of honesty and truthfulness: be sure that you do what you say and say what you do. If you can do what you say and say what you do truthfully and with precision, then your literacy in yoga will grow.
Here’s an interesting suggestion for your practice from Prashant that is related to vachika kriya. If you are silently speaking to yourself as you practice, you must also be silently listening to yourself. Your ears and the part of the brain linked to them, Prashant says, can be involved even when you are speaking and listening silently, and what happens when you engage that part of your brain associated with your ears is important to notice. Your ears, Prashant says, have more insight than your eyes. What experience of your mind can you give yourself by becoming the student of “the mind behind the ears” as opposed to “the mind behind the eyes”?
In the class he taught on June 1 this year, Prashant suggested that we try using both our eyes and our ears in relation to bodily actions. As you press your inner heel, you might not simple imagine yourself seeing yourself doing that. Imagine yourself hearing yourself doing that: engage the mind behind the ears. Associate your eyes with your sternum as you lift and broaden it. Then associate your ears with your sternum as you lift and broaden it. What is the difference? It is like using a different kind of salt, Prashant says, in the preparation of a delicacy. When you use a different kind of salt, you get a different tasting delicacy. When you use your ears and the mind behind your ears to pay attention to what you are doing, the action is different. In moments like these, Prashant’s classes become, as he says, a laboratory for the exploration of the philosophical matter of the embodiment.
Explore, Prashant says, and see what you find when you are not quite sure where you are going.
Michael Lucey began studying Iyengar yoga in 1982 while living in England, and from his very first class has been fascinated by the many ways yoga can transform your relation to your body, mind, and breath. A certified Iyengar teacher (Junior Intermediate III), Michael completed the Advanced Studies Program at The Yoga Room in 1993, and began teaching yoga classes there in 1992. He studies regularly with Manouso Manos and Gloria Goldberg and visits Pune, India regularly to study with the Iyengar family. Joan White, Donald Moyer and Mary Lou Weprin have all been significant mentors for him. His teaching is clear and informative, with the goal of encouraging students to develop their own ability to explore what yoga has to offer. Along with studying and teaching yoga, Michael is also a professor of comparative literature and French at UC Berkeley. assortedpracticalities.blogspot.com