This morning Geeta Iyengar died. I received the news as I was waiting for my connecting flight in Beijing, China. The initial feelings of- dis-belief, shock, then the tears - the frantic searching for a flight back to Pune so I could be with my community… and then came the surrender through my yoga practice in the airport dedicated to Geetaji.
Before I arrived to India I read blogs talking about how Geeta kept mentioning death, even saying she would stay alive for the Centenary celebrations and then she would go. I arrived at the start of November, and when I had my first class with her I was amazed… she looked great! Her fire and passion were stronger than ever, how could this woman be talking about death?
The month of a November was amazing. We had a group of 80 Indonesians at the institute and Geeta was in her true essence. Laughing, yelling, teaching in such a pure way. She taught me so much about my neck injury and how to work with it. She stressed strongly the opening of the eyes - top half of the eye looking up - to rid yourself of depression, bring lightness to the body, and to move the cervical in. Throughout November and also in the intensive she spoke of death and abinivesha (fear of death/clinging to life) throughout her classes. “Go! Move! Twist! As if you are going to die! Let go of the fear! Let your neck die!” She used her voice to move us to places we didn’t think we could go - she made us face our edge and plow right through it.
She was SO happy when Guruji’s 101 year old student came to visit the intensive. She kept saying with a huge smile, “I am really, really happy you are here.” In her sweet, sweet voice. The 101 year old student did a supported Sirsasana (headstand), which she claimed he could stay in for 15 minutes. Then she told us, “See! He has no fear! All of you are filled with fear. Now go up and make him proud! Let go of the fear.”
During the 5 days of her teaching at the intensive she gave SO much of herself. Hours and hours of teaching and talking. The last 6 weeks she would stop the class a lot and SHOW us how to see a problem in someone’s body and how to fix it. The life that she exuded made me so happy because I was convinced she would be with us for a least a couple more years. I was already planning my trip back next year to study with her and be here for her 75th birthday.
She laughed at us going back in our past and explaining all of our injuries and pains. She said, “If I were to do that, where would I begin!? Nephritis at age 8…” Geetaji had many ailments and issues since she was young, and we were so blessed to have her as long as we did. She was her father’s best student and our greatest teacher.
During the Centenary birthday celebrations I was filled with emotion. One of the feelings was being so sad I was not 20-30 years older. That I missed Guruji (the first time I came to India was 10 days after his death), I missed him in the flesh and his direct teachings - I grieve this. Then the gratitude that I was able to study with Geetaji. In November/December 2015, and November/December 2018. There was a hunger and passion to get back to Pune and study with her as much as I could before she went…. and now she has gone, peacefully.
This woman devoted her entire life to yoga and teaching. She never married - she told us she never wanted to - from a young age she knew she wanted to devote everything to yoga. She is responsible for making yoga more accessible for women, and she has added SO much to her father’s work. She gave herself graciously, fearlessly, intensely, lovingly, with the deepest eyes I have ever looked in to.
This last month she taught us about how not to cry. When first reading that statement you may feel opposition to it. From what I learned as someone who does cry a lot: When you cry your chest closes, your head moves down, and your cervical protrudes - all the traits for depression and neck problems. To not cry lift the chest, open the eyes, and look up. Geetaji did not cry when her mother or father died. She has said she has wanted to cry, but the tears won’t come. I think about what she would say to me as she sees me crying because of her death. I imagine she would say something like, “Don’t cry! Lift your chest and move your cervical in. I am always with you. Practice.”
My practice has become something even deeper today. A devotion to my teachers that have passed - it has taken on new and deeper meaning. How blessed are we to have walked and practiced in the same time as these teachers. She will forever be in my heart.
What an intense week this last week has been! Without getting too graphic, I waited 7 days with digestive issues before finally being forced (by the pain) to start a round of antibiotics. My quote this week was, 'I am not sure if it is the Imodium or the yoga practice, but I am feeling better.' Haha.
We had some days off from the Institute because the full moon this month marked Iyengar's 100th birthday according to the Vedic calendar. His whole family came out to do puja. They spent a whole day building a tall structure from bamboo poles to create a ceiling out of beautiful cloth and silk. I figured it would stay up for all of the celebrations but when I returned to class this morning it was already down! The hall smelled of incense and prayer as I entered this morning.
The classes we had this week were nothing less than potent, even with an aching belly.
Prashant told us, 'Why do you always look out to marry - to marry a partner, or to friendships. You need to marry YOURSELF! Everything you need is within!' I love these moments of remembering, it's like I forgot all along. I look and look outside of myself to find what will make me happy - and then there is that glimpse - 'oh yeah, its all right here, within me.' Prashant is SO good at reminding us this in so many different ways in his teachings.
Geeta was on FIRE on Wednesday. She taught an amazing backbend class that lasted 3.5hrs, because we have the whole Indonesian group with us, many who are beginners. The class started with working hard in standing poses - getting them so crisp and clean. Her reminding us all along, similar but different to Prashant, that the pose if only an action is nothing. You have to penetrate your intelligence inward, and everywhere. We focused a lot on Ustrasana and Urdvha Dhanurasana, which felt like it came so lightly after the preparation from before.
In this class she shared with us some wonderful stories: One of which WHY/HOW Guruji discovered Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (This story you can find on my Instagram and Facebook page). She also shared about her birth. One of the assistants was not fully understanding and she laughed and told us he has 7 day baby at home so he is not getting sleep. Her eyes showed so much brightness as she shared. Her father could not be at her birth because in those days his students would have left him if he left for days. It was a 5 day trip just to get to the hospital. So he sent the message, 'name her Geeta!'
We finished off the class with what felt like 100's of Chatushpadasana's, our thighs burning.
Today Abi taught the women's class. I have shared the sequence with some of her IMPORTANT commentary below.
Next week finishes out my last week of general classes at the institute. Then we go onto the Centenary events Dec 3-14 with 1600 people!! It will be nice to have a quiet week before the big event begins.
This time in India I have been humbled by my health. Having a lot of gratitude for all of the amazing food I eat at home, and gratitude for Western medicine! I am excited to feel like myself again soon.
1)AM Virasana: How wide should the thighs be apart? Start together and then spread wide and FEEL the difference. Close tog it is difficult to get the length. Too far apart your lumbar falls. Start exploring and feeling for yourself, why we teach poses a certain way.
2) AMS: Which part of the thigh doesn't hit back? Would you realize that if I hadn't asked you? Awaken top thigh by extending the bottom of the foot back to the heel. FEEL what happens in the abdomen - space and softness comes.
3) PP: Feel the abdomen when you come down. *Showed with 2 ropes on top thighs. FIRST inner thigh to outer thigh then with ropes helpers rolled groins back in a circular action. See how the abdomen softens. DO NOT come into the pose with a concave back. This hardens the diaphragm. For beginners because they are slouched forward we have to work the chest and concave back. Once intermediate you must learn how to round the back as well!
4) Trikonasana - Buttocks and legs have to be learned first before going to shoulders/chest/spine. Come into pose- where do you lead from? Arm? As you come into pose lead from middle ribcage. Preparation for pranayama. Create space in bottom/side lung/ribs.
5) Parsvakonasana - Same as above. Buttocks IN. Inner knee to outer knee. Free outer heel down to (and will) create more space on side ribs as arm extends over head.
6) AC: Buttocks in to balance. HAS to come first. Arm like in LOY. Extend and sharpen arm. Roll armpit chest up and back, create space for pranayama.
7) UH: Move armpits forward, what happens? Shoulder blades in. Shoulder blades in, what happens? Armpit opens, arms extend. Why do you need to pay $ to come to a workshop?? You can study fully in your body to learn the actions. Teaching should NEVER be parroted - it has to be learned subjectively. It has to be experienced from within.
8) Sirsasana: Shoulders up. Armpits forward. Back upper arm to front upper arm. Same inquiry as above. Separate legs, lift up, bring legs together - what part of groin touches? Bring legs back together and touch middle groin. Do your shoulder blades lift evenly?
9) AM Vrksasana: feet apart - go up, center groins touch
11) Savasana & Pranayama: Vertical pranayama pillow. Bent legs to roll down, extend one leg at a time. Arms spread well. Barely lift leg off floor and extend whole leg away. Feel difference between legs, and then extend other leg. Same with arms. When the karmendriyas are lengthened then body can relax. Base of skull lengthens away from neck, if you feel it retract, grab blanket.
- Longer inhalation, touching all lung/front ribs like in the standing poses. 3 normal breaths in between.
-If you are understanding that - touch breath to outer ribs as well.
-- Turn bolster horizontal. Same breath actions.
12) Savasana - flat
This past week has been one of deep involvement with the self through yoga. We are lucky to have a group of 80 Indonesians practicing with us for 2 weeks. This means Geetaji and Parshantji are holding 3+hr classes. They are teaching them as beginner classes, so those of us who are here for the month get to go back to the beginners mind, and see how the best teachers in the world teach to those "new" to yoga. Yes, the classes have been more 'basic' - but that does not mean there is not intense depth to the teachings. Sometimes the simplicity of the teaching actually brings me to a deeper understanding.
Prashant's first class with the group was so great - it was the class with him I never had when I first started out here. He really broke down his concepts and enabled us to start looking in deeper water. He told us to see asana (postures) as a means and not as a means to an end. If you do this then you will be lost, and you are only going after actions and nothing deeper in the posture/Yog. He says, we are all trying to perfect the poses -working for perfection in yoga and in life. If that is the case then there is no growth, no learning beyond perfection. That concept brought tears to my eyes!
Geetaji has a way with beginners that is so incredible. Her heart and kindness shines more than ever. She makes us laugh and moves us to cry, and then toughens us up so we don't cry. Today she explained she has been teaching since she was 16, and she is 74 now. That she should retire - but instead she has spent her entire life here - teaching. She gives so much of herself and I am so grateful.
She has been teaching a lot to the cervical neck this month, which is so great for me because I have bulging discs and a reverse curve which has left me pretty much unable to do classical Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). On Wednesday she pulled those of us with neck issues apart from the rest of the class to show how to work with them. How special it is to have Geetaji's eyes on you! Although it can be nerve racking, she always leaves you (even if she yells:)) better off then she found you. Since I was doing mostly a different sequence in Wednesday's class I am not sharing the sequence from that class.
Below I have posted today's (Saturday's) full sequence.
Now I am fully IN. With about 5+hours of yoga a day, and completely used to the air and food, I am home. Yes externally, but internally as well. That is why I love coming here. I reside with in myself - my home. I am forced to look inward, and experience that internal space. Through asana with Geetaji and the other amazing teachers - pushing me past my fear, pain, and limitations into freedom. And with Prashantji - pushing me to look INSIDE - at my breath, at my internal world. Again, I am left with such gratitude to study with these teachers in my lifetime, and to be here for Guruji's 100th birthday.
Geetaji Nov 17 3.5hrs Focus on Standing and Twists
-AMS -----> jump
-UTT - feet together
-Urdvha Hastasana - Arms up and back. If neck or shoulder stiffness separate arms create space in neck and bring upper arms back
-Baddanguliasana - arms up and back! Shoulder blades/dorsal in
-Urdvha Paschimanamaskarasana - arms to the side, rotate upper arms to turn hands - extend arms to the side and draw back , then reach up, palms together. DO NOT bring head forward, bring arms BACK.
-Utkatasana x2 - arms apart. Thighs, buttocks down, keep descending
- Garudasana - 1- Arms - bring R arm OVER L arms so elbows don't drop. 2- Legs at wall - use hand to bring toes and metatarsals around calf 3- Leg away from wall comes in first, start to bring hand away from wall, balance - opposite arms over.
- Trikonasana - x2 - Tadasana feet 1ft apart to get buttocks to move in, jump and see how the buttocks stays in. Use hand and turn upper inner thigh to outer thigh to bring buttocks still deeper in. You have to be with your whole spine! Start with buttocks and sacrum in, lumber up, dorsal in, cervical extension. Maintain this as you go in AND come out of pose. When in pose, head comes back in line with tailbone.
-Parvaskonasna - Same actions as above. Inner knee to outer knee, buttocks in. Arm up, over, and back.
-Virabhadrasana 1 - Tailbone in, pubis up, upper arms back. Bend leg and descend thigh. Look up.
-Virabhadrasana 2 - Look at last blog post for similar instructions.
- P. Trikonasana - Legs as wide as Trikonasana, turn and bring arm down. x2 - demo, as you turn bring bottom its and shoulder blade IN, outer right thigh back and in and you move torso over R leg.
- Ardha Chandrasana - Back leg UP. Keep cervical extension.
- AM Virasana
- Janu Sirsasana twist - R leg straight, L leg bent. Turn to R. Keep walking right hand BACK in line with L buttocks. Pull on outer R leg, bend elbow and like P. Trikonasana get those back ribs, shoulder blade IN, TURN! (She has been adamant on actually turning when you twist. She says how we all think we are turning but really we are not - we were working so hard in these twists there was sweat and grunts). x2
- TMP - Same actions - and see how much easier it is to turn here.
- Ardha Padmasana - Same actions. She showed on someone with groin issues and someone with knee issues how to get into Padmasana.
- Sirsasana - Eka Pada back and forth tapping toe to floor and coming up.
Cervical issues - forehead headstand with helpers coming around and drawing dorsal/shoulder blades in towards chest.
She showed on a woman with bad neck issues forehead headstand with 2 helpers pulling with ropes on each shoulder up. A 3rd person bringing her middle back in.
This brought us to 3.5hrs and that was that! She took LOTS of time showing, and if someone had an injury or health problem she taught us how to work with that, This was very similar to Wednesday's class where we focused on cervical issues mainly.
My transition to India this time around has been a tough one. The pollution is worse than I remember, and I have been struggling with a cough/sore throat/cold/ear aches since I got here. Thankfully the yoga helps all of these things. The first week I observed a Pranayama class taught by Geetaji. As she walked into the hall my heart over flowed with gratitude. As we chanted, tears fell down my cheeks. To be in the room with THIS teacher, in THIS lifetime - filled me with tearful gratitude. Geeta has an eagle eye. She can see anything and everything in the room, and she is not afraid to yell at you to tell you. She taught the women class this morning (sequence below), and again I was filled with such gratitude to see her walk into the hall to teach us. The class was very small this morning - maybe 30 students. She was filled with passion - yelling, making jokes, lecturing. It is a journey being in her class. For a woman who says she is ready to die, I question that - she is filled with so much life.
Prashant's classes have been more profound then I have ever remembered. Or perhaps I have matured. He has a way of penetrating the yoga in such a deeper way then asana. His classes are different then I basic Iyengar class you may have experienced. He names an asana and then lectures as you are in - he literally gets you connected with yourself - you muscle, skin, breath, soul - he has you explore the sheaths of your being while in the pose. Then he has you come out, sit and he lectures on yoga philosophy. In my opinion he is a true yogi. Some of the biggest concepts I have gotten from him thus far are:
- Where do you go when you are not attached to pleasure and pain? What happens when you are attached to pleasure and pain? Watch the mind in this... in and out of asana.
-Steadiness, ease and comfort has to come before happiness.
- CONNECT to yourself - body, mind, and breath. Use the breath - inhalations, exhalations and retentions to move deeper in.
We had last week off for Diwali (the festival of lights) which as a Westerner reminds me of Christmas and 4th of July combined for 5 days (imagine you can explode fireworks all day long as much as you want!). Classes resumed today, and I am excited to be fully immersed now. It is a wonderful form of anticipation :)
Geetaji's Sequence from today (I am only adding basic actions)
1) AM Virasana
2) Parsva Virasana - legs and feet together
3) AM Virasana - legs and feet together
4) Parvritta AM Virasana - walk arms over as far as you can
6) AMS - feet together
7) Eka Pada AMS --->jump
UTT ----> AMS ----> UMS ----> AMS ----> UTT
Repeat AMS--->UMS 3x
8) Sirsasana Periods- Back bender
9) Trikonasana - focus on turning head. TURN whole body - pelvis abdomen, lift chest - head back and look up. Don't let head fall, shouldn't be heavy.
10) Virbha 1 - Roll upper arms out to create space in cervical. Arms up and BACK behind head, hands together. Turn feet. Throw head back and firm dorsal and shoulder blades in and UP. Lift chest, head way back, bend leg more.
11) Virbha 2 - "Majestic pose" like a king. Energy and attention has to be on back leg side as you bend front leg. We focused on turning the head and bringing the head back to back leg side. Head/eyes should be in line with shoulder/arm.
12) Ardha Chandrasana (Periods- Janu Sirsasana x5) - Same action of head as Trikonasana. It should not drop, has to lift and turn. Watch how that affects the chest.
13) UTT - legs wide
14) Prasarita Padottanasana - Head down
15) Rope 1 - side chest UP, head back
16) Sets Bhanda on bench - hold bench and pull it into you to create space in the ribcage and lungs.
17) AM Swastikasana - head resting on bench. Push bench away for extension of trunk, dorsal in.
18) UTT - Head resting on bench
Recently I had a magnificent vacation in Mexico. Sometimes when I travel my yoga practice gets deeper, longer, more full and thoughtful. And sometimes I find it hard to find the inspiration to practice, and would rather sleep in and then immediately eat my buffet breakfast. This trip I struggled with the latter. Let me tell you, those Mexican resort beds are so comfortable and the buffet it so good and inviting!
The occasional morning I would practice in my hotel room (and even got inspired to make a how to do Yoga in a Hotel Room video check Youtube). I could have beaten myself up and started feeling bad that I was not taking the 2 hours every morning, one should on vacation to practice! Instead, I started having a lot of fun practicing yoga in nature – at the beach, on a palm tree, on a bridge. All of a sudden the earth was my yoga mat and she called me to practice, to have fun, to do things I hadn’t done before, and to look for unknown yoga props.
This month in class we have been studying Sutra 1.2 which states Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah: Yoga is the cessation of the constant flucuations of the mind. Many of us go through our day with our brains and thoughts turned on high (even on vacation!). When you start looking at HOW yoga calms the vrttis (fluctuations) for you personally you will find what aspect of the practice and WHERE in the practice that happens for you. For yours truly, it starts in asana (postures). So when I stopped during my vacation even for just 1 simple pose my mind and thoughts stopped, I took that moment to go within and pause. You see, yoga is so much more then what you just practice on the mat – it transcends to all aspects of life. What you learn on the mat you can take with you throughout your days, and drink up the morsels of nectar that present themselves to you.
In conclusion, would I have liked to practice on the mat more on my vacation? Maybe. But I learned a lot from taking those small moments throughout my day to go within while in nature.
How do you practice while you are traveling or outdoors?
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This September, I fulfilled my dream of going to Pune India to study at the Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI). Getting to Pune, India was like arriving on another planet. I was filled with so much excitement, and apprehension. I had a few days to get used to the jet lag and wander around before starting class at the Institute. These days were filled with awe, getting used to the beautiful chaos that India is.
I arrived during the 10 day mourning period after Iyengar’s death. My first weekend was filled with the festivities celebrating his life. There were teachers and students from all over the world who came to pay their respects. It was a beautiful weekend filled with tears, feasts, stories of his life, chanting, and pure celebration. After the weekend people kept asking me if I had been there for his funeral. I was taken aback when I realized, ‘That was a funeral!?” It was the most beautiful celebration of life I had ever experienced. It was the first real taste I experienced of the difference in Indian culture. After the 13th day of mourning, classes were back in full swing.
This is what a common day at RIMYI/Pune looks like:
6am: wake up to the sound of squawking birds to shower and drink tea
7am-9am: go to Prashntji’s (Iyengar’s son) class – his classes involve asana, but with no instruction on the asana – only instruction and philosophy about the breath and life
Friday night: Pranayama with Navaz – the best pranayama I have ever done! Her instruction made it all make sense.
I would observe lower level classes, and got to witness the brilliant teaching of all of the teachers there. Amazing to see the ones closest to Guruji teach. The Indian way of teaching is much faster and sterner then the American version
The rest of the day is free! Lots of free time I filled with eating the most amazing food on the planet (my favorite – Charus or Vashali for dosas), reading lots of books, seeing Ayurvedic practitioners, hanging out with new friends and shopping!
My time in Pune was the most centered, grounded and sane I have ever felt in my body and mind. I owe it to the yoga – 4-5 hours of yoga a day! In the month I never even learned a new pose. We spent time going so deep in the basic Level 1 and Level 2 poses. (Except for back bend week!)
I purely enjoyed my whole time in Pune. Yes the pollution was hard to handle, along with the craziness of India – but even these things I learned to love and accept. As soon as I left India I realized it is my favorite place on earth. The next time I return it will feel like coming home.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 12, and thought little about it through my teenage years and adulthood. In my early 20s my body started to ache – my hips always hurt as well as my back. During those years I was also yearning for a spiritual practice of some sort. I first found Kundalini Yoga and thought to myself, “I really like this yoga thing!” I tried out a few more Kundalini classes but found they hurt my back more. I tried Hatha, and Vinyasa as well. I had so many questions for those teachers! – Why does my right hip pop? Why does my backache? I would always be met with a blank stare.
In 2007 at age 24 I walked into my first Iyengar class in Gunnison, CO. It was my first time truly opening my body. We worked on opening the chest and the teacher even helped me into my first headstand. While in a forward bend she noticed my scoliosis. She whispered to me that I needed to unlearn all the yoga I had learned and start over. I was in awe to say the least after that first class. I became hooked right away, going 2-4 times a week, sometimes twice in one day. My second to third class I was so touched by the practice that I swore to myself that someday I would be an Iyengar Yoga teacher.
For years as I moved around the country; I would only move to places that had Iyengar Yoga studios. I found my body opening in ways I never knew possible. My back and hip pain started going away and I stood so much taller. Not only did I notice physical differences but also deep internal changes. I was calmer, more peaceful. I felt content and happy. I started changing my health in many ways, and discovered the spiritual path I had been looking for.
Now, 9 years later I am a certified Iyengar teacher, I have been to India twice to study with the Iyengar’s and plan to go yearly. I love the practice because there is always something to learn – there is always the room to go deeper. It is a lifelong (possibly lifetimes) journey. My teachers inspire me in tremendous ways. They actually have answers to my questions, and push me past my conceived limitations. I hope to inspire my students in the same way.
I am forever grateful to BKS Iyengar for his teachings.
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