At first I agreed to join my Canadian colleagues on a three-night trip to Ellora and Ajanta. That wasn’t my first inclination. I wanted still to practice daily, to be solitary, to go inward. I didn’t feel like embarking on a five-hour road trip twice in three days. I also wanted to head to Mumbai sooner, definitely before Ganesh Chaturthi. Still, I figured that I “should” go and see the caves.
On second thought, however, I forfeited my share of the vehicle fee–to do what I initially intended. I regretted not following my gut instincts.
Practicing, Prashant style
I was reminded of Prashant’s teachings of yoga practice. For him, yoga is all about going inward: body to breath, breath to mind. If your yoga is always in class, following a teacher, that is not “yog,” but just superficial physical exercise. “After class,” he says, “forget what the teacher says. In class, you don’t learn; you’re only taught what you must learn on your own.”
This was a good opportunity to practice in solitary confinement–to try to apply Prasant’s ideas. But did I really want to spend a few days in Pune? Back home in Kitsilano, home confinement would be a joy. Space, light, clean air and water, leafy sidewalks, crosswalks and cars that stop! Here, there are power outages for hours at a time. (Without lights, fans, and wifi, life in my cavernous apartment is rather grim.) And don’t get me started on the noise.
But it felt right to stay. In my mind, Prashant’s admonition to cultivate our own understanding of yoga applies to life in general. Don’t do what seems normal and sensible, but rather what’s right for me.
Readjusting to practice
During the first half of August, I’d established an early routine: wake by 5am, sleep by 9:30pm (10pm was late!). When RIMYI closed, my schedule was thrown off. I tried to practice for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. But without a set schedule, it’s been hit or miss.
I miss the open practice time. Yes, it was mat-to-mat crowded, but I almost always got my favorite spot, at the first or second pillar from the props. (If Mr Iyengar had been practicing by the trestle, I would have opted for the farther second pillar, of course!) I’d practice for two or more hours, covering a variety of poses and always including Supta Padangusthasana variations and Pincha Mayurasana balance.
It was clear that serious Iyengar yogis do independent practice, for everyone was focused on his/her work. Poses were wide ranging, but they all somehow rang out “Iyengar yoga,” if you know what I mean.
At home I’m still practicing, but due to my shopping and sightseeing outings with Nana, the gallant English-speaking rickshaw driver loved by Canadians and Americans, my schedule has been erratic. Again, India is forcing me to accept change, to catch time and space when I can, and to “adjust.”
A flame burns at RIMYI
There are no classes, but the office and bookstore are open. In the morning, I stopped by, chatted with Raya’s father in the bookstore, and then walked upstairs into the hall. It was still and silent, the scent of incense in the air. On the stage, a small shrine featured a large photo of Mr Iyengar, along with flowers, incense, traditional objects unfamiliar to me, and a glowing lantern.
Foam mats were laid out for visitors. Usha Devi was sitting by a pillar; a few students came to pay respects and left. I sat on a mat for a while. The hall felt familiar, although I’d never seen it so empty, so serene.
Late in the day, I stopped by again to see the basement library, site of legendary encounters with Mr Iyengar. Until today I hadn’t ventured there, somewhat deterred by puddles of water from leakage on the stairway. Today I forged ahead. It was closed, but the librarian let me look around.
Hundreds, even thousands, of books and reams of printed matter. It’s a small, simple space, with a long table for visitors, plus a desk and chair, which I assume was where Mr Iyengar spent hours.
Upstairs in the hall, Usha Devi was again there–or still there–tending the shrine. Again I sat in the empty hall, breathing the incense, taking it in.