Life at RIMYI (June 2013)

The latest issue of Yoga Samachar offers a number of wonderfully interesting stories about travel to Pune, home base of Iyengar Yoga. I made my seventh trip to study in Pune just last month and thought IYNAUS members might enjoy a brief report on the current goings on over there.

Some of you will already know that the Institute closes for the month of May—the hottest month of the year in Pune. June marks the start of a new year of classes. These days, the Institute is bustling, packed with students. International students often have to apply and wait for a few years for a spot to open for them in the general classes there. Classes for local Indian students are full to the brim as well.

A brief tour for those of you who haven’t been to Pune:  the Institute has a library in the basement filled with books and many other kinds of documents – enough for many lifetimes of exploration. Administrative offices and a store are on the ground floor. The main asana hall is one floor up, and there is a smaller asana hall a floor above that. There’s a full set of classes Monday-Saturday. Sunday’s schedule is simpler:  only a class for children from 8-9 a.m.  This June, that Sunday morning class (in fact, it is usually divided up in to a number of groups of different ages, sizes, and experience) was packed to the gills with children of all ages. They filled the main hall and the upstairs hall both. A team of teachers masterfully kept them all on their toes.

During the week, classes start sometimes at 6 a.m., sometimes at 7, and usually finish by 8 or 8:30 in the evening. Classes for beginners, intermediate-I students, and senior citizens often occupy the upstairs hall, although several large 6 a.m. beginners’ classes are being held in the main hall this year. Prashant Iyengar’s classes – each one an adventure in reconceptualizing what a yoga practice might be, and where it might lead you – happen from 7 to 9 a.m. in the main hall on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. (See the blog at IYISF.org for a recent post about Prashant’s teaching.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 to 11:30 there is a class in the main hall for women. In June 2013, Geeta Iyengar taught six of these “ladies’ classes,” each one more amazing than the last, as she took students deeper and deeper into the transformative experience yoga can offer. Often the Wednesday and Saturday women’s class is taught by B.K.S. Iyengar’s granddaughter, Abhijata. Abhijata became the mother of a baby girl, Satvika, in April and, as of June hadn’t returned to teaching yet. She was, however, back in the hall several times a week practicing under the watchful and demanding eye of her grandfather. In June, when Geetaji was not teaching the women’s class, it was led by Gulnaaz Dashti, Navaz Kamdin, or Raya Uma Datta, longtime teachers at the Institute who these days are also becoming better known around the world, as they travel to teach at different Iyengar Yoga centers or conventions. Those of you who visit Pune will already know that B.K.S. Iyengar is usually in the hall practicing while these teachers are leading the women’s class, and he typically sets the agenda for the class, letting the teachers know what asanas and what points to focus on, pointing out what the students aren’t grasping, what needs to be driven home.

My own schedule of classes during my June visit included the four morning classes taught by Prashant; a Wednesday morning class taught by Devki Desai, another wonderful teacher who teaches internationally as well; and the Friday evening Pranayama class. That class was taught twice in June by Geetaji. Rajlaxmi Nidmarti and Navaz Kamdin taught it the other two weeks. All in all, it was an extraordinary month of classes; one couldn’t have wished for better.

Two other major features of any visit to RIMYI are the practice sessions and the “medical classes.” Guruji is often there doing his own practice during the practice sessions, and he often does a bit of teaching during these hours. Lois Steinberg and Patricia Walden dropped in for a week in June, and it was a treat watching Guruji working with them on backbends one day, on forward bends and foot-behind-the-head poses another. One day, Guruji was having some of his students work on arm balances; another day he was teaching about the relationship between the ear canal and the bone behind the ear. Opportunities to learn are endless, and you just do your best to absorb all you can.

Five days a week there are classes in the late afternoon for people with specific medical conditions, each having been given their own particular sequence. A group of teachers circulates to help them through their prescribed asanas, which often involve quite elaborate set-ups. Guruji was there twice a week, both working with certain students and showing teachers how to work with them. It is awe-inspiring and incredibly moving to see Guruji at work, adapting the sequences and the set-ups for students over the course of the month (inventing set-ups no one has ever seen before, inventing new ways of using props, modifying the design of certain props), all in order to maximize the benefits these students are receiving from their practice.

It was an exciting, stimulating month, offering food for thought and for practice for many weeks, months, and years ahead. In fact, a month in Pune is such an intense experience that it is difficult to leave it behind. Still, you come home with a full notebook, with some new books to ponder, with recordings of classes to listen to over and over again, and with renewed dedication to the practice.

Michael Lucey is currently Vice President of the IYNAUS Board. He teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.