Saturday, January 29, 2011

India: Will Miss/Won't Miss (Non-Food Edition)

I did a Will Miss/Won't Miss post over on my vegan blog... and it made me want to do a non-food version over here. I'll start with "won't miss," so that we can end on a positive note! So, without further ado...

Won't Miss:
Walking on FC Road - FC Road has so many great restaurants and other good destinations - places to buy a paper, get some coffee, do some eating... but really, the sidewalks are completely in a state of disrepair. We end up here often, and it is not a particularly pleasant place. Plus, the traffic is INSANE and crossing the street requires ample doses of courage, attention, faith, and sheer stupidity!

Breathing in Pune. Seriously, the air quality here is NASTY. I am not a particularly delicate person in this regard, but it can be overwhelming. There are so many cars, so many rickshaws with 2-stroke engines, so many motor bikes, so much burning wood... and worst of all they just burn their trash (plastic and all!), so there can be some really, really toxic and unpleasant breathing experiences here. I am definitely looking forward to the crisp blue skies (or even rainy skies!) of Santa Cruz!

Along those lines... I won't miss the trash all over the streets absolutely everywhere. The streets are covered in plastic wrappers, bags, food scraps, containers, bottle tops and on and on. Plus the system for trash disposal here is as follows: put your bag of trash (or just trash items) out on the street & leave them there. Meanwhile cars will run over them, dogs and crows and cats will pick through them and there will be a big mess everywhere. In the morning someone will come and sweep it up. That person will sort it for recyclables, and burn the rest. Repeat daily. I definitely won't miss seeing and walking over and around piles of trash all the time!

Snoring in pranayama - ha! This week our classes have been focusing on pranayama- the breath aspects of the yoga practice. It's been positively transporting. Except there's always one Indian man in class snoring (or burping!) hee hee. We definitely won't miss that.

Our sad, sad little mattresses. Seriously, our mattresses are HARD. They are probably 1 inch thick, on top of a board. I actually had bruises on my hips that first week, until I figured out how to sleep on that crazy bed. Yes, I am definitely looking forward to getting in my cozy bed with all my furry buddies and konking out. Ahhhhhhh.

In fact, I have to admit, I won't miss our funky little flat. It has treated us well, I love the neighborhood, and I love our landlords... but the floors are super cold, even in the middle of the day it's pretty dark (no direct sunlight) and it's pretty dingy (despite our cleaning efforts) . Plus, in the end there's just no place like home. :)

Seeing sad, mange-y, injured, skittish street dogs. It's very hard for me. Carrying around bags of dog food has helped me feel a bit proactive... I will miss the feeling of compassion that comes from knowing that I've given them a good square meal, but I won't miss the constant heartbreak. I really look forward to hugging all 4 of our little rescue pets and letting them know that I will love them and feed them and care for them and help them feel safe for the rest of their lives.

6 AM Wake Up Hour. I'm not used to getting up at 6 am, and it's taking its toll on me! Ha ha. Call me a wimp... but them's the facts, folks. Plus, with class until 8 pm many nights, followed by dinner, and taking notes... it's actually pretty hard to get 8 hours of sleep many nights. Phew... I can't wait to konk out in my cozy bed with no alarm clock in sight!

Will Miss /Won't Miss:
Neighborhood sounds! There are a few I'll miss, but most I won't... I love the sound of the recycling wallas and veggie wallas who come through with their carts all day long. Each one has a way of calling out his services, and you can go to the window and tell him you are on your way down. But I won't miss their 7 am appearance on Sundays, our one precious day off. Also, I won't miss the sounds of fighting and squealing dogs in the middle of the night at all. It is a big bummer. Sometimes I am able to sleep through it (won't miss sleeping with earplugs every night), sometimes I'm not so lucky. Nor will I miss the crazy electronic ditties that the cars play when they go into reverse. So loud, and so weird. Someone in our neighborhood has an electronic mozart tune, but the best one is the one that goes straight from one stanza of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" into one stanza of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." It is totally trippy. They are pervasive all over town, not just in our neighborhood! And of course I won't miss the noisy little cricket who lives in our kitchen and squeaks incessantly. Or the fellow across the street who's morning religious ritual each morning involves ringing a bell for about 1 hour straight. For better and for worse, it's never quiet in India! Haha! Mostly I find it all charming and amusing and part of the wonderful masala of the Indian experience, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not looking forward to the peace and quiet of home.

Will Miss:
Yoga!: Obviously. It is such a luxurious treat to have no responsibilities other than yoga. 4 hours of instruction and 3 hours to practice almost every day has been just glorious. It's especially awesome to practice here in this room full of dedicated yogis & yoginis and with every possible prop imaginable at your finger tips. Imagination and curiosity are the only limitations to what you can explore. It's been wonderful.

The convenience and thrill of rickshaw rides: You don't ever have to wait more than 1 minute for a friendly rickshaw fella to drive up. It's SO cool. Most intelligent people can find the crazed driving and absolute chaos of traffic completely terrifying... but somehow I find it all quite peaceful and entertaining. I just put my faith in the system and go along for the ride. I especially like the drivers who are fast, but really safe and skilled. It's so fun to zip around and weave through the traffic and dodge potholes and zoom across town. Just like a real-life video game. Fun fun!

I'll miss the friendly faces in our neighborhood, especially the nice guys at "my" internet place. You're supposed to hand in your ID every time, but I don't need to anymore because they all know my name. The other day I left my sunglasses, and started to walk down the block. When I realized, and came running back, the guy said "Amey!" and gave me my glasses. :) It's so nice to feel a sense of home and community building after just a few weeks of living here. I'll miss them for sure!

This awesome weather. It's been nice and toasty the last few weeks and I have been loving it so much. A little chilly in the morning, and probably somewhere around 80-90 during the day. Pretty much great as far as I'm concerned. With nice warm nights. Ahhh. It's like heaven. I will be sad to return home to the land of fog and fleece. Speaking of which, I'll miss wearing all my awesome Indian outfits. They are so comfortable and pretty and fun to wear... and are just perfect for this climate. Back home, I can get away with wearing my kurtas for a few days in the summer, at least before the fog rolls in at 6 pm... but here I can wear them all day and all evening long. I love it!

Tulsi Bhag - my most favorite area in all of Pune. I LOVE IT. Tulsi Bhag is a winding little neighborhood full of shops and vendors and stalls selling just about everything: combs, cheap jewelry, scarves, kitchen wares, devotional statuary, brooms, herbs, clothes, bags, floor mats, toys, and on and on and on and on. Right across the street is the huge market selling all kinds of fresh fruit and veggies, which is also totally huge and amazing. And right there is also Laxmi Road, where you can buy all the finest gold jewelry and silk sarees. However, I am a Tulsi Bhag girl through and through. I love the alleys packed and jammed full with throngs of people, the temples, the shimmers and sparkles of all the merchandise, the street vendors... and the overall feeling of LIFE that fills Tulsi Bhag. Love love love love love.

Obviously, I will miss the food and the fruit (more details here). I'm no dummy. The food here is out of this world. 5 weeks later and I am not one iota sick of Indian food. I could just go on and on. There is still so much to explore. We've got 4-5 days left and we have a lot of food to eat in those few days. Wish me luck with this critical endeavor.

Mama Cookie. My favorite street dog. I love her so much. She is a gentle, friendly, calm little spirit, and I am totally amazed by her. If you can be that quiet, that sweet, and that trusting as a street dog in India, you are a special spirit indeed. There are some nice fellas near where she hangs out who look after her, and this really warms my heart. There's a cute picture of her here.

JANE! My totally awesome buddy, roommate, and travel companion. We met in yoga class years ago and have gradually come to be better and better friends. We both knew we'd have a great time together on this trip - but our compatability has completely surpassed my wildest dreams. I am having so much fun with her. In many ways we are hilariously opposite of each other, the original Yin & Yang. But somehow we totally groove on each other and she has been a most excellent travel buddy. We've got very similar ideas of what's fun and what's not, when to relax and when to go out, when to be quiet & when to be goofy... it's just awesome. I know I'm going to miss spending 24 hours a day with her once I'm home again!

One thing I'll definitely miss is the simple thrill that comes from living in an unfamiliar culture/country. My parents started taking us traveling when I was 12 and my brother was 15. It definitely opened my eyes to the joy of discovering other places. The thing I remember most from that first trip overseas was how positively amazed I was that the people in Denmark had a whole different selection of candy bars than we did!!!!!! What other wonders existed out there that I didn't know about ????!! Ha ha! I think I will never stop wanting to find out the answer to that question. I love how being in a different land makes even the most mundane things interesting and adventurous and educational - different matches, different foods, different faces, different way to make a phone call, different way to get across town, (and of course) different candies!! :) Some things never change!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Thoughts on Yoga

The yoga experience here has been so incredible this month. Nourishing for my body, mind, breath, and consciousness. It will be interesting to see how it all settles in and gradually seeps in... what sticks and what fades away.

You pretty much can't go wrong with 6-7 hours of yoga a day. By the end of the month you just start to feel so light and clear. It's very lovely. My injured hamstring is happily healing, and I am (gradually & cautiously) inching my way back toward some forward bending poses. I was saved by backbending week - which ended up being 8-9 days long. I'll tell you what - 4 hours of crazy intense non-stop full-throttle backbends is really good for me. Many people reported having trouble sleeping (backbends are notorious for that, especially when done in the evening), or feeling cranky... but I was sleeping like a rock and my smile was getting bigger every day. I think it's my kaphic nature, but the backbends feel just wonderful. And the skillful instruction helped me find new qualities of freedom and ease and lift and sensitivity and awareness in many of the poses which used to give me so much trouble. What an incredible honor and joy it is to have this chance to learn so much!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the classes we have can be quite different, depending on who is teaching. The classes with Mr Iyengar, and with the staff at the Institute are very detail-oriented. These teachers are very talented with their sequencing of postures... building you up by gradually introducing actions in straightforward postures, and then putting the various puzzle pieces together in more challenging poses. We are instructed with very specific language and subtle areas of the body: back four corners of the waist, tail of the tail bone vs. head of the tailbone, head of the shin bone, outer buttocks flesh, etc etc It's really exciting to build consciousness and awareness with more and more precision.

I have been reflecting on how & why these tiny "nit-picking" physical instructions can bring such depth and joy to my experience in my practice. I think it has something to do with realizing that there is still so much to discover in this body that I have lived in for 37 years, and in these poses that I have been doing for about 16 years now. Also, I think these discoveries make me feel closer to myself somehow... more aware of life's subtle distinctions... more discerning. Somehow, I think this practice helps me feel more awareness to discern what's really me and what's not really me... what aspects of my life experiences I want to keep and which I want to discard... I'm so grateful for the teachings and the practice!

In Prashant's classes, he is constantly challenging us to be more curious, more investigative, more insightful, more integrated. He cares more about the interplay and interdynamics of the body & mind & breath than about the poses themselves. It is a wonderful compliment to our other classes. He reminds us that the practice of yoga extends well beyond the physical, and encourages us to pursue those other aspects of yoga with the same details, precision and zeal with which we explore our poses. I LOVE IT.

And somehow, with these wonderful teachers here, this experience positively fills my heart with love for my teacher Kofi. How well he has prepared me, and my pal Jane, for this experience. The physical aspects - how he helped me transform myself from a tight, weak person with a lot of lower back pain into someone who can do 4 hours of backbends in one day and feel just fine. Not that there isn't still plenty of work to be done on Project Amey, but I am filled with gratitude to him for what he has already taught me and helped me to learn for myself. Then mentally, spiritually... how he has fostered in us these qualities of self-determination, patience, inquiry, discipline... Kofi has brought such a tidal surge of love and faith and understanding and awareness of everything I still don't understand into my life. I'm so grateful for him - the love & the tough love he gives us!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Founders Day at the Institute!

This weekend was the annual celebration of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute - year number 36! The whole center is completely spiffed up, and every statue inside and outside is adorned with fresh garlands of flowers. And just for the record, it's not really possible to use one's imagination to believe just how many statues there are... this is no small job! The main Patanjali statue in the practice room is decked out from head to toe and well beyond!

The Annual Day celebration is put on by the students. Saturday night there was a very nice little talk by a student on reflections from practicing at the Institute over the last year, followed by a really enthralling slide show & lecture on the history and symbolism in Hindu Temples. It was great! In the morning, we resumed with some wonderful performances: classical dance, and beautiful, beautiful music. This group, which includes a very regular student at the Institute was truly amazing. Smiles, tears, clapping and listening. It was incredible how much emotion they could evoke from the audience.

The morning was followed by the much anticipated afternoon... the children's program! Kids from the children's class put on the 2nd half of the show with all sorts of performances: yoga performances, classical dance, singing, Karnatic singing, sanskrit recitation, talks... and last - but NOT least, these three daredevil girls brought the house down with some amazing gymnastics done while hanging from the ceiling and wrapping this giant rope around their ankle or big toe or something perilous like that ... all while doing incredible yoga poses or acts of strength hanging in the air. It was positively amazing.

After all the performances, everyone lines up and is served a totally delicious South Indian meal. It was so good this year - fritters, puri breads, wonderful sambar, deliciously spiced cauliflower and veggies, sweets... Such fun! Plus, it's really nice to have a chance to visit and meet people and share a meal together as a community.

This celebration is a fun part of coming to the Institute in January - a chance to experience some Indian culture, and to see the broader community of people who are a part of the Iyengar Institute.

Faces of Pune

A little while back, Barry left a comment on my blog encouraging me to ask people if I could take their picture, and not to be too shy. Thanks Barry! I've taken his advice to heart, and have started asking more folks if I can snap a picture. So far, I have a 100% success rate! :) So, here are a few recent friendly faces I've met...

First up is Mr Iyengar himself, who is affectionately and respectfully called "Guruji." I took this picture at the annual celebration last weekend.

This friendly kiddo helped me buy a bag from his family's bag stand. He spoke a little English, unlike his grandma, and helped me get just the one I wanted. I love his bright eyes and the warm incandescent lighting of night-time-in-India.

Walking down a street near our house, we saw all sorts of craftspeople and merchants at work - repairing bikes, selling baked treats, and this guy was making big metal storage bins for grains. He would turn the bar to the right, causing the wheel to stamp down and crimp a sheet of steel, and then turn the sheet, crimp the next side, and so on. I loved the blue room with the shiny sheets of steel, and the mustardy yellow cast iron machines... plus, his sweet smile.

His buddy wanted a picture of us with his cell phone, so I returned the favor. He was so smiley, but wanted to be serious for his photo moment. I find that happens a lot... We Americans are always so smiley in pictures, but actually, his more pensive look makes for quite an interesting little moment. In the background you can see the lid-less storage bins they are making.

Further down the street, Jane spotted a big loom out in the street, with a partially finished rag rug. We hung out and were admiring it, when this guy emerged. He let us take a picture of him weaving, and then we noticed a big beautiful rug hanging nearby. After an amazing gathering of every person on the entire street, the rug was purchased and Jane was glowing with happiness. Nonetheless, she tried to repress her joy and pose Indian-style with a straight face for this picture. You can see she was only partially successful! :)

Still further down the street, we passed this amazing dark blue wall and I couldn't resist a photo op. Now Jane could let her rag-rug-smile shine!

And here's me in my bright Indian colors!

Last but not least... Last time I gave you a picture of Miss Mama Cookie, she was foraging through trash in an empty lot. Since then, I snapped this most adorable picture of her, and you can see why I love her so much. She is very petite, smaller that you would think from looking at this picture, and so gentle. Last night I found her in this same spot with her one remaining puppy, who is getting pretty big, and is very very very cute. The two of them are really a heart-melting duo. I had dreams about them all night long. Long Live Mama Cookie!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Making Friends

The atmosphere here at the institute has been so friendly and congenial. It's really been wonderful. There are probably about 150+ people in most classes, though they are getting smaller and smaller as the month winds down and people need to leave. It's so exciting to be in a room full of people who are so passionate about and dedicated to the study of yoga. Not only that, but there are people from all over the world: France, Italy, England, Ireland, Argentina, Spain, Japan, Russia, South Africa and beyond. Not to mention plenty of Americans and Indians, of course!

We've met so many wonderful and friendly and kind and interesting and inspiring people on this trip... it's been such a joy. Here's a small sampling...

First up... Manjish!!! Our most special Airplane Family! We met Manjish on the flight here... which was adventurous and complicated enough that we bonded with each other. He's a Pune local, studying for a masters degree in the US. He is such a wonderful, wonderful person. We got to hang out together a few times here in Pune, and it was such a super treat to have such a fun and friendly local to show us around. One night he and his cousin Naranjan took us out to a really fun spot to play pool and arcade games and such... followed by a dinner at a really cool spot called "Up and Above," with a view of the city.

Another night we all got together for a trip to the movies and dinner. We saw a hot new movie called "Dhobi Ghat," which Jane and our friend Mimi and I all enjoyed very much. Manjish and Naranjan and their buddies Sarvesh & CD didn't like it quite as much. Maybe it's more a 30+ lady movie than a 20+ guy movie! ha ha. Anyhow, as always, it was so fun to spend the evening with Manjish and his buddies. Now we will be awaiting his visit to Santa Cruz so that we can return the favor!

Back at the Yoga Institute... Sometimes there's time for a little chatting with people next to you before class, and maybe a little exchange of ideas during practice time, but there's no real area or zone at the Institute to chat and socialize after class... so the coconut man across the street has become the place to be. You can grab a fresh coconut, rehydrate, and chat with folks... all while standing in the street with motorbikes and rickshaws whizzing past!

Speaking of rickshaws, here's Mimi, Jane, and me ... grooving in a bright yellow rickshaw together! I love how our hair is flying all over the place! Mimi is a super fun New York gal and she is just great. She has been one of our number one pals on this trip - she's kind and fun and smart and all-around wonderful. I'm so glad I've gotten to know her! We've shared all sorts of various dinner dates and walks and expeditions and talks, and it's always a pleasure to be with her. Tomorrow will be our last day to hang out together before she takes off, so we'll have a nice little until-we-meet-again dinner tomorrow night. :)

I love this "Sex & The City"-style picture of Jane, Mimi, and our sweet Aussie pal Claire. On this particular day - we were heading home from a lunch date together at Vaishali - a local favorite for South Indian food. You can also see the semi-completed state of the sidewalk on FC Road.... some areas have these nice tiles, but many tiles have become loose, and there are plenty of pitfalls along the way... it's a bonafide obstacle course! Under the hanging wire, down the big step, around the large tree blocking the sidewalk, watch out for that dog poop!, into the street to avoid the people working on the sidewalk, back onto the sidewalk to avoid the cars and motorbikes zooming right at you, step down into the open pit carefully, step up out of the open pit... and so on! Walking down FC requires one's full attention, despite the carefree moment I miraculously captured in this picture!

Carlos and me at the annual anniversary celebration for the Institute last weekend. Friendly, friendly Carlos is a Columbian-who-lives-in-Barcelona. Such a sweet guy with two really great roommates too. They live in our neighborhood, and we often see each other on the way to class or home from class.

Here's Jane & Khaled... Khaled is Algerian, but has lived in London for many years now. He is a really great guy, fun and interesting to be with. On this particular occasion, he took us off on a rickshaw ride to a really great restaurant across town. SO GOOD. Jane and I are the original freaky food freaks - oooohing and ahhhing our way through every meal. Hee hee.

Jane, the luminescent Pat Deacon, and me... again, from last weekend's anniversary celebration. Pat is a long-time student of Mr. Iyengar's from South Africa. She is a beaming source of joy and friendliness and good spirits. Even with a fairly recent hip replacement, she's joined in our classes with an inspiring combination of realism, caution, and gusto. She is also an old friend of our beloved teacher Kofi's, and Jane & I first met her when she taught at the Yogacharya Yoga Festival that Kofi organized a couple of years ago. We were so thrilled to see her registering alongside us at the beginning of the month. It has been such a treat to get to know her better... and I look forward to future Pat-sightings, for sure!

This is just a small sample of wonderful folks from all over the world who we've been spending time with this month: practicing together, mat neighbors in class, lunch dates, dinner dates, and so on. What fun it is to meet so many great people in such a short time!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pictures from India!

Here we are! My travel buddy, yoga buddy and roommate Jane & me, cozying up in a rickshaw. Lookin' stylie with our shades on too.

Here we are in front of our apartment! Our flat is on the 2nd floor (which they call the 1st floor here... just to keep us on our toes!). You can imagine how stoked we were when we first came around the corner and saw this rainbow painted gate with a doggie on it! a good omen!

Here's Jane cooking up a delicious dinner in our little Indian kitchen. Please observe the various snacks on the table. We are snack monsters. At this point in our trip we are attempting to practice some discipline and not purchase every tempting snack food we encounter.

Out & About!

We spotted this doohicky on our walk to FC road (a common destination for restaurants, and our near daily trip to the cell phone place to see if we can get our phone to work properly) These little arrangements are fairly commonplace around Pune - a few chili peppers and a lime, with a rock on the bottom, all wired together and dangling down. These are hung up in front of businesses, from rickshaw tailpipes, and - apparently - from a random pole on the sidewalk. I noticed them last time I was here, and surmised that they are designed to keep away bad luck... which has since been confirmed. This time around, I've noticed the creepy addition of the black voodoo doll hanging upside down, and now I am just as intrigued by him as I ever was with the chili-lime concoction. I love picking up little found objects on the street, and recently I passed a voodoo man in the street... but somehow superstition got the better of me and I figured it would be better not to mess with someone else's bad juju voodoo man. so I left it there.

Whoever created this particular installation seems especially concerned about keeping away bad luck, with no fewer than THREE chili-limes and a voodoo man. I hope it works for him, or her!

The pooja offerings vendors at Tulsi Bhag... my most favorite part of Pune, hands down. A whole row of vendors selling various items for religious offerings. Sparkly, shiny, beautiful, colorful, and largely mysterious to Jane & I who have no idea what is going on. I love it all nonetheless!

A sweet young gal helping her dad sell earrings at Tulsi Bhag.

Here is our regular internet place. It cost $.25 for every 30 minutes, which is a great deal. This particular day, we had walked over there (about a 5 minute walk), and found the entire place filled to the brim with a friendly little gang of school boys. They had all rented out the place for a whole hour and were playing some sort of interactive video game against one another. Even though it meant we didn't get to check out internet, the whole thing was so darned cute that it was hard to be grumpy about it. Ha!

(today I'm over at my friend Mimi's room, using her brand new mac, so that I can upload pictures to share with all of you! Thanks Mimi!)

Street Dogs of Pune!
You didn't really think I would upload pictures and not include the street dogs, did you???

Cookie! Cookie is the original cutie pie. She hangs out right near the RIMYI yoga center where we take classes (this picture is directly across the street from the center) and she is just adorable. She's very shy, and she doesn't want any snugs, but she looks pretty healthy and seems to have a good scene going on. So many street dogs look really, really worse for the wear, so it's good for my dog-loving soul to see one doing so well. Cookie really likes the sun, and she seems to have a special knack for seeking out warm and cozy spots.

Mama Cookie! This is a pretty sad picture, but there you have it. Mama Cookie is our name for this really really sweet street dog. She is so friendly. The other day I ran into her on my way to the ATM and we had a long snuggle. I ended up just sitting on the sidewalk with her and scritching her ears and neck. She was so happy. She kept closing her little eyes and dozing off. She is really friendly and such a sweet, delicate little size. We call her Mama Cookie, because when we first arrived her teats were huge and swollen, but since then they have receded. She is such a sweet creature. Some of the street dogs have someone who looks out for them. There are two old dogs near the newspaper vendor, and every day there is an elderly lady who comes and brings them chapattis (bread) and sits with them while they eat. It's quite sweet. I hope that someone will "adopt" Mama Cookie and look after her, because so far she seems to be living off the trash and various roadside scraps and her friendly little spirit deserves more from life.

I met this street dog today. He is my favorite street dog yet. He is SO sweet, and not in great shape. Not the worst (by far), but skinny and meek and with a torn up ear. Nonetheless, he was so happy to get some gentle pets that he lay down on the sidewalk and started trembling and whimpering with happiness. Quite a heartbreaker. Then he followed me almost all the way to class, which of course made me totally heartbroken. I was sad, but so relieved when he finally stopped.

I went out this afternoon and bought a bag of dog food, and poured a bunch into a ziplock bag in my purse. So now, whenever I see this guy or Mama Cookie I will be able to give them something yummy and nutritious to eat.

Last but not least, I love this little shrine on the wall at my favorite newspaper vendor. Notice the deity on the right (Shiva?) is surrounded by dogs and cats and a cow!!

That's all for now! I hope you've enjoyed these snapshots!
If you are also interested in some food-related shots, I've put some pictures up over at my vegan blog too: Vegan Eats & Treats

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So, What About The Yoga??!

I figure it's time I did a little writing about our yoga experience. Part of why I wanted to return to the Iyengar Institute for a 2nd time, was to have more focus on the yoga aspect of the trip. I love India so much, and it's easy to be swept up in the joys of going out and about the city to explore - which we did a lot of last time around. This time I was, and remain, determined to really focus on yoga. I've only had 2 outing adventures since being here... and otherwise it's been mostly yoga yoga yoga.

We have a LOT of yoga going on in our lives:
Mondays: class 7-9 am, practice 9-12, class 6-8pm
Tuesdays: class 7-9 am, practice 9-12, class 6-8pm
Wednesdays: class 9:30-11:30 am, practice 4-6 pm, observe medical class 6-8pm
Thursdays: class 7-9 am, practice 9-12, class 6-8pm
Fridays: practice 9 am-12 noon, class 6-8 pm (optional observe medical class 4-6pm)
Saturdays: class 9:30-11:30 am, practice 4-6 pm
Sundays, day off!!

So, between our constant need to eat (and leave time to digest before our next class), and our constant effort to sleep enough... the schedule feels quite full! It's hard to get done with class at 8pm, eat dinner, and take notes on class, and then fall asleep and then wake up at 6 again the next morning. I am DEFINITELY looking forward to not getting up at 6 am after this month is over. I am okay with 7 am, but it turns out that 6 am and I are really not friends.

We have 3 different types of classes: those taught my Mr Iyengar and his granddaughter Abhi, those taught by Mr Iyengar's son Prashant, and those taught by various senior teachers at the Institute. They are all quite different.

Two days a week (Wed & Sat morning) we have "ladies class" with Mr. Iyengar & his granddaughter. These classes have been amazing. Mr. Iyengar observes from the corner... and provides the sequencing, corrections, details and observations... which are then reiterated, demonstrated and elaborated upon by Abhi. His sequencing is really superb, which is no surprise! He is very demanding, and will make us repeat a pose or action until he feels that we have understood the point he is trying to illuminate in us. His classes are precise and generally work around 1 or 2 themes, which he starts off with in poses where these actions or feelings are relatively easy to find, and then gradually builds the complexity.

The classes with the senior teachers are really fun. Generally, they seem to build on the themes Mr. Iyengar teaches during the Ladies Classes... and are useful for reinforcing the things we learned earlier - which is quite helpful. These classes have the same quality of very precise instructions and sequencing, though the atmosphere generally is quite a bit lighter without the gravitas of Mr. Iyengar in the room! Last night we had a totally awesome backbend class taught by one of these teachers, which completely blew my mind.

We worked on backbends similar to this pose, except we got to keep on hands on the floor. We were smooshing our faces on the floor, and it was great fun! Ha ha. That is when you know you enjoy your yoga practice, I guess.

Finally, we have the classes with Prashant, which are a totally different ball game. It's sort of wild how different they are. Prashant is most decidedly NOT interested in the subtleties of alignment in the asanas. His sequencing is loose... so some of us will be doing one thing, while another group does a different pose, and a 3rd group does something else. As long as you do all 3, he is not usually concerned with the order in which you do them. He is constantly encouraging us to experiment and do our own research in the poses. Come out and come back into the pose again if needed. And a LOT of emphasis on bringing equal awareness to the breath experience and mental experience as we typically bring to the physical elements of the experience. It's quite interesting, and some of his classes have been really wonderful and thought provoking.

The first week we focused on standing poses, week 2 was focused on forward bends, and now we are starting week 3 - week of backbends. If I recall correctly from last time, our final week should be the week of pranayama (breathing), which I am looking forward to. I am definitely learning lots and lots of new actions and approaches ... but there is also just the general joy of being able to practice so deeply and regularly over so many consecutive days. That alone is really amazing.

Unfortunately around the 10th or so, I pulled a muscle (left internal hamstring). Not the worst injury in the world, but I had trouble walking for a few days, and was definitely NOT up for asana. I had a good attitude some of the time, but I also spent plenty of time moping and feeling disappointed and sorry for myself. I did end up getting some a little help, and a couple of tips from some of the senior teachers during practice time. I skipped out on a few days of class, and just went and observed and took notes instead of practicing.

I'm glad I went and took notes, but it was really hard to sit there and watch everyone having so much fun and working so hard without me! My spirit is so willing... but I guess my hamstring not so much. The injury is getting better... and I can walk around just fine (thank goodness!). Backbends are no problem for this injury, so I"m feeling very grateful for the arrival of forward bend week. The injury is most definitely still there and limits what I can work on during practice time quite a bit. But somehow I still manage to fill up 2 1/2 hours! I learned a few things that I can do to help it, and then beyond that it's mostly just trying to figure out what else I can do without further agitating it. I'm not quite the glowing image of health and adventure that I hoped to be, but what are you going to do? Get really good at backbends, I guess! :) ha ha.

Here is a picture of the yoga room (I'm using other people's pictures off the internet, since I can't upload pics today... I"ll keep trying!). We have our classes and our practice in this room... though it is decidedly more stuffed full of various props and benches than it is in this picture. You can see how the whole room is lined with pictures of Mr. Iyengar from his book "Light on Yoga," as well as many more recent pictures of his in various poses. It's so inspiring to practice with all those images around!

This picture gives you a little more of an idea about all the various props that line the periphery of the room.

Anyhow, I hope that gives you some sense of what Jane and I are up to over here... lots and lots of yoga! In our few hours of free time each day, I usually pick one of the following three options: go to internet, do some drawing, or take a nap. No time for all three! :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Lure of the Exotic

The first time I came to India, our friend Geraldine's mother went and got me the nicest little salwar kameez outfit and sent it to me so I could have it on arrival. I still have it, and I still enjoy wearing it when I'm here in India. That first trip, I wore Indian clothes every day and so did all the Indian gals we saw on the street. Men, however, mostly seemed to have switched over to Western style clothing.

Not too many years later, here in Pune (which is a big city and a university town), the ladies and especially the younger ladies are wearing Western clothing like crazy. Fancy dress is still 100% Indian, and these Indian ladies seriously know how to dress up. But casual wear on the street seems almost 50-50 between western wear and Indian wear. So, I'm as likely to leave the house in my t-shirt and jeans as in my salwar kameez... Some combo of the two seems to be my favorite outfit - an Indian kurta (sort of like a lightweight tunic top) with a pair of jeans or long pants. Luckily, my favorite flip flops blend in perfectly!

I was thinking how funny though, that us foreigners like to come and buy Indian outfits, while the Indian gals are buying Western outfits. Meanwhile, at the grocery store, we were buying khakras (world's best cracker-like-product!!!), and parathas, and spices and mango pickle... while the Indian family in front of us was buying Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Ha ha!

It's so nice that we all seem to have the same impulse - to learn about other experiences and cultures and options out there in the world. So I'll put on my tunic and order a lime soda with my parathas, while the gal in the tee shirt and skinny jeans goes to the mall and eats at Pizza Hut. Ha!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to Pune, 3 years later!

There is a special thing about returning to a place. I love to travel to new places and see new countries and new faces and such... but it has been wonderful to return to Pune and feel like I am landing in familiar territory. So much has changed since I was here 3 years ago, and also much has stayed the same.

It's nice to know the neighborhood, and to see that my favorite newspaper stand is still in action... and my favorite fruit vendor too. Also, I've found that this sense of familiarity makes me feel a little more adventurous to explore beyond the areas I explored last time. What fun!

What's the same? What's changed?

1. Yoga: Well, the yoga is the same, and different. Last time we came, Mr. Iyengar's daughter Geeta taught most of our classes. She was a brilliant teacher - totally refined sequencing of postures and the most exquisite little details in every moment. On the other hand, she was sort of a tyrant. She ran a seriously Tight Ship - lots of yelling and everyone was constantly frenzied about not trying to set her off. This time around, she has retired. Mr. Iyengar's son teaches more of our classes (last time i think we only had 2 per week with him, now we have 6!). Also, 2 days a week we have classes taught by Mr. Iyengar's granddaughter, and by Mr. Iyengar himself!! What a joy! These classes are so interesting - Mr. Iyengar stays in the corner and sequences the class - observing and commenting, while Abhi teaches and demonstrates and tells us what he has to say. It's really an honor to learn from him and in his presence.

Also, last time we were here, we had 1 class per day (2 hours) + practice time (2-3 hours), 6 days a week. This time we have 3 days a week with two classes - plus the practice time. Somehow this ends up making our schedule feel a lot more full and we are doing a LOT of yoga! It's wonderful though, because that's why we're here - more time to study and learn and explore!

2. Dogs: You know I love dogs. What hasn't changed is tons of street dogs in the streets of Pune - beautiful and cute and many looking pretty much worse for the world. I try to pet them and give them a scritch whenever they'll let me (followed by a thorough round of hand sanitizer!). It drives me nuts that so many people in India (and around the world) buy purebred dogs when there are so many sweet and lonely souls right outside their doors.

3. Times of india: At home I get two newspapers and I love reading the paper. Last time I was here I developed a Times of India habit - and I was so happy to see that my newspaper guy from last time is still in business. Even though I don't understand all of the news being reported - and all the many Hindi words that end up in the "english edition" - I still love being a bit informed about what's going on in the place where I am.

4. Traffic & Air Quality. Last time we were here, I read an article in the Times of India that Pune was adding 400 new cars EACH DAY. Well, I believe it. Here's the thing: I have some sort of perverse love and joy for Indian traffic. I love the crazy mayhem of cars and motorbikes and rickshaws and pedestrians and animals - all on the "wrong side" of the road, going as fast as they want and dodging around each other like crazy. I love love love it. But, less lovable is the air quality. I didn't really think it could get worse, but it has. Many people tie scarves or bandanas around their faces - especially when they're out walking or on their motorbikes. The air is thick and smoky and smelly. I'm definitely looking forward to coming home and revelling the glorious clean air and sparkly blue skies of Santa Cruz!

5. Vendors & Wallas: I love the fruit vendors and veggie vendors on the streets here in India. Just today we bought fruits from a fruit cart, veggies from a veggie guy, more veggies from the veggie guy who comes through our neighborhood, a newspaper from the newspaper guy, and fresh chickpeas from a lady sitting on the corner selling chickpeas and flower garlands. Our apartment is in a great little neighborhood that we love. All day long there are vendors walking through the streets calling out (in Marathi) what they have to offer. We have to look out the window every time, since we don't understand Marathi. There's the guy with potted plants, a kid selling snack foods, fresh fruit guy, fresh veggies guys, and - joy of joys - the recycling guy! The other day we spotted him and ran down with our newspapers and plastic bottles and got 7 rupees back for our stuff! Most of all, we were so thrilled to not have to throw away something recyclable. Joy in our little hippy hearts.

6. The Park: Happily, the park is unchanged. Sadly, the mysterious hours of the park are also unchanged. Sorta kidding on that last one, but really - why close a PARK in the middle of the day!? It's open in the morning and again in the evening. It's right there near the studio, and has lots of trees, SO MANY birds, lots of friendly folks, a playground for kiddos, and a little path to do laps on. It's so nice to go for a walk together and chat and see the greenery and such. This morning we were out for a quiet Sunday morning walk in the park when we spotted Mr. Iyengar himself - having a photoshoot with some Chinese journalists! He was glowing in his white robes amidst the greenery. Of course, this was the first time on the whole trip that I had left home without my camera! Ha, isn't that how life works? But as we passed him on the path (after the photos had been taken), we saluted him and bowed and said "Good Morning, Guruji!" and he gave us the most luminous smile and said "Good Morning!" It was quite a delight to have such a sweet and simple little exchange with him.

7. Security: Since the Mumbai bombings, and in particular since the German Bakery was bombed here in Pune (maybe a year, year & a half ago?) - there is a lot of tight security. As you enter the yoga center, you have to sign in, and there is now a security guard. Malls and higher-end shops have metal detectors and look in your purse before you can go in. It's different, but as always, these matters of security always seem to be handled with grace and courtesy.

8.. The Winds of Progress! It really is AMAZING how rapidly certain aspects of India have changed since I first came here just 6-7 years ago. Girls in skinny jeans & tee-shirts, holding hands with their boyfriends, mega shopping malls - soy milk at the grocery store... it's downright amazing. The difference between the Delhi airport I saw the first time : a cavernous concrete building with stray cats and mosquitos - and the Delhi airport I saw this time: a glorious spectacle with duty free shops and a food court and beautiful public art and looking altogether 1000% nicer than JFK was totally mind-blowing. Mind. Blowing.

So those are my thoughts for now - I'm sorry for the lack of pictures. Another thing that's changed is that both my favorite internet places from last time are now closed. So we were forced to go a bit further afield to a different spot - which I have become quite fond of. FULL of boys and men, mostly playing video games with each other... nary a lady in sight! They're very friendly here. The computers here are much newer than at the places I went last time, but still not able to accept my card reader... so my posts will have to be picture-free for now. Speaking of security, I need to give them my ID every time I come. But they're so fun and friendly, I don't mind! :)