It’s 5am and we’re sat in Mumbai airport waiting for our 7am flight to Heathrow. It’s been a loong day. Managed to get some sleep last night and enjoyed our last ‘holiday’ morning – practice, swim and breakfast by the pool. We had booked an air conditioned sleeper bus back to Pune with Swami Travel and I was feeling increasingly nervous about this plan. The timetable said it would get us to Pune for 3.30pm in plenty of time for Abhi’s class, but somehow I doubted that the bus would live up to it’s timetabled claim of being quicker than the car we had got on the way out.
Still it turned up only 15 minutes late – not a bad start, especially since in India if you are late for the bus and you are booked on, it waits for you to turn up. The sleeper bus is fun! You have a curtained bunk instead of a seat and I’d booked the top bunk at the front to maximise the view, which was both a blessing and a curse, as you could see in full detail just how close you were getting to the edge of the precipice as the driver made his way cautiously (Yes cautiously!!) down the long, curved mountain descent. We made innumerable stops, which seemed to involve someone flagging the bus down followed by a long argument in Hindi as the would-be passenger tried to secure a place on the bus and then the door would slam shut and the bus would drive off without allowing them to board. By the fifth or sixth time I couldn’t help but wonder WHY STOP? As we approached our supposed arrival time, we swung into a rest area for a 30 minute stop. Feeling increasingly frustrated, I flagged down a likely looking English speaker and managed to ascertain we were about 45 minutes from Pune and that we would be dropped at Chandi Chowk about 8km from Model Colony. We were dumped unceremoniously in the central reservation of a busy multi lane carriageway, where luckily a few rickshaws were waiting – not exactly in a strong position to bargain, we took their first offer and heaved a sigh of relief as the scenery became more familiar. I managed to pick up my bolsters from Dimpex and make it back just in time for Abhi’s class, hot and harrassed and not exactly in the right state for a pranayama class.
Well, being Abhi, who likes to keep you guessing, although she started with supta virasana she deviated completely and we ended up doing a class of parivrrta’s ; parivrtta trikonasana, parivrrta ardha chandrasana, parivrrta utthita hasta padasana, supta padangusthasana 3, parvrrta eka pada sarvangasana – working on lengthening the top outer thighs to bring about an improvement in Garudasana (full sequence link at bottom of page). As usual it was lively and varied and there were plenty of laughs. We sat in virasana with our knees and shins down and the toes pinned up on a pranayama pillow, bringing about a strong opening of the front ankle and lengthening of the metatarsel. Particularly her local students really struggled with this and were wriggling about and groaning so she relayed her experience when Guruji gave her this, only instead of a pranayama pillow he gave her a wooden rod for the toes. He asked “What is happening?” and she replied “It is painful!!” his response was “Why are you telling me about pain? when did I ask you about pain? I asked you what was happening!”.
At the end of the class I waited to speak to Abhi and thanked her for her teaching over the month. She smiled brightly and we said until next time…..
I somehow managed to stuff 3 great big bolsters, a new pressure cooker and all the little gifts I had bought for my family into my very big and heavy suitcases and am extremely relieved to be on the other side of check-in, having somehow got away with it again. Air India aren’t perfect, but they do offer a very generous check in allowance (twice as much as British Airways) and they’re also a bit more flexible if you’re a little over here and there. For those of you planning to visit Pune for the first time I’ll finish with a few words of advice.
By far the worst mosquitoes I’ve come across on this trip are at Mumbai Airport – I’d been bitten before I even made it through immigration. With Dengue Fever a very real risk, remember to put on some repellent before you leave the aircraft. It’s actually quite a challenge to stay well for a month in Pune, with stomach upsets and chest infections being the main culprits. I’m sure everyone knows about washing hands and not drinking tap water etc. bit sometimes despite precautions stomach upsets occur. It’s well worth bringing some grapefruit seed extract with you (the tablets are more expensive, but you avoid having to taste the vile stuff). It’s very effective and much better than taking pointless pills from the Doctor. If you’re going to maintain your lung health it’s a good idea to bring a pollution mask for rickshaw rides and above all a thorough practice (don’t just rely on classes which won’t always give you what you need) – I felt my daily sarvangasana was what kept my lungs happy.
If you’ve enjoyed reading the blogs and are interested in coming to some classes, I am teaching a yoga holiday later in the year, details at tamarayoga.wixsite.com/maldivesholiday. Until next time …..
I think last night can safely join my top twenty worst night’s sleep EVER poll. Somehow ended up with no AC though I’d booked it, so it was stinking hot and by the time I worked out I could remove the duvet and just sleep under the cover, my neighbours decided it was time to party. Eventually worked out I could drown out the noise of their music by switching the ceiling fan on and managed to fall asleep for the last few hours. Hard to stay grumpy for long though in such a lovely environment and felt much better for a practice in Jenny’s air conditioned room before a pre breakfast swim.
Enjoyed a morning chilling out by the pool and reflecting on our month in Pune. It has been such a worthwhile experience and I look forward to returning soon. Although it is hard leaving my family, it has a lot of positives on both sides. I am mother to four girls and I hope that by continuing to live my life and follow my dreams, that I give them permission to do the same in the future. I return strong, positive and in a state of robust good health which brings fresh energy into the family – it’s going to be a tough few months; as one daughter does her finals, the next sits her A Levels and the third her GCSE’s. As always when I go away, their bond with their dad strengthens and blossoms and he gets to enjoy complete autonomy for a month. These trips to Pune are expensive and this year I was lucky enough to receive a bursary from Avon Iyengar Yoga Association. They have committed to awarding a bursary to one of their members for 2017 and 2018 too – it’s a simple process to join and members enjoy discounts on workshops too, the next one being Firooza Ali. More info about joining and bursary applications here.
Any remnants of my bad mood faded as the manager offered a free upgrade to a valley view suite with balcony, giving us much more space to practice in the morning. We spent the afternoon visiting some of the nearby tourist spots and sampling some local produce. When you buy strawberries here they offer you choice of sweet or sour (no brainer even for someone with a ‘sour tooth’ like me).
We visited Table Top; a flat, dusty expanse of rock with views all around, where most people will rent a horse to take a tour. It didn’t have a great feel to it, that sort of tired, overdone tourist trail and some of the horses didn’t look as though they were having a great time either. We opted instead to go on foot and took our time meandering around, giving the monkeys a wide berth. I imagine on a clear day the views are stunning, but it was incredibly hazy today and we even felt a few drops of rain. From there we headed to Mapro Gardens – but this too was disappointing, more of a glorified restaurant and garden centre than the peaceful shady environment we’d been hoping for. I would come to Panchgani again, but August to November are probably the time to come if you want to visit the waterfalls and viewing points. Tomorrow we risk the bus trip to Pune and fingers crossed it will get us safely back in time for our final class of the month, Abhi’s intermediate.
The Table Top Experience
I’d like to start by saying that this was such an excellent class that it will be impossible for my notes to do it any kind of justice. Almost every sentence spoken carried something of importance and of course there’s no way for me to remember it all. For those who were also at the class this morning please do remind me of the bits I forgot or got confused and I’ll update the sequence for all.
The first phase of the class was quite active – padmasana in sirsasana and chair dwi Pada viparita dandasana (here she reminded us in Guruji’s earlier days this would have been full pose from the floor, legs extended) as we were lifting up for a prolonged stay in chair chatushpadasana, Abhi explained that Guruji had told her that the pranayama class needs to be active or we all fall asleep “Are you sleeping now?” she said. Resounding “No!”. There were many interesting teaching points (read full sequence by clicking link at bottom of page) – when we were in supta baddha konasana she asked us to observe the skin over the tailbone. Was it apparent that on one side the skin tends to spread and one side that skin tends to get caught? When this remains unadjusted, the side of the tailbone skin that is shrinking, that side lung will also shrink – observe that. Now take both the hands and simultaneously adjust both sides of the tail bone to spread (not one side then the other).We also had to adjust the skin of the neck so that the top half the skin moved towards the head and the bottom half belonged to the back. Try it! not using the hands but adjusting the neck, from the neck itself.
Her teaching technique today really allowed for a thorough understanding of what she was trying to convey. It was the first time all month I have been well enough placed in pranayama to properly explore what I was being taught. Abhi’s skill in teaching is remarkable. For someone with my type of brain her methods work perfectly – she knows she has to keep the class moving, she knows that she has to vary her techniques so that you never know what is coming next and that even liveliest minds will remain engaged throughout. She can hold a thought or theme seamlessly from one end of a class to the other, gradually building instruction upon instruction at a pace you can handle. To say I am impressed is an understatement.
She said, You may think that I am only giving you physical techniques but what about the nerves? When you adjust the skin there is a network of nerves – nerves belong neither to the physical body nor the psychological body. The nerves are the gateway – so when we make these physical adjustments we can adjust much more besides. Referring to the techniques she was explaining, she told us Guruji had said “Do you know how long I have saved you in your practice by showing you these things?” He has saved us years, decades even births by showing us – she reflected that we are blessed indeed to have lived in the same incarnation as Guruji.
We went home for a delicious lunch cooked by Sushila – over the month she has gradually understood our needs better and better. Lots of veg, more flavour less spice and the best ragi flour chapati I’ve had. Am definitely going to miss this aspect of our life here – super healthy and tasty vegetarian food appearing like magic in front of me twice a day. We had ordered a car from Roots and Wings for the drive to Panchgani which turned up promptly and with a safe (by my new amended standards) driver. It took about two and a half hours, the last forty minutes climbing steadily upward. Many of the crevices of the hillside were on fire and at one point there was fire on both sides of the road. Apparently monsoon (or just after) is the best time to visit and it’s not hard to see why – at the moment the hillside is dry scrub and fires, whereas
presumably with the rain comes greenery and waterfalls.This is strawberry country and our eyes lit up as we saw the roadside lined with stalls displaying mountains of strawberries and chinese gooseberries – our two personal favourites.
I was not bowled over as we pulled up outside the Mount View Executive – it looked pretty ropey. However things improved dramatically once inside; the Manager Firdaus has excellent English, is completely switched on, friendly and helpful. He started out by offering to get us any special food or drink we would enjoy having during our stay and we wasted no time dispatching him for fruit salad items! When he showed me to my room I actually did a little jump for joy – it’s not a posh hotel but it suits me perfectly here. A bay window above the pool with a panoramic view of the valley, a comfortable double bed and lovely bathroom. Louis, you would love it here – solid wooden doors, big snooker table, table tennis and a very friendly house Alsation. Had a swim, some yoga in the last of the day’s sun on the terrace and a game of table tennis with Jenny. Feeling good!
Made the most of our last stress-free, travel-free day with a good practice in our apartment. We are so well set up here with everything we need; plenty of space, chair, bolsters, ropes, balcony that doubles as a trestle for supported standing poses etc. We leave with regret, our lifestyle here is extremely comfortable and pleasant.We have Women’s Class in the morning and then home for lunch before we are picked up for our two night trip to Panchgani. According to Wikipedia, Panchgani is nestled in the middle of five hills in the Sahyadri mountain range and was founded by a Brit during the British Raj. The hotel we have booked has a pool with a beautiful tree filled vista, so I’m cautiously looking forward to it (it never pays to expect too much here – I’ve had enough Indian adventures in the past to know how things can go!).
Pranayama this evening with Rajalaxmi, the numbers in the hall are pretty civilised now and the fans are going on as a matter of course, not just when it’s an extremely active class and they notice we are all on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Even with the fans and the static class, there was still sweat trickling down the backs of my knees! Most beautiful invocation yet – it reminded me that I’d read somewhere that a melodious voice is one of the benefits of a correct yoga practice.
Our Local Shops – Maharastra Stores and Shirole Farm – Better than Tesco!
We started with a beautiful savasana; just the tri fold blanket under back chest, armpit region, arms tucked underneath blanket. Legs crossed on the bolster to get the softness of the abdomen – with the legs this way there is no ‘pull’ on the abdomen and the groins get the release. She talked again about how tight groins can relate to some emotional trauma. When we first lay down, before we had crossed the legs, she said there is a back rim of your pelvis, just as there is a front rim of the pelvis right? Move the back rim of the pelvis away from the back to create the abdomen release. Although many times and many different way I have been given this instruction (eg move the buttocks away from the waist) I found this instruction to move the back pelvic rim seemed to make me adjust more effectively the very upper bony region of the top buttock and this felt really good on my pre-menstrual achy back. I very much enjoyed this supported savasana.
The seated pranayama of course presents much more of a challenge – to mind properly the myriad of different instructions that are continuously coming AND not to succumb to tension anywhere, is not something I find easy at all. Instructions and explanations tend to be very lengthy and repetitive and often I am struggling to maintain before the actual pranayama has begun.
We did seated anta kumbhak and as Rajalaxmi demonstrated on stage ‘inhaling the fragrance’ as she maintained the retention of the full inhalation. She talked again about the seeping quality the breath must have – the breath has to irrigate the field, the farmer has planted his crops there carefully, when he irrigates the field he does not want to flood it with water – the breath has to seep not flood and wash everything away. You definitely should not feel that you are inflating the chest like you inflate a balloon. My experience of this was that it hardly feels as though any breath is coming in at all and it takes a long time to fill, but when you exhale it is very surprising the volume of breath that has seeped in.
From Ganesha Temple near Laxmi Road
Woke up feeling buoyant and launched a revenge attack on Mr. Next Door who treats me to full technicolour renditions of his hawking up repertoire every morning and night without fail, so today I treated him to full volume”Let it Go” as I took my pre- practice shower. Unfortunately our bathroom windows back on to to each other and there is no soundproofing whatsoever – was thinking maybe a Simon and Garfunkel medley tomorrow 🙂
The doorbell went and when I answered Sushila (our cook for the month) came bounding in looking extremely swish with a sparkle in her eye and a big grin. I commented on her rather beautiful sari and she told me she was able to buy it with the baksheesh (tip) I had given her yesterday. This made me very happy as I had been looking and looking and struggling to find the right sari for her as a gift when we leave, so now she has saved me the trouble!
My practice session today was hard – 3 steps forward, 2 steps back kind of carry on – but I have to remind myself that does mean that overall I am still going forward. In my sirsasana journey I haven’t reached my destination yet, but at least I have left the house!
The quote that kept coming back to me again and again during my practice (that both Abhi and Raya have mentioned a lot) was Guruji saying that he used his brain strongly to get into an asana, but once there the brain has to withdraw. It is my tendency to go at it ‘all guns blazing’ and it’ll take me a lifetime of practice to master the art of retaining the desired action and withdrawing the brain, but again, at least I’ve now left the house, even if I am still only dragging my suitcase down the garden path!!
Raya’s class this evening was restorative and pranayama (full sequence below). We began with AMS, uttanasana and prasarita paddottonasana. He quoted Guruji who said
“We have to expand our extension and extend our expansion”
He illustrated this point further with a visualisation: Niagara Falls are very wide, not so high but far distance from one side to the other; Angel Falls are narrow and very high, very tall – as we descend into uttanasana / prasarita paddottonasana we have to flow like both of those falls simultaneously. He demonstrated very clearly how in uttanasana holding the heels (gulphasana) we get a superior downward extension, by first widening – starting from the feet pressing into the outer edges, knees and thighs hitting from inner to outer, then the torso widening the ribs and collar bones, how this creates the space for the body to flow completely downwards without any humping of the back.
After sirsasana and chair sarvangasana we finished with some pranayama, first seated on the chair backward with the arms extending downward behind working on an active inhalation and then lying in bent leg savasana with the shins weighted on the chair and the body lying on the stone floor (much better experience to lie so that the body gets the contact with the natural stone floor rather than a sticky mat), working on extended exhalation. He asked us to imagine we were standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley far, far below and you have folded a paper aeroplane which you launch over the edge. First you have to launch, but then it gets carried without any further exertion. So it goes further and further away as you exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale, exhaaale. As you exhale going deeper and deeper down into that stone floor. The inhalation requires nothing from you, it is simply a reaction to the exhalation, almost like a breeze.
Our last proper Pune practice tomorrow – we are travelling to Panchgani after the Women’s class on Saturday and returning Monday just in time to get one last class with Abhi before departing for an overnight trip to Mumbai, plane leaving for Heathrow at 7am. Sigh.
Once again the women’s class was taken by Raya. The numbers in the great practice hall are beginning to dwindle as a steady trickle of students depart for home. Today the class was pranayama preparation and again Raya’s main theme was to teach us to refine the postures so that we are not grossly overdoing. He commented on the use of a single upright brick in the dorsal as we might use for paryankasana or matsyasana – a favourite he sees regularly in the practice sessions. He made a caricature of a totally overdone pose, exaggerated back arch, ribs pushing the skin, temples bursting and said these poses we like to do are “beautifully ugly” – while if there is tremendous stiffness in the dorsal this direct approach with the brick may be appropriate, mostly the people here do not fall into this category and this pose will be ‘drying’ and no coolness will come – ever – when done this way.
Raya talked at length here about the cooling effect of baddha konasana – especially now the heat of the summer has come, baddha konasana brings a quality of water of coolness that can be experienced in many different poses – chair sarvangasana, viparita karani, viparita dandasana – use the baddha konasana position of the feet to bring the quality of cooling to a pose. We looked at different modes of doing Supta Baddha Konasana feet flat, feet raised, arms over the head, spine support etc. and compared the ‘texture’ of the abdomen in each – he encouraged not to get fixated on only one way of doing but to observe the different qualities of each.
We worked for a long time in baddangullyasana with lots of different leg positions and had to learn to’gather the sacrum up’ without over pushing lumbar and ribs. Again he showed how we tend to go at it aggressively with the spine cutting into the body and hardness showing on all the spinal muscles – same in viparita dandasana – here he leapt up energetically with the crown of his head on the bare floor, to show us what we do when going up into sirsasana with straight legs – it was a familiar looking pose. Slightly disconcertingly he spent much of the class with his shirt off to illustrate the point, so that we could really see the contrast in the skin and muscle when he overdid. He pointed out many pictures of Guruji all around the room and showed that in none of them – not even maha mudra – was there this aggressive quality, his skin is visibly soft and supple.
He used the rope to illustrate a more subtle way to work with the dorsal – There is an anterior (facing inward to the organ body) and posterior surface of the spine (facing outward to the skin), right? We are not just trying to grossly over push the dorsal
forward (except in the case where there is a real hardness outward there, then yes the gross adjustment) but we are learning to refine the movement in such a way the anterior surface of the dorsal we have to draw upward. This was helpful and very similar feeling or a continuation of the internal adjustment I have learned to make in medical class to prevent the pancreas from dropping downward. After inversions; baddha konasana in sirsasana and the singularly most uncomfortable chair sarvangasana I have ever experienced, we ended with cycles of ujaayii 1 and 2, seated and supine.Despite the difficulties and discomforts I felt beautifully centred and healthy as I walked home.
After lunch we headed over towards Laxmi Road to have a look at Phule Mandai – Pune’s biggest vegetable market. There is a central tower, with eight covered areas, radiating outward, each section for a different type of produce. The building has stood since 1882 and much of it is completely unchanged since then.
As you wander along the veg stalls each seller has a different song or chant advertising their wares which blend and tangle together on the air – quite a banquet of sights, sounds and smells.So many different products on offer, including (see pic below) lizard repellent spray.
We went home via FC Road to eat at Shabree – our new firm favourite, for completely delicious array of thali dishes and cardamom ice cream.