28th February – Panchgani

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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.

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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 mDSCF3381y 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).

 

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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

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27th February Abhi Pranayama

 

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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 DSCF3328twice 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.

 

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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 DSCF3336and 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!

 

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View from bedroom window.

27th February- Abhi – Pranayama

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26th February – Rajalaxmi -Pranayama

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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

 

 

 

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25th February – Raya – Pranayama

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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!

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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!!

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Wonky Cobbler Pose!

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.

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An ox and cart flowing along with the heavy traffic.

25th February – Raya – Pranayama

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24th February – Women’s Class – Raya

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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 DSCF3306bring 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

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No idea what these are!

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.

24th February – Women’s Class – Raya

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23rd February – Rajalaxmi

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The outside of the institute on Hare Krishna Mandir Road

I felt it was just a tiny bit cooler today – a bit more manageable, or perhaps we are acclimatising to Pune’s early summer. I enjoyed the warmth in the air as I had my morning cuppa and of course the flexibility improves when the heat gets into your bones. Jenny is heading straight back for assessment in Manchester next week, so hoping she can hold onto that special Pune gain for just a little while once we return to a British winter.

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Was seriously tempted to airbrush the gap under my thigh!

Rajalaxmi taught a restorative class this evening, a simple no fuss approach, with very little detail or instruction so that we could just immerse ourselves in the poses. Link to full sequence below. The class was mainly forward bends using the bolster support slightly differently to the usual method. So for example in janu sirsasana or parsva upavista konasana the bolster was laid on the floor alongside the length of the extended leg – this meant that we didn’t have to rotate as much, making a softer, quieter pose where the breath could flow easily. We were told that the breathing should not only occur in the nostrils, but every cell in the entire body had to breath with you.

After the forward bends we moved to some very welcome chest opening in chair dwi pada viparita dandasana, length of spine supported on tri fold blanket and chair sarvangasana. What struck me during this class is how spending this month working intensively on my yoga practice has made me like a sponge – completely open and receptive and ready to draw in with appreciation the fragrance of each and every pose. The simplicity of a quiet restorative class with a little more time to stay and breathe was very much savoured.

I snapped this photo on my way to class – one of the things that strikes me when I’m in India is how much more relaxed men are around each other. There’s very little ‘macho posturing’ and men often display an easy affection with each other that we don’t see back home at all – walking down the street with an arm casually slung over a friend’s shoulder or sometimes holding hands.

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Enjoying the warm evening air.

23rd February – Rajalaxmi

 

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22nd February – Abhi

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Hot, hot and hotter. The water coming out of our ‘cold’ tap here is hotter than the water coming out of my hot tap back home. It’s not tepid, it’s actually hot! Woke late after staying up till 1am putting together information pack for holiday I am teaching in the Maldives this November. I just know that once I get home and take up ‘life duties’ once again, the time will be so hard to find. I’m in a curious state of wanting to stay (I’m beginning to make some progress and want the learning to continue) and getting excited about going home – 5 weeks is a LONG time to be away from Louis and the kids. Aside from the benefits to my personal practice, I really feel I’ve picked up a lot teaching wise – it’s so great to come here and get full of ideas for teaching – lots of light bulbs have gone on in my head.

I had some great breakthroughs in my home practice today – the sirsasana continuing to steadily improve and I’m finally managing to drop back again from sarvangasana. I have been assessed on this in previous levels and clearly managed it, but I always lose it again.

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Abhi’s intermediate class this evening (link to full sequence below) focussed on bringing light internally to dead and dull areas. Our job in the asanas is to learn to spread the consciousness to every part of the body – touching the skin from the inside. We started with opening the outer knees and thighs by learning to spread from the inner to the outer leg and by standing completely on the outer blades of the feet and maintaining that pressure as we placed the sole of the foot down. All of this of course, extremely relevant for my injured knee, which has partly been caused by a tight outer knee ligament which ‘dips’ in a concave curve on my outer knee. Up until this trip I had no idea that was a problem, but now I understand why more senior teachers have looked at my knee knowlingly and told me it was a knee problem waiting to happen.

In the sirsasana she encouraged us to come down early if the temples were ‘puffed’. First we had to see if we could relax there and if it was not possible, our time was up – not always to stay on using the will power alone. Timing, duration is not everything – quality.

We continued in this vein – searching out the dull areas in each pose and finding adjustments that brought the life to this area; the bottom corner of the chest close to the armpit in Trikonasana, the bottom breast area in Adho Mukha Svanasana, Padangusthasana and Chatushpadasana. In chatush as we pumped the shin forward several times on the exhalation (one PUSH, two PUSH, three PUSH!!) she told us we were focussing too much on the pain, giving it too much attention. So we repeated this time not looking at the pain and found the room was much quieter and that actually a conscious decision not to get caught up in the pain was surprisingly easy to manage. The final attempt we had to do the same and this time also not allow the temples to ‘puff’ and found that we could do this action silently and with proper witness of the bottom breast area that she had asked us to work on. She warned us against ‘glorifying’ the pain.

After exploring the crevices of the internal body in the active asana, we ended with some pranayama – using the breath to spread the bottom breast area from the centre to the sides and seeing how long we could maintain this touch of the breath to the side chest as we exhaled. She allowed us just 3 exquisite normal breaths after this exercise to fully appreciate what quality this brought to the breath and said “I hope you understand now, how the body has to be irrigated for the essence of the breath to be felt”.

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Often Abhi’s Father is outside minding her daughter while the class is on.

22nd February – Abhi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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