imageWe are into backbend week at RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute) and it is a different experience (as always) this time – partly because I’ve come at a different time of the year.

In the past I’ve come in June or July when the weather is hot and heavy with rain.  The practice then, although challenging, is more from the Intro 1/2 and IJ I/2 syllabii.  Now as the weather becomes cooler, we are doing more jumpings, arm balances and yesterday with Geeta got right to Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (a difficult backbend) legs straight and together as our first foray into backbends just so she could evaluate where we are at.

Unlike other systems that put the body into false conditions (hot yoga with a consistant temp and humidity) we are expected to keep our body in tune with its natural surroundings and adjust our practice accordingly.

That is the 1st layer according to Prashant, the son of BKS, and philosopher of the family.  Practice according to the weather, our personal needs, our age and ability, the maturity of our practice.  He teaches the same asana again and again, even with the same instructions, but expects different outcomes each time depending on the subject he wants you to study with each attempt.  Asana for the body, asana for the breath, asana for the brain.

He started the month by asking us to find the usefulness of what we are doing.  For the beginner it is enough just to do, but if we want to progress, we must find the usefulness of the what, how, why we are doing.  And in order to do that, we must study the subject.  To which Prashant says; if we want it to be easy, we are not students.  Because the subject matter, if worthy, will challenge us with unknowns.  Demand absolute attention.  Require multiple attempts from different approaches. And the subject is important otherwise the Iyengars wouldn’t put so much incredible effort into trying to get their point across.  Attempting to get our brains to be like butter, as Geeta says, rather than stone, so that we can absorb and learn the teachings.   The subject is important because it is not just asana, it is not even yoga, the subject is our own consciousness.

Today in class Prashant made a point of referring to all of the asana pictures of Guruji that are displayed in the practice hall.  We (Hatha, or asana-based practitioners) are often thought of as superficial because of the physicality of our practice.  As opposed to the deep thinkers of a Jnana or Raja yoga, the contributions of Karma yoga, or the outward beauty of mantra.  With each asana we do however, we are expected to – as Guruji did – ‘render our consciousness’.   Just as a razor blade is rendered sharp and useful through exposure to extreme hot/cold temperatures, we render our consciousness through the challenging conditions of constantly exposing ourselves to the asana and studying ourselves through its lens so that we too may become razor sharp.

Geeta worked with a small group yesterday to get them to lift their heads off the floor in a backbend.  When they did it she pointed out that the result was not their acheivement, it was hers.  They were only able to do what they did because of her observations, her use of props, her instructions.  Now, if they are students, they will take all of that into their own practice and work on it until it becomes their acheivement.   This is how we render our consciousness.  By being the student, studying the subject matter, doing the hard work, taking what they are giving us and making it our own.

Those of us here this month are incredibly fortunate.  Geetaji has had health challenges her whole life and is having them now, however right now she is teaching beautifully and we and can tell she wants to take us somewhere.  (I’m not sure how much longer she will be able to teach…)  Prashant is as Prashant has always been, but I am different this time and am getting more out of his classes than ever before.  They have both been and continue to be, as their father did, students of the ultimate subject.  They have rendered themselves to finely honed instruments of knowledge.  They are trying their best to pass it on so that we may take their acheivements and through our own practice and study be able to render our own consciousness.  Hone it to become useful.  To our body, breath, mind.  Our family, community, students.

These trips are not frivolous, they are not holidays, they take us to places within ourselves that can be just as dark and scary as they are beautiful and glorious.  We all make sacrifices to be here – financially, time away from home, health risks – nothing about being a householder in India is easy! But even if we don’t realize it to begin with, none of us would come back if we didn’t feel the effects of the rendering taking place.

May my brain be like butter 🙂

love, Sam


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