Monday, July 19, 2010


It’s taken me three trips to India to figure out the mosquitoes. I was getting most of my mosquito bites inside my little bungalow instead of outside where you think they would be, usually in my sleep. But recently in the morning I noticed several mosquitoes sleeping on the nets (screens, in the USA). I slid open the net and closed the glass windows, and sure enough they eventually flew off into the nice outdoors. You see, they were stuck inside because I was trying to keep the house snugly closed up and protected.

Instead, in India you’re supposed to keep the air flowing without screens during the day, then close up at dusk when the mosquitoes like to come inside. If you don’t air out, the bugs get stuck inside for days at a time, and they get ornery, and they bite you, because you’re their only source of food. You have to learn the rhythms and go with the flow.

Everything in India is this way. Tonight in class it was time to set up for Salamba Sarvangasana, which is quite an ordeal for 120 students. We go and get a stack of thick mats and line up in threes. But tonight I was at a mat with two other foreign women who insisted they already had a third person for their mat, a friend of theirs. Now, trying to protect your spot in a crowded yoga class just makes things unnecessarily complicated, IMHO. The Indians know this, and will take any spot willy-nilly, and expect us foreigners to do the same.

But the Euro-American ethic is quite different. We are acculturated with a strong sense of individuality and territoriality, thus the “mine” attitude, which makes living in India quite stressful. There’s one American woman here who has become quite attached to a particular yoga mat, and insists on using it, digging through the stacks at the Institute, or asking you for it if you happen to have it under your feet.

I find that I have more energy for asana and pranayama and study if I am willing to let go of my little quirks and preferences,, and especially if I consciously and joyfully relinquish my American privilege. Lucky for me in some respects, I am not recognized as an American. There are quite a few Korean university students here in Pune, and although we are treated as foreigners, we are free from the  baggage and stereotypes of white Americans—you know—big spenders, loud, demanding, etc. So, except for my sun hat, I sort of blend in, eating Indian food with my fingers, and moving from yoga mat to mat as the class requires.

Guruji also visits this theme over and over in his teachings. “This is not a health club!” he insists. “This is a health education center. You must all come here to learn, to be students,” not, he implies, come here to exercise privilege. He continues, “You come here to use my name, to get a certiicate. You make money from my name, and write books. But you must be humble to learn. Are you really here to listen, to learn?” he asks, evoking the old themes of colonialism and empire that still impact India.

Yesterday, a film crew came into the practice hall, with massive lights and cameras. Some Germans are making a documentary about BKS Iyengar. We lifted our heads from Adho Mukha Svanasana, as extension cords were being pulled across our hands, and a stream of people filied in. They wanted to film him practicing and coaching granddaughter Abhijata. At nearly 92, he is quite the presenter, so we all gathered round as he gave Abhi some jewels of instruction in Sirsasana, Trkonasana, Tadasana, and Urdhva Dhanurasana. At her young age (mid 20s), Abhi has accepted the circumstances of her public life. As long as her grandfather is in the spotlight, so is she, there at his side.

All the students at the Institute were invited to her engagement party and puja (religious blessing) this week. We skipped class and flooded the hall behind the post office in our nicest Indian clothes, along with the extended families and all the expected dignitaries. Then we were fed a feast of 10-12 traditional dishes, and this only the engagement.

“Stop thinking!” Guruji roared in class recently. “Receive the instruction in your body. You are all thinking about superficialities.” So now back to the simplicity of breathe in, breathe out, asana and pranayama, taking the learning into my body, making the most of my study here for the remaining 2 weeks.

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