Sunday, July 11, 2010


You know you’re turning Indian when:
-       You prefer the squatting toilets.
-       You walk into the middle of the street slowly and calmly to cross, knowing the motorcycles and rickshaws will go around you.
-       You start doing the head bobble.
-       You slooooow down. No rushing anywhere. Allot double to triple the time it would take to complete a task in the States.
-       You start bargaining at the fruit cart.

I’m settling into my routine here, and the simplicity is beautiful. Each morning I awake with the birds before dawn and do some Pranayama. Then boil some water and drink it hot with a quarter of a tiny lemon. I eat some fruit—today it was a salad of papaya, banana, pomegranate, and orange. Then off to either practice or class.

I come home around noon and eat a simple lunch of rice, dal, and vegetable subji (Indian stew/stir fry). Every 2-3 days I cook a little something from veggies I pick up at the green market. Eggplant, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower… Yesterday I bought 3 potatoes, 3 lemons, and 2 tomatoes for 12 rupees (about 25 cents). All the veggies are about half the size of what you see in the States. So if I take the time to cook, I can eat very inexpensively. Just some mustard and cumin seeds in oil, some garam masala and turmeric, toss in some vegetables and a hot meal is ready in 10 minutes.

After lunch I write some notes on class or practice, check email, maybe get dinner started, do a bit of reading or take a nap. At 3pm the library at the Iyengar Institute opens so I walk down the street and go on over.

The basement library is a happening place. Guruji, BKS Iyengar, is always at his desk there, going over manuscripts or answering letters. At a long table at the center of the library sit yoga students from all over the world, our noses buried in amazing archival material and books on every aspect of yoga, from therapeutics to anatomy to philosophy to spirituality. We sit quietly and read and study, and every once in a while Guruji pipes up with a comment or question or request.

A few days ago I went down to the library and everyone was gathered around a laptop playing a new educational film about Iyengar yoga for children. The project leaders came to consult with Guruji about it. He made no bones about it: it’s too serious he said, there is no humor. With children there needs to be lightness and quickness and humor. This film made yoga a serious subject when it should be fun for children. The filmmakers went back to Mumbai with some major feedback from the guru.

After an hour or so in the library, I go back upstairs to the yoga hall for the medical class. Here you find 30 or so students with every condition from heart disease to scoliosis to sore knees and hips.

Today I spotted a little girl I remembered from my last visit in 2008. She had traveled with her parents from Delhi with scoliosis so severe she couldn’t walk straight. Today she is performing her sequence on her own, tall, and healthy. Her scoliosis is still visible but so much less severe I hardly recognized her.

I decided to take the risk and begin assisting in the medical class. It’s a little scary because it’s a circus, with people running about with every manner of yoga prop, and Guruji overseeing it all, imperious and fierce. It’s easy to get tripped up and get a set-up wrong or misunderstand an instruction from one of the teachers. The other day I had an absolutely mortifying moment when I started to take apart someone’s setup because we were finishing up the class. What I learned is that you never touch a setup done by Guruji, who stormed up to me and demanded to know why I was moving things without asking him. It was like being in a hurricane with no shelter, and all I could do was be humble and apologize.

I was flooded with doubt. Maybe I shouldn’t be assisting. Maybe I’m being presumptuous. However I decided to sublimate my wounded ego and go back the next day. If everyone who has ever been yelled at gave up, we would have few students and teachers indeed. I decided I had to go back to the medical class for the sake of my students with aching backs and knees and necks and hips, to learn whatever I can to bring back. Never mind my little hurt feelings, that’s just asmita, ego.

After the medical class is evening class of asana or if it’s Thursdays, Pranayama. I get home around 8:15pm and eat leftovers, take a shower, more notes, and early to bed. It’s a beautiful life.

My first time in Pune I was fascinated by the marketplaces, beautiful clothing, textiles, housewares, and so much more. I spent many an afternoon shopping through various neighborhoods. My second time in Pune I brought my family and we traveled to southern India, and to caves of Maharastra. This time all I am doing is studying, practicing, learning. Absorbing all I can in the short time I have….

Here are a few more tidbits of wisdom from our classes during forward bends week:

Prashant: The nostrils are the gateway of the breath. How can we awaken different parts of the nostrils as we breathe? He defined the parts as the opening, the floor, the septum, the outer membrane, the roof, and the very center which doesn’t touch anywhere.

Raya: If Parsvottanasana is Uttanasana with the partner leg gone, don’t cheat on your partner. Apply all your knowledge of Uttanasana into the one-legged Parsvottanasana.

Abhi, Guruji: In Uttanasana, draw the lateral buttocks down and the tailbone down as you draw up through the backs of the legs. This creates a compactness to lengthen the spine forward and down.


Poet_Girl said...

Hi Peggy!

Greetings from Riverwest :) Not sure if you will see this comment but just a couple things ... first, these posts are very interesting and I'm glad you are telling tales of your time there. Wish I could see it all for myself!

I had a thought about your incident in medical class and getting upbraided for taking apart that setup. Why do you have to deny/sublimate your ego, when it seems Guruji doesn't? Wasn't his anger an expression of ego -- that you, a lowly student, 'disobeyed' him although you weren't even aware that your were? I would expect a more patient and tolerant tone, less reactive to a perceived affront to his orders. Or at the very least, a clear explanation of what to do or not do! Sorry; guess I don't submit to authority very well :)

Just my two cents ~ enjoy the rest of your trip and travel safely.

-Laura Gronek

peggy hong said...

hi laura, thanks for your thoughts! when we come to india we have to understand and respect the indian culture. in indian culture and asia in general, the relationship of teacher to student is very clear cut. there is no teacher in india or asia who will praise their students. it's not how the culture works. and hierarchy is extremely important. whether we agree with these practices or not we have to respect them when we enter as a guest. guruji is 92 with 75 years of accumulated wisdom. it's absolutely unthinkable in this culture to challenge that kind of seniority. whether you agree with this or not, the teacher represents a form of spiritual wisdom and cosmic reality, and just as life may slap us upside the head from time to time, so does the guru. so that's what it means to sublimate ego. hope that helps--we can discuss more later! thanks for bringing it up.