“Don’t be so cocky-sure, young lady!” my father used to reprimand me as a rebellious teenager when I dismissed his concerns and tried to do things my way. I thought of him this week as I endured a short bout of digestive illness. Just when I thought I would get through my India trip without getting sick….
My first trip to Pune I got sick the final week when I accepted a meal of delicious wheat dishes at my landlady’s brunch. I had been off gluten for a year and thought I might be able to indulge this once. But alas, I spent 24 hours in bed and in the bathroom, and weakly made my way back to class for restorative and pranayama.
My second trip I succumbed to the winter “Pune cough.” You can hear the hack from the dust and pollution in the recordings of the classes, as students and teachers cough their way through the dry Januarys.
This time, I was feeling great, cooking delicious and healthy meals at home, doing 5 hours of asana and Pranayama each day. The only thing I missed were my fresh raw greens that I gorge on each summer. I saw some nice palak (spinach) on the vegetable lady’s cart for sale and bought 2 bunches. I knew enough not to eat it raw, but I cooked it very gently just until it wilted, dressed it Korean style in soy sauce, vinegar, a bit of oil, and hot sauce, tossed in some cashews, and ate it cold. Yum.
But the microorganisms here, that foreigners do not have the flora for, got the best of me. My mistake was not cooking the spinach to death. So I spent a day at home, reading, practicing Supta Baddha Konasana, listening to music, and purging. Just when I was feeling so smug! I’m better now, and humbled, once again, by India, and what this experience may bring.
One thing I had to do during this short bout of illness was tune into my body ever more sharply. My body told me what I could eat and what I could not. I would touch my fork to a brownie I bought as a special indulgence. Unh-unh, my stomach would say. How about some fresh fruit? No, my body said. Some plain rice and dollop of dahi (curds/yogurt)? My stomach did not turn at this suggestion, so I lived on this for a day.
BKS Iyengar addressed a similar aspect of listening to our bodies in class today. He invited us to turn instinctive knowledge into intuitive knowledge. He insisted that just applying action upon action to our bodies in asana is a beginner method. Instead, he chided us, how can we increase our intelligence and apply what we observe through instinctive behavior and make it intuitive?
For instance, in Prasarita Padottanasana (look it up in Light on Yoga if you need to), the back calves instinctively roll out. Try it a few times and notice that they almost automatically do this. But do our back thighs do the same? Due to hip and/or hamstring tightness, they do not. But can we apply the instinctive intelligence of the calves and make it intuitive intelligence in the thighs?
Guruji has been teaching largely through this Socratic method, continually asking us questions and making us probe deeper into our own bodies, observing the most minute details. This is not to make us “physiocrats,” (as Prashant Iyengar would say), but to draw us deeper into the organic (physiologic) body and into the mind.
Now when yoga practitioners talk about the mind, they’re really talking about the consciousness and all its components of brain, nervous system, ego, soul, spirit, and more. So as we probe these actions in asana, we are supposed to be probing the responses in our minds.
“Dual mind or single mind?” Guruji asks us, when we are deep in asana. Hopefully we can answer, calmly, silently, and humbly, as we merge our instinctive intelligence with our intuitive intelligence, “Single mind.”
[I’m heading into my final week of study, so this will be my final Pune blog. Thanks for reading, and accompanying me on this journey! See you in Milwaukee and in class soon.]