Last Day – Reverence to Abhijata

The IYNAUS convention’s 5th and last day came quickly offering a send off with pranayama followed by a experimental backbend practice guided by Abhijata. Typically, this is not the desired format of practice. Usually you would have pranayama follow an Asana practice, but she chose to do pranayama first to make the mind fresh for back extensions. Mega classes at conventions are not normal practices but rather a platform to share as much as possible in the given format.

Each day of the convention started with Abhijata showing reverence (a Puja) to her Gurus, BKS and Geeta Iyengar, most significantly Patanjali. A idol and altar of images are usually established such as in the practice hall at RIMYI in Pune, as in the image of Prashant in earlier post, and in a personal practice space of a devoted yoga practitioner. A puja includes an offering of flowers, refreshments, incenses and loving adoration to those who have lit the path. Performing a puja is a way to cultivate and nurture daily gratitude and develop everlasting grace, Isvara Pranidhana (unconditional surrender to a higher power), connecting our practice on a spiritual level.

Throughout this guided class, Abhijata reminded practitioners to be with their Sankalpa as a duty of training the brain to read their body. “Brain tries to dictate! The body will talk to us, but we don’t listen!”

The brain has to learn to see without desire and receive without reaching. Our intelligence has to be a good servant to read the body, see reality as it is, to make sure everything is working as needed, not as desired. If intelligence is the master, as it tends to want to be, the ego can punish the body and injuries lie await.

Our asana practice is a way to train our intelligence to really see what is happening and know the relationship to the body and breath. There was so much experiential wisdom shared by Abhijata… oh, so grateful.

Abhijata’s last day remarks focused on Sankalpa as a group and the importance of coming together as yoga practitioners, supporting each other as we walk this path. “Our hearts are bound with the thread of love for yoga and humanity.”

“Take what you have learned and continue on. The seed has been planted. The tree will grow.”

“So constructively use this coming together state of mind to shape whatever is in our hands to face the present moment, with gratitude and acceptance. And once that is done, the future is going to be beautiful.”

Thank you Abhijata, we ❤️ you!

Day 4 – Abhijata, “See the signs!”

Immediately following Prashantji, Abhijata guided a forward bending class with much emphasis on widening the back of thighs and knees! Most of our leg pains comes from not spreading the back of legs for inner to outer and overdoing where an under-doing is happening.

She punctuated Prashantji’s reflection of Sankalpa comes from duty mindedness in Sirsasana… our duty is to be going upwards in the pose. But also the watching kriya mind, noticing by observing differences in the body, the breath and what part of the mind is being used… ego, memory, intelligence. Too much intelligence and we’re not connected to the response the body. Our brain has to become the receiver. More on this in next post.

Yet, we have to intelligently do the asanas so we can see the signs, like overdoing or shrinking on one side. Dormant problems from anger or excitement will play out in our practice. So we must seek to see to nurture the healthy seeds (tendencies) and burn away those that are unhealthy.

Day 4 – Prashantji Highlights

This 4th day of the convention was filled with much to ponder and reflect on… jam packed with yoga wisdom for our personal practice and how to be as a yoga practitioner.

The day started with Prashantji from Bellur, India, sharing his reflections on Sankalpa.

Essentially, he covered that passion has to be there as fuel for your intentions, otherwise resoluteness will not be there. As beginners, our intentions may be to just learn to do an Asana. As seasoned yoga practitioners, we should have a resoluteness for yogic values (duty) within our practice, as a spiritual seeker.

Our duty is to become aware of our body, the breath and the mind, in all that we do. They are kneaded with our awareness to connect and work together in what he calls, “watching kriya” (action.) We have to move out of our head consciousness and into body and breath consciousness. Learn to observe ourself within, an inner involvement, not just merely do an Asana.

Prashantji took the practitioners through several “watching kriya”examples. One that stuck with me is finding sthira (steadiness) after an exhale is competed and firming the abdomen in an Uddiyana kriya (not for beginners) using that retention space to find steadiness while in the pose. This exhale retention can lend to more power. Look at Guruji in Light on Yoga, the images show him in this exhale retention.

For our practice, start with focusing on one part and connect all 3 layers to ensure that the part has been integrated.

Mega class with Abhijata in next post 🤗🙏

Day 3 – Accept who you are whole-heartedly

The intention of this morning’s session with Abhijata was to give an example of a general class at RIMYI in Pune. Students were divided into 2 groups, as well as including menstruating and pregnant students. One group being the younger and not-injured students and the other those who needed more support. She took the more agile group through quick jumpings (see note below) but before starting, she showed everyone on how practitioners could use a support like a trestle (in Iyengar yoga world, “the horse”) for various standing poses.

Sharing a few images from today’s session from the supportive, therapeutic demonstrations using “the horse.” In a home practice, one could use the support of a counter, back of couch, a bed or even a wall.

Abhijata also shared the importance of the practice of jumpings or swift movements with intentions… it develops a sharpness in the nervous system to gauge what is happening, and realize what is not happening. This practice teaches the student to observe quickly and make appropriate adjustments, developing and refining their sensitivity.

Both of these practices have an intention and appropriateness to support a practitioner’s current needs at the moment. Dividing the class into groups and giving choices, demonstrated her ability on how to teach and include all those in front of her as yoga caters to various needs. Whether it’s a changing stage of life or experiencing physical ailments, organic or emotional states, a practice is not about the final pose. It’s about being fully involved in the moment. That is Sankalpa.

“This will make life much easier.”

Day 2, Work with Smaller Resolves

The IYNAUS convention theme is Sankalpa, a Yogic Life of Intent. In yesterday’s Keynote address, Abhijata shared one of her memories with her grandfather, BKS Iyengar, a discussion about the difference between a commitment and a resolve. Basically, a commitment requires outside action and a resolve requires internal involvement. Sankalpa is personal, a resolve that comes more from our emotions than our willpower.

She shared that Guruji talked about how commitments can fail but resolves do not. Since it’s personal, resolves cannot be forced rather if the desire or resolve is there, actions will unfold. Within one resolve, there can be many inner layers, we can view them as smaller resolves sprouting from our devotion to the resolve intention.

In today’s sessions, she often reminded us to work with these smaller resolves, as bite size intentions to allow us to connect and bond with the felt experience to meeting our resolve. This develops the inner involvement to meet your Sankalpa – moment to moment of being present.

Examples of working with smaller resolves…

IYNAUS 2023 convention with Abhijata has begun

May 16, 2023

For the next 5 days, Iyengar Yoga practitioners, both in person and online, will receive experiential yoga insight from Abhijata Iyengar, the granddaughter of BKS. The convention is being held in San Diego, CA and fortunately, many of us get to attend via livestream.

Today’s mega class sessions included standing and sitting poses, with specific focus on informing our lower spine (middle sacrum /tailbone) to move in to get the pelvis waist and trunk to “eject” away from the legs, dividing our extending parts in opposing directions.

Abhi showing how to assist a student using a very tight long belt around lower sacrum to move tailbone deeply into the body for an upward lift of the abdomen in forward bends…
“the cells of the abdomen have to learn to lift up!”

Abhijata shared that teachers should practice these techniques to understand what is needed to happen, so we can convey an specific experience. Props, like using a belt, are used to help us spread our consciousness to various parts, especially when in targeting specific actions, so we are able to have a quick sensory check-in when progressing to more complex poses like twists.

As a closed twist bind gets tighter, lifting the trunk gets more challenging. That’s why it’s helpful to have a wall or climbing grate to pull the sides of the waist and abdomen up. Or an assistant using a rope and knee.

One of the more meaningful statements (there were many) was to not just do the same old practice with the same attitude each time. Seek to be creative, to learn something new, to explore subtler sensations in asanas, so that you get that spark of energy and enthusiasm from your practice. This is how Guruji practiced.

“Open your eyes and observe everything!” 🙏

How Padmasana has become one of my best friends 🧘🏻

It’s been a struggle, but yes, Padmasana has become one of my best friends in my daily practice, especially since my total hip replacement a few years ago.

Admittedly, there have been many practices where this pose has felt more like a foe than a friend. But I knew that I had to keep faith (sraddha) in this practice and my dedication with attentive awareness (ekatanata) if I wanted to reconnect to Padmasana in a meaningful way. It’s been a long journey and has taken much patience.

When I felt Padmasana was my foe, I recalled Guruji’s description of the Yoga vitamins in the Yoga Sutra 1.20, sraddha virya smrti samadhipranjna purvakah iraresam. It was with this faith, courage, boldness, and dedicated absorption in what I could do and not do in each practice, that I found my way back to Padmasana as a healer and good friend once again.

My daily practice followed the progressive practice of stages of Padmasana in Chapter 2 of Geetaji’s Intermediate Coursebook. I had spent many days, even weeks, in several preparatory stages to reintroduce my new hip and the muscles of my legs, especially the shins and arches of my feet, to the action and range needed for the ultimate pose.

For me, it took a daily practice of Baddha Konasana and Upavista Konasana. Svastikasana was quite discomforting in the beginning after surgery. So I relied on a daily Baddha Konasana practice, using props to expand distance between the feet and groins to get into an even Siddhasana pose. My practice also was balanced with a lot of outer hip stretches in poses like Malasana 2, Marichyasana, Gomukhasana and strengthening from the standing poses.

It was when I could do Svastikasana without much discomfort that progressed to adding the supportive practice of Ardha Padmasana in various positions such as standing, sitting in a chair, supine, sitting on a support and without, always as my hips dictated.

One of the interesting elements I have to attend to is that my new hip is a conventional hip socket, where the femur has a full acetabulum cup. My other hip socket has a shallower acetabulum cup over the femur head, which is known as hip dysplasia. Each requires different but equally attention when in practice.

My yoga practice has been invaluable to my healing, especially the progressive steps to Padmasana in the Intermediate Coursebook. Being dedicated to this practice of Padmasana with ekatanata has allowed my healing to come gradually and confidently so that I can do more and hopefully stave off any further injuries to my hips.

I believe so much in this practice that I teach Baddha Konasana variations and Padmasana preparations and its stages in almost all of my classes.

It’s never too late to start your friendship with Padmasana!

Peace, Love & Yoga

Sadly, this IYNAUS convention has come to the end, and for me much earlier that had planned. I woke this morning to learn that my flight home to Florida in the afternoon was canceled due to a pending superstorm expected for the Dallas area. So we had to rebook on an earlier flight that made me miss the last “super-mega” backbending class. I knew that I would not be able to do much with my new hip, but still looked forward to her fluid teachings in this challenging direction.

Before leaving for the airport, I was able to attend the morning class, where Abhijata led us through several peaceful Ujjayi pranayama practices. Over the past few days, she’s been sensitizing our awareness to the sides of trunk, the bottom front ribs, the lift of our sternum, and yesterday, she lit our sensitive pathway into the back rib band area. So this morning, she brought them all together for us in various supported positions. She specifically took time to explain why we were supporting only the rib cage so the abdomen belly could become soft. She asked that hone our breath practice to keenly watch the tension that can arise in these areas especially around the front armpit chest and back rib band.

At the end in our peaceful state, she reminded us to use our practice to look deep into ourselves… to use our asana and pranayama practice to build courage to find our truth… to understand and cultivate inward meaning of the Yama and Niyama from our personal practice. This way we live authentically from the love and light discovered in our peaceful state within.

Last night in John Schumacher’s introduction of the“Lighting the Way” award for Laurie Blakeney, he referred to how Guruji would state that Ahimsa is an expression of love rather than the concept of not harming. If we just love, no harm could come out of us or into our practice.

Guruji spoke of this in Light on Life…

Even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body. This love will radiate from you to others.

A beautiful reflection for what we all experienced from Abhijata this past week. She has given us much love and light for the subject of yoga from her heart.

Song of Sarvangasana

“First, we must find freedom to set boundaries, if there’s no freedom, boundaries cannot be established.”

Day 5 morning class of the convention seemed come way too soon. The week has been exciting and full of yogic energy.

Today, Abhijata quickly fixed our early morning zombie state by flying us through various series of jumpings. Sequence of quick jumpings can be invigorating for the mind and joints, but also illuminating to what parts move and what parts do not. It’s not so much about strength rather obtaining fluidity and freedom.

In her first series of jumpings, we were to learn to get our hips flying high, like when jumping from Uttanasana to Adho Mukha Svanasana (AMS). Many students were not getting the height needed so she suggested that we add “hurdle” like bricks a few inches behind the heels. To pass the feet over these bricks, we would have to aim the hips high to fly over them. If bricks felt too risky, she suggested starting with a rolled blanket and work your way to medium height bricks. This would be great home practice of getting some abdominal work, while challenging fluidity of movement. A way of staying young… “I-younger” yoga.

In another series of jumpings, we were asked to keep the hips compact and flexed so the legs can become like wings like when jumping from AMS to ParsvaKon or Ardha Chandrasana. I figured that today’s class was inspired by questions she received about how to get the younger generation interested in Iyengar Yoga, “keep them moving”… make it less about alignment in the beginning and more about connecting words to movement. Besides these quick sequences keeps their minds from wandering, keeps them interested and gives them freedom while learning the poses.

Later in the practice, after the series of standing pose jumpings, we flew into several arm balances. Abhijata offered various fun and freeing way to access some of the more challenging arm balances.

Then she guided us to a variation of Padmasana (lotus pose), showing a more accessible alternative method for those who struggle with this pose. Rather than keeping knees close which can tighten the groins, we were asked to keep the knee wide with top of foot lying inside on the inner groin. If it’s not coming while sitting, then we would try supine; if not supine, then from Urdhva Prasarita Padasana at the wall. Most importantly, she emphasized we need to explore our way into getting in this pose and practice often. “It’s too essential to skip.”

It was particularly connective for me to see her work with students who have difficulties with this pose. One student demonstrated visible mobility in Baddha Konasana but was not able to avoid compromising her knee and ankle going into Padmasana. So Abhijata had this student do ParsvaKon to see where her hips were failing and found that one side’s hip external rotator was not working as it should. Then she looked for a frontal connection and found that her inner groin muscle was rock-hard. Yes, I can relate.

Earlier, she had guided us through a way to work on each side of these inner groins to get them to soften. Lying in Supta Baddha Konasana on a mat roll, she had us take one knee down to floor and then pulse the other knee away to the other side “to the floor!” This has been my go-to healing pose for my hip recovery to work on my tight groins.

Our last pose of class was Sarvangasana (shoulder balance.) She had us just go up. After 6 minutes, she offered those who were paining, to release and rest in Paschimottanasana. For those who wanted to stay, which she encouraged by stating that we stayed, we could experience the “song of Sarvangasana.” She gave us actions to focus on especially ways to lift our backs higher to keep the height.

At the 10-minute mark… “If pain is coming, come out; if you can stay, stay for the song of Sarvangasana.”

She offered the suggestion of doing ekapada and parsvikapada variations for any restlessness we might be experiencing. Then come back to Sarvangasana to see if the restlessness had disappeared and if the mind can become quiet… “can you hear Sarvangasana’s song?”

About the 15 minute mark is when I came out of the pose, though I did find a quietude for a few minutes before releasing. It has been some time since being in this level practice, and with my surgery healing, I didn’t want to push my energies as it was becoming an effort to stay. I did get a taste of what she was encouraging, moving beyond just being in the asana state of the pose, but experiencing the whole of yoga.

About 5 minutes later, our class was over yet some were still enjoying their “Song of Sarvangasana.”

Light on Sadhana

The best part about my commitment to blog every day at the convention is that it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the gems that stand out. Besides the mega class, this has been an amazing opportunity to come together, see practitioners from trainings or past conventions, or meet new friends, and of course, spend money on yoga books, props and clothing. Way too many temptations. Yesterday, they held a wonderful open marketplace for smaller vendors that included local live music to entice shoppers to shop more. It worked!

There’s so much being offered at this convention gathering experience, especially the mega classes being taught by Abhijata. She has such a mature, compassionate delivery of precise, clear instructions that transmit such effortless in our work… though you can hear some sound effects. This convention has been a gift for me as I am reacquainting myself with my new hip, getting to know something “not originally me” in my body.

This convention is my return to a “full” asana practice since my total hip replacement surgery only 45 days ago. My hip is doing remarkably well in its healing… though when sitting for a long periods of time or during the night, it’s energy becomes restless, calling for more attention. I know it will take time.

I’m fortunate that I had this surgery and my injury pain has been relieved. Now, my practice is about sensing reconstructed inner roadmap that will take me to healing. It’s easy for me to be over-confident, impatient, and even greedy in practice to return my prior state. I have to remember all the years I had spent with this discomfort has left a trail of imbalances. There’s much work to do. The best I can do is be present and open to these new sensations and be loving through my practice explorations.

On this 4th day of the convention, Abhijata took us through a beautiful practice of closed twists, which are tonics for back ailments. Though I found myself limited on range with the new hip side, I did get a taste of her intention on the other side. I especially enjoyed her playful connections to help us twist deeper and make our bindings. It is amazing how these closed twisting poses can make our abdomen feel lighter and back relaxed which she had us experience in Paripurna Navasana (full boat pose).

The afternoon practice was focused on pranayama, starting with a supported Savasana. She called that props our dharma as they provide guidance, support and can uplift us when we’re falling or failing. That is the true essence of dharma, to upright with service or duty. At this point in my practice, props are my trusted friend, giving me strength when I’m feeling unstable or just desiring deeper feedback. It’s wonderful that the convention offers a dedicated therapy area for those who need props for their practice.

After pranayama, Abhijata answered questions from the attendees and shared a film she helped assemble about her grandfather, B.K.S. Iyengar, called Light on Sadhana (practice). It was so great to see recorded interviews of Guruji laughing and smiling about his passion and love for teaching yoga. Following the class and film, I volunteered in the convention’s Archives which has been dedicated to Geetaji and all her dharma service to the practice of Yoga. I feel lucky to have been in Geeta’s class in Pune. We are so fortunate to have such passionate and loving shepherds lighting the way of Yoga.