Thursday, December 7, 2017

EXPLORING THE UNKNOWN, by Erin Shawgo

This December I am spending a month in deep study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India with two fellow teachers from Detroit, Michigan. While planning my trip to Pune, I knew it would open me up in ways I could not yet understand. I knew it would nourish me, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have been craving this trip. Space to focus on my (r)evolution, to expand my sattvic state, to move closer and closer towards an understanding of my ātman(soul) while away from the distractions of daily life.

Travel here was long and enduring and tested my capacity for stillness and patience. In my day-to-day life I rarely sit still, in fact I’m known for my constant movement and need for tasks. There’s nothing like being trapped on an airplane for 7+ hours to challenge my old habits. Little did I know, even the trip here would feed my initial reflections spurred on in my first asana classes.

           I arrived to my home for the month with my two travel companions after more than 3 days of travel and airport waiting. It was dawn, but the streets were crowded with traffic and pedestrians and the air filled with tropical birdcalls. Dawn provides a dreamy transition while travelling into a new time zone, a new place, and a new reality. After resting for a few hours we made our way to the Institute to register for classes and attend our first Prānāyāma (breath work) class. Much of that class was a blur in my jet-lagged state, but I left feeling filled with gratitude for being in a practice hall that I’ve seen pictures of and heard stories about for years. BKS Iyengar’s presence seemed to radiate from the walls lined with his photos.

           The following day, I became reacquainted with Abhijata Sridhar, BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter, as she led us through an engaging class focused on exploring the unknown. She reflected to us that as we age we lose our ability to imagine, we place limits around what we are comfortable with. This is not the path towards transformation. She pushed us past these comfort zone barriers as we brought our hand under our feet in Parivrtta Trikonāsana (revolved triangle) and rocked back and forth with split legs in Śīrṣāsana (head balance). “What are you afraid of?” she asked in response to our hesitancy. “When I ask the children to reach their finger tips to the sky in Urdhva Hastāsana (upward reaching arms), they jump in their attempts to reach it.” We confronted old habits of complacency that we mask with caution as we explored the unknown and the fear that surrounds it through our asana.

Abhijataji shared a story of Guruji from when he was visiting China. He presented the audience with an empty water glass and a full water glass. One glass he shared was ready to be filled, while the other if filled any further would overflow. Her request to us, if we come to class clinging to our old habits, what we think we know, there is no room for new wisdom. Be the empty glass, ready and receptive to any incoming knowledge. Prashant Iyengar, son of BKS Iyengar, carried a similar theme throughout the course of his 7am class. Prashantji’s class was unlike any yoga class I have encountered, a mixture of musings, lecture, long asana holds, and space for deep inquiry. He encouraged us to contemplate the niyama  (self-discipline) of śaucha (cleanliness) in regards to our consciousness. With humor he compared how śaucha in our physical bodies includes defecation, elimination as healthy process.  But, with our minds, he commented, we are constipated. We take in more and more information, but rarely do we intentionally “defecate” or eliminate information from the mind. How, he asked, can we make elimination a sacred act? This is essential before working our way towards meditation (dhyāna), our 7th limb from Patañjali’s sutras. He chastised us, saying that for years, Guruji taught us what we wanted to know, not what we needed. Students visited and questioned him about mastering asana and how to structure national associations, when they could have been asking him about yoga. Instead we clung to these distractions. What do you need to eliminate to stay on the path of yoga and how can you do it through asana? he asked.

            So, a week in and I am filled with questions. What is my unknown? Where do I fall into patterns that limit me or prevent my growth? What do I need to eliminate in order to move closer to transformation? I explore these questions in daily conversations with fellow students, in my personal asana and pranayama practice and study. I am so grateful to be here. I feel full of gratitude and awe at the teachings I take in each day and look forward to the days to come.

GWI-SEOK'S LETTER FROM PUNE, 2017

Traveling abroad on a tight budget looks something like this:
  • Red-eye Greyhound from Detroit to Chicago, then
  • Blue line metro to O’Hare, then flying 
  • Chicago to Delhi for the longest nonstop flight ever, another flight from
  •  Delhi to Hyderabad, and finally
  •   Hyderabad to Mumbai, to be greeted by
  •  Shuttle bus to Pune, through middle-of-the-night traffic jams, to our lovely rental home.


As exhausted as I was after days of travel, the moment we arrived in Pune, I felt a rush of energy. I immediately attributed it to BKS Iyengar’s presence in the city that was his home since his teenage years. Guruji’s shakti extends beyond the spiritual realm into the earthly realm of a December dawn as we finally reached our house. My heart swelled nearly to the point of tears. I was ready to head over to the Iyengar Institute, but I forced myself to lie down, knowing that I would crash and burn by afternoon if I didn’t get at least a few hours of sleep.

Guruji’s shakti and legacy extend beyond Pune, of course, all the way to places like Detroit, and our yoga co-op home. But it feels strongest and most palpable here. This is my 6th stay in Pune, and each time, it feels more and more like a spiritual home to me. Iyengar practitioners come from all the continents to study with the Iyengar family and to delve deep into their own practice, but based on many conversations, not everyone loves coming here.

The air quality has gotten worse over the years, though the dog poop on the sidewalk has decreased. Now it seems the rainy season never quite ends, interspersing periods of dusty dryness. Prices have skyrocketed, creating a bigger and bigger gap between the haves and have-nots, while expecting the foreigners coming to the Institute to shell out more and more.


Still, I persist. I find a way by hook or crook to get here every 2 years like clockwork. I keep my living expenses ridiculously low so that my extremely modest teaching income goes right back into Iyengar Yoga study and travel. Walking through the gates of RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute), I am reminded of all the transformative moments I have experienced here: Guruji’s grand entry into the practice hall every morning, often at the elbow of his granddaughter, Abhijata, and later, with his great granddaughter in his arms; practicing in the same room as Guruji, while keeping one eye on him; so many teaching gems, each worth a lifetime of contemplation; and quiet afternoons in the library with Guruji at his desk.

There have been just as many deeply humbling moments as well, where I felt shaken to the core, coming to fully face my own ignorance and lack of understanding. But the practice of Iyengar Yoga teaches us that THAT is where the transformative power lies. “What I know is not important,” Guruji reminds us, “It is what I don’t know that is important,” while encouraging us to “Go from the known to the unknown, the finite to the infinite.”

And so I wake early to the songs of tropical birds and the sounds of sweeping, and nourish myself with tulsi tea, and homemade yogurt with pomegranate and a mini-banana, head over to the Institute to crack myself open, again and again. Oh, those hamstrings, yikes, that stiff thoracic spine, the ache of ropey groins, and that clogged, tamasic mind. I do feel “hopeless, helpless, and hapless” much of the time, as Prashantji chides.

But there are moments of sattvic clarity, and I live for these moments, when I glimpse my own eternal infinite, and see right through the limitations of day-to-day life. It might be in the stillness after a long Śīrṣāsana, or getting deeper than I ever thought possible in an impossible pose, or a sudden realization that makes me laugh out loud.

I extend unending gratitude to all my teachers and students over the years that have facilitated my study here. May I open myself to fully absorb the experience to bring back all I can to share with you.

With love and humility,

Gwi-Seok

Saturday, October 8, 2016

10/7/2016 Co-op Meeting Minutes

IYD Cooperative Meeting Agenda and Minutes 10/7/16, 6:30pm- 8:30pm
  1. Welcome and Introductions
    • Share names--Gwi-Seok, Erin, Kelley, Nicci, Suai, Beata, Darlene, Chris B, Thelma (notes--Gwi-Seok)
    • Review agenda
  2. Updates on space and business status
We need to move out of 10021 by mid Nov. How to arrange entry. Consult with Becky Lloyd at Audubon Yoga. L3C papers filed. EIN acquired and bank account will be opened Monday.
  1. Discuss Cooperative structure
    • Committees, roles, chairs and members, immediate tasks
      1. Finance--banking, bills, payroll, Punchpass
        1. Financial update: After rent was paid, we presently have a total of $1391.15 ($250.15 that we have access to; $1,141 in checks that haven’t been deposited). - AA
        2. Nicci will look into switching to PP and check w Michele about payroll and mindbody reconciliation.
        3. Darlene is joining. Angela and Nicci will let Darlene know where she can fill in.
        4. Darlene will check with Angela about bookkeeping system.
      2. Administration--legal forms, insurance, day-to-day functions, events
        1. Is work-study still relevant? Only for occasional projects, not day-to-day functions. Needs to be approved by co-op. Carpentry, maintenance (?), professional services (accounting, legal work). Kelley will ask lawyer friend for referrals re legal work and accounting.
        2. Fundraising/Events committee--Gwi-Seok, Rashmi, Erin, Darlene (food), Nicci, Gwi-Seok
          1. Fri 16 December--BKS Iyengar birthday celebration--idea to make it a big event to showcase all CIYTs, gather all CIYTs in region, big media splash. Subcommittee will meet and plan.
        3. Community Partnership committee--Thelma, Kelley, Gwi-Seok
          1. Events outside the studio. Examples in the past: Porous Borders, Hamtr public schools, Detroit is the New Black, Eastern Mkt flash mob
      3. Site--moving out of 10021, cleaning/laundry, props maintenance, store, beautification
        1. Darlene, Beata, and Thelma are laundry volunteers and will work out a system
        2. Needs: cabinet/shelf, baskets/bins, tablet or laptop (Nicci has a friend), shoe rack, rug runners
        3. Is the Square in Michele’s account? Nicci will check.
        4. Space Sharing subcommittee:
          1. White noise machine--Darlene will bring
          2. Check with Meiko and Michele about kitchen schedule (Gwi-Seok).
          3. Homespun Hustle wants to rent space for storage and workshops. 65/35 split for workshops? $ ___ for storage rental space.
          4. Darlene renting space for acupuncture--8-10 hours/week, need storage space for table etc, $60/session, do a 65/35 split
          5. Gwi-Seok will chair this committee.
      4. Media and Communications--social media, website, newsletters, printed material
        1. Haven’t followed up with anyone right now. Erin, Gwi-Seok & I, have been maintaining website, newsletters and social media. In regards to posters, print/digital media and photography/videography, what is desired? What seems like priorities for this committee? After knowing this, I can reach out to those who have signed up to help in those ways. - AA
          1. HGS: talked to Julia Cuneo and Kelley about making a general postcard and flier. Will continue cultivating convo with them. Also talked to Kelley about a brochure describing the co-op (future project).
        2. Chris sees the space as good potential for privates in the afternoons.
        3. Groupon? Nicci and Darlene will crunch the numbers. Interest in taking it down. Alternatives? Darlene “First Friday Free.” Pay it forward bulletin board.
        4. Chris: who are the influencers in the community? Who are the leaders who will bring people? Have clear ways to communicate what Iyengar Yoga is. Call ourselves exclusively Iyengar Yoga to distinguish ourselves from generic yoga.
        5. Revolving testimonials on the website.
        6. Focus group with our students or survey.
        7. Kelley--radio spots. Will talk to boyfriend about getting us on his radio show.
        8. Print and online publications:
          1. Natural Awakenings--6-8 week lead time
          2. Ferndale Friends--free listing
          3. Hamtramck News
          4. Metro Times
        9. Invite media here for a special class--BKS Iyengar’s birthday
  2. Membership structure--give details later
      1. $50/basic membership
      2. $200+/owner members with 6-10 hours labor/month and end-of-year profit sharing (80% of net profit? what about $100/year, 2 hours labor/month, 20% of net profit? Or some such formula based on hours contributed? Because I think there are folks who do NOT have 6-10 hours/month to give, but still want to be involved. HGS)
  3. Decision-making process--not discussed but organizational chart draft here
  4. Values and Vision for Cooperative (maybe set separate date--mini-retreat in Nov? invite all members?)
  5. Next meeting date Fri 28 Oct 7pm

Future topics for discussion:

  • Pricing structure of classes - I’ve had a handful of people in the last couple weeks tell me that they would like to start coming, but think the cost of our classes is too high, I know we’ve talked about this over and over again as teachers, but maybe this would be a good topic to introduce to the co-op at some point - ES
    • I would be open to this conversation as well. Maybe a conversation, for retreat. - AA

Monday, September 26, 2016

Got a Minute? Do a Pose! Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (upward pressing legs)

A great pose to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Not appropriate for menstruation or pregnancy. Put a blanket under your elbows if your arms don't touch the floor. You could also put your hands under your buttocks to make the pose a bit easier and to relieve any strain in your back.