By Shayna Ogden
I arrived in India keen to begin classes at RIMYI. I hadn’t been for four years and was eager to have my body opened and knowledge poured into it to facilitate further yoga self-discovery.
It was late Saturday afternoon, too late for a class, and the Institute is closed on Sundays.
So we (J.H. and myself) chose to attend a class conducted by Gulnaaz Dashti who has a school of her own about 15 minutes away from RIMYI. Gulnaaz was a student of Guruji’s in Pune for over 20 years. Some of you may know Gulnaaz from her recent trip to Australia where she taught classes in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and the Gold Coast.
Gulnaaz teaches in the manner of the Iyengars – straight down the line, dynamic, challenging, with a sharp eye for where each body goes wrong and with the method to fix it.
I hadn’t been a student in a yoga class since January when I last attended a class with my teacher P.L. in Sydney. It is such a joy, a blessing to voluntarily hand one’s body over to an experienced, knowledgeable, skilful teacher.
This joy has two facets. The first is the immense learning that happens when a student gives themselves wholly to the class and to the teacher. To the energy, the pace, the dynamism, the demands of the class and the teacher. It is as if one’s body is opened up and knowledge is poured into it. It is the student’s job to assimilate this knowledge, to absorb it, to let it soak into every pore, every cell of the body so that it becomes their own knowledge through direct experience. Once it becomes direct experience from the inside, it becomes wisdom. The knowledge has “to go into the blood” as Geeta said recently and then it becomes wisdom. This of course requires Tapas (work and effort) in the class. If someone has made the effort to teach something then the student has the responsibility, the obligation to work and ensure the information being taught is learnt.
The second aspect of the joy of attending a class is allowing someone else to take charge of the situation. This aspect involves surrender (Ishvara pranidhana) – to give oneself wholly to the teacher and go with the flow of the class. To let go of preconceived notions of how the class should be, how the asana should be. When you surrender and let someone else be in charge of deciding what is taught, how it is taught and the pace at which it is taught you can concentrate on your own learning rather than your own wants.
Gulnaaz however, asked the students as to what they would like to do. From the back of the room, D. McN volunteered ‘kurmasana’. Turtle pose. Inwardly I groaned. I had been nursing a sore left hip for the last six months and had been finding forward bends, in particular the leg behind the head poses or ‘body knottings’ difficult and painful. So without any mucking around, she got on with it, delving directly into the subject matter of turtles. She explained that the way to access kurmasana and its family of poses is to really spread and open the back of the thighs.
So that is just what we did. Front thigh to back thigh – dynamically, intensely. I know the importance of this basic point and have been doing it since starting yoga over 20 years ago. I thought I understood it completely. But no.
As with many of the Pune teachers, their method is so direct, so succinct, so demanding, so challenging that by necessity, you open the back of the thighs like never before. We took the side trunk forward of the inner thigh and kept reaching the arms further and further under the legs, all the while opening the back of the thighs. By the end of the class, the pain in my left hip had completely disappeared. The work had gone so deep into the hip joints that the catch I had been experiencing had been released. And this was only my first class in Pune.
I reflected that during the class it was as if I was opening the back of the thighs for the first time, a complete beginner. This is the best way to approach any yoga class – with a beginners mind, no matter the level of knowledge, expertise or achievement, always cultivate a beginners mind – without bias, prejudice or predetermined ideas as to how the class should be. In this way we can be open to learn what is being taught rather than being blinded and closed to new information. When we cultivate this open approach in class, it sticks to some degree and we cultivate an open approach in life, helping to lessen our innate prejudice and bias.
The whole point of teaching is that students learn – about asana, discipline, work, effort, self, surrender, their own bodies and about their own minds.
To give myself wholly as a student in a class to a highly skilled knowledgeable teacher who can teach me those things (and not just asana – turtles or not) is indeed a joy, a blessing so I can be immersed completely in the subject of yoga.