Step inside my mind

Today I am sharing with you some of my recent ponderings.

  1. We could learn a lot from bats

Hanging around at In Sabina, Italy, on the recent ashtanga/yin holiday
Hanging around on an Iyengar swing on the recent ashtanga/yin holiday at In Sabina, Italy

I like being upside down. And I would love an Iyengar swing at home. It could be the norm. We could all hang upside down and natter about our days. We could even sleep upside down! This would avoid duvet wars and accidental encroachment onto the wrong side of the bed (yes, I am settling into a life of co-habitation).

I appreciate that eating meals upside down would be a challenge but our spines would be so long! All that space between vertebrae! I really do love creating space.

  1. Just say no

Those Grange Hill kids were onto something (watch their video). As well as space in our bodies, let’s try and create space in our diaries. It’s easy to fill our time with things that aren’t necessary and don’t serve us. Let’s take a step back and think about our priorities. Who do I really want to spend time with? Will this conversation/coffee/day trip/film about strippers* make me happy?

  1. There’s a time and a place for song lyrics

From an early age I’ve loved music. I never missed Bruno Brooks and his mullet on Radio 1 and I’m one of those people that has a song for everything. I grew up with lots of music in the house and it doesn’t take much for me to burst into song.

A yoga class is not the time for singing pop. But I find it so hard to resist! When I ask students, “how deep is your breath?” I hear the Bee Gees (or Take That) asking about love. When there’s talk of letting go, I’m transported to Disney’s land of ice and Elsa.


I say no to singing in class and filling diaries. But I say yes to bats and making space.

What will you say yes to?


*Magic Mike XXL is on general release at cinemas across the country. I said no.

Arambol living

I’ve now been in Arambol for almost two weeks and I must say I’m really enjoying it. Friends at home said that I should avoid Arambol (“rat infested” was how one buddy described it but I’m yet to see the evidence). They suggested I head further south to quieter Palolem and Patnem but I came here specifically to do the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Course.

Local faces
People here are friendly. It probably helps that loads of us doing the course are staying at the same place. We’re always bumping into each other – on the beach, in restaurants – and it’s nice. I’m beginning to recognise many familiar faces and a lot of the long-stayers are living at this end of the beach as it’s more relaxed than up near the cliff.

Having my breakfast in a hastily thrown together bamboo beach restaurant this morning, I bumped into Zuzu. I first met him a few days ago at a bonfire night party. He’s in his fifties, Dutch and this is his ninth winter here. He’s an interesting character. With ginger Afro hair and a beaming smile, he told me that he works in ‘musical theatre’. This means he invents crazy acts to take to music festivals. He proudly told me about his latest act in which a small carriage is made to look like a UFO. It plays Japanese electro music whilst he and a couple of friends are painted green and “dance like aliens”. His words, not mine.

He organises a carnival event on the beach every February and last year it didn’t go according to plan. Some girls were dancing topless and a photo somehow made it onto the front page of a Goan newspaper with a headline suggesting debauchery. I bet that edition sold a lot of copies. Zuzu told me how the police tried to prosecute him for organising a pornographic event. Not unsurprisingly he had to lay low for a while after that.

There’s also Radasi, a Bolton lass who I met at an ashtanga class when I first arrived. She talks about “letting the universe decide” and calls people “love” with a husky voice that perhaps can only be found in Bolton. She teaches yoga at a centre on Koh Phang An in Thailand and we know some of the same people from The Sanctuary. She’s preparing to go on a pilgrimage with her Indian guru and is a good giggle.

“Mamma Mia” it’s Leo the Iyengar teacher
Our five-day course for ‘continuing students’ started today. Whilst I was disappointed that we haven’t got Sharat, the guy that set up the centre, Italian/Argentine Leo who is one of his students, is doing a fine job. Putting us down at every opportunity, attempting to break our ego and make us more humble, it’s an authentic Iyengar experience.

Every class he’s exclaiming “Mamma Mia!” – shocked at our inability to remember a detail or stretch adequately. I’d heard that Sharat was the same. A friend of mine said that he’d once told a woman in class that she was too fat to do a pose.

I’m learning lots about alignment and that every small adjustment in the body counts. He’s making me focus on my turned-out feet and had us doing urdva dhanurasana with a belt around our thighs. That was two days ago and I’m still aching.

20121110-154634.jpg Urdva dhanurasana (from Yoga Journal)

My harmonium efforts
And my lessons are continuing (read a previous post about my lessons). After accidentally showing the entire family a photo of some naked bottoms from my yoga training course in Thailand, I thought I’d blown it – living up to the stereotype from the front of that Goan newspaper. But either they didn’t realise what they were seeing on my iPad before I rapidly flicked to the next picture whilst inwardly dying a thousand deaths, or they were willing to forgive me.

This is a family who approvingly said that I dress well because I cover my shoulders and I always wear knee-length trousers. And then I give them naked bottoms. Shock. Horror. And no, I am not sharing the picture on here.

I’ll share a clip of Babaji playing when the connection’s good enough to upload it.

In less than a week’s time my parents land in Kerala. I can’t wait!

Mr Iyengar: In the presence of a living legend

A funny conversation in a shopping centre
Yesterday early evening I was in a shopping centre in the suburbs of Pune making the most of the free wifi. I sat on a comfy sofa having a chai listening to Rhianna sing about umbrellas again. A young Indian guy asked me if the seat opposite was free. He couldn’t have been more than 20 and soon introduced himself as Dave. This is the conversation we had:

Dave: Where are you from?
Me: London England (a well rehearsed response)
Dave: I have a friend studying at Kingston. You know it?
Me: Yes. [I keep head down, tapping on my iPad trying to stop yet another Indian guy talking to me]

A few minutes later…

Dave: Why are you sitting here in this shopping centre?
Me: There’s a yoga place around the corner that I wanted to visit – the Iyengar Institute.
Dave: Oh I think my mum used to go there.
Me: Your mum went there? She studied with Iyengar? Wow, that’s amazing.
Dave: Is it?
Me: Yeah. You have to have been studying Iyengar yoga for eight years just to get in there. BKS Iyengar, the man behind Iyengar yoga, he started it there. Just a five minute walk from here. I went there this afternoon and sat in on a class he was teaching. People from all over the world come to study with him… and your mum went there!
Dave: Oh ok. She has been doing yoga for years. So what clubs do you go to in London?
Me: I don’t really go clubbing much.
Dave: What?! You live in London and you don’t go clubbing? There’s some of the best clubs in the world there.

[I smiled and then carried on typing on my iPad.]

A few minutes later he tried again…

Dave: Where are you staying in Pune?
Me: Koregaon Park.
Dave: You’ve come all the way here from KP? That’s so far!
Me: It isn’t really. People travel a lot further to study with Iyengar.
Dave: Have you been to any parties or clubs in KP? All the best ones are over there.
Me: The only dancing I’ve been doing is in a maroon robe, in a place where people follow Ming the Merciless.*

* I would have loved to have said this out loud but the poor boy already thought I was a nutter. See my previous post if this doesn’t make any sense to you.

Isn’t it funny how people can be motivated by such different things. He’d visit my country to go clubbing, I’d visit his to do down-facing dog.

I witness Mr Iyengar in action
Let me tell you about my experience that afternoon with Mr BKS Iyengar or ‘Guruji’ to his students. For those yoga virgins out there, BKS Iyengar is one of the great grandaddies of yoga. He’s 93 and his impact on yoga cannot be underestimated. A lot of yoga taught throughout the world is influenced by Iyengar – with its focus on alignment and the use of props such as blocks, bolsters and straps – and Iyengar classes are very popular.

He set up the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune in 1975 and you must have been studying Iyengar yoga for eight years to be considered for a place.

I turned up and was greeted by a kind-faced middle-aged lady. She started telling me how I couldn’t take any classes but I stepped in to say that I was in Pune and I just wanted to look around if possible. “Of course! You have done a very good thing,” she beamed at me. “Let me just finish my tea and I will give you a tour.”

I sat gawping at trophies and awards in cabinets. The walls were full of photos of Guruji, certificates, newspaper and magazine articles and photos of groups of students in baggy t-shirts and small shorts that had elastic around the thighs.

“Ok, we go”, she said, placing her teacup onto its saucer for the final time. I followed her through a corridor past yet more pictures. We went up a curved flight of stairs and she told me to sit on them. The staircase was open and, once I sat down, I had a full view of the semi-circular practice hall.

The lady told me that a remedial class was taking place and that I could stay and watch for as long as I liked. There were probably 30 students in the space along with a staggering array of wooden blocks, stools, bolsters, cushions, metal bars and ropes hanging from the walls. Around the top of the semicircle were row upon row of black and white photos of a young Iyengar in asanas.

People busied themselves putting others into postures and there, at the front perched on the edge of a platform was the great man himself. The lady pointed out his daughter – a middle-aged lady who hobbled around in an orange sari, and his granddaughter – a well built girl in high-waisted lime green shorts, t-shirt, and a long black plait down her back. Both she and her mother were kept busy taking instructions from Guruji, putting a man with bandaged legs into various asanas.

I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was smaller than I imagined and did not look all of his 93 years. White hair trailed down to his shoulders and his eyebrows looked like clumps of cotton wool. He wore a white lungi and a white grandad shirt.

He coughed often and looked frail but you would never mess with him. It was lovely to see the bandaged man touch his feet as a sign of respect. Guruji batted him away.

I watched the class for about an hour. I have never seen so many props in an asana hall. The man was put into savasana with three rows of three bolsters placed down his bandaged legs plus weights – at Guruji’s strict instructions. Throughout the hall students were in different poses, working in twos. They were hanging upside down in ropes on the walls, lying on their backs with legs through chairs, dangling in various supported backbends… you name it, they were doing it.

It was great to see people doing some of the things that Michel did with us on our teacher training. He has studied at the Institute with Mr Iyengar.

Guruji then looked at the clock and got up to leave. His granddaughter was instantly at his side and led him out of the room. People were told they had time for one more asana. Soon after, I left and found myself chatting to Dave in the shopping centre.

I felt so blessed to have been in the same room as Guruji. Even at his age, he was so in control, knowing exactly how he wanted the props set up and the energy in the room was buzzing. It was such a special experience and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

And I’m sure he looked at me on at least one occasion…