Reflections on Geetaji’s 70th birthday convention, Yoganasasanum held at the Balewadi Stadium, Pune in India, from 1 December 2014 to 10 December 2014.
This blog is how I interpret the convention at one point in time. My thoughts may change on further reflection and access to the DVDs. By Marilyn Allen.
Before I even arrived in Pune, the planning and application process proved worthwhile. Registering, organising accommodation etc. and flights, gaining approval from my family and other obstacles were not plain sailing and there were many times when I doubted that I should embark on this trip. Most of all… WAS I GOOD ENOUGH TO ATTEND? I was so surprised by many outcomes: I found overwhelming support from my family to attend, despite all my doubts. I also had ongoing support from my friends at Clifton Hill Yoga Studio. They encouraged me, found solutions and gave me enormous amounts of advice. Their warmth and caring alone would carry me through any obstacles. The convention was open to anyone with 3+ years of experience. (I have 3.5!). I went off replacing my fears of ineptitude with the firm conviction to do yoga from my heart.
What happened next was an adventure beyond my hopes. I was taken right out of my comfort zone from day 0. The energy in India was the first awesome observation. Where do I start to make head or tail of this?
The convention was extremely well organised and technicalities were a breeze. Every moment became more exciting than the next. I felt united with the other 1200 attendees in our excitement and anticipation of the next 10 days. Geeta began with a welcome that mainly outlined Guruji’s participation in designing this convention. She said that he “made a promise that he would be here at the convention … he will be existing in our heart, brain, breath, and body… and this deep imprint will never go”. She continued that “once we have decided the path to follow Guruji, we should not give up: the honesty is from inside”. This convention was to practice asana as a preparation for pranayama. “To do pranayama you must understand that your body and your mind should become light. The energy existing in us gives a light to us. To enter pranayama we need to enter into our inner courage, a positive mind, and no darkness. First asana forms the base for savasana and then savasana is the base for pranayama.” (All quotes in this blog are selected from the 40+ DVD and CD recordings of the convention.)
Asana began and Geetaji would start with a certain pose, continue with some other poses and then return to the first pose and ask: “CAN YOU FEEL THE DIFFERENCE?” YES. This pattern continued pose after pose with so much change in quality and in awareness in such a short time. My mind was extremely alert, as if I were sitting an examination. I wanted to take in as much information as possible. I felt so elated.
This focus on the body had threads that were emphasized again and again, in the various poses, including:
- Opening of the armpits – which Geeta termed the “energy” centres of the body,
- Moving the dorsal spine IN and broadening the ribs – the technique was built on and progressed from day to day,
- Moving the shoulders down,
- Extending the body vertically and horizontally (-especially horizontally – e.g. broadening the chest and “Make yourself Fat”, opening the arms wider in urdhva hastasana or breathing into the side ribs, wide feet etc.),
- Not puffing the abdomen,
- Opening the backs of the calves, knees and thighs.
However, in the later days, she directed us more to awareness of all parts of the body: skin, muscles, bones, breath, brain, eyes, ears, cells. Her question was now: ”WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE?” We were asked to be curious about our practice all the time: e.g. am I underdoing the pose (shaking) or overdoing the pose (dizziness). We needed to continually question ourselves and explore. Pranayama needs even subtler attention. You have to feel the breath and the energy, and not just do the pranayama.
People were called on stage to do asana on most days. The difficulties these people had included: A buttock that would not go in in trikonasana, a fat person, a thin person, shaking, a skew walk, and a stiff older person. All those called up would leave the stage beaming with gratitude. I was initially afraid that she would call me on stage but it wasn’t long before I thought that I’d be honoured to have her personal attention, accompanied by the roar of a lion, or not!
The convention started with focus on the body and progressed to the mind and then to the soul. Geetaji outlined asanasthe (approach of yoga through the body) of the pose should always precede yogasthe (integration of the 8 petals of yoga): e.g. in supta padangastasana 2, the mind is initially on the leg that has moved to the side. However, the other leg should also have alert awareness … She called this the mother and father of the pose. Once you have this integration, you have asanasthe. Only then can yogasthe commence. Geetaji spoke of the energy in the body. E.g. doing badda konasana, then upavistha konasana then badda konasana again – we observed that one pose sends the energy and the other contains it. She asked us to become aware of this inner energy in preparation for pranayama. The skin was referred to very frequently. She quoted the sutras and talked about the soul at length.
We did at least 1 hour of pranayama almost every day. One of the days Geetaji spoke for 2 hours on many aspects of pranayama followed by 1 hour of actual pranayama practice. Despite my love for pranayama, it was the most exhausting day of the convention.
There was also a 2-hour afternoon program each day, which included very interesting lectures, film, Indian classical music, medical issues, research etc. provided by various individuals, including Abi, the granddaughter of Guruji. Geeta did one session of answering questions posed by attendees. I only attended the first 3 afternoon sessions. I was getting very tired and decided to pace myself and miss the remaining afternoon sessions. The afternoon sessions were good but there was a bit too much information overload for me. I had plenty to reflect on from the morning sessions and so went home to take some notes and also go exploring and shopping around Pune. The afternoon sessions are all recorded on CD’s, which I will listen to in the car soon.
Off the mat, I also had amazing experiences. I met so many interesting people from all over the world. This yogic crowd that I experience at Clifton Hill Yoga Studio is indeed the same good sort internationally. I saw a few of the people I follow on the net and I even saw Father Joe Pereira on one day, whom I hope will come back to Clifton Hill soon to conduct another workshop. I made two wonderful friends. One was a warm and kind Pune local attending the convention. We had quite a lot in common in our lives and we looked out for each other each day. Another friend I made is from Australia and less than half my age! She is a confident, dynamic, sparkling diamond who brightens up everyone’s day. We talked and talked yoga. We went together to restaurants and shops I would never have dared to or known to go to myself. It was an adventure. IT WAS FUN.
As part of the birthday celebrations, we all got an opportunity to meet Geetaji personally at the institute. She was dressed very elegantly in white. When I greeted her, I felt her serenity and she gave me a beautiful smile. I am still amazed at this wonderful opportunity of being in the same room as her, let alone being part of her energy and instruction for 10 great days. This convention is one of the top highlights of my life. As one participant asked during question time: Geeta, do you know how much we all love you? Thank you. Geetaji