Meetings with Remarkable Men: B.K.S. Iyengar
My life-long dream was to meet the greatest yoga teacher in the world. I’m living it this month at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India
BY RENEE TAVARES — I guess you could say that B.K.S. Iyengar is my “personal god,” not that I believe in a god as an individual. But in my world, he’s about as close as you get.
I started doing yoga in my twenties, and taught my daughter, now an instructor in her own right, when she was a young child.
I continued to practice and study through the next decades, and B.K.S. Iyengar was a guiding light. The single figure who made hatha yoga accessible to the West, he even gets profiled in this day and age, at 89, in Vanity Fair magazine.
I saved up weeks of vacation, and some life-savings, to spend the month of October at his school in Pune, India. I dish from my journal . . .
My fellow traveler from California, Claudia (right, in the photo), and I registered for yoga two days ago, and that was an experience in itself. When we walked in to the institute, Mr Iyengar was sitting down at the desk just looking at applications. He doesn’t look at you, probably because he is used to being stared at a lot. The registrar at the institute was very curt, and asked for all these things which no one tells you about. Then it took two hours to find a xerox machine to make copies of our passport.
Friday evening and Sat a.m. we had 2-hour classes from Geetaji (Iyengar’s daughter). What an amazing teacher she is. These are truly the best classes I have ever taken.
There are at least 150 of us in the class. Friday included men, and Wednesday and Saturday are women only. There is no space to put anything but our mat. Geetaji refers to our mat as our ‘house’.
We finally got to the ‘kick ass asanas” (Andy thanks for that). I remember thinking, as we held one pose for what seemed like an eternity, so this is what torture feels like. She makes us work every fiber and cell in our bodies, and just using words. She herself cannot do some of the poses, but her words and energy get us into these complex asanas. Claudia, Momi, Debra (my room mates) and I try to write down the sequences so we can practice, and maybe teach them, later. Geetaji is really a brilliant teacher.
In our Saturday a.m. class, Guruji (Iyengar) was practicing his own yoga while we were doing class. I think he must get a lot of enjoyment from watching us struggle!
It’s nice when it rains because its a little easier to breath. The pollution here is very bad. We have learned it’s best to stay off the roads at traffic hours, which is no fun in a rickshaw, which is how one gets around. The rickshaws are very low . . . just close enough to the exhaust pipes of the buses they pull right up behind. One really has to look beyond all of the people, horrible traffic, noise (the horn is their weapon) and terrible pollution to enjoy it here. We have learned to wrap our scarves around our mouth and nose while on the road, that’s what a lot of people do because the main mode of transport here is a scooter.
Today, our 7 a.m. yoga class was with Prashant, Mr. Iyengar’s son. Today was about how to use our breath to be in the asana; he doesn’t give a lot of instructions — very unusual for an Iyengar teacher!
Well, got to go get our Ayurvedic massages at 4 pm upstairs from the German Bakery.
Both Guruji and Geetaji were at practice today, and it really makes me work harder when they are around. They are always surrounded by their other Indian teachers, usually pretty young, who scramble around getting them their props. I never knew that props could be arranged and used in so many ways.
I’m also feeling inspired to teach again. I’m surrounded by teachers from all over the world. Geetaji always teaches like she is teaching to teachers because she knows that anyone who has made space in their life to come all the way to Pune is pretty serious.
We had yoga class this morning, and 7 a.m. seemed very early! Class was with Prashant — and I got a yelled at for doing the wrong pose. He keeps repeating Trikonasana over and over, talking a lot about the breath. Then he has everyone go to the ropes.
There are about 10 ropes and 80 people in class, so we all take turns, and in the confusion I did Trikonasana instead of utthita parsvakonasana. In no time at all I was spotted, and set right about which pose I should do.
They like to yell a lot here, a sort of crowd control thing I suppose. Then I did a great practice from 10-11:45, so I feel great.
We had lunch at Shiv Sagar, an Indian restaurant chain. A lot of these restaurants serve Mexican food. Momi (my housemate) was feeling brave, and ordered it. Natch, it tasted totally weird. So she ended up eating everyone else’s food. I just stick to the local cuisine, which I love. The Indian spices are so great, but I know my body is probably infused with them at this point