Before I begin to share my experiences about the workshop, I would like to give some input about the teacher, Rita Keller.
The western World of Yoga does not need any introduction to Rita Keller. She is an Advanced Senior certified Iyengar yoga teacher from Germany with over 48 years of Yoga practice and teaching experience. She started the practice of yoga at the age of 18 and Iyengar yoga at the age of 22 in London. A year later, she moved to Pune to learn directly from Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar. Since then she never looked back.
She is highly revered as one of the stalwarts in establishing and spreading the knowledge imparted by Guruji in most of the European countries. She is a teacher, teacher trainer and a guide to many students who lookout to establish their practice in Iyengar yoga. More importantly she is a very humble, friendly and a modest human being. I learned many things from her in these short interactions with her in couple of years. I love the way she meet the new comers. She is a heart winner. She greets each and every participant personally. She is a master in eradicating the fear or nervousness of being a newbie. This helps in building confidence among the students.
Guruji had a vision for Bellur, his birth place. He wanted to help the people of Bellur by providing them the very basic amenities like education, employment, medicine and impart yoga to the younger generations for their wellbeing. He wanted to build a school, hospital and yoga center for them. Ever since, he shared this with Rita Keller, she is working relentlessly to fulfill the vision of Guruji. If I am not wrong, she is conducting Iyengar yoga workshops from the year 2009 with foreign students from Europe and America to raise funds and help the trust in fulfilling the dreams of Guruji on Bellur.
It was in the year 2012, I learnt about her workshop and finally participated last year in 2017.
The group that went last year - I, Tulsi, Raghavendra, Virupaksha, Rajaram were so impressed with her teachings that we were eagerly waiting for her return to Bellur and making our savings for the workshop.
Last year she was here for 8 days but this year she took a long intensive of 19 days. This changed all our calculations. The expenditure for us now is two times more than the previous year.
After much negotiations with Mr. Kishore and Mr. B. Raghu, it was agreed on Rs. 2500/- per day for Indian students that include food, accommodation in a dormitory and tuition fee. That means Rs. 47,500 for 19 days. It cost me over 1 lakh (including travel and other expenses) with my wife accompanying for 19 days which is extreme for Indian students, even for the higher income people. We would have studied a minimum of 6 months in Pune with all sorts of expenditure with that amount.
Since I was eagerly waiting for this workshop for a year, I decided to participate at least a week if not all. Fortunately few days before the registration I received some money from my father that was equivalent to the total expenditure of the workshop. So I registered for total 19 days. Few of my friends from Telangana and Maharashtra have stepped back on learning about the expenditure. Finally 6 from Hyderabad, Raghavendra, Mohit, Gaurav, Sridevi, Tulsi, I and Virupaksha from Ballari managed to go for the event.
Blessings of our Teacher:
The difficult part was to skip my teacher Zarna Mohan's intensive in Rishikesh that coincided with Rita Keller's workshop. The announcement came in after I spread the word about the Rita Keller's workshop to my fellow mates.
I was little nervous on how my teacher would respond to this; as half of the students of our class were willing to visit Bellur. A great relief came after discussing the issue with her. She had no issues at all. In fact she met Rita Keller in Pune and said that her students are coming to her workshop in Bellur. Moreover, she was worried and concerned about our expenditure for the workshop. This was like a blessing for us. We are fortunate to have a teacher like her.
This workshop was an eye opener for many of us. It taught us how much we still have to work to understand the depth of Iyengar yoga. Now I understood the words of Geetaji when she said, "one has to bring effortful effortlessness in the practice." Without understanding the effort it is not possible to understand the effortlessness. The very theme of the workshop was to create the 'softness' in all postures irrespective of how advance the posture is.
The last year during a conversation with Rita Keller I asked, how important are those advance postures Guruji performed in "Light on yoga" like difficult arm balances, topsy- turvy and other difficult poses where body is contorted to a great level. She smiled and said, off course they are important. People think difficult before they attempt. If one is ready and practices with hard work and with some intelligence one can master them.
If I remember correctly, last year she tried to explain about Taitirya Upanishad and how Iyengar yoga is based on this Upanishad. The major focus in asanas were on the Earth Element and Annamaya Kosha. This year, she continued from where she left before; rewinding and reminding the previous lessons from time to time. The focus was on Space, Earth and Air Elements this year. We have never understood the importance of these elements coordinating with the feet and hand movements while doing the asanas. It is for the first time we understood this clear, how important are these hand and feet movements in every asana whether simple or difficult and how these actions quieten the mind and bring softness in the pose. I was able to do or at least attempt some of the postures that I felt could never be possible to me. I clearly understood, if done with proper understanding and in a right manner it is certainly not very scary. At least, I overcome the fear of doing those asanas.
The beauty of Rita Keller's teaching is that she prepares you so well, that you don't feel any hardship in the end. Sometimes, I ended up doing certain things wondering how did that happen! She always keeps you at comfort level but that doesn't mean she lets you relax. I wondered the way she used to rush to all corners of the hall observing and adjusting wherever it is required.
From the very first class with Rita Keller, I got the feel of Gita Iyengar's teachings I experienced in Yoganusasanam. One can say, she is the softer version of Gitaji but she is as intense as her. Softly intense may be. Very interesting part of her personality is that she is very energetic and animated. We still remember some of her mannerisms, "look at those beautiful toes; they are sleeping! Please...! Please...! Please....!Do it for me!, Ooooiiii! Oh Goodieee! and so on.
Takeaway's from the Worskhop:
Rita Keller was in Bellur this time for three weeks to teach Junior I, II and III. All sorts of participants were there in the group from senior to junior practitioners and everyone has got something out of her sessions.
For me I think, I understood how much I need to practice and how I have to practice to progress further. When you work under a World class teacher like Rita Keller with the volume of experience under her belt and the way she carries herself, there is certainly something to learn.
For me the most outstanding part was the clarity I got in Pranayama. The Pranayama sessions were so clear and precise, I never understood the methodology this clear before. I was not able to establish in my Pranayama practice so far and now I realized why my mind used to wander while practicing it. My humble thanks to Rita madam for her wonderful teaching.
Again it is the same with asanas. Though, I must say intellectually knew the actions that she taught with feet and hand movements but never understood this clear. It is not that she taught something that nobody has taught before. I think the way she presented the subject I guess is what made the difference. She I think has a unique knack of teaching which haven't seen in many. I am basically a slow learner. I understand things late and slow. Rita Keller has a unique way of teaching. I haven't seen any other teacher teaching yoga on board and paper. She used to write down on board or paper and sometimes even draw the images about the brief summary of what is she going to present, explain it and then she teaches. Again before she begins the session she used to take the feedback and questions from previous session and continue after clarifying them. This is of great help to a slow learner like me.
She taught some very interesting sequences on the jet lag, mental fatigue, depression and High blood pressure etc. She shared lot of information and her experiences on women issues during menstruation and pregnancy. The pregnancy session on Virupaksha as a pregnant woman was very funny and enlightening. She named different asanas and asked Virupaksha to do them with 8 months pregnancy. By this she tried to practically explain what asanas can be done and what not in a very humorous way.
Being a senior teacher trainer, Rita Keller gave lot of input on how to teach students at different levels and also to help people suffering from ailments. She taught us very fine details of teaching starting from the proper use of props to teaching without touching the students unless it is really essential. As some of us from Hyderabad have began to teach the beginners and also assisting our teacher in Therapy classes, those lessons were really helpful.
Festivities and other Activities in Bellur:
This year, we were in Bellur during the festive season of Sankranti which is basically a festival of farmers celebrating the harvesting season. There were many cultural activities in the village as well as the school in the premises. Entire Bellur campus came to life on the Sankranti night as we all sang and danced. The memorable moments of the night were all ladies cheering the united dhoti team of men and all dancing together in the yoga hall after fire ceremony. Students of the school gave some cultural performances during the Republic day of India and yoga demonstrations as well. Apart from this we had great time exploring the beautiful countryside views during our trip to Melukote and exciting experience with monkeys at Lalbagh in Bengaluru.
The group regularly used to visit Patanjali Temple in the Village to offer puja and chant 108 names of Patanjali. In between we visited the adjacent Rama Temple, Om Shakti Temple and Cheluva Narayana Temple in Melukote. Rita Keller is very much interested in knowing the "Sthala Puranam" the legend of the temple, its architectures, mantras etc.
We happened to visit Mr. Padmanabhachari, the sculpture who make the idols for Guruji. He was the one who was shown in Sadhaka the trailer, a 20 minute documentary on Guruji. It was a great feeling to meet that man. He has some kind of warmth in his personality.
Another important characteristic of Rita Keller is that she tries to mingle with local people. She doesn't want to be seen as an outsider. She participates in the cultural activities of the students, interacts with them, distributes stationery to all the students every year, encourages them to study and practice yoga. She never misses a chance to teach yoga to those children when she visits Bellur. I again remember Geetaji when she takes children classes. Both of them have something in common. Looking at her, sometimes I feel she is making way for her next birth in India.
The way Bellur campus area is now molded is very fascinating. Rita Keller through a Power Point Presentation showed how the dry land and a huge monolithic rock is converted into a beautiful place now. They say, around 30,000 trips of trucks were made to bring the soil in the premises and you can imagine how much of work is done there to make what it is today. Every effort is being made to keep it clean and green. The administrators have driven an initiative to plant trees in the premises with every yoga group that comes here. We planted around 40 trees this time.
The ambiance of the venue is absolutely beautiful and calm and away from noise and any other kind of pollution. There is a beautiful view of the green fields and rock hills around. It is equipped with good quality accommodation rooms that can accommodate up to 40 people and a beautifully built cafeteria that can accommodate over 200 people and a beautiful yoga hall that can accommodate around 250 people.
All this is fine but one thing I am not able to understand what was Guruji's vision on the yoga hall. I can certainly say, that Guruji would not have wanted such a massive yoga hall to be used only for occasional intensives or Yoga Retreats. His vision must have been something broad. There is no point in teaching 40-50 students in a yoga hall that has the capacity of 250 people and that too for few days/months leaving the hall vacant throughout the year. More importantly, only foreign teachers conducting the workshops in Bellur gives a wrong indication to the people. Rita Keller is strongly emphasizing on building a Yoga University in the premises to impart quality yoga teaching to the people all over the World. May be, Guruji might have had this vision who knows! But the immediate need of the hour is that of regular yoga classes running throughout the year for locals and the staff of BKSSNT.
Another important factor is that I felt the need to bring more and more Indian students to these workshops. There is a wrong perception among Indian groups that Bellur is for foreign people as it is too expensive. We the group from Hyderabad tried our best to change this perception by participating regularly in the workshops conducted here.
I would like to conclude with the beautiful words of Rita Keller in her interview. She said, "All are welcome, there should not be a discrimination that a teacher is from India or Germany or any other country. We are all same entities, we learned the subject imparted by the same Guru, the subject is same and so do we. We are all one. So please welcome."