Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guru Poornima with Lengendary BKS Iyengar

I haven’t updated this blog for quite sometime due to my busy schedule and many other factors. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to share my memorable experiences of this Guru Poornima with Guruji Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar popularly known as BKS Iyengar at Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute, Pune.

15th of July 2011 was an unforgettable and the most memorable day in my life as I was blessed with an opportunity to meet and seek the blessings of the Legendary Icon of Yoga Guruji Shri BKS Iyengar. All thanks to my Guruji Smt. Zarna Mohan without whom, this day wouldn't have come in my life. Thank you again madam from the bottom of my heart for providing me the opportunity of lifetime and I always owe you for this.

My Association with Guruji:

My association with Guruji is quite interesting. I haven’t met Guruji anytime before and yet he ismy Primary Yoga Teacher. He is the one who laid my foundations in Yoga. He is the one who injected Yoga into my blood and he is the one who infused Yoga into my body, mind and the soul.

Honestly speaking, though Guruji was such a popular celebrity throughout the world and 13th most influential Indians of the century on the Global scenario, I was unaware of Guruji. I knew nothing; and I mean nothing about Guruji 2 years ago. When I look back and see, I find three reasons for that. (1) The simple and low profile lifestyle of Guruji. (2) The Indian attitude and (3) the quest for survival of a common middle class Indian.

(1) Guruji’s Lifestyle: The Bhagvad Gita says, “A Karma Yogi is one who privileges only the work and not the fruits thereof.” Guruji stands tall on this sutra on all aspects of his life. I have read a lot about Guruji’s life through various books and articles on Internet but after seeing him personally the modest lifestyle he and his family members have, I couldn't stop myself from bowing my head to this noble Yogi. It is really amazing to see Guruji with that much of name and fame world wide maintains such a low profile and down to Earth lifestyle. Guruji had gone through hardest of times during his initial days and also had reached the peak of his career as Yogi. He always remained the same during his initial days of struggle and during the successful days of name, fame, glamor and glitterati in the decades of 70’s and thereafter.

Today Yoga has gained a great recognition at the international level due to the tireless efforts of Guruji throughout his life. Guruji hasn't stopped in life yet. He is still contributing his services to Yoga even at this age of 94. He is a true Karma Yogi and one of the Legendary Yogi’s of all time. Today, you see plenty of people appearing on TV, news papers and other journals every now and then posing as yogis and gaining all sorts of wealth, glamor and glitterati. They leave no opportunity unturned to get that focus and media attention. Guruji on the other hand is a very low profile and publicity shy person. I still wonder how he managed to have such a simple lifestyle all through his life. One must remember that he is not living in the caves of Himalayas. He is leading a yogic life amongst the very civilians of Pune.

On arriving Pune, I looked out for the hoardings of Guruji around the city on the occasion of Guru Poornima. Surprisingly, I hadn't found any such things out there. What surprised me more was the simplicity maintained at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute. I had a prefixed image of RMIYI with big hoardings in block letters at the compound of the institute. But there is a small plate of stone mounted on the wall with the name spelt as Rama Mani Iyengar Institute of Yoga with names of the founder BKS Iyengar and his son Prashant Iyengar below. We live in a country where you find big sized vinyl posters and hoardings all over the place for no reason. Millions of rupees are spent on these hoardings and postures when any Politician, Baba or a Religious Leader arrives to the city. The simple decoration of flowers at the gate of the venue with no media present on the occasion shows how simple Guruji kept the things all along his life.

(2) The Indian Attitude: Two years ago when I was learning about Guruji’s life, I realized that he is more popular abroad in the West than at home. I have gone through many TV interviews, journals, Videos and book reviews of Guruji and found that he is much admired and loved in the West; even though he visited them only couple of times during his lifetime. My opinion changed into confirmation when I saw the visitors who have come here to wish Guruji on the eve of Guru Poornima was outnumbered by the Western students. It took me not much time to realize why Guruji is much loved in the west than at home. It is because of the Indian attitude. The very next morning, after attending Guru Prashant Iyengar’s class I was standing at the corridor along with one of my friend Maheshji. We came across a student studying yoga at the Institute for the last one year. We introduced ourselves and had some chat regarding the teaching faculty and quality of yoga education provided in the institute. He later asked us, “Where do you come from and what for?” We replied that we visited to greet and seek blessings of Guruji on the occasion of Guru Poornima. The guy innocently said, ‘Oh! I see! By the way when is the Guru Poornima?’ Maheshji and I looked at each other; smiled and replied that was over yesterday pointing at the notice board in front. The guy then scratched his head in disbelief and left over. It is not that student wasn't told about the occasion or he was totally unaware of the occasion. It is the very famous Indian attitude in that student made him ignorant. Hundreds of students of foreign origin have come across miles crossing oceans to greet Guruji on the occasion of Guru Poornima; on the other hand we are unaware of the occasion. We always cry for the lost diamond of Kohinoor; where as we forget that we have a diamond worthier than Kohinoor in the form of BKS Iyengar.

(3) Quest for Survival: The Indian middle class person is nested with family sentiments, responsibilities and debts by birth. Entire life of his goes in balancing these factors till the last breath of his life. For him, yoga is either for those who live in the caves or for the sick and diseased. Guruji also has thrown some light on this subject during his convention on Guru Poornima 2011. He said; it is very unfortunate that many of you are taking up Yoga due to some problems. All of you sitting here have come to Yoga because of some or the other kind of problems. If a healthy person is asked to do Yoga, he says; why should I do Yoga when I am already healthy?

These golden words of Guruji reminded me of my past. I couldn’t sleep for long time at that night. I recollected all my memories of joining Yoga. This is where I got the idea of updating the blog with my journey into Yoga explaining how Guruji has transformed my life through his work on yoga.

I was also the victim of the so called Indian attitude, quest for survival, family bondings, responsibilities, debts and the health problems. I was born in a large family of 8 members. Being the eldest member of the family I always had greater responsibilities. In addition to that I was born with a heart disorder called Arterial Septal Disorder (ASD) with a left right shunt. Commonly speaking, there was a hole in the heart. It is a rare case of congenial heart disease, which according to Medical Science is inherited to 1 among 5 lakh children by birth. I always had tough times throughout my childhood. I used to get sick every now and then. I used to get chest pain every time I do some physical activity rigorously. Fatigue, breathlessness and excess sweating were my major concerns during my sports. The only good thing is that I was luckily inherited with strong will power, spirit and dedication to excel in everything I do. There are people who perform better under pressure and who perform without any pressure. I belonged to the first category. I always did well during challenging situations. I knew I was not a normal kid but I never lagged behind in sports and studies. I always did well in all aspects of life. But, I always had to put extra effort for that. Sometimes, I used to feel sad as I needed to put more than 100% effort for things which others could do it with ease.

I had to undergo an open heart surgery for ASD closure when I was 19 years old. The things have worsened thereafter in my life. I put on plenty of weight in the next six months of the surgery due to the bed rest. Apart from gaining weight, I lost my physical strength. I became weaker as never before. Though I had overcome the issue of frequent sickness after surgery I could never gain my physical strength thereafter. An incident that occurred two years after the surgery almost dragged me into a shell. One fine morning I was on to my regular walk to a nearby playground. Few boys were playing the game of Cricket. The sportsman in me tempted to join the boys and play cricket. I played cricket with the boys for about 3 hours. I had a great time during the game since that was my first sporting activity after surgery. I got back home after the pleasant game of cricket after a long period of time. By the evening I felt aches all over my body. My mother shouted at me on learning about the incident and asked to visit a doctor immediately. I did accordingly and had an injection and some pain killer pills at night and slept in the verandah after my dinner. Next morning when I woke up I tried to get up usually with the support of my hand on the floor. The moment I tried to get up taking the weight on my right hand I fell down as the hand bent as there were no bones like a rubber object. I thought I might have slept on the hand and therefore it reacted that way because of the numbness. I repeated the action with the left hand. The result was the same. I sensed some kind of problem with my hands. I then crawled to the corner of the verandah and dropped my legs on the floor and tried to stand up on my feet. The legs did the same thing and I fell down on the floor with a bang. I tried all that I can do to standup using my hands and the feet. But unfortunately, all my four limbs were paralyzed. I was able to feel only the weight of my trunk where as all my limbs turned light as if I had no hands and legs. When all my efforts to standup were gone in vain, the tears rolled over my eyes and I started weeping. My mind was totally blank and was unsure of any action. A lady in my neighbor observed me crawling on the floor and informed my parents. They immediately rushed me to a corporate hospital. Everyone including me and even the doctors thought that was an attack of paralysis. I was quite nervous and sad by thinking that I would never stand up on my feet again. I breathed a sigh of relief when Dr. M.K. Singh a specialist in neurology assured that I would walk again in the next 24 hours on physical verification of my condition for about half an hour. He assured my parents as well and walked away advising the nurse to give the prescribed injections and medicines on time. As assured by the doctor I stood up on my feet the very next morning. That was the happiest moment of my life. I was on my feet and I could even move my hands. When the doctor visited me he said; didn’t I tell you? You are going to walk in the next 12 hours! And with a big smile he hugged and advised me to stay away from actions that require excessive physical exert thereon.

Thereafter I stopped all kinds of physical activities and confined to sedentary work. Being the elder son in the family of 8 members I always got more responsibilities. I kept myself busy in work and worked for earning money and uplifting my parents, brothers and sister financially. During this period I put on 35 kilos of weight. I was at 93 kilos of weight and fast approaching the milestone figure of 100 kilos. I was always concerned about my deteriorating condition but was in helpless situation as I was advised by doctors not to involve in physical activities anymore.

One fine morning I came across a program of Dr. Mantena Satyanarayana Raju on TV about “Natural ways to lose weight.” I sincerely followed the suggestions of Dr. MS Raju and lost 18 kilos in the first 8 months of time. Dr. Raju’s suggestions on natural lifestyle not only changed my eating and living habits but also my thinking and reading habits. My interest grew on various aspects of Yoga and Spirituality. I began to gather information on some of the masters of yoga and spirituality. During this time I found a book “Illustrated Light on Yoga” by the great BKS Iyengar. I was awestruck at the asanas portrayed by Guruji in the book. I was mesmerized by those postures and my intellect wanted me to know more about this great maestro. I then spent 4 months intensively spending hours of time on Internet and Libraries reading about Guruji and his books and journals, watching and collecting all videos and information related to him. I was really inspired by his life story. I find myself in the similar sort of situation as Guruji was during his childhood days. Guruji was a victim of Influenza, malaria and typhoid etc and gone through several health problems during his childhood.

With the inspiration of Guruji’s life I decided to take up Yoga. Three major hurdles stood up before me in taking up Yoga. (1) Yoga today has been very well commercialized. It is very expensive to learn Yoga if you want to learn it from a good institute. I was going through all kinds of financial problems and struggling to repay my debts at that point of time. (2) My physical condition was also a matter of concern for me. On one hand I was advised by doctors not to involve in any form of physical activity and on the other hand I was 80% weak and rigid than a normal person. (3) Third major factor was the lack of good Yoga teaching schools in Hyderabad as they have in Mysore, Chennai, Pune, Calcutta, New Delhi and other parts of India.

In the meantime, I completed reading Guruji’s book “Illustrated Light on Yoga” where I found 35 weeks course program laid down by Guruji at the end of the chapters in the book. I thought of going ahead with this program first to try myself out on my own risk.

It was not an easy task to try practicing yoga without Guruji and taking consideration of my age and health condition. Initially I was hesitant to begin the practice as everyone suggested me not to try practicing yogasanas by reading a book. When I was in dilemma for a guru, I came across a TV interview of Guruji speaking on the subject. The reporter asked Guruji, ‘Is it safe to learn asanas by merely reading a book?’ Guruji with his usual smile replied, ‘A good book is far better than a bad teacher and my book is a best seller across the world.’ These words vibrated my entire body, mind and the soul and inspired me to get on with the practice. I still remember the first day of my practice. I began my practice on an auspicious occasion of Guruji’s birth day on 14th of December 2009. I offered formal prayers to the photograph of Guruji and began my practice connecting myself to Guruji esoterically as Ekalavya did in Mahabharata connecting himself to Guru Dronacharya.

Age and my medical condition were of another major concerns before me. While learning about Guru BKS Iyengar, I came to know about Guru K. Pattabhi Jois and Desikachar and their Guru Sri. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. All these great gurus inspired me to take up Yoga. Guru K. Pattabhi Jois’ golden words “Old man can take yoga, Young man can take Yoga, Sick man can take Yoga but a Lazy man cannot take Yoga” inspired me the most and solved both of my concerns of age and health.

I began to practice asanas seriously for 2-3 hours a day in the morning without a miss. Initially it was difficult, painful and straining due to my weak, rigid body. Over sweating and breathlessness were other two issues that troubled me during my practice due to low lungs capacity and rigidity. Whenever I found difficult to learn an asana I viewed the videos and postures of Guruji, Patricia Walden, Rodney Yee, John Schumacher, Sharath, Bikram Choudhury and many other famous Yogis online. Yoga blogs online such as Bandha Yoga and Yoga Journal in particular helped me a lot in my practice of Yoga. How can I forget Ursula Wenzel, a German Yogini and friend of mine on facebook and her blog?

The emphasis was given on standing poses for the first 10 weeks of the course. By the end of 10 weeks I had gone through tremendous physical changes. I lost around 15 kilos of weight. My legs, buttocks and waist in particular toned up well. My energy levels increased tremendously. I never felt that strong and energetic before. The change in me inspired my wife and many other friends of mine to take up Yoga seriously.

By the end of 20 weeks I was transformed into a totally different person. By then I could be able to do those asanas which virtually looked impossible for me when I began my course. It was unbelievable feeling for me. I couldn’t believe myself that I learned all this by reading a book. Hats off! Guruji BKS Iyengar for making things easy for me through your book. I always owe you for this. By the end of 35 weeks I gained enormous amount of energy, strength, stamina, flexibility, balance and control of my body that I never imagined. Apart from gaining physical health, I also began to grow mentally and spiritually. I realized the mistakes I was committing in the past. I was running after the false things and therefore I was deprived of the peace of mind. You can call it a coincidence or whatever but I gradually overcame the financial crisis with Yoga.

After completing Guruji’s course of 35 weeks, I felt that the time has now come to have a teacher. I approached quite a few good teachers in the city but they weren’t affordable. I then stumbled upon the official website of BKS Iyengar and found the contact address of my Guru Smt. Zarna Mohan. I called upon at the number given in the website and joined Madam’s class on 21st May 2011. I was really impressed by the vast experience, exposure and knowledge of Yoga she has. Since then I am nursing myself under the expert guidance of my Guruji Smt. Zarna Mohan. I wish and hope for a long association with her.

Highlights of Guru Poornima:

Our journey to Pune began amidst serial bomb blasts in Mumbai just 3 days before the journey. 25 members of Hyderabad Iyengar Yoga Institute booked train tickets way in advance for the occasion of Guru Poornima. The news of the blasts demoralized the spirit of many students of our batch. In addition to that people demanding the separate state of Telangana declared Rail Roko Andolan on the day of our journey i.e. on 14th of July 2011. We were in a confused state of mind as all the trains from Hyderabad and Secunderabad up to 6 PM were cancelled and there was no news about the scheduled departure of the trains thereafter. Many of our group members cancelled their program. I didn’t want to lose this opportunity no matter what comes as I was very desperate to meet Guruji and seek his blessings. When I was looking for other means of transport, I got the news that our train scheduled at 8 PM was delayed by 5 hours and was supposed to depart at 2 AM. Many of our batch stepped back of the journey. Only 8 desperate members of my batch were on with the journey and boarded the train at midnight 2 AM from Hyderabad. Our teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan and 5 others boarded the flight next morning on 15th of July 2011. Amidst all these hurdles we finally arrived at Pune in the next evening at around 3 PM.

We immediately had some lunch and checked in a hotel room near Shivaji Nagar, took shower and rushed to the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute. On entering the convention hall I noticed all the internationally acclaimed students of Guruji were present on the occasion. Lots of activities were going on in the hall. People were busy chatting to their old mates, smiling, laughing, hugging, filming; taking photographs of each other and all other sorts of action was going on there. It was a pleasant site to see all those popular yogis under one roof.

The hall was filled with visitors as the time progressed. A hush of silence was observed the moment Guruji entered the convention hall. He quietly entered and took up the corner seat at the entrance. I silently got up from my seat and walked up to Guruji and sought his blessings by touching the feet.

After candle lighting ceremony and inaugural speech by some of the students, Guruji was welcomed to the dais and requested to accept the asan and speak on the occasion.

Guruji then walked in with his high voltage smile amidst huge applauds from the disciples present in the hall. Guruji then gently took his seat and silently looked at the people present there. His eyes were trying to identify the known faces and memorize the unknown. The entire auditorium was electrified by the presence of his great Aura. He virtually looked at all the people seated in there from first to the last row.

Then all of us offered Prayer to the Great Patanjali – the Father of Yoga. Later Guruji was garlanded and honored by some of his oldest disciples. Couple of books and CD’s including the autobiography of Guruji was launched on the occasion.

Guruji was then requested to speak on the occasion. Guruji’s talk on the occasion was more like a class on Yoga rather a speech. He tried to reply the question put on by one of his students regarding their degree of progress in Yoga. Guruji explained how one needs to apply his mind to the subtlest of the subtle level while practicing yoga by demonstrating on a student of his.

After ending the convention Guruji settled on a chair outside the hall. Each one of us walked out in a row and sought his blessings. Guruji received and responded to one and all politely and patiently. Our Guruji Smt. Zarna Mohan introduced our group one by one to Guruji BKS Iyengar, where I got an opportunity to have a photograph and an autograph on one of my favorite books ‘Light on Yoga’, written by Guruji. We then walked back to our hotel room with pleasant memories.

Next morning we went back to the institute at around 7 AM, where we got an opportunity to attend and watch the proceedings of Guru Prashant Iyengar’s Yoga class. It was quite a unique experience to watch the great Master teaching Yoga. There were around 40 students in the class which included our teacher also. They were divided into 4 batches of 10, each batch doing different set of asanas. One batch was doing Bharadwajasana, one batch was doing Trikonasana, one batch was stretching on the ropes mounted on the wall and another batch was doing Rope Sirshasana etc. Then each and every batch was shuffling and changing the asana after remaining in the posture for some time. Guru Prashantji was moving all round observing, explaining and correcting the postures. The class was a world of learning experience for us as it contained the students of all age groups and students with various health problems.

After Prashantji’s class we walked out and bought few books and props from the office. In the mean time Guruji BKS Iyengar arrived at the office and took his seat in a corner. Our madam reintroduced us to Guruji and said, you can ask any questions if you have to Guruji. I walked forward with lots of questions in mind but as soon I got closer and stood before him, my mind was blank. He then looked up to me and raised his eyebrows asking what? I was not sure what to say, so asked for a photograph with slight hesitation. Guruji was actually getting ready for the class and therefore he was not in a mood to give a photograph. On my insistence, he agreed to give only one snap as he had no time to give individual photographs. We immediately gathered in a group and had a memorable and cherishing picture of life time with Guruji. We thanked him for his kind gesture and walked out with happy faces.

We then travelled around for local site seeing and had great time under the water falls of Khandala Ghats in Lonavala and returned home with great memories of all time. I will always cherish those few moments I had with Guruji BKS Iyengar; all my life. I pray for more such cherishing moments with Guruji in days to come.

With this I end this blog here. I hope you enjoyed reading this update. Keep watching the space for more updates on Wonders of Yog.

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