Thursday, December 26, 2013

Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar turns 95

 

14th December has a special place in the hearts of Iyengar yogis all over the world.  It is on this day the 14th of December 1918, the legendary yogaacharya Sri. B.K.S. (Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja) Iyengar was born in a remote village of Bellur in Karnataka, India.

He had a very difficult childhood as he suffered from many diseases and disorders like influenza, malaria and tuberculosis etc. He was then introduced to yoga by his guru and brother-in-law Sri. T. Krishnamacharya in order to improve his health.  He has come long way in this journey of yoga from his initial days of struggle. Today Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar and Iyengar yoga has transcended geographical boundaries and is arguably the most popular form of yoga in the world. He played a pivotal role in taking yoga to all the six continents of the world.

95th Birthday Celebrations:

 
This was my second opportunity to participate in Guruji’s birthday after his 94th birthday last year at his birth place of Bellur in Karnataka. His birthday celebrations are getting bigger and bigger every year. By the time I could forget the grand event in Bellur last year, a grander event was organized this year to celebrate his birthday. It was an amazing and colourful event, where all the Iyengar yogis across the World have attended.

Guruji’s birthday is like a festival for Iyengar yogis living all over the world. Iyengar yogis all over the world have reached Pune well in advance to participate in the celebrations. There was a huge attendance of Iyengar yogis that gathered at Govinda Garden, the venue for the event in Pune. As Guruji said in his speech, he doesn't remember to have ever celebrated his birthday before his 60th birth anniversary. Since then the celebrations are getting bigger and bigger. Off course, he deserves all this love and affection and even more for the work he has done over the years. He not only popularized Iyengar yoga across the world but also has revolutionized the practice of yoga in many ways.

Highlights of the Event:


  
1. 14th of December 2013 was the day when Guruji turned 95. It is amazing to see Guruji prepare himself for bigger events in such a terrific way. Even at this age of 95 he is unbelievably electrifying. He might have attended many rituals from early in the morning and had spent 3 hours at a stretch attending the program organized for him. Sometimes, I feel it is too much for him but we all love him so much that we can’t resist ourselves from troubling him. There was a huge crowd in the auditorium and it was requested to pay reverence all together at once from their seats in order to avoid any trouble to Guruji. Guruji himself had to stand up and speak in this regards. In spite of this, people were thronging at Guruji to touch his feet and Guruji was patiently attending them. My teacher in the past; used to say not to trouble Guruji but I never understood that until I observed Guruji from close during my stay at RIMYI for one month in August 2013. I realized that he never stops you but we must respect his age and give some space for him to live with some peace. He is a master! You need not pay reverence personally. His presence itself is a blessing for all.

2. Guruji is the gigantic Ocean of Iyengar yoga and his students teaching Iyengar Yoga are the rivers flowing in different parts of the World and the students who are learning Iyengar yoga are the small stream of water joining the rivers flowing towards the Ocean. 14th December 2013 has witnessed the communion of these rivers and streams with the Ocean at Govinda Garden in Pune.

3. All the famous and infamous Iyengar yoga teachers and students all over the World have gathered on the occasion to wish Guruji and seek his blessings. All the big names from India and abroad were present on the occasion. Jawar Bangera, Birju Mehta, Rajvi Mehta, Firooza, Zubeen, Rajiv Chanchani, Manouso Manos, John Schumacher, Patricia Walden, Gabriella Gubilliero and many others were part of the celebrations.

4. Iyengar yoga is now like a kalpataru – a gigantic tree (like the one we saw in Hollywood movie Avatar) rooted deep and wide in soil with branches reaching sky high and wide across the World. It was a great feeling to see all those Iyengar yogis from all over the world under one roof of Iyengar yoga in Pune. The presence of Guruji and the entire Iyengar yoga family from all over the World has made the atmosphere vibrant and electrifying at the Govinda Garden of Pune.

5. Guruji addressed the gathering in his signature style by saying, “My dear children, grand children and great grand children in the field of yoga. I do not know how to thank my children and grand children; though we know how to thank our parents. I am touched by your love and affection that so many people and so many students are here today to celebrate my 95th birthday.” Guruji addresses his direct students as children, their students as grand children and their students as great grand children and therefore he is associated with one and all that practices Iyengar yoga. He is therefore the dearest father, grandfather and great grandfather of this big Iyengar yoga family.

6. Guruji has influenced the lives of millions of people across the World with or without his knowledge. Few such students from different countries have got the opportunity to express their gratitude to Guruji on the occasion. Many of them broke out in tears while speaking. That shows how deeply Guruji has influenced their lives.

7. Speaking on the Occasion Guruji said, “What amazed me today was that my students who are even sincere and practicing yoga from 1950’s used to address “B.K.S.” as the one who beats, kicks and shouts.” The moment he said this, entire auditorium busted in laughter. He then added, “I have heard the same people and new generation practitioners from different countries saying, “B.K.S.” stands for Beauty…! Knowledge…! And Serenity...! What a transformation! Even the media in those days used to project “B.K.S.” as beat, kick and shout and the same media is appreciating my work now for transforming and transcending millions of people across the World.” The entire auditorium broke out its silence with huge claps applauding Guruji.

8. He gone on to say that he took yoga to improve his physical health in childhood. He was not sure, this practice implanted by his Guru Sri. T. Krishnamacharya would make him the missionary of yoga in taking yoga to all the 6 continents of the World. He is grateful to all his students who are responsible for making yoga popular all over the World.”

9. In spite of his popularity, name and fame you can’t find a modest man than Guruji today. During his speech he said, “At this age, admiration and appreciation do not have any weight on me. I am still a yoga student. God has made me reach a certain stage in the field of yoga and that has kept me alive, alert and active.”        

10. Guruji further said, “Those who say Iyengar yoga is only physical yoga, they are only observers who know nothing about the depth of yoga or the bhavana or the feel of a practitioner. We can see the death but we cannot experience death, we can see the time but we cannot experience the time. Similarly those who call my system as physical yoga, do not know anything because they do not know or experienced the time or seen the totality of death.”

11. Guruji was suffering from upper respiratory infection for some time now. He was seriously ill during last summer and was coughing frequently during our stay at Pune in the month of August 2013. Throughout the evening on his birthday Guruji appeared perfectly fit and he wasn't seen coughing at all. This shows a great sign of improvement in his health. But only factor that worried me was his losing weight. Guruji has lost lot of flesh from his body and has become very thin ever since we left him in August’13. Color of his skin also turned dark. However, it is very difficult to judge the level of Guruji’s health by his appearance. As my teacher once told us that his upper respiratory infection is quite old from his 60’s which he is coping it well.

12. Another heartening thing was the presence of Geetaji in the event. I hadn't seen for some time Geetaji participating in the events even at the institute due to her sickness. Geetaji has recovered well from what we have seen her in August.

 

13. I thank Guruji from the bottom of my heart for letting me shoot him once again through my camera. I really enjoy filming Guruji because he offers you so many moods and emotions in quick succession. I really enjoy his smile and I am glad to capture those wonderful moments in my camera.

14. Apart from Guruji’s birthday, it was like a reunion with some of our old friends and teachers from RIMYI. We had great time talking to our teachers like Abhay Ji, Kishore Ji, Devki Ji and Panduji, Mandharji, Parvez ji and ever smiling Zareenji from RIMYI and other teachers like Manouso Manos, Rita and Eric whom we met at Kumbh Mela 2013 in Allahabad, Ushaji and Rudra Ji from Rishikesh etc.

The event ended after dinner that was served to all the visitors who have attended from different parts of the World. All the Iyengar yogis flew back to their homes with a hope to see another such grand event next year; wishing Guruji for his long life so that he showers some more light on us with is knowledge and wisdom.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Yoga Experience at RIMYI

   
Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune is the heart and soul of Iyengar Yoga. Every Iyengar yogi across the world would have a desire to visit RIMYI and learn yoga at least once in his lifetime because it is the mother of all Iyengar yoga centers.
When I began my yoga practice with Guruji’s book ‘Light on Yoga’, I never imagined that someday I am going to study yoga at the institute established by Guruji – the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune. I feel that I always had the grace of Guruji. With the blessings of Guruji I found a very good teacher in the form of Smt. Zarna Mohan and then my teacher laid me a path to Guruji. Without her blessings and support I don’t think I would have ever met Guruji and even thought of meeting him. Only after meeting Guruji I developed a wish to see him in action and study yoga at RIMYI under his shadow.
I had been waiting for an opportunity to study yoga at RIMYI for the last four years and it was not happening for some reasons. Finally I along with my wife Tulsi and a friend Sweta got the opportunity to study yoga at RIMYI for the month of August 2013. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience to be a part of RIMYI for one month.
Since we were there for a limited period of one month, we got an opportunity to learn yoga from different teachers at RIMYI. We were given 6 classes a week of intermediate level 1 under a different teacher each day. We were really fortunate to study under the most experienced and senior teachers like Kishore Ji, Rajlaxmi Ji, Abhay Ji, Devki Ji and Gulnaaz Ji. Each teacher has his/her own distinct way and signature style of teaching.
I have been thinking of writing my experiences on studying yoga at RIMYI but I never got a momentum to write it down until my friend Sweta insisted me to write something about our experiences in Pune. I realized that our experiences at Pune might help other yoga aspirants who have been thinking to take up the classes at RIMYI but unable to take a decision due to some reason.
Admission and Fee Details:
The process of admission is quite easy for Indian students at RIMYI. You need to request Panduji for admission by writing an email to info@bksiyengar.com stating how long you have been practicing Iyengar yoga along with the name of your teacher and you will hear from him soon stating the month in which you are given the admission. The admission to non-local students is given at the beginning of every month to the end of the month. They don’t entertain admission in between the month. Therefore if you are aspiring to take up yoga classes at RIMYI must keep this in mind and plan accordingly. On reaching the institute you need to fill up the admission form, submit a recent passport size photograph, identity proof, address proof and residence proof from the owner of the place where you are stationed at along with your fee for the session.
The admission procedure for a foreign student is different. You can log on to the official website www.bksiyengar.org for details.
The fee is quite affordable at RIMYI. The only issue is the availability of slots since the classes run over occupied throughout the year. You need to write well in advance of 2 or 3 months to get an admission. If you are a foreign student it might even take a year or two. The fee for intermediate level 1 during August 2013 was Rs. 4000 for Indian students and 450 USD for foreign students. For further information you can again log on to the official website mentioned above.
Accommodation:
The institute does not provide any accommodation facility for the students studying yoga at RIMYI. The students have to make their own arrangements with regards to their living in Pune. However, Panduji or any other member of the staff might help you in finding the accommodation in and around Shivaji Nagar near the institute.
If you are visiting for the first time, you must be ready to spend some money for accommodating yourself in Pune as the cost of living is quite high. We have found that owners of the flats in and around Shivaji Nagar are making great amounts of money from the students of RIMYI who have come from foreign countries. They are charging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 40,000 per month and even above one lakh rupees for luxury flats. If you are an Indian student and can walk around Shivaji Nagar and adjacent areas you can find it around Rs. 5000 p.m. as per the local sources.
It is always difficult to find an affordable accommodation in Pune. If your budget is limited and you are new to the city then it is more difficult. Somehow we earned a slot at RIMYI but we were really concerned about our stay for one month in Pune as we had a very limited budget. I had been saving money for the whole year to attend the classes at RIMYI in Pune. One of my friends promised to arrange a room for my living in Pune but that did not worked. In addition to that my wife decided to come with me at the very last moment. I said okay! Let’s face whatever that comes. Even Sweta was very much concerned about her accommodation in Pune.
Our only hope was Christ Prem Seva Ashram which is popularly known as CPS Ashram in Pune. It is one of the oldest Christian missionary ashrams functioning from pre-independence era. It was established in 1927. They charge Rs. 200 per day per head for meals and accommodation. It is the cheapest place of accommodation in Pune as far as students of Iyengar yoga is concerned. But the problem is that the Ashram has very limited rooms and are occupied most of the times. Moreover, they don’t entertain people staying for long period of time as they need accommodation for visitors coming for religious activities every second week of the month. Mr. Salvi is the person in charge of the Ashram and is looking after the Ashram for a very long time. He is a very kind and generous man. The accommodation is provided based upon the availability of rooms at the given point of time. No advance registration facility is available at the Ashram. However, you can contact Mr. Salvi at CPS Ashram near Shivaji Nagar ST Bus stand accommodation. If you are fortunate enough you can find the place in the Ashram.
Teachers at RIMYI:
Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, his daughter Geeta S. Iyengar, son Prashant S. Iyengar, granddaughter Abhijata Srinivasan are the world renowned yogis who needs no introduction. Kishore, Rajlaxmi, Devki, Abhay, Uday, Raya, Ratan Shah, Gulnaaz, Dr. Manoj, Nawaaz are the stalwarts of Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune.
I used to practice yoga at home watching all these teachers on DVD. Apart from Guruji, Geetaji, Prashantji and Kishore Ji I never had a personal interaction with any other teacher. I was familiar with Rajlaxmi, Devki, Abhay, Uday, Raya and Gulnaaz only through Geetaji’s DVDs. I used to practice my asanas by watching these teachers in action through those DVDs. I am really happy that I got a chance to learn from most of these teachers at RIMYI.
The Iyengars:
  
I don’t have to say anything specific about Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji as the World knows about their work. I was fortunate enough to observe few glimpses of Guruji’s teachings during his daily practice and Prashantji’s classes but unable to see Geetaji’s classes as she was not well and Abhijata was also not taking the classes as she recently gave birth to a very cute girl child Sathvika.
Kishore Ji:
Kishore Ji is one of the experienced teachers at RIMYI who is associated with Guruji and the institute for a very long period of time. He is a very kind, humble and generous human being. With the help of my friend Mohit I happened to meet Kishore Ji during Guru Poornima in July 2013 at RIMYI. It was just a casual meet where he inquired about my practice and yoga classes at Hyderabad. We were totally strangers but he never let me feel that. I was really impressed by his personality and simplicity. After attending his classes for one month and regular interactions with him on and off the classes, a great respect was formed for him. He has such a great depth and knowledge in the subject of Yoga and yet he is so simple and modest. We were fortunate enough have two of his classes a week. He is a classical Guruji style of teacher. He has a distinct and signature style of taking the classes. He sits on the platform and walks around the students in asana giving instructions and correcting their postures. He hardly demonstrates the asanas himself. He is so confident and has such a great power and control over his instructions that even the new student will perform his asana with complete understanding. It is not that he has a great voice like Prashantji. He has a mediocre voice with clear cut instructions and clarity of speech.
Kishore Ji is a complete encyclopaedia of Iyengar yoga. I thoroughly enjoyed his classes because Iyengar yoga is full of details and he is never short of those valuable details. He has a very unique and systematic way of taking classes. His instructions for every asana are clear, short and precise. He never gives you all the instructions at a stretch. He adds on the details in every class extending the previous ones. This enables the student to remember all the details and keeps him excited and curious about the further details to come.  
I learned a great lesson from Kishore Ji’s class but in a very strange way. As I mentioned above that he is full of instructions and he repeats his instructions again and again for few number of times. A strange thing happened during my early classes with Kishore Ji. He was instructing, ‘lift your chest up! Lift the chest up! Lift the chest up! Chhaati Uchla! (marathi) Chhaati Uchla! Chhaati Uchla! And so on. I was lifting my chest more and more every time he said lift the chest up. I came to a point where I can’t lift my chest any more. I turned my head towards Kishore Ji helplessly to know how much I need to lift my chest further up. The moment I saw him I got my answer. It took me no time to realize that the instructions are not for me. He was looking at different students and asking them to lift the chest up to those who are not lifting it up. After this incident, I began to observe the other teachers and their instructions as well. At the end, I realized that all the instructions given by the teacher are not for all. When you are in a posture it is not possible to see the teacher all the time and more importantly the teacher might not pay attention to your mistakes in a crowded class. Therefore, one must be alert and discriminative about the requirement of the posture and the instructions given by the teacher. This lesson during Kishore Ji’s class helped me understand the instructions of other teachers in a better way.
Rajlaxmi Ji:
I really love Rajlaxmi Ji because she is so simple, humble and modest person and yet she is the toughest teacher of all. You can’t expect her classes to be soft as she is. I really enjoyed her classes because she used to come up hard at us with a handful of 10 to 12 asanas throughout the session of 1 ½ hours. She is elegant, dynamic, vibrant and always after you in the posture. I heard my teacher smt. Zarna Mohan saying how Guruji used to take the classes in his peak days. I happened to attend Manouso’s classes during early 2013 when he was in Kumbh. He has some glimpses of Guruji in teaching. After Manouso I saw similar glimpses in her. As any other Iyengar yoga teacher she has a distinct style of teaching. She is very good at human anatomy and has a great depth and understanding in yoga postures and their benefits. She used to come up with her assistant Sindhu and let the students stay in the posture until they correct one and all. Most of the students fumble, crumble and fall number of times by the time they come and correct the posture. Rajlaxmi Ji is also a classic Iyengar yoga teacher with loads of instructions. For some people like my friend Sweta the instructions are too much to digest. She often used to say that they are too many instructions for her head. Unlike Kishore Ji, she not only instructs but also demonstrates the asanas for students. She has another unique way of teaching. She used to pick up one asana and can explain and teach that particular asana at a stretch for 40 minutes and more like Geetaji. If you are fortunate enough to attend any such classes the whole perspective of the asana changes. Fortunately, I got few such opportunities. During one of my off days, I went to Lonavala and injured my neck muscles under the waterfall and re invited my old cervical problem back and could not sleep the whole night due to pain. Unwillingly I went to the class as I did not want to miss out Rajlaxmi Ji’s class. I thought of explaining my problem to her and seek some remedial asanas after the class. Fortunately we had Gomukhasana special that day. The class was so tough that my shoulders, scapular bones, dorsal spine and the wrist become almost sore. I did not dare to ask for remedial postures for my neck after the class and therefore I walked out quietly. Next morning was a surprise for me. All my pains have vanished and there was no sign of cervical pain either. The entire perspective of Gomukhasana has changed for me. We had other such classes on Adhomukha Svanasana and Janu Sirsasana. At one point of time in Adhomukha Svanasana I felt that my hands are going to break down and fall on the floor and the very next moment I heard her screaming, do it! Your hands are not going to break. And I started laughing in spite of the unbearable pain. My Adhomukha Svanasana has changed after that. She is very much aware of her reputation as a touch teacher. In one of her classes, she was shouting to one of the fellow students in Janu Sirsasana. Hold the belt closer to the feet. You are not riding a horse here. Roll the shoulder blades back and down, lift your head up and push the chest forward. Cut the shoulder blades into the dorsal, make your dorsal concave. And when she was not reacting to her instructions she shouted again saying, “Come on! Do it! You are in Rajlaxmi’s Class!” The entire class busted in laughs.
The other side of Rajlaxmi Ji is quite soft. If you see her anywhere outside the class and wish her or talk to her she will respond you with such a sweet smile that you simply adore her. If you have any doubt about any asana or have any problem you can ask her freely after the class. She will happily resolve your issue. She is a very hard working woman who practices alongside Guruji quietly observing his teachings. I have great regards and respects for her. I really enjoyed her classes because of the intensity she brings in the class. Had I stayed another few months with her I think my whole body would have changed. I really miss her classes.
Devki Ji:
 
Devki ji is another sweet lady with great poise, elegance and charisma. It is a delight to watch her perform the asanas. She make any advance posture look so simple and elegant. There are very few numbers of people who can make any posture look simple, elegant and poised. Devki ji is one such person. She has a unique style of teaching. She has a very distinct approach to asanas. She not only teaches how to make the asana perfect but also teaches you how to make the asana effortless. She emphasizes in performing the asana at psychological and physiological level so that the doer ship action ceases and you connect to the asana deep inside.
Devkiji’s classes look simple but she is a tough teacher. Her classes are going to be really tough and very effective but she makes it look easy and simple. I still remember her back bending classes during third week of the month. She made us do a series of adhomukha svanasana, urdhvamukha svanasana, uttanasana, ekapada uttanasana, ekapada adhomukha svanasana and finally she made us do adhomukha Vrkshasana and ekapada adhomukha vrkshasana on wall. Couple of days later, I tried to practice the same sequence and finally climbed up the wall for adhomukha vrkshasana. The moment I tried to straighten my legs I slipped down. I tried again and the result was same. Tried few more times but could not make it. Then I sat alongside the column wondering what went wrong as I did that effortlessly couple of days ago in the class. I then relaxed myself in adhomukhai virasana and suddenly strike in my mind that I need to open my dorsal more. So I went to the tressler and did half uttanasana, did a series of adhomukha and urdhvamukha svanasana and other asanas learned in Devki ji’s class rigorously for 30 minutes focusing on opening the dorsal. I was sweating, perspiring and tired. Only then I was able to do adhomukha vrkshasana successfully. She is really awesome. She makes you work hard but you don’t sweat and perspire. In fact you feel relaxed.
Apart from attending her classes I got the permission to observe her intermediate level 2 classes. It was a great learning experience from her classes. I observed great techniques and instructions during these classes that are very helpful in my daily practice. I was fortunate enough to watch some of the advance postures like different variations of Sirsasana in intermediate level 2 classes. She is simply mind blowing. She is one of the best Iyengar yogis I have seen in action.
Abhay Ji:
 
Abhay Ji is a fabulous human being and a fantastic teacher. He is a very friendly, caring and helpful teacher. He makes you feel so comfortable in the class that you don’t feel new to him from day one. If you attend couple of his classes, you simply fall in love with him and his classes.  His classes are soothing, soft and magical like him. When you step out of his class, you feel completely relaxed and vibrant. It doesn't mean that he teaches you all supine postures and relaxes you. His classes are as intense as any other Iyengar yoga teacher. As I told you before, every teacher has a distinct and signature style of teaching. Abhay Ji’s signature style of teaching makes you feel relaxed at the end of the class. He sequences the asanas in such a way that you really work hard for the first 45 minutes and relax during the next 45 minutes. Tulsi and Sweta were finding some teachers really tough but they were really happy with Abhay Ji even though he used to come hard at them. Another quality of Abhayji is that he has a great understanding of props and he is an excellent teacher in terms of therapy. He is such a loyal student of Guruji that he always has something to say about him. Why not? He is associated with Guruji ever since the establishment of RIMYI. He once told me that he is associated with Guruji since 1975. He was a kid then. I saw his childhood photograph standing at the wall stone of the institute during his early childhood days on facebook.
I knew him through facebook as he is in our Hyderabad Iyengar Yoga group and also in my friends list. But we never had any interaction before meeting him in Pune. When I introduced myself he immediately said, oh Ram! Yeah, that’s right! We are facebook friends. He really surprised me saying that as we had no conversation at all on facebook. But during that one month we really became good friends.
Gulnaaz Ji:
Gulnaaz Ji is a very active, agile and light hearted teacher. She has her own style of teaching. She is not much with her instructions but pushes you to the asanas one after the other. She used to come up with around 25 asanas in a class and makes you do all the asanas swiftly one after the other. She is a very humorous teacher who crack some jokes in between the asanas. Her jokes are the only sigh of relief in the class as she doesn’t give any chance to think. Sometimes I really used to feel tired and wait for the inversions to come for relaxation. The good thing about her class is that you learn a new asana in every class. Her classes build strength and flexibility. She gives you another flavour of Iyengar yoga which is yet another experience.
Uday Ji:
Uday Ji is a dynamic teacher. Though I had not attended any of his class, I got a chance to watch him teaching children’s class. He is simply superb. First of all, it is not easy to teach children and secondly, it is more difficult to match them. As Guruji always say, teaching children is a challenge as you need to be quick and dynamic as they easily get bored. And Uday Ji was not only quick and dynamic in teaching them but also doing along with them with same speed and enthusiasm. It was new experience to me. There was so much energy and vibrancy in the class that I never experienced in any adult class. I never saw a teacher and the students competing with one another. Uday Ji used to shout Urdhva Hastasana, Uttanasana, Adhomukha svanasana, urdhvamukha svanasana etc. and the students were in a posture in flash. He used ask who knows adhomukha vrkshasana? And the enthusiastic students come forward and demonstrate. Again he used to do quick round of asanas with kids together. It was really a great fun to watch Uday Ji. I wish to do some of his classes in future.
Raya Ji:
Raya Ji is another young and talented teacher the World already knows. He is one of the best emerging teachers of RIMYI. He is also one of the favorite students of Guruji along with Abhijata. Though I did not attend any of his classes, I observed almost all of his intermediate level 2 classes. He is really an exciting teacher. His classes are generally overcrowded and he manages them very well. He has certain glimpses of Manouso Manos who moves all around the class giving instructions, shouting, hitting and making the lazy ones work harder and others work better. His instructions were clearer, louder and precise which repeats couple of times. I am looking forward to attend his classes.

Yoga Experiences at CPS Ashram:
It was an incredible one month stay at CPS Ashram in Pune. Fortunately we have got a great company of Iyengar yoga teachers at CPS. We had Usha Ji from Rishikesh, we had Chantal and Martin from Germany, We had Peggy from USA, Romano from Italy, Audra from Lithuania and Mondira from Mumbai.
   
The yoga we had in the month of August 2013, we never had so much before in our lives. It was yoga…yoga…yoga… and all yoga. Three of us from Hyderabad Tulsi, Sweta and me were eating yoga, walking yoga, talking yoga, doing yoga and living yoga. Yes you heard it right. Since we were living in the Ashram we didn’t had any other work to do except yoga. All the Ashramites used to have the meals together and since they are all yogis, yoga was always there for discussion. The institute is 20 minutes walk away from the ashram, therefore we used to walk through and fro discussing the asanas and instructions of the teachers. Even after dinner before sleeping we used to discuss about the technicalities of asanas learned during the day. Then we had regular classes and 3 hours practice in the institute every day. In the leisure time in between we used to discuss and practice some difficult and challenging asanas. Chantal and Martin in particular have helped Tulsi, Sweta and me by sharing their experience and expertise in teaching certain asanas. Chantal would come forward to correct the postures even during the practice session.
All these teachers who lived at the ashram are very sweet, kind and humble. They treated us like a family. We are still missing the stories of Ushaji and teachings of Chantal and friendliness of Martin, Romano and Audra. I would like to add one more name of my friend Eric from California, USA. Though we had a very short time to spare, we had some good memories together. During Sundays and other holidays we used to walk around the local areas exploring Pune. Thank you guys for making a memorable learning experience of our lives. With your friendship and love we never realized how those 31 days have passed in a flash.

In the end, I would like to say that the one month stay at Pune studying yoga under these experienced teachers of RIMYI has brought a great exposure to my yoga practice. My approach and the way of my practice have completely changed now. The classes in Pune were informative, instructive, intense and enjoyable. I miss that atmosphere, those classes, those wonderful teachers and the practice sessions at RIMYI. More importantly I miss Guruji and his presence during the practice sessions. He is such an inspiration and energy tonic for the practitioners. I personally felt the impact of his presence during practice. Miss you Guruji!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

INCREDIBLE GURUJI



The ferocious Lion of Pune is still roaring. Yes! Exactly I mean by the 94 year old Guruji Sri. B.K.S. Iyengar. Even now he practices for about 3 hours a day without a miss. I am blessed with an opportunity to see him practice live for the first time in my life.

As mentioned many times before in my blog, I began my yoga practice from Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga”. Ever since I came to know about Guruji I wanted to see him practice his asanas live with my own eyes. It took me four years to get an opportunity to see him in action. I met him quite number of times but never got an opportunity to see him in full action. Finally in the month of August 2013 I along with my wife Tulsi and a friend Sweta got the grace of Guruji and we got an admission for one month at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, (RIMYI) Pune. When I updated my status on facebook saying that I am going to Pune for one month yoga classes at RIMYI, many of my friends replied to share my experiences about Guruji’s practice.

This blog “Incredible Guruji” is all about my experiences with Guruji and his practice during those precious 31 days we spent in Pune studying yoga at RIMYI. I was fortunate enough to experience many facets of Guruji’s life during this invaluable period of 31 days. He is a serious yoga practitioner, beloved yoga Guru to millions and never tiring yoga teacher, a complete family man, a very modest, humble, generous and kind human being.


Guruji as a Practitioner:

1st August 2013 was the day I experienced the delight of watching Guruji practicing his asanas live for the first time in my life. We were allotted 9 am to 12 pm time for practice in the main hall of RIMYI. It was an amazing experience to be the part of same yoga hall where Guruji practices his asanas. It was an exciting and nervous feeling to be practicing before him.


      
      

Taking a short break after my class, I walked into the yoga hall for practice. Guruji was already in and was practicing at one corner of the hall alongside a Trestler. I quietly walked down to the corner where Guruji was practicing to get my yoga mat. When I was finding my belt for practice, Ushaji a senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher from Rishikesh patted my back and said, look what Guruji is doing by pointing a finger at him. Guruji was doing his Sirsasana with his antique clock before him. It was an amazing experience to see a 94 year old man doing Sirsasana with such a majestic poise and charisma. I stood awestruck gazing at him for some time. It was my first time to watch Guruji doing Sirsasana from such a close distance. Believe me, it was the best Sirsasana I have ever seen. I could not believe my eyes to the way he extended his trunk upwards. I saw people doing Sirsasana directly or through media but this one by Guruji was better than the best. I haven’t seen anyone extending the trunk up better than this. People say that Guruji’s postures got better and better with his age and I was really fortunate enough to witness this fact.



I then walked back to my place for practice. Since it was my first day I was not sure what to practice, I decided to practice the asanas taught in the morning class. Though I was practicing at the other corner of the hall, my eyes were still on Guruji. I was more curious to watch Guruji’s practice than do my own practice. After every asana I was looking at Guruji. I was practicing asana after asana and watching Guruji. 30 minutes gone and I have completed half of the asanas taught in a 90 minute class but Guruji was still in his Sirsasana. I was wondering how long he is going to stay more in Sirsasana. Around 20 minutes he did Salamba Sirsasana with hands behind his head and then for another 20 minutes he did niralamba Sirsasana with hands up holding the belt tied to a Trestler. It was the mind blowing stuff for me. Day one and I got an opportunity to see this kind of performance from Guruji. He was so stable and calm during his entire stay in the posture. I have no words to describe this incredible man. It is impossible to take your sight away from Guruji when he is practicing his asanas. I am really blessed to get an opportunity to see him in action this way.

Another fascinating thing about Guruji is that he practices Sirsasana as a first pose and continues with other poses for not less than 2 hours. Even a young man would not dare to do Sirsasana in the beginning of his practice as it tires you completely. He was milking his asanas with his toys called props.

The next time when I saw Guruji I was taken away by surprise. Guruji was in Sirsasana again and this time the pose was quite against the one I saw on first day. Guruji’s one side of the trunk and one of the legs are collapsed and the elbow is wide open. I was keenly observing Guruji wondering what happened to his Sirsasana today. He remained in the asana like that for quite long time. It took me no time to understand that he is doing some kind of experiment with his Sirsasana. But still I asked my teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan on my return about this experience to confirm whether I understood properly. She said, If he sees someone doing a wrong Sirsasana in the medical class or the general class, he often experiments himself to know the cause and effects of the asana before making correction on others. He is still such a keen learner and keeps on trying different things.

One more thing I observed is that Guruji is mostly practicing his inversions, intense backbends and sitting asanas. I haven’t seen him practicing any of the standing asanas during his practice. It is understandable though because he has come up from a serious illness during the last summer. When I met him in the month of April’13 during Dr. B. Raghu’s 60th birth anniversary he was not even fit for his practice. I was able to see during his practice that a bad cough was still troubling him.

The most fascinating thing about him is that he never misses his practice until it is very essential. He is going to be the one who enters first in the practice hall and is the last to vacate the hall.
On Saturday the 17th of August 2013, a tragedy took place in Guruji’s family. It’s a kind of double blow for Iyengar family. On one hand, Sunita one of the daughters of Guruji was suffering from breast cancer for a long time and was undergoing a chemotherapy treatment in the hospital. On the other hand, she lost her husband due to heart attack on the same day. It is said that he was found dead in sputa svastikasana. I read in one of the yoga rahasya magazine that it is the last wish of Guruji too. He wants to leave his mortal body doing an asana. I came to know from Peggy one of the senior teachers from USA that Guruji had been warned by his Guru and many others to stop practicing after a certain age. But Guruji never listened to them as he exactly knows what he is doing. He brought so much clarity, quality and purity in his practice that he believes that he can practice till the last breath of his life.

After the death of Guruji’s son-in-law many expected Guruji might not turn up for his practice for a week or two. But I had a gut feeling that he will show up for the practice and he did turned up for practice on the very next day of the funerals. He was seen quite normal during his practice. People felt this double blow might hurt Guruji and make him weak. But I saw no signs of weakness in Guruji. He might have felt sad but he happily accepted the destiny. It reminds me of his words during his interaction with Dalai Lama during a TV interview. Someone asked Guruji saying “Guruji! Yoga teaches detachment and how can we detach ourselves and remain helpless when some of our loved ones is suffering and going through pain?” Then Guruji said, “Though I am a yogi, I had a very good relationship with my wife. She was with me during all my hard times. Since I didn’t have much chance to study with my Guru, I used to work on my alignments and postures with my wife. I don’t even have money to buy a mirror. She used to correct me all the time. When she was ill and admitted in the hospital, I had a class in Mumbai. I went to her and asked, shall I stay with you? She said, No! I will take care of myself. You don’t worry about me and go to take your classes in Mumbai. I went to Mumbai, stayed 2 days and while coming back home in a train one of my students asked me, Guruji! Where would you like to go, to the hospital or home? I said if she is still alive I go to the hospital otherwise I go home. That student started crying and said Guruji! I am sorry I was asked not to tell you until you reach home but she is no more. Guruji said he realized that last night when he had a nightmare.  I realized that she was going to leave her mortal body. I accepted the destiny and after that I put everything into Yoga.”

It is said that he did not had any tears in his eyes when he saw his wife. He sat quietly hugging his children. I don’t think Guruji ever had a bigger pain than this in his life.  Though he is a family man, he is arguably the greatest yogis of our time.

Guruji was seen on and off his practice during the last couple of weeks as he was busy attending funeral proceedings and the last rites of his son-in-law. But he was on his practice as and when he found time in between. He was certainly seen tired travelling to his daughter’s house, attending the proceedings of his son-in-law’s last rites and travelling back home. Whenever he feels tired he used to start his practice with a long Savasana with all the weights on his legs and a blanket covered over his trunk. Many of us do Savasana and many say Savasana is their favorite asana but I am glad to say that I am blessed to see a real Savasana by Guruji. The kind of quietness I saw in the eyes, face, skin and the whole body of Guruji that I am short of words to explain. Bliss would probably the only apt word to explain it.

In spite of the tragedy Guruji was very keen on his practice and teaching his younger students like Raya, Abhijata, Uday, Gulnaz and others.


Guruji as a Teacher:

Though Guruji had retired from active teaching but he hasn’t stopped teaching yet. Even today he attends medical classes and supervises them personally. He still teaches in the women class twice a week. He also teaches the new generation teachers named above during his practice every day.

 


Every Wednesday, Guruji used to take medical classes. You actually have to seek permission by paying some amount to observe medical classes. Moreover you need to be a teacher to attend those classes I guess. We were fortunate enough to have Abhayji’s class on Wednesdays on the second floor. We therefore used sit on the stairs waiting for our turn to get in. This provided us a great opportunity to observe medical classes. It was a great experience to watch a medical class. Whole lot of activities happens in the medical class. Guruji sits on the platform instructing all the teachers working in the class. Sometimes he used to walk to each and every student correcting postures and asking how he feels. It was a fascinating sight to see so many teachers from RIMYI and other parts of the World working altogether in tandem to aid people suffering from various health problems.

Every Wednesday and Saturday used to be a class for women. We haven’t got an opportunity to observe these classes but we learned from Ushaji, Chantal and Peggy few details about the class. It is usually a Guruji’s class conducted by Abhijata or Raya. Guruji practices at one corner of the hall and gives instructions to Raya or Abhijata and they pass on the instructions to the students. You can call it a proxy class. It is said that even though he does his own practice, he keeps an eye on every student even at the other corner of the hall. He is incredible.


 


I was part of his classes during the practice. He used to teach Raya, Abhijata, Uday and sometimes Gulnaz and some others during his daily practice. It was a delight to watch Abhijata and Raya learning from Guruji. Sometimes they really enjoy Guruji and sometimes Guruji fires at them. A few numbers of times I closely observed Guruji giving instructions to them. I realized that Guruji has passed on his entire knowledge to his senior students and now he wants to pass on to this young generation teachers who had the responsibility to carry his work further.

Guruji as a family man:

Though Guruji is a yogi he is always a family man. It is learned that this very fact has created difficulties for him in the past. Ushaji, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from Rishikesh told us that Guruji was not accepted as a yogi by the community because he is a married man having a family. Guruji shattered all the hypocrisies’ and proved that even a married man can be a serious yoga practitioner.

   


I haven’t seen Guruji interacting with Prashantji or Geetaji much but I got an opportunity to see him practicing and teaching grand daughter Abhijata. Guruji and Abhijata share a great relationship together. They practice together and it is always a fun to watch them practicing. I witnessed him giving instructions to Abhijata on various advance postures and abhijata implementing his instructions to perfection most of the times. Guruji appreciates and applauds if she grasps the information and does well and sometimes she even gets the firing from Guruji.

One of my friends Sweta feels that Abhijata is very lucky to be a grand daughter of Guruji. But I feel she is luckier to be a student of Guruji than a grand daughter. Being a grand daughter she could only get love and affection but being a student she gets love as well as the knowledge and wisdom from Guruji which matters the most.

Abhijata’s father used to bring Sathvika a new born baby of Abhijata to Guruji every morning during his practice hours. It was a great moment to watch him play with Sathvika. I have noticed a very interesting thing about Guruji. He used to play with her swinging her hands, pulling her legs making some gibberish sounds like a child and gives the baby back to Abhi’s father. I have realized that he plays not more than 2 minutes with her. It takes no time for him to detach himself from the affection of the kid and come back to practice. It reminds me of his words from his video “Leap of Faith” where he said that he gets so much love and affection from his students and followers that whenever they come he receives them with love and immediately detaches himself not to get carried away and let the ego develop.


As a beloved Guruji:

  

Above all he is the most beloved Guruji of all. He is so modest, humble, kind and generous that you fall in love with him. Before meeting him I heard and read lot about his temper and attitude. But I found him the most humble and modest person I have ever seen. It is a different thing when he is teaching. You cannot judge the nature of a person with his qualities of a teacher. I don’t think any celebrity in this World apart from Guruji is so easily accessible. He receives one and all whether he knows you or not with great love and affection. I had personally witnessed how difficult it is for him to get away from the starring eyes of hundreds of people everyday even in his practice. People always want to see him, meet him, talk to him, take his autograph and photographs etc. He obliges one and all with great patience because he really understands what that means to them when he acknowledges them with a kind gesture of words, autograph or photograph. His simple gesture can give them a boost of inspiration in their practice of yoga. But I felt people also must understand that he is getting older now, he is also a human being and needs some privacy and we must leave him alone. I have seen him couple of times enjoying privacy over his balcony but then someone sees him and do the pranam and he leaves the place. It is because if one starts doing that another follows and it never stops. It is understandable that meeting Guruji is a sheer joy as I mentioned in my previous blog but we must also respect his privacy, age, time and mood to get an interaction with him.


Blessings of Guruji:


I was also one of them who don’t want to miss any opportunity to make an interaction with Guruji. But I interacted only once this time with Guruji. First few days my eyes were always on him observing his actions. In couple of days I realized that all eyes are gazing him and he is not let alone even in the practice hall. Couple of days more and I realized that he is so sensitive that even these gazing troubles him but he never complains. So I decided not to trouble him any more even by gazing. But I wanted to have his autograph on one of his book before leaving Pune. I was waiting for an appropriate time to happen. It finally happened just one day before we left Pune. I went to the institute in the afternoon to buy some books and props for my practice. Guruji walked in and sat on his seat. He was sitting alone. I went to him along with my friends and bowed before his feet and took his blessings. Then I asked for an autograph which Guruji pleasantly obliged. Then I told Guruji that we are from Hyderabad, students of Zarna Mohan. He said, Yah! Yah! I know. I conveyed the prayers of my teacher and told him that we have come here for one month and tomorrow will be our last day at the institute. Guruji had a broad smile and raised both of his hands and said, ‘God bless you! God bless you!’ This is how our trip to Pune ended. 

  

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