Thursday, September 14, 2017

Iyengar Yoga Intensive at Ballari

The seed of thought for writing this article is sown by my teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan. One evening after the class, she asked me whether I am writing anything on Ballari workshop. I said, I was busy and hadn't thought of it yet. I then came back home and gone to bed after dinner. The thought ignited by her sparked at mid night. I woke up at 2 Am and wasn't getting a sleep. So I observed my mind keenly. I do this often to induce sleep. Till this time I hadn't thought of writing on Ballari workshop. Madam has given an idea to write but then my mind was working on to find a reason to write. I tried to figure out the reasons for which I started this blog. Then I realized, it is this blog that inspired some students in Hyderabad to take up Iyengar yoga classes with Zarna Madam. It is this blog that brought my friend Mohit Garg to Zarna Madam when he was relocating from Pune to Hyderabad. He is now teaching beginners under her guidance. It is this blog that Introduced my friend Virupaksha Dani to get the feel of "Yoganusasanam" by Geeta Iyengar and there by introduced to Zarna madam. It is this blog that introduced me to a good friend Sunil Kolhatkar in Pune. He is now attending the classes of Prashant Iyengar at RIMYI in Pune. I made many good friends far across the nation and even abroad through this blog. This blog played a role in uniting people. Is this reason not enough to write a blog? Thinking this, I fell a sleep. Next morning when I woke up, I immediately put this thought on paper so that I don't forget. The seed is sown and it sprouted as well. It's time to grow.

Iyengar yoga in Ballari:

I would like to write few things about my friend Virupaksha Dani before I progress and share my experiences about the workshop. Inspired from my article on the "feel of Yoganusasanam 2014" on this blog Viru wrote me up saying that he is interested in attending the "Yoganusasanam 2015". I helped him up in the process of registration for the event and finding his accommodation at Balewadi in Pune. This is how we met and the friendship continued to Rita Keller's workshop in Bellur and Zarna madam's workshop in Rishikesh. Both were outstanding workshops in terms of exposure and learning yoga and yoga philosophy. I began to understand him better after our trip to char-dham immediately after Rishikesh workshop.

Viru is a dedicated practitioner and an Iyengar yoga teacher in a small town of Ballari in Karnataka. He has been practicing yoga since his young days but introduced to Iyengar yoga only 8 years ago in a RSS camp conducted by Raghavendra Shenoy in Mangalore. Inspired by the session, he went on to learn Iyengar Yoga from Sri. Raghavendra Shenoy at various camps and from Karunakaran in Mangalore. Few years later he began to teach local people in Police Gymkhana in Ballari. He gradually went on to establish an Iyengar yoga center called 'Yogasri' hiring a hall on rent at Bala Bharati School. With his dedication and hard work he acquired good number of students now. 

First Iyengar yoga intensive at Yogasri:

The foundation for the possible workshop is laid by Virupaksha in Rishikesh when he invited Zarna madam to Ballari in the month of April 2017.

Couple of months after our return from Chardham, he called me up and said 'Ram, I would like to invite Zarna madam to Ballari for a workshop. Do you think she will agree?' I advised him to write an email inviting her to Ballari. He wrote an email and even called her inviting to Ballari. Subsequently, after seeking some information she gave her nod for the workshop.

Viru was happy and so do I. He then called me up and invited me and Tulsi to Ballari. Since we just arrived from an expensive trip of char-dham and I still had some debts to repay; I said will let him know later. He began to call me again and again insisting to come with Tulsi.

I was not sure whether we could make our trip to Ballari till the last 5 days before the schedule. It was again because of Zarna madam and Parmeshji the Ballari trip happened. They assigned me a job to take yoga sessions for the staff of L&T for six days and from the proceeds I received, booked the tickets to Ballari 3 days before the event.

Tulsi and I reached Ballari two days before the event as we wanted to make sure that arrangements were made properly for the event. Rajesh Bagadi from Belgaum also joined us the same day.

Workshop Experience:

Finally the day has come as our teacher arrived Ballari on 2nd of September 2017.  It was certainly a good experience for the students of Ballari as that was their first exposure to a workshop with a senior teacher like Zarna madam. We could see the enthusiasm and joy in their faces. Madam won their accolades in a single session and touched their hearts by the end of the workshop with her humility and the class of her teaching.

As far as we are concerned it was a new kind of exposure for us. Though we have been associated with her for a long time, she always offer something new to learn. Ballari intensive was a different learning experience. This time we were not participating students but were observing and helping the students. A day before the event I observed Virupaksha's class. Looking at the students I realized that it would be really difficult for our teacher to help and adjust all the students single handedly. So I, Tulsi and Virupaksha took the role of volunteers helping and adjusting the students during the session. I must appreciate the spirit and enthusiasm of those students who let us adjust them freely without any hesitation as we were completely new to them. Within a single session they become very friendly and some even called us for assisting them into their pose.
Since the workshop was for beginners, madam tried to teach the basic principles of alignment, precision and sequencing. Among these, one thing got registered in my mind with some impact was about sequencing. She taught, not only there is a sequencing of asanas in Iyengar system but also there is sequence in every asana. She must have taught it before but it got registered here during this workshop with some impact.

When you are dealing with someone new, it takes time for the students and even the teacher to catch up things. Since it was a short workshop of only two days, neither the students nor the teacher had time to understand one another. Instead of asking them to go into their poses straight away, she had a short interactive session asking simple questions and replying to their queries. Within a very short time she brought ease in the students which helped them perform their asanas smoothly. But that doesn't mean the sessions were not intense. She made it clear that she means business and made sure that everyone gets his/her money's worth.

She always used to tell us, teaching a beginner is not easy unless you know the basics right. She used to emphasize on learning the basics right. During this workshop, we learned how a beginner understands the same instruction differently and how one should deal with them as a teacher. When I was teaching the beginners in the class, she used to tell me, Ram! You should restrain yourself and come down to the level of a beginner while teaching them. I still remember the first instruction when she assigned me the job to teach. She said, you should remember the state of your body and mind when you started yoga while teaching them. She reminded me again and again that don't teach them what you know but teach them what they can understand and do. Even after this I used to get carried away at times as restraining is not that easy. Sometimes, you feel that you are restrained but the fact will be otherwise. She then taught me to watch their eyes to know whether they are tired and see whether their faces are relaxed. Here in this workshop I learned how one has to be restrained. In-spite of all her experience and practice, at no moment she got carried away. A delight to watch her teaching.

I have got the opportunity to learn from different teachers and each one of them have some unique features. Zarna madam has one such unique feature of demonstrating the asana before instructing them to do as the visual presentation has greater impact on students than the audio. She demonstrates couple of times and will repeat again very patiently if any student asks her to do so.


A strange observation came to my mind. I was understanding the teachings with clarity as an observer than a participant. Most of her teachings from the workshop are afresh in my mind. I did not try to remember them but they are coming to my notice when I am practicing at home.

I remember when I was learning intermediate level 1 classes at RIMYI in Pune, I used to observe the intermediate level 2 classes in my leisure time. One day, observing the class from the stairs I found that my feet were tight and my hands were tensed and so are my eyes and the head. Though I was sitting and watching, the mind was doing the action along with others and as a result of that my nerves were tensed and the body got tight. Now I realized, that kind of anxiety to do has lessened in me to a great extent.

There was a therapy session also as a part of the workshop for people with different ailments. For the last one year I have been working with her in therapy classes at Hyderabad. I have seen so many people getting cured of serious ailments with her healing hands and expertise in the field of therapy. One such magical moment occurred with a 7 to 8 year old boy. The boy is suffering from Cerebral Palsy. On asking, she said that he has a neurological disorder caused by non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while child's brain is under development. As a result of it body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance is affected.

Though the boy was able to walk but was walking on toes with heels lifted high and fumbling. Due to weakness in his muscles he was running rather walking due to the fear of falling. There was tremendous improvement in those two days. He could actually rest the heels and walk slowly when madam insisted him to press the heel on the floor while walking. The boy also worked with lot of understanding and intelligence. He was moving the exact muscles which she asked to move. With proper guidance and training he will surely recover soon. She explained us how she worked at him. She made him use the muscles that are working to mobilize the muscles that are not functioning.

Ballari people loved the way she conducted the therapy sessions. They were really happy the way she touched people. A lady got so impressed that she invited her for the lunch. She was rather insistent to take her to lunch and if not dinner. But due to time constrain she couldn't make it.

Organization of the Event:

Within no time the end has come. Since it was a short two day workshop; it ended quickly. Initially, I thought the workshop is too short but then at the end I felt it was apt for the level of beginners as the students were not used to this kind of extended sessions through out the day.

I must appreciate Virupaksha and all the students who participated in organizing the event smoothly as it is not a one man job.

The event was perfectly started with lightening ceremony by Zarna madam paying respects to Guruji and Patanjali. And ended equally on well note by felicitating her  by Virupaksha and the students of Yogasri, Ballari.

We returned from Ballari with lots of love and affection. On behalf of Zarna madam, I would like to thank Virupaksha and all the students for their love and regards. Special thanks to Mrs. Madhavi, Mrs. Lata and their entire family for the hospitality and love shown towards us. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Action in Bellur,

In my previous blog "Developments at Bellur 2015" I tried to bring the developments that took place in Bellur the birth place of Guruji over a period of time. It was highly appreciated by the Iyengar yoga community all over. What delighted me more was the publishing of this article in Yog Rahasya Vol. 23, No.1, 2016.

By the grace of Guruji, I again got an opportunity to visit Bellur for a workshop conducted by Rita Keller. Some interesting developments came to my observation, which I would like to share through this blog. Many of you are aware that a huge yoga hall that can accommodate 300 students was inaugurated by Geeta S Iyengar and Prashant S Iyengar on 8th of September 2015.

The construction of accommodation facility is now complete and a beautiful new building is ready to accommodate 30 plus people on sharing basis. There is a huge dining hall attached to this building that can accommodate around 300 people in one go. Activities are on to make the premises clean and green. Bellur being a water scarce village, every care is being taken to procure and preserve water by constructing water pits and ducts within the premises. A huge ARO plant is established under the water tank to supply pure drinking water to the visitors.


Keeping these construction activities aside, BKSSNT is quite in action this year. As a part of anniversary celebrations few workshops have been conducted in Bellur Yoga hall this year. In August 2016, there was a workshop conducted by Abhijata along with Birjoo and Rajvi Mehta. December was quite happening month as Manouso Manos conducted a 5 day workshop from 16th of December 2016 to 20th Of December 2016 and Rita Keller conducted a 8 day workshop from 31st of December 2016 to 7th of January 2017. I must say these two workshops have raised curtains to a new beginning. Workshops have been conducted in Bellur in the past as well. Teachers from the West and even from India have conducted workshops but they came only with their students and not others. This time all students were allowed to participate in the events. But unfortunately the events were badly publicized and badly planned I must say; that resulted in low turnout of participants.

Three major events in one month coinciding with Abhijata's intensive in Pune is a bad move. Unfamiliarity of Manouso and Rita Keller among Indian students might also be responsible for the lukewarm response for these two workshops in Bellur. Anyway, we were very fortunate to participate and blessed to have studied under the expert teachings of Rita Keller in a small group. It was a memorable experience that we are going to cherish for a long time. I hope the organisers will take enough care in arranging the future events with proper planning.

A beautiful, massive yoga hall that can accommodate around 300 students and a kitchen and dining hall that can serve same number of people is built. This shows that Guruji must have had a vision to conduct intensives in Bellur on a large scale. So, we can expect big events coming on cards in near future in Bellur. All this sounds good to listen but lot of work is yet to be done. The major issue if such a big event occurs is the lack of accommodation facilities for living of the participants. Currently the trust can only accommodate 35-40 people on sharing basis. If it is assumed that visitors from abroad and some Indians who can afford will stay in hotels also do not look possible as the hotels are quite far from Bellur and will be with limited room space. I don't think even foreigners would like to stay in expensive hotels as no one would like to spend their hard earned money unless it is essential or have no other choice.

Building accommodation facility for such a large number of visitors involve plenty of money, space, time and effort. Off course, we might collect money in the name of Guruji's noble cause and build huge complexes but I would like to take it to the notice of the administrators that we can still make wonderful arrangements in short span of time with minimal expenditure. There is enough space in the premises of BKSSNT. There are some wonderful craftsmen in rural areas of India, Kerala in particular who can build beautiful wood and bamboo made kuteers that are nature friendly and economical. That gives an authentic and traditional look and a pleasant feel to the visitors and I think foreigners would also love to live in such kuteers. This in turn can reduce the cost of accommodation to the participants. Permanent structures can gradually be built over a period of time.

Though there is some action in Bellur but this is not going to serve the purpose. I think more workshops and teacher training programs etc., should be conducted at regular intervals. Some of the senior teachers from the west are already doing some good job and now I think is the time for some of the Indian senior teachers to come forward and conduct workshops in Bellur. This not only serve the economy of BKSSNT but of the entire village of Bellur. RIMYI can be taken as a live example. It is contributing to the economy of Pune to a great extent. Model colony in particular is making their living in the name of Guruji and RIMYI hiring their apartments to Iyengar yogis coming across the world. Many visitors are concerned about the growing rental prices in Pune as they go with market demand and no regulations apply to them. If this situation is to be avoided in Bellur in coming future, BKSSNT must take initiatives to accommodate visitors in the premises by constructing enough cottages and charge reasonably to the participants without being influenced by the real estate market outside. You cannot say that hotels outside are charging Rs. 1000 but we are charging only Rs. 800 per head etc. There should be a standard BKSSNT price unaffected by the market fluctuation. There should not be any discrimination in the facilities provided also. You cannot say deluxe rooms cost this and ordinary rooms cost that. This discrimination keeps you in the category of hotel industry. A yoga institute associated with Guruji should not fall into that category. Guruji lead his entire life in simplicity. The World is evident how simple is his living room in Pune and in Bellur, then why deluxe and non-deluxe facilities for participants? I know it is not easy for any administrator to implement this policy and I think this may be the reason for Guruji concentrating only on practising and teaching yoga in Pune rather concentrating on providing accommodation to visitors.

I also felt the need for a Library and a book store where we can buy books, DVDS and some props as we do at RIMYI. This not only would serve the visitors but the local students who are now taking yoga seriously.

On the other hand, I continued my quest about the developments that are taking place in the field of education in Bellur. One of the major development was that few kids who performed asanas during Guruji's 95th Birth Anniversary have now come to college and are trained as Yoga teachers for future. They are now teaching yoga to the primary school students and villagers at a school near Patanjali Temple in Bellur. Gajendra, Prashant and Sunita are some of these guys who I have interacted with. They have been sent to RIMYI to upgrade their skills and are now allowed to participate in all the workshops that occur in Bellur as a part of this project. I take this opportunity to wish them a good luck and great future.

We were regularly in touch with the activities of the high school as Rita Keller was taking us to the programs conducted by the children. I must make a special mention about the class we had together with 200 plus children. It was great fun to match the speed of those kids. Amazing energy and speed. We thoroughly enjoyed the way Rita Keller took the class. Rita also distributed some chocolates and pens as a present for their wonderful display of skills.

On the last day of my stay I took some time to walk around the college campus and interacted with some teachers, principal and students of the college. I was looking out for a teacher called Chaitra in particular. If you remember my previous post on Bellur, I wrote something about her. She is the first child enrolled in the school established by Guruji at BKSSNT, a pass out of the first batch of Ramamani Sundararaja Iyengar High School. She has completed her Masters in Commerce and B.Ed. and now she teaches B.Com students in the college established by Guruji under the umbrella of BKSSNT. She was really delighted to know her achievement was published in one of my blogs and also in Yoga Rahasya.  She thanked Guruji and said, this all happened due to the blessings of Guruji.

Finally, I would like to thank Guruji, Raghu sir and his team Govindaraju sir, Pradeep Naidu, Hema and her team for extending all their co-operation and co-ordination in making the workshop successful and memorable.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rita Keller Workshop at Bellur 2017

In the year 2012, I had been to Bellur, the birth place of Guruji for an Iyengar yoga workshop with my teacher Zarna Mohan. Then I came to know from Mr. Govinda Raju that two foreign teachers Patricia Walden and Rita Keller were conducting intensives during December/January of every year with a group of foreign students.

Couple of months later, the name Rita Keller strike my ears again in Pune from one of my friends 'Martin Zilbauer' from Germany. He said that she is one of the best Iyengar yoga teachers we have in existence. I again heard her name from another friend of mine 'Audra Stonkiene' from Lithuania a year later. Both of them have insisted not to miss her workshop if she travels to India.

In 2015 I met her with the help of Audra at Balewadi stadium, Pune during "Geetaji's workshop - Yoganusasanam". I expressed my willingness to take part in the workshop and requested her to open the gates for Indians also. She said welcome with her wide arms.

After this short interaction, I eagerly waited for the announcement of the workshop for almost a year. Finally the wait was over as the schedule was announced in the month of September 2016. It is learnt that she is conducting a 8 day workshop in Bellur from 31st of December 2016 to 7th of January 2017. I then wrote an email to Rita Keller seeking her permission and other details of the workshop. She expressed her happiness as Indians have also shown interest in her workshop in India.

I informed my fellow mates in the class at Hyderabad but very few showed interest in it. Many of them were surprised to my decision of attending Rita Keller's workshop. December was full of options for Iyengar Yoga students. Abhjijata was conducting a workshop in Pune and so does Manouso Manos in Bellur. I have no options to choose because I made my mind for Rita Keller's workshop long back. I succeeded in mobilizing six people from India to Bellur for the workshop.
Before I mention the experience of studying yoga with Rita Keller I would like to say few words for Rita Keller and her work in Bellur.

Rita Keller:

Rita Keller needs no introduction to the western world of Yoga. Rita Keller is a senior practitioner from Germany, a profound teacher trainer and Advanced Junior level teacher personally certified by Guruji. She started her yoga practice at the age of 20 and Iyengar yoga at 22. For the last 43 years she has been practicing and teaching intensively in Germany and all over the world. She is the pioneer in taking Iyengar Yoga to many parts of Europe. On the words of Guruji she took the responsibility to take Iyengar yoga to a distance and travelled all parts of Europe, America and other parts of the World teaching Iyengar yoga.

She become an author who wrote books on yoga at an early age of 22 but her books "Yoga for Motherhood and Yoga for Menopause" co-written with Geeta S. Iyengar were well appreciated. She is coming up with yet another prestigious book "Yoga Philosophy and Ayurveda".

She has a special connection to the birth place of Guruji, Bellur. Guruji once told her standing on a Rock pointing at the village; "Rita I want to do something for this village". He had a unique vision for Bellur. He want to see the village free from poverty, illiteracy, disease and unemployment. With this vision he started Bellur Krishnamachar Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust in the year 2005. Since then Rita Keller is in association with Bellur but from 2008 she is actively participating in the development of Bellur. She has now become a household name not only to the staff of BKSSNT but to the villagers as well. She is very popular figure now for the villagers and school children. She is loved by one and all due to her caring and loving nature.

Workshop with Rita Keller:

It was an unforgettable experience to be in class with Rita Keller. We were the only group of 6 from India and a group of 8 from Germany have attended the workshop. Later few students from Bellur and their teachers joined us. Two of my friends Rajaram and Virupaksha were little nervous before the workshop as they were wondering whether they can understand her. I told them not to worry because you may not be good in English but you know the subject, so don't worry.

To their surprise, nervousness lasted only for a session. It was a very impressive first session. She started with a lesson on Taittiriya Upanishad and the way she established a connection in each act we do in an asana with the teachings of Taitthiriya Upanishad was very adorable.
We were spellbound by her profound knowledge and understanding of the ancient philosophical aspect of Yoga. She explained how each Kosa is connected with the elements of nature and how gunas influence the functioning of the human mind.

As we progressed, we understood the word alignment in Iyengar yoga has a deep insight. It is not just the alignment of physical body but is an alignment of Pancha Mahabhootas, Panchakosas, Pancha Jnanendriyas, Pancha Karamendriyas, Pancha Tanmatras and Chitta.
She tried to make us feel, understand and experience the role the feet (earth element) play in bringing solidity and hands (water element), skin (air element)  play in bringing mobility in different elements of nature in the body.

Pranayama sessions were also very unique. Instead of teaching different varieties of pranayama she emphasized in understanding the breath and its behaviour. She taught how to get established in breath by deeper observations rather going for breathing cycles. The keynotes given during pranayama sessions were marvellous.

After attending this workshop I could say that the way I look at the asanas and pranayama has changed drastically. During breaks, she had longer discussions with each student asking about their practice, health history and guided accordingly into the asanas. She is very soft in nature and therefore never shouted or pushed anyone into the pose. But it doesn't mean that she is not intense. We stayed longer into the poses than we normally do. Very few teachers have this knack of teaching.

Her teachings left such a deep imprint on my mind that I found sometimes in sleep, I am sleeping in supta tadasana stretching the soles of the feet and sometimes extending the skin of my hands etc. I once conveyed this to her. She smiled and said, it's good that the classes have deep imprint on your mind.

This workshop was different from other intensives I have attended so far. She I think has focused on teaching us how to establish our practice rather teaching asana after asana. During one of our conversations, she said that 'you look like a good practitioner and a hard worker I can say, but you need to practice more intelligently. Now you have to become an intelligent practitioner not the hard worker." I was moved by her words as my teacher often say the same thing. She says, why do you put so much effort where you can do things with less effort? Though I started working on this already, I hope and wish with the blessings of these teachers and Guruji I will learn to work intelligently and establish my practice with intelligence. She had given everything to everyone individually throughout the classes and also gave some home work to do after the sessions. We were really touched by her teachings and her personality.

She is such a sweet lady with warm heart and caring nature. We were touched by her nature on and off the yoga sessions. Not for a single day we felt that she is a foreign teacher and we the Indian students. On first day, she came to our dining table and introduce herself to us. We were surprised to see her memory. She immediately pointed a finger at me and my wife and said, I met two of you before. And I told her that we met in Pune last year.

She then found that we were sitting away from German group and said we must sit together from now on. No Indians, no foreigners, we are one now with her trademark smile, she walked away. In spite of this the group was not opening up freely though we have introduced ourselves.
We used to walk around the fields to the village to Patanjali temple everyday where we used to chant 108 names of Patanjali. This helped us in getting closer and bringing two groups together. In couple of days we become a single group.


One day Rita took us to Melukote a remote village in Karnataka 125 kms away from Bellur. Melukote is a historic place where we have some ancient temples and an ancient University of Sanskrit language. Among the temples, Yoga Narasimha Swamy temple needs to be mentioned. Here the deity is in a sitting posture with a belt wrapped around his legs. It is said that Guruji got an inspiration to introduce a yoga belt by looking at this deity. Talking about the Sanskrit college, there is a beautiful library in the premises that preserved very ancient texts and literatures in its original form. The manuscripts are now available in digital form for the readers.

We booked a mini bus and travelled to a journey of two and half hours to Melukote. This was real fun trip. For the first time the discrimination disappeared and we all felt at  home. I must make a special mention here of Rita Keller. With my personal experience, I can say that leading a group is not an easy task. Though they go in group but they have personal priorities and fulfilling personal priorities is a daunting task for the person leading the group. Always some unpleasant experience occur when you tour in a group as you can't please individually. But I must say kudos to Rita Keller for handling the group with utmost care and patience. She has taken care of every individual quite well. I can sense, she must have had some nervous moments during the trip and must have relaxed reaching back home where her responsibility ends.

In no time the workshop ended and we had to depart. Rita Keller and few others have tears in their eyes when we were waving to send them off. This shows how deeply we got connected in that short period of time. I don't know whether we meet again or not, therefore I am leaving all names who attended the workshop as memories.

Rita Keller, Peter Boller and his wife Birgit, Inga Wulf, Kirsi Tietavainen, Birgit Schulzebug, Micheline Merz, Cornelia Klie, Eva, Valaboju Raghavendrachari, Sridhar Gyara, Rajaram Bagade, Virupaksha Dani, Ram and Tulsi Godar along with wonder kids of Bellur, Sunitha, Gajendra, Prashant Ranjit, Santosh and their teachers Lakshmikanth and Kumar.

How can I forget the wonder kids of Bellur? I am leaving a memory of this child prodigy who surprised one and all by his exceptional skills in asana.

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