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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