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Rest in Peace B.K.S. Iyengar, 1918-2014

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Remembering Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar
Iyengar appeared in a dream I had in about 1968–this was our first meeting. I had recently started taking yoga classes at the suggestion of my boss at work (how can you refuse your boss?). We were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts then, and I was working at Harvard part-time while my then husband attended school. We had a young son, and Mrs. Katz, my boss at the international office of the Unversity, recognized my need for some grounding. She had been attending a lunch time yoga class with Sandra Merrihue in Porter Square, and I happily tagged along.
One day Sandra pulled out a copy of one of what she called her “yoga bibles.” It was one of the earliest editions of Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga.” I stared at the now iconic black and white photographs and went right after class to the Harvard Coop to purchase my own copy. So perhaps it would be more correct to say that I first met B.K.S. Iyengar in a book.
But the dream was what kept me going back to classes and getting on my mat (well, I didn’t have a mat in those days, so I was probably on the floor or a carpet). In the dream, Guruji approached me in the kindest possible way and said “Come to Yoga.” It was an invitation, and I accepted it.

In 1984, thanks to Manouso Manos’ efforts, and I’m sure the efforts of many others in the San Francisco Iyengar Yoga community, the first International Convention of Iyengar Yoga took place. Iyengar himself attended, so this was my first experience of him in the flesh. The demonstration at Davies Hall, his unannounced visits to the classes the senior teachers were teaching, the brilliance of the gathered community there were all overwhelmingly inspirational for me.

After the excitement of the convention, I was determined to get to India. But by that time I had two children and had left the marriage and was struggling to make a living as a young, just-out-of school lawyer doing public defense work and working for the Women’s Advocacy Project. These were not jobs that paid a lot of money, so when I signed up for a Pune Intensive telling Ramanand Patel that I did not have the $100 deposit but would get it to him soon, he remarked that it was unlikely I would ever have the 2-3K$ that would be needed for the journey and tuition eventually.
He was right, but the second time he let us know that he was gathering names for an intensive, I managed to scrape the money together and was part of the group in l989 at Geetaji’s first intensive, or one of her first.

Guruji had announced in the late 1980’s that he was retiring from teaching. His presence, however, could not have been more felt. Though Geetaji gallantly began every class with a plan and a clear sense of direction, he would invariably interrupt from his practice corner and get us working to the absolute limit of our potential. This was a big part of his genius–to craft clear enough language and demonstrate crystal clear actions in asanas, either himself or by asking one of his children or students to demonstrate, that we could hear verbally and see visually just what he was asking for. This was no mean feat, when you consider that English was not his first language. His mastery of English was a big factor in the spreading of his method and genius throughout the world; indeed he was able to wax so eloquent from time to time that I consider him as much a poet as a yogi.
Over the years, I have returned to Pune several times. It has always been a financial hardship on a teacher’s salary. I finally saw the light in about 1995 and realized that yoga would keep me alive, whereas continuing in the practice of law would take me to an early grave, so I decided to leave an active law practice (though I keep my license) and become a full time yoga teacher. I think my early passion for social justice and my ongoing serious student’s interest in yoga studies are related–there is a “justness” we can find in any asana, and in a just balance of all the eight limbs of yoga.
Highlights of my times in India were the 1996 gathering in Rishikesh where Guruji was honored, and the 2000 Silver Jubilee anniversary of the Institute’s 25th year in Pune. In the last ten years, I have been studying ayurveda, inspired by Geetaji’s example of ayurvedic studies, and have been involved much more intensively in the medical classes, both with my own injuries (a broken back–spondylolysthesis, and carpal tunnel syndrome) and with the injuries of my students in Texas and Mexico. From the bottom of my heart, I thank Guruji for his insight into my conditions. He told me the injuries are “not so serious”, giving me hope when I felt hopeless. I thank him also especially for helping me last year in Pune on some of the asanas on the senior syllabus. This was the first and only occasion where he and I were both in a position to be seen by each other for that to happen, and I will be eternally grateful. His last communication to me, written February 14, 2014, relayed that he had seen improvement in my asanas and wished me well in the future.
We celebrated his remarkable life and work at our center on Tuesday, August 26th, along with thousands across the United States. We will celebrate again next Monday, September 1, the 13th day after his death, marking the end of our grieving process. May his example and great generous teaching forever shine.

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Written by algarita

September 1, 2014 at 4:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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