Thursday, December 10, 2015

Guruji is Everywhere

Photo by Christine Havener

We are halfway through Yogānuśāsanam 2015, the international convention of Iyengar Yoga led by Geeta Iyengar. Each day brings 3 hours of āsana, followed by sessions of prāṇāyāma, delicious, filling Indian lunches, then afternoon lectures and presentations. 1600 Iyengar Yoga practitioners are here, ranging from 3-year students to Senior Teachers from around the world who have been studying with Guruji since the 1970s and 80s.

Guruji reportedly requested that both Geetaji and Prashantji inherit the work of Iyengar Yoga at the Pune Institute and beyond, and they are graciously embracing it, each in their own way. They both led several grueling days of meetings regarding certification with Senior Iyengar Yoga teachers, hearing reports from each country, including the all-too-human conflicts and disputes. They will take a month or so to digest the reports and hopefully take some measures to ensure that Iyengar Yoga is being represented well in each nation.

Geetaji seems as well as I’ve seen her in years. Although physical ailments prevent her from total mobility, she is cheerful, gracious, generous, and each morning she seems to walk up to the stage and up the steps with more lightness. She has wholly embraced the mantle of the Iyengar tradition, and she wears the responsibility beautifully.
Photo by Smrti Chawla

This is the first time I’ve been back in India since Guruji’s passing last August. What strikes me and surprises me is not so much his absence, but his full presence. A part of me was dreading coming to a city and an Institute in which he would be gone. I recalled that in his final years, he transitioned from being the regal lion-like presence he was known for, to being a more gentle, grandfatherly presence. When I was here in 2013, at age 94, he would come up to the practice hall via the newly installed elevator, escorted by his granddaughter, Abhijata. He had lost weight, seemed shorter, and had a persistent cough. Still, he dominated the corner of the practice hall, where he held inversions and backbends seemingly forever, while commenting and teaching Abhi and others. For the first time since I started coming to Pune in 2005, I noticed that year that Guruji would sometimes skip group practice in the hall, and stay in his house instead. On those mornings, we went on as usual, but felt his absence keenly.

But now, Guruji seems to permeate every class, every conversation, every āsana. Certainly he shines through Geetaji’s teachings. Yesterday, Geeta held us in long forward extensions, exhorting us to penetrate each corner of the body, as we would butter a slice of bread. Not like cold butter, she said with a wry smile, don’t do Paśchimottānāsana like you just came out of the fridge. She kept us firmly in the pose for long minutes, making us go deeper and deeper, calling forth the spirit of Guruji, insisting we bring more tapas (rigor and discipline) to the pose, as we buried our cheekbones deeper between our shinbones, broadening our elbows, not knowing whether the sweat was coming from our temples or our shins.

This afternoon, we enjoyed a wonderful traditional Indian music performance of violin and tabla, and Guruji’s spirit filled the stadium. They say that the few occasions Guruji left his house was to attend concerts, and that Prashantji is at least as much a musician and music aficionado as he is a yoga practitioner. Guruji’s love of music filled all our hearts, and we all brimmed over with inspiration and adoration.

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