Last Thursday in the practice hall at RIMYI, Raya came in and said, “This is not an announcement, but I want to let you know today is Geetaji’s birthday, she is offering prasad in her office, and that she is in a good mood.”
Naturally, we all stopped in our tracks, got out of whatever pose we were doing, and scurried down the steps and across the courtyard to the Iyengar abode. We live for moments like these! We had barely glimpsed Geetaji all month, and had been told she had been unwell. Not only were folks concerned about her, but Geetaji’s remarkable teachings are so much of the reason we journey here from all corners of the earth.
Teachers of my vintage, who started coming to Pune in the 1990s and 2000s, haven’t had the opportunity to study directly with BKS Iyengar, who retired from teaching weekly classes in the 1990s (?). Many Iyengar Yoga teachers active today regard Geetaji as their primary teacher. Geetaji’s teachings have brought me to my knees, brought me to tears, and have led to numerous breakthroughs, showing me that I can do more than I thought possible. Her teachings are consistently incisive and important, and although our classes with the “Pune All-Stars” are fantastic, we all miss Geetaji’s classes terribly.
So we were understandably thrilled to come downstairs and wish Geetaji a happy birthday! We filed in quietly in our practice clothes and barefeet, extended our right hand to be given a sweet treat by Geetaji herself, and knelt shoulder to shoulder in her office.
She was in lighthearted, jovial spirits, as she offered a word of encouragement to continue working hard on the path of yoga. She reminded us that yoga is unbound by religion, and is a philosophy truly for all. She mentioned that some Iyengar Yoga teachers were offering classes to domestic workers, and how important this work was. Domestic workers, Geetaji indicated, are often physically strained, and have developed many pains from their labors. She didn’t mention the class struggle of the poor who typically have little access to spiritual and healing practices like Iyengar Yoga, but it was implied and understood, as she went on to say how the business aspect of teaching yoga can so easily be overemphasized. Geetaji reminded us that yoga is truly for all.
This may sound quite glib and ordinary, but this is actually a radical seed she has planted. If we are to share Iyengar Yoga with communities like domestic workers, this means we should also be cultivating potential teachers from such communities. That is, for Iyengar Yoga to become an ongoing, sustainable, community-based practice, as opposed to charity or missionary work, teachers need to be part of the communities they teach in.
How do we do this? Is it even desirable or possible? My firm conviction is that we need to develop this kind of accessibility, not by watering down the profound teachings, but by removing the barriers that block people from reaching the teachings. We need to think broadly about making classes affordable, offering different class times, maybe providing childcare or transportation, steeping ourselves in cultural humility and trauma-informed practices, partnering with other organizations, and last but not least, making the classes fun and relevant and rewarding.
Geetaji’s message made my heart sing, because this is what we’ve been striving to embody at Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective. We’ve wracked our brains, stretched our creativity, and consulted with students, friends, colleagues, and other cooperatives, to find ways to make Iyengar Yoga accessible and relevant to all.
I need to remind myself that I’m here at RIMYI standing on the shoulders of many. These include not only my teachers and mentors, but also my colleagues and students. I have the extraordinary privilege of being an Iyengar Yoga teacher not just for the sake of my own enlightenment, evolution, and well-being, but also to share everything I learn with all who wish to partake, regardless of ability—physical, financial, and otherwise.
Thank you, Geetaji, for once again, opening my mind and heart, and challenging me to do more and do better. May we embrace this challenge as individuals, as Iyengar Yoga centers, and as organizations.