It’s been over a month now and the feel of Yoganusasanam in me is still alive. Though our classes in Hyderabad are at halt due to some reasons, my practice isn’t affected yet. The fuel of Geetaji’s convention is still running and I must say that my practice is going on smooth and well. Guruji always said, the beginners need some inspiration for practice and what can be a greater inspiration than Geetaji? At yoganusasanam I learned how important the basics to build up a good platform for yog sadhana are.
Geeta Iyengar’s “Yoganusasanam-December2014”, the event of the year for all Iyengar yogis across World kept in skepticism ever since it has been announced. When it was announced at the institute of Pune, it spread like a fire on internet circle and everyone got excited about it. A few days later the news of Guruji’s ill health started making rounds in the community. On 20th August 2014 Guruji left his mortal body leaving his followers in grief. Now the skepticism began to follow on cancellation of the event.
In the month of October my teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan announced that Geetaji is going ahead with her convention and few days later the institute of Pune confirmed and the registrations were invited online for the same. Our teacher referred the names of 12 students from Hyderabad for the convention.
Organization of the event:
Ever since the announcement of the event, there was a great enthusiasm among Iyengar Yogis all over the World. Looking at the enthusiasm of people willing to participate and the short period of time they had in hand for making arrangements for such a large group of people was really a challenge for RIMYI as they had never conducted such a big event in India before. They even had to shift the earlier announced venue of Law College from Baner to a Badminton court at Balewadi stadium on the outskirts of Pune to accommodate all the participants. Within a few days of lines opening up for registration, it was known that 1000 plus yogis are going to participate from all over the World. After yoga hall, the next challenge was to provide living accommodation and food for such a huge number of participants. They have arranged nearby hotels and a hostel near Balewadi stadium to accommodate and provided lunch at the Venue itself. Some of them were living nearby the institute and for them buses have been arranged to transport to and from the stadium. Every effort has been made to make the event a success. I have been in constant touch with few of my friends in Pune who were working as volunteers for the event. They were regularly updating me on the developments out there. Hundreds of students and teachers from Pune, Mumbai and others have worked tirelessly days and nights to make it a grand success. For the first time the initiative is made from the organizers to interact with people directly on facebook page “Geetaji’s Yoganusasanam - December 2014”. All the developments were updated from time to time and many questions and doubts regarding accommodation, food, travel, transport and other such things have been regularly answered through the page. Geetaji dedicated couple of hours on day 10 at the conclusion ceremony to thank one and all who helped in making this event a success. They deserved all the applaud and appreciation as they have worked to their skin to make it the event of year.
Yoga – the Union:
People say, Yoga is the Union of Individual soul with Supreme soul. I am in no position to understand this yet. But I am certainly sure that “Yoganusasanam” has successfully helped in union and re-union of hearts of different people across the World. 1200 plus people from 58 countries have represented this event for one cause “Yoga”. We were all from different countries, states, cultures, traditions, customs but none of these divisions were seen among people. We all united for one single cause of “Yoga”. Those 10 days were like a carnival for us. Every individual had his own share of experience to take back home.
I called it a re-union because many people who have not seen for many-many years have met again on one platform of “Yoganusasanam”. I would like to share a very interesting story of Kumbh Mela. There is a very popular story in India that people once lost in Kumbh Mela will never meet again; because it is such a huge gathering of humans at one place. I must thank Geetaji for re-uniting some of the lost ones in Kumbh Mela. I, Mohit and Sirisha from Hyderabad once again met Manouso, Eric and Anara from US, Fanny from France and couple of others from Delhi who were lost in the Maha Kumbh Mela of Allahabad in 2013. You may be wondering what I am saying. Well, the story goes this way. During early 2013, Manouso was in Kumbh Mela for a 3 day Iyengar Yoga intensive. Due to some unknown reasons a handful of Indian students 5 from Hyderabad and 8 to 10 students from Delhi have attended that intensive and another 10 to 12 students were from US who came with Manouso.
It was just a 3 day intensive but we had great time together. To many of us it was a lifetime experience. Iyengar yoga intensive with a teacher like Manouso at the banks of river Ganga, Jamuna and Sarasvati in the backdrop of Maha Kumbh Mela and who can ask more than that. All the students and teachers including Manouso and his wife Rita have enjoyed every moment we spent together in Kumbh. Those 3 days have just gone leaving memories.
I met Manouso and Eric a few number of times in Pune but haven’t seen any other thereafter. Every time I met Manouso he was always kind enough to receive me with a big hug and his wonderful trademark laughter. It was great to see Anara and Fanny back again. Anara hasn’t forgotten any one of us and neither did Fanny, which was amazing. I met couple of others from Delhi also. It was heartening to see the Kumbh Mela batch again on the same platform.
Galaxy of Stars:
“Yoganusasanam” was filled with Galaxy of stars headed by the mega star Geeta Iyengar herself. Manouso Manos, Patricia Walden, Lois Steinberg, John Schumacher, Gabriella Guibilaro, Stephanie Quirk, Tatiana and many other famous teachers from the west were present. Most of these teachers are familiar to me through their videos and books on internet. When I used to practice without a teacher during my early days into yoga, I used to look out for help and guess who used to come up for help? It was Patricia Walden, Lois Steinberg, John Schumacher and Gabriella through videos, books and journals. I was greatly benefited by Lois Steinberg’s book on shoulders. Getting a chance to meet all of these great teachers, interact and practice alongside them in the same hall was an unbelievable feeling. Just imagine a student like me who looks after someone like Manouso, Lois, Patricia, and John for inspiration is standing alongside me in the same hall, what would be the level of his enthusiasm? Lois Steinberg, whom I silently cherished and admired all my life was standing by my side taking lessons from Geetaji was a great delight. And she is such a humble and sweet person.
Birjoo, Rajvi, Devki, Gulnaz, Abhay, Rajlaxmi, Zubeen, Uday, Raya, Abhijata, Nawaz, Sunita are the star teachers from India who are not only popular in India but also abroad. I am fortunate enough to have studied with most of these teachers in Pune. It was a great delight to see all these teachers performing asanas on stage following the instructions of Geetaji with such a grace. Every beginner should be thankful to Guruji and Geetaji for providing such an opportunity to participate in the event. Apart from Geetaji’s teachings, all these teachers demonstrating on stage, helping you, guiding you in the hall, learning with you side by side works as a great inspiration for beginners and helps in understanding the essence of practice.
Apart from all these teachers, there were few others like Mark Zambon who were the stars of the event. Mark Zambon is a US Marine soldier who injured his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. Two months after his accident he took up Iyengar yoga as a rehabilitation program. He never looked back since then. Here is a short interview of Mark that I shot in his hotel in Pune.
On day six, the little stars of RIMYI – the kids surprised the visitors by some electrifying performance.
The Geeta Factor:
I must mention about the Geeta factor or Geeta effect here. Every word she utters shows the level of her knowledge and experience in the subject. She sounds authoritative, practical and very real. Many people think she is a strict, fearsome and stubborn person. Some even find her arrogant. These impressions are more in the minds of western yogis. I never personally interacted with her before and never been to her classes with her, so I had no attributes of her. But I heard people saying all these about her. After attending her classes those ten days I found several facets of her personality. I am not trying to make any judgment but I found some of these facets during my observation as a raw student.
She is no doubt a strict teacher but also a very compassionate teacher who wants to give out the best and also extract complete labor out of a student. She can’t tolerate people doing casually without paying complete attention and effort. She was commanding and sometimes even demanding to get the posture done correctly. Many a times she was furious also with some people. She used to call up people on stage who were doing really bad and not let them go till she makes them do the posture correctly. In the process she might be shouting, yelling to make them do. But that is only till that moment; later she would be again a different person altogether. Her effect was such that people were really nervous to be on stage with her. I think people who were on stage during those days will definitely agree with me. It is not because she is abusing you or shouting at you personally and we all know that. But still there is some unknown fear to face her. It was seen on every individual who had been on stage. This was one facet of her personality.
It is not always that she shouted to make the corrections done. For instance, she called upon a lady on stage to do some asana and she was terribly scared and almost shivering. Geetaji realized that and said, “Why are you so nervous? Don’t be scared. I won’t kill you. And I can’t kill you (with jiggles). The entire stadium burst out in laughter. She gave this feeling of relaxation because she knew that lady had a limitation of her age and need to be relaxed before making her do. On another occasion, she called my friend Mohit up on stage to perform a back arch. He was nervous throughout his time on stage but she was seen very patient and soft with him because she knew he is a beginner and did really well on stage for around 10 minutes doing the back arches. She was addressing and instructing him like a friend, which was amazing. She has not let him go until she made him realize what was happening to his sacrum region while he was doing different actions in the back arch. Some people might have found boring and felt the time being wasted but she did not wanted to let him go unknown. This is a typical character we often find in Guruji. Guruji once said in an interview that he cannot just sit and watch when someone is doing a wrong posture. His heart pains when someone does something wrong. He cannot rest in peace until their mistakes are being corrected.
During the convention Geetaji once said, Guruji was sitting in the balcony of his room from where he can see the yoga hall. He found a person doing ardha chandrasana very badly and began to shout Raya! Abhajata! When asked what happened? Why are you shouting? You are not well Guruji, you need to rest. He said, look at that fellow; how is he doing the asana? Call Raya and Abhijata to correct him. And he did not relax until they came and corrected. This was few days before his death.” So much he loved yoga that he cannot tolerate someone doing badly. And Geetaji is the daughter of this man and how can she tolerate the same?
During one of the days, they have arranged a surprise by adding the students of children’s classes of Pune in the convention. We got an opportunity to see a new facet of her life. When she was teaching to those kids, the strict, fearsome Geetaji turned into a funny, mischievous and a bubbly child. The way she was teaching them was a delight. I once read in ‘Yoga Rahasya’ Guruji saying that you need to come down to the level of a student to make him understand. And I personally experienced Geetaji doing that; which was amazing.
At the end of the convention, Geetaji arranged a mass lunch for all the participants. Before beginning the lunch, addressing the students she said, “Today’s food is tomorrow’s strength; so eat well. You been here for ten days and thankfully by the grace of God, no one was injured or fallen sick. This is not the end but just the beginning, go home and practice well.” Here she sounded like a mother who cares for her children.
We all know that she is not doing well with her health these days. In spite of this, she conducted the convention and she never shown us the labor of pain she has gone through those 10 days. In fact, I observed that she looked better and better as the days progressed. She was seen little low on day one and as the days progressed she looked very enthusiastic.
Yoga Experience at Yoganusasanam:
It is very difficult to define the experience of Yoganusasanam in a single word. I believe every individual has got something from the convention and Geetaji has not let anyone go empty handed for sure. For a raw beginner like me getting an opportunity to learn from Geetaji is a blessing. Learning from one of the highest authorities of yoga is obviously a blessing to the yogi of any stature. Assumptions are on that Geetaji would retire from teaching due to her health condition and Yoganusasanam would probably be the last chance for beginners to study under her. All the beginners who participated in the event must thank Guruji because it was his idea to conduct this convention for beginners. Geetaji during her inaugural speech said, “It was Guruji who suggested conducting this convention and beginners should be given the priority. After the announcement of the event, Guruji’s health deteriorated and they felt like cancelling the event. But Guruji said, ‘No! The event must go on. If I am well I will sit aside and watch.’ But Guruji is no more in his physical body but he is definitely present here watching all of us. Wherever there is yoga, Guruji will be there.” So, true! Guruji has dedicated all his life to yoga. Thank you Guruji, we owe you so much.
It was obviously my first opportunity to learn from Geetaji. Though I practiced Geetaji’s classes from videos, the experience to be in her class is terrible. The charm, the grace, the vibrancy that Geetaji has and the tenacity to extract the best from students was mind blowing. You miss out these qualities on videos. Being in her class live is altogether a different experience.
To me Yoganusasanam is definitely going to remain a memorable event for my life, because I learned how to keep ourselves grounded and not carried away by our practice. It taught me how important the basics are. It is not always you learn and do advance postures and keep improving your flexibility and strength. It is something more than that.
Throughout the convention Geetaji taught very fundamental asanas with basic instructions which I think many would ignore. To take my personal experience for instance; when she made us go to Sirsasana with one leg up, I really struggled and had to rush to the wall to go up. The pose is explained in detail by Geetaji in her preliminary course book. Believe me; I just flipped that page thinking that as a beginner’s pose. And when I did there with one leg up, I was really struggling as if I was doing Sirsasana for the first time. Somehow I managed to go up but again I felt managing would be really a bad idea before Geetaji, so I rushed to the wall and from that moment I am practicing regularly with one leg up at home. This practice has improved my feel of Sirsasana completely.
Another reason for Yoganusasanam being a memorable event in my life is that I got answers for many unasked and unanswered questions of mine with regards to my personal practice, my body, my asanas and pranayamas etc. Geetaji answered all those questions without being asked as if she transcribed them from my mind; which is an amazing thing. I strongly feel many other participants might have experienced the same.
She hasn’t hesitated to shower all her knowledge and experience on the aspirants. It was a great opportunity for beginners, senior practitioners and even teachers to learn the subject and keep the values of Iyengar yoga alive. She clearly said in the very beginning of the convention “I want the students, not the teachers. Now days, everybody wants to become a teacher, nobody wants to become a student. I don’t want this.”
She was not only concentrating on beginners and senior practitioners but also some of the patients and pregnant ladies and a large number of teachers from different parts of the World. She hasn’t failed to remind all the teachers not to forget the basic qualities of teaching imparted by Guruji.
Apart from Geetaji’s teachings, we had some very interesting discussions, lectures and screenings on different facets of Guruji and other aspects of yoga and yoga practice by Abhijata, Birjoo, Rajvi and others. We also had some chanting sessions by Sunitaji. For the first time ever, I chanted the complete verses of Patanjali Yoga Sutras and it was a great feeling.
Yoganusasanam has been a great inspiration to many iyengar yogis and I wish Geetaji continues her teaching. I can only pray God to give her good health so that she continues teaching and conducting events like this. Finally I would like to thank Geetaji, Prashantji and all others who were involved in conducting this event. It was a great learning experience.