As mentioned many times before in my blog, I began my yoga practice from Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga”. Ever since I came to know about Guruji I wanted to see him practice his asanas live with my own eyes. It took me four years to get an opportunity to see him in action. I met him quite number of times but never got an opportunity to see him in full action. Finally in the month of August 2013 I along with my wife Tulsi and a friend Sweta got the grace of Guruji and we got an admission for one month at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, (RIMYI) Pune. When I updated my status on facebook saying that I am going to Pune for one month yoga classes at RIMYI, many of my friends replied to share my experiences about Guruji’s practice.
This blog “Incredible Guruji” is all about my experiences with Guruji and his practice during those precious 31 days we spent in Pune studying yoga at RIMYI. I was fortunate enough to experience many facets of Guruji’s life during this invaluable period of 31 days. He is a serious yoga practitioner, beloved yoga Guru to millions and never tiring yoga teacher, a complete family man, a very modest, humble, generous and kind human being.
Guruji as a Practitioner:
1st August 2013 was the day I experienced the delight of watching Guruji practicing his asanas live for the first time in my life. We were allotted 9 am to 12 pm time for practice in the main hall of RIMYI. It was an amazing experience to be the part of same yoga hall where Guruji practices his asanas. It was an exciting and nervous feeling to be practicing before him.
Taking a short break after my class, I walked into the yoga hall for practice. Guruji was already in and was practicing at one corner of the hall alongside a Trestler. I quietly walked down to the corner where Guruji was practicing to get my yoga mat. When I was finding my belt for practice, Ushaji a senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher from Rishikesh patted my back and said, look what Guruji is doing by pointing a finger at him. Guruji was doing his Sirsasana with his antique clock before him. It was an amazing experience to see a 94 year old man doing Sirsasana with such a majestic poise and charisma. I stood awestruck gazing at him for some time. It was my first time to watch Guruji doing Sirsasana from such a close distance. Believe me, it was the best Sirsasana I have ever seen. I could not believe my eyes to the way he extended his trunk upwards. I saw people doing Sirsasana directly or through media but this one by Guruji was better than the best. I haven’t seen anyone extending the trunk up better than this. People say that Guruji’s postures got better and better with his age and I was really fortunate enough to witness this fact.
I then walked back to my place for practice. Since it was my first day I was not sure what to practice, I decided to practice the asanas taught in the morning class. Though I was practicing at the other corner of the hall, my eyes were still on Guruji. I was more curious to watch Guruji’s practice than do my own practice. After every asana I was looking at Guruji. I was practicing asana after asana and watching Guruji. 30 minutes gone and I have completed half of the asanas taught in a 90 minute class but Guruji was still in his Sirsasana. I was wondering how long he is going to stay more in Sirsasana. Around 20 minutes he did Salamba Sirsasana with hands behind his head and then for another 20 minutes he did niralamba Sirsasana with hands up holding the belt tied to a Trestler. It was the mind blowing stuff for me. Day one and I got an opportunity to see this kind of performance from Guruji. He was so stable and calm during his entire stay in the posture. I have no words to describe this incredible man. It is impossible to take your sight away from Guruji when he is practicing his asanas. I am really blessed to get an opportunity to see him in action this way.
Another fascinating thing about Guruji is that he practices Sirsasana as a first pose and continues with other poses for not less than 2 hours. Even a young man would not dare to do Sirsasana in the beginning of his practice as it tires you completely. He was milking his asanas with his toys called props.
The next time when I saw Guruji I was taken away by surprise. Guruji was in Sirsasana again and this time the pose was quite against the one I saw on first day. Guruji’s one side of the trunk and one of the legs are collapsed and the elbow is wide open. I was keenly observing Guruji wondering what happened to his Sirsasana today. He remained in the asana like that for quite long time. It took me no time to understand that he is doing some kind of experiment with his Sirsasana. But still I asked my teacher Smt. Zarna Mohan on my return about this experience to confirm whether I understood properly. She said, If he sees someone doing a wrong Sirsasana in the medical class or the general class, he often experiments himself to know the cause and effects of the asana before making correction on others. He is still such a keen learner and keeps on trying different things.
One more thing I observed is that Guruji is mostly practicing his inversions, intense backbends and sitting asanas. I haven’t seen him practicing any of the standing asanas during his practice. It is understandable though because he has come up from a serious illness during the last summer. When I met him in the month of April’13 during Dr. B. Raghu’s 60th birth anniversary he was not even fit for his practice. I was able to see during his practice that a bad cough was still troubling him.
The most fascinating thing about him is that he never misses his practice until it is very essential. He is going to be the one who enters first in the practice hall and is the last to vacate the hall.
On Saturday the 17th of August 2013, a tragedy took place in Guruji’s family. It’s a kind of double blow for Iyengar family. On one hand, Sunita one of the daughters of Guruji was suffering from breast cancer for a long time and was undergoing a chemotherapy treatment in the hospital. On the other hand, she lost her husband due to heart attack on the same day. It is said that he was found dead in sputa svastikasana. I read in one of the yoga rahasya magazine that it is the last wish of Guruji too. He wants to leave his mortal body doing an asana. I came to know from Peggy one of the senior teachers from USA that Guruji had been warned by his Guru and many others to stop practicing after a certain age. But Guruji never listened to them as he exactly knows what he is doing. He brought so much clarity, quality and purity in his practice that he believes that he can practice till the last breath of his life.
After the death of Guruji’s son-in-law many expected Guruji might not turn up for his practice for a week or two. But I had a gut feeling that he will show up for the practice and he did turned up for practice on the very next day of the funerals. He was seen quite normal during his practice. People felt this double blow might hurt Guruji and make him weak. But I saw no signs of weakness in Guruji. He might have felt sad but he happily accepted the destiny. It reminds me of his words during his interaction with Dalai Lama during a TV interview. Someone asked Guruji saying “Guruji! Yoga teaches detachment and how can we detach ourselves and remain helpless when some of our loved ones is suffering and going through pain?” Then Guruji said, “Though I am a yogi, I had a very good relationship with my wife. She was with me during all my hard times. Since I didn’t have much chance to study with my Guru, I used to work on my alignments and postures with my wife. I don’t even have money to buy a mirror. She used to correct me all the time. When she was ill and admitted in the hospital, I had a class in Mumbai. I went to her and asked, shall I stay with you? She said, No! I will take care of myself. You don’t worry about me and go to take your classes in Mumbai. I went to Mumbai, stayed 2 days and while coming back home in a train one of my students asked me, Guruji! Where would you like to go, to the hospital or home? I said if she is still alive I go to the hospital otherwise I go home. That student started crying and said Guruji! I am sorry I was asked not to tell you until you reach home but she is no more. Guruji said he realized that last night when he had a nightmare. I realized that she was going to leave her mortal body. I accepted the destiny and after that I put everything into Yoga.”
It is said that he did not had any tears in his eyes when he saw his wife. He sat quietly hugging his children. I don’t think Guruji ever had a bigger pain than this in his life. Though he is a family man, he is arguably the greatest yogis of our time.
Guruji was seen on and off his practice during the last couple of weeks as he was busy attending funeral proceedings and the last rites of his son-in-law. But he was on his practice as and when he found time in between. He was certainly seen tired travelling to his daughter’s house, attending the proceedings of his son-in-law’s last rites and travelling back home. Whenever he feels tired he used to start his practice with a long Savasana with all the weights on his legs and a blanket covered over his trunk. Many of us do Savasana and many say Savasana is their favorite asana but I am glad to say that I am blessed to see a real Savasana by Guruji. The kind of quietness I saw in the eyes, face, skin and the whole body of Guruji that I am short of words to explain. Bliss would probably the only apt word to explain it.
In spite of the tragedy Guruji was very keen on his practice and teaching his younger students like Raya, Abhijata, Uday, Gulnaz and others.
Guruji as a Teacher:
Though Guruji had retired from active teaching but he hasn’t stopped teaching yet. Even today he attends medical classes and supervises them personally. He still teaches in the women class twice a week. He also teaches the new generation teachers named above during his practice every day.
Every Wednesday, Guruji used to take medical classes. You actually have to seek permission by paying some amount to observe medical classes. Moreover you need to be a teacher to attend those classes I guess. We were fortunate enough to have Abhayji’s class on Wednesdays on the second floor. We therefore used sit on the stairs waiting for our turn to get in. This provided us a great opportunity to observe medical classes. It was a great experience to watch a medical class. Whole lot of activities happens in the medical class. Guruji sits on the platform instructing all the teachers working in the class. Sometimes he used to walk to each and every student correcting postures and asking how he feels. It was a fascinating sight to see so many teachers from RIMYI and other parts of the World working altogether in tandem to aid people suffering from various health problems.
Every Wednesday and Saturday used to be a class for women. We haven’t got an opportunity to observe these classes but we learned from Ushaji, Chantal and Peggy few details about the class. It is usually a Guruji’s class conducted by Abhijata or Raya. Guruji practices at one corner of the hall and gives instructions to Raya or Abhijata and they pass on the instructions to the students. You can call it a proxy class. It is said that even though he does his own practice, he keeps an eye on every student even at the other corner of the hall. He is incredible.
I was part of his classes during the practice. He used to teach Raya, Abhijata, Uday and sometimes Gulnaz and some others during his daily practice. It was a delight to watch Abhijata and Raya learning from Guruji. Sometimes they really enjoy Guruji and sometimes Guruji fires at them. A few numbers of times I closely observed Guruji giving instructions to them. I realized that Guruji has passed on his entire knowledge to his senior students and now he wants to pass on to this young generation teachers who had the responsibility to carry his work further.
Guruji as a family man:
Though Guruji is a yogi he is always a family man. It is learned that this very fact has created difficulties for him in the past. Ushaji, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from Rishikesh told us that Guruji was not accepted as a yogi by the community because he is a married man having a family. Guruji shattered all the hypocrisies’ and proved that even a married man can be a serious yoga practitioner.
I haven’t seen Guruji interacting with Prashantji or Geetaji much but I got an opportunity to see him practicing and teaching grand daughter Abhijata. Guruji and Abhijata share a great relationship together. They practice together and it is always a fun to watch them practicing. I witnessed him giving instructions to Abhijata on various advance postures and abhijata implementing his instructions to perfection most of the times. Guruji appreciates and applauds if she grasps the information and does well and sometimes she even gets the firing from Guruji.
One of my friends Sweta feels that Abhijata is very lucky to be a grand daughter of Guruji. But I feel she is luckier to be a student of Guruji than a grand daughter. Being a grand daughter she could only get love and affection but being a student she gets love as well as the knowledge and wisdom from Guruji which matters the most.
Abhijata’s father used to bring Sathvika a new born baby of Abhijata to Guruji every morning during his practice hours. It was a great moment to watch him play with Sathvika. I have noticed a very interesting thing about Guruji. He used to play with her swinging her hands, pulling her legs making some gibberish sounds like a child and gives the baby back to Abhi’s father. I have realized that he plays not more than 2 minutes with her. It takes no time for him to detach himself from the affection of the kid and come back to practice. It reminds me of his words from his video “Leap of Faith” where he said that he gets so much love and affection from his students and followers that whenever they come he receives them with love and immediately detaches himself not to get carried away and let the ego develop.
As a beloved Guruji:
Above all he is the most beloved Guruji of all. He is so modest, humble, kind and generous that you fall in love with him. Before meeting him I heard and read lot about his temper and attitude. But I found him the most humble and modest person I have ever seen. It is a different thing when he is teaching. You cannot judge the nature of a person with his qualities of a teacher. I don’t think any celebrity in this World apart from Guruji is so easily accessible. He receives one and all whether he knows you or not with great love and affection. I had personally witnessed how difficult it is for him to get away from the starring eyes of hundreds of people everyday even in his practice. People always want to see him, meet him, talk to him, take his autograph and photographs etc. He obliges one and all with great patience because he really understands what that means to them when he acknowledges them with a kind gesture of words, autograph or photograph. His simple gesture can give them a boost of inspiration in their practice of yoga. But I felt people also must understand that he is getting older now, he is also a human being and needs some privacy and we must leave him alone. I have seen him couple of times enjoying privacy over his balcony but then someone sees him and do the pranam and he leaves the place. It is because if one starts doing that another follows and it never stops. It is understandable that meeting Guruji is a sheer joy as I mentioned in my previous blog but we must also respect his privacy, age, time and mood to get an interaction with him.
Blessings of Guruji:
I was also one of them who don’t want to miss any opportunity to make an interaction with Guruji. But I interacted only once this time with Guruji. First few days my eyes were always on him observing his actions. In couple of days I realized that all eyes are gazing him and he is not let alone even in the practice hall. Couple of days more and I realized that he is so sensitive that even these gazing troubles him but he never complains. So I decided not to trouble him any more even by gazing. But I wanted to have his autograph on one of his book before leaving Pune. I was waiting for an appropriate time to happen. It finally happened just one day before we left Pune. I went to the institute in the afternoon to buy some books and props for my practice. Guruji walked in and sat on his seat. He was sitting alone. I went to him along with my friends and bowed before his feet and took his blessings. Then I asked for an autograph which Guruji pleasantly obliged. Then I told Guruji that we are from Hyderabad, students of Zarna Mohan. He said, Yah! Yah! I know. I conveyed the prayers of my teacher and told him that we have come here for one month and tomorrow will be our last day at the institute. Guruji had a broad smile and raised both of his hands and said, ‘God bless you! God bless you!’ This is how our trip to Pune ended.