A momentous event. The power of conviction, commitment, a spiritual life practice, what we in the world of yoga call Sadhana. “As Savasana has to be known to do pranayama, the asanas must be known to do Savasana. In this world, everyone wants to just rush and run. This subject cannot be known objectively.” Declared Geeta Iyengar, as she greeted the adoring eyes and ears glued to her every remark.
1500 students and teachers have converged to acknowledge solidarity with the practice, with the community, and with the Iyengar family. Tender with emotion, she began her introduction. “A great pillar is gone.” Her honesty and willingness to expose her grief moved us all, and allowed us a collectively recognize the depth to which Guruji’s light lived and lives in each of us. She explained that, even as his health had begun to deteriorate, he had insisted that she go ahead with the course.
The intensive had been moved to a massive sports complex fifteen kilometers.. Our classes are being held in a badminton court in Balewadi Stadium with hard wood floors, climate control, and seating for 3800 people. The venue is perfect, spacious and well laid out. Banners of Guruji standing in Tadasana flank the walls. We have been divided into eight color coded groups and move clock wise around the room from day to day. Huge screens zoom in on whatever Geetaji is explaining, while her eagle eyes zoom out over the throng of bodies to pick out the one or two who are struggling.
“You have to lift the arms, elbows straight, take them higher, and now cinch the side skin in toward the back without compressing the spinal muscles. You must break the rigidity! Take the arms behind the ears, Reach!”
What rigidity was she referring to? How do we hold ourselves back?
Abhijata Iyengar, Guruji’s granddaughter and heir apparent to the Iyengar legacy, delved more deeply into this in her afternoon session. Called “How to take an Iyengar class”, she described a yoga class as a journey, just as life is a journey. You have to make choices, she said. You have to purchase a ticket, decide what to bring, what time of year to go. You make a commitment. “An instruction from the teacher is a commitment to oneself”. “And why do you hold yourself back?” It is somatic fear, holding patterns in the body that have become instinctual and reactive. “We seek freedom and yet we cling to bondage. When we receive a new instruction, we hold back. Or, we approach the pose with our old memories, we impose the old pose.” “Habit is a disease”. Guruji had said. In a habit, you are not sensitive and aware of what is in the moment. Memory is limited, yoga in infinite. Do with a keen sense of awareness.”
Of course this is the jewel of the Iyengar practice. It beckons for the mind to become embodied by cultivating a keen reflective capacity through the body and with the body in the present moment. The Iyengar practice lassos the mind and tames and trains it to, as Geetaji said, Reach! and break the rigidity of habitual behavior. This is what keeps me on my mat, and practicing off the mat. I am learning to understand the “embodied self” and, through this daily practice, to kind-fully watch my predictable patterns as they play out. And just maybe I can go weeding to extract what holds me back.
“What is closest to you? Your actions. Everything else does not belong to you.” Guruji