By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
I will soon be traveling for my third time to India to study yoga. In the Iyengar tradition, students with at least eight years of study may go to Pune, India, for a month or two at a time, to learn directly from the Iyengar family: BKS Iyengar, now 94 years old; his daughter, Geeta; his son, Prashant; and now his granddaughter, Abijata. During this time, we do a two-hour class and three-hour practice daily, plus a weekly pranayama class and a class specifically for women.
The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), named after Mr. Iyengar’s late wife, is an institute of study, self-reflection and practice. It is neither a retreat center nor ashram. The Iyengars teach yoga as the self-practice that it is. They are not there to do the work for you or enlighten you. They are there to teach. You are there to learn, to work, to grow.
In most traditional Indian lineages, there is a guru (teacher) and a sisya (student). Guru in Sanskrit means “bringer of light,” meaning a guru sheds light on a certain practice or, in the case of yoga, removes the clouds that cover the light of your own true self. There’s a mistaken idea that this relationship is one where the sisya surrenders completely to the teacher, with the expectation that this guru would be the one to enlighten them.
Many travel to India to find just that: a guru who will give them enlightenment, miraculously remove all obstacles, and grant peace without much individual effort. But this, I would claim, is merely a surrender of one ego in favor of another.
BKS Iyengar is a guru in the true sense of the word. Throughout the world, he has shed light on the practice of yoga, guiding his students with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to empower self-awareness. Those who have studied with him know there is no room for ego in his class. He teaches you, ultimately, to get out of your own way, to remove the clouds that cover your own self. The surrender you give is not to him, but to the practice. He has devoted his entire life to yoga, and he expects nothing less of his students. To surrender to him and not to practice would be pointless.
As a student of yoga — and particularly Iyengar Yoga — you must learn detachment. You must be devoted to a teacher, but not attached to him/her. Class is a time to learn, not to blindly follow. You must take home what you learn and practice, practice, practice. The Iyengars stress that we must not just “do” yoga, but “be” yoga. In fact, it is the blind devotion to yoga without practice that seems to aggravate them the most. Students bowing and scraping before them, but then not showing progress is insulting. Their love is shown through their great effort to teach. Our devotion is shown through our great effort to learn.
Study at the institute is a great experience on every level. Along with immersion in the practice of asana (posture), there is immersion in the life and culture of India, giving opportunity to practice the other aspects of yoga as well. You are challenged to find contentment (santosha) out of your norm in a foreign experience where sensation and awareness is heightened, where obstacles of confusion and ignorance are ever present. Without being cloistered away, you must increase your tapas (energy of practice), distracted by the city with all its foreign smells, noise and activity. Most of all, surrender to every moment (Isvarapranidhanani) is key to inner peace among the outer chaos.
And through it all, the teacher watches, awaiting opportunity to cast light on your path.
I love India, and I love to study there. I choose to be immersed in the culture to experience something new and foreign and to be challenged on all levels. I look forward to each opportunity, and I look forward to sharing all I learn with my students when I return.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue