Yoga Rockford: Yoga: From West to East

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Preparing for my fourth trip to India to study yoga, I have once again been asked “What is it like?” and “Why do you go?” Students are either impressed or excited, confused or dismayed, but many just can’t imagine why one would go all the way to India to do yoga when there is plenty of yoga right here.

In the Iyengar tradition, yoga students with at least eight years of study may go to Pune, India, for a month or more at a time. There are classes taught at RIMYI (The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute named for BKS Iyengar’s late wife) for both locals and foreigners: previously taught by BKS Iyengar himself, and currently by his daughter Geeta, son Prashant, granddaughter Abijata, and many other teachers trained directly by him for decades. What makes the institute unique and a little different from the usual impression of “yoga in India” is that it is a place of study and immersion in life-practice (gurukulam), not a retreat center (ashram) cloistered from the realities of life.

For many in the West, yoga is something that we might do to escape, or at least retreat for a moment, from “everyday life.” We walk into a spa-like room, separating us from life outside, we have our familiar teacher with our chosen mat spot, and in most studios, there is plenty of breathing room with space around every mat. In general, people I talk to seem to have this same impression about going to India, just on a grander scale: a live-in spa retreat populated by people in flowing robes and mala beads, sitting in quiet gardens, being pampered and cared for.

But study and practice at RIMYI is a bit different. Yoga practice is not an escape from life. At RIMYI, yoga becomes life. Each day includes a two-hour class plus a three-hour practice; then, there is a weekly pranayama (breath-work) class and a weekly women’s class. In between, you live independently or with a roommate in a rented flat where life is like most middle-class Indians in the city of Pune. There really is no separation between outside and the institute. As a matter of fact, the Iyengar home is right in the same gated compound. Noise from the street is constant, the teachers have accents that your mind muddles through, your mat may very possibly be overlapping your neighbors’, and breathing room (if there is any) is a little thick, hot and somewhat polluted — and oh, the bugs!

So, why go again? Well, being in India can bring you head-on into the actual goals of the practice of yoga: the heightening of sensation and awareness that teaches us to deal with and ultimately overcome ever-present obstacles like confusion and ignorance — and most of all helps to diminish our attachment to the individual ego. Without being cloistered away, in India you must work to increase your focus, not to be distracted by the smells, the noise and the activity. And in a very real way, there is no room for ego in a sardine-packed class. The only way out of frustration and agitation is to surrender to each moment. In that surrender, you turn completely into yourself and find an inner peace among the chaos.

Study at RIMYI can be a powerful and long-lasting transformative experience. It is an experience that is somehow not separate from life at home, but one that gets translated and incorporated back into life at home. Even if you never take the physical journey from West to East, I encourage you to take your yoga on that journey, one from the confines of retreat to the actuality of life.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Nov. 5-11, 2014, issue

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