“Give your heart and head totally.”
The three-day Iyengar Yoga Course in Guangzhou, China was scheduled to be a mega class for an estimated 800 people but grew to 1400 Yoga students from all around the globe: China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Turkey, just to name a few. And while we were all there for different reasons, from different countries, speaking many different languages, we had one commonality: we practice Yoga.
I was told that more than half of the students at the summit were not practicing “Iyengar Yoga”. They had heard that an Indian Yoga Master was coming to China and signed up for the event in large part due to his celebrity status in the Yoga community. From the moment he arrived at the hall, it was clear that he was receiving a dignitary’s welcome, as he was an ambassador of Yoga. Guruji’s message before he began teaching asana that first day was about presence. He told us to come to our practice with receptive minds and use that receptive mental state to study what we learn. It is only then that we have a chance at reaching the goal of Yoga. In the afternoon session that same day, Birjoo Mehta echoed this sentiment, telling us that to fully understand what we are being taught, we have to remove all egoistic knowledge and speculation and allow ourselves the opportunity to learn.
“The base will make you to do more.
Start with the base and the gates open for you.”
Today, Guruji said, he will teach the practical theory of what we, as sadhakas, have to observe within ourselves. He then gave us the philosophical foundation for our time together and beyond, telling us to study the relationship between Sutra I.32:
tatpratisedhartham ekatattva abhyasah (“Adherence to single-minded effort prevents these impediments”)
and Chapter two, verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita:
samatvam yoga ucyate (“Yoga is eveness of mind”).
Guruji instructed us that this was our work as Yogis, to, as Birjoo reiterated to us later, bring citta vritti nirodhah to the level of the practical and use the body as the object of meditation in action, telling us that alignment is the technology we, as practitioners of Hatha Yoga, have been given to do this. Birjoo said “Universal Consciousness that becomes limited is individual consciousness. Work towards (practice) Universal Consciousness.”
“Yoga is a means and an end.”
Guruji’s ability to see the students in front of him and teach directly to them is unparalleled. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life to be able to feel the energy of their minds shift from a state of innocence to absolute receptivity. For example, the first pose he taught us was Tadasana and he used Abhijata to demonstrate. He showed us how one leg was overworking, one underworking and he described her overworking leg as a “tsunami”. This seemed to be the first time many of the attendees observed the body in an asana in such a manner. Guruji explained what he was observing over and over again using different metaphors (a tsnumai, a leaf, etc.) until the light began to shine. This transformation was palpable- you could see looks of confusion change to understanding- from tamas to sattva via the rajas of his brilliant teaching.
Afterwards, I watched many of the students who said they had never practiced Iyengar Yoga before that day, going over and over with one another what they had been taught in the morning session. Gone were the flip cameras and iphones they had been absorbed with before the day began, now they were lying on the floor observing the inner and outer heels of their colleagues who were in Parsvottanasana! The expressions on their faces transcended lineages and languages: they were luminous as they began to connect to the infinite source of joy and peace that lies within each one of us.
“You have to challenge yourself not to become dull even for a split second.”
Guruji’s teaching style is captivating, commanding, compassionate, and concise. Studying with him was a practice of samyama: the stream of dharana (concentration) lead to a river of dhyana, which opened up into an ocean of samadhi (absolute absorption).
For the first two days he taught what he referred to as the “drdhabhumih” (see Light on the Yoga Sutras, I. 14) of our asana practice, making us repeat the poses over and over again until he was satisfied that were absorbing the main points of his teaching. He was not just lecturing from the stage, but completely involved in the process of our learning: asking us if we understood, making us answer him out loud, if one person said they weren’t clear, he brought that person up onto the stage and taught directly to them until they had a direct experience (pramana) in their own bodies. At one point, during a seated twist, when he had rained instructions down on us weren’t soaking into the soil of our cells, he flooded us entirely by literally scampering down off the stage and walking around the entire outer circumference of the room, all the while yelling for us to continue looking for him. My ears heard him, my brain wanted to please him, my waist, abdomen, ribs, chest, shoulders, neck, ears, eyes, and brain turned around and around until my heart understood that I had been blessed in this lifetime to have found my Guru.
The first day they clapped and cheered when he arrived and four hours later, they were roaring, lining the aisles, kneeling in front of him and bowing down at his feet. He who had led them from “…darkness to light, the unreal to the real…” A man named BKS Iyengar came to China as a guest teacher to a very large classroom of minds, some of whom already saw themselves as experts of his subject, but he left the country a revered Guruji to us all.
We came together as a fellowship of people with a common practice: Yoga. From his pulpit on the stage, Guruji became a minister to our bodies, minds and hearts and created a unity amonst us that transcended the differences of nationality, language, religion, gender and method of practicing Yoga. His teachings were entirely simple and yet wholly profound.
With Prem and Pranamas to you all.