Going to Pune, India to practice at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) was something I had been looking forward to for years.
I remember starting Yoga classes many years ago and listening to my teacher talk about his experiences with the Iyengars, and feeling that my teacher was part of something very special. As he recalled these stories and shared them with us during class, it always sounded like this was a mythical time and place where inspiration was delivered on a daily basis and students were given personal, specific insight into their practice through the firm hand of Guruji.
I decided that for my first trip to India I wanted company and my friend Simone agreed to come with me. We had no expectation of seeing Guruji let alone being taught by him considering his age and the fact that he had been unwell in the month prior to our arrival.
All attendees in the month I was there were allocated to a 9am to midday practice session. During this time we are able to use the classroom and all the props for our personal practice. Not knowing that Guruji came to the Institute also at this time to practice, Simone and I attended our first session. We began and suddenly noticed the presence of a small elderly man coming across the floor. Not wanting to look too hard I kept about doing what I was doing half-heartedly whilst looking with the corner of one eye. It was Guruji. He came in, set up near the far trestler and window and began his practice.
I was overwhelmed and imagined that this is what it was like for fans to meet a Hollywood celebrity. All the hours spent with his books, writings, videos and audio had come into a new reality. Here we were, Guruji and I, in the same room, practising. As the weeks passed and I became accustomed to the routine I started to notice the reaction of other students and teachers in the room. Culturally it was clear that there were some definite differences in the way we related to his presence. I noted that fellow Australian attendees tended to practice without demanding any attention from the man. Without really knowing each other, we all practiced in the mid to far section of the room and observed his work from there.
In contrast, other people were determined to get as close to him as possible and some even went as far as getting into his line of sight right in front of him, hoping to spark some words of instruction about their practice. It was fascinating to watch different people’s responses to his presence.
On a couple of occasions when I was attending morning classes, Guruji actually led the class from his practice spot at the trestler. Amazing. He would see things from observing the class and dutifully bring errors to light. For me this absolutely showed his dedication and life-long commitment to passing on his knowledge. He has made me sharper and more alert in my practice than I have ever been. He brought to attention many aspects of my practice that I wasn’t even aware of.
Coming back from India and returning to my routine, I can definitely say that the experience has changed me deeply. The way we learn and practice in Australia is so different from the work at the source. Attending classes and practice at RIMYI teaches you to ‘get in and do’. Practice and observe from all angles, internal and external. Use different props and sometimes no support at all. Nothing is wrong or right in your learning as it’s your application and understanding of what you are doing that’s important.
Being at the Institute delivers not only new information but also a new way to learn. It is something that stays with you long after you return home. To me this is Guruji’s legacy and the gift that the Iyengars have delivered to us in the form of Iyengar Yoga.
Lara is the principal teacher at Busselton Yoga Centre. She visited Pune in June 2013