Yoga, a life and a death.

Settling down to planning yoga classes and workshops for the new term, and after attending the BKS Iyengar Centenary event in December, I hardly know where to start. I feel a bit lost! When I left for India in November, I was physically and mentally very low, but I knew that whatever the teaching was, it would be just right for me. (It ALWAYS is.)

When the twelve day event began, I sank gratefully Prashant’s teachings on pranayama over the first five days. There were mutterings of frustration from the young, fit, active, healthy ones, they wanted action – they had been training for weeks no doubt, whereas I was lucky to be there at all! Instead, Prashant was asking us to develop a “culture of tenderness and delicacy”, to battle with our barriers through the breath:

“Don’t get trained. Get educated.”
“Pranayama is not deep breathing. It is breath craftsmanship.”

Exploring the internal purposes of exhalation, he encouraged us to use it like the heads on a Swiss Army knife – to cleanse, wash, expel, offer, evacuate. So for five days we dissected ourselves. It was intense and it felt very good to me.

Then, on the sixth day, Geetaji arrived. At 8.30 am sharp for the next five days, she was brought onto the stage in a wheelchair and taught us for four or five hours straight. After lunch it was on to Q&A sessions, back to the institute for meetings, interviews, where she finished at seven or eight in the evening. (On the final day, the centenary of her father’s birth, she was there with her whole family. Rachel and I went to pay our respects – I’m so glad we did.)

She was determined to make us reach inside, plumb our depths, face and deal with our issues. You wanted some action? Well, try this! Again and again she urged us to go beyond our limits, like in Sirsasana:

“Don’t come down. Go back up!

And going further and further over in Halasana:

“MOVE! MOVE!”
“Pain is not the criterion. Movement is the criterion.’
“If there’s a will, there’s a way. If there is no will, there is no way.”

At her feet she had 1,300 people from 56 countries and she knew she had very little time left. She wanted us to go through the pain, the fear, find out what lies beyond:

“There is transformation in every asana.”

Then her work was done, and her time had come. When the event was complete, less than 48 hours later, she died. She had been telling everyone all year that she wanted to see the centenary through, then her work would be done. No-one gave much thought to what she actually meant, though.

And what did I learn? I learned that freedom comes through the exhalation: the gift of yoga is power over life and death.

So back to today and where to start my class planning. Geetaji implored us to read Gher father’s books, and going back to basics seems as good a place as any. I’ll start with the book co-written by Guruji and Geetaji: ‘Basic Guidelines For Teachers Of Yoga’, and see where it takes me.

In her niece Abhijata’s words: “The cleanest mirror that we had, is gone… Never again will we have someone who was as clear, as simple, as straightforward…Everything else in the world came to a standstill when she was involved in an action…Her life force ended after December 14th…which reminds me of the death of Gandhiji… her work was done, and all she had to do was close her eyes.”

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Filed under Ashtanga, Breathing, Iyengar, Pain, Relaxation, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

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