Reflections on Yoganusasanam

“Sattva Purusayoh Suddhi Samye Kaivalyam” (3.55)

“When the purity of intelligence equals the purity of the soul, the yogi has reached kaivalya, perfection in yoga.” B.K.S. Iyengar translation, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

This sutra was woven through the intensive called Yoganusasanam, conducted by Dr. Geeta Iyengar on December 1-11, 2014 at Balewadi Sports Stadium in Pune, India. Geetaji’s teaching revealed the power of Iyengar Yoga as a vehicle for reaching the purity of Purusa.

As teachers, many of us were humbled to witness Geetaji’s mastery at her capacity to see and touch all of us as if every class was designed for each individual in the room. And what a gathering of individuals it was! Yoganusasanam was attended by approximately 1,400 students and teachers representing 57 countries.

The efficiency and effectiveness of the volunteers was apparent in the highly organized, beautifully orchestrated event. It flowed smoothly. The film crew was superb (and when needed was quickly instructed by Abhijata Iyengar in the moment to get the right angles). We were able to focus on what Geetaji was teaching and observe those actions on large screens that flanked either side of the stage.

We began the days at 8:30 a.m. On the first three days we had asana classes that lasted about three hours. After three days, a pranayama class was added after a short break. On the last three days, we had pranayama first then asana. These classes were followed by lunch, some rest time, then an afternoon program of at least two hours, all concluding around 4 p.m. Afternoon programs included Abhijata Iyengar discussing Our System, and How To Attend An Iyengar Yoga Class; Dr. Manoj Naik on the co-relation between asanas and medical science; Sunita Iyengar’s beautiful chanting of the sutras of Patanjali; Birjoo Mehta on “Body thy Shrine, Yoga thy light”; the film “Light on Sadhana”; a Q&A with Senior Teachers; a panel discussion on the Universality of Yoga; and the last one, a stunning classical Indian music concert.

The daily vegetarian lunch was provided by a local caterer who did a highly respectable job feeding lots of us in short order. This was very nice for all since the stadium itself is remote from restaurants. Outside the hall, approved vendors sold fresh fruit and fresh coconuts (for rejuvenating electrolytes!).

Geetaji started each session by paying respect, bowing first to Lord Patanjali, then Krishnamacharya, then to Guruji, and finally to her mother, Ramamani, at the altar set on stage. Her emotional speech on the first day was incredibly touching and personal. We were moved by the transparency in how she recounted intimate details of Guruji’s passing, sharing her feelings about it, and how she had still not fully recovered from the shock of the loss. Nothing was held back. Geetaji brought us into the experience of what transpired as Guruji approached and attained his Dharma Megha Samadhi.

I asked several people what they remembered from that opening speech. I specifically asked, “What stayed in your heart from her words?” This is what people recalled:

  • Guruji is forever in our hearts. Even in lifetimes to come he will be there if avidya is not there.
  • Geetaji said though she may not be fully recovered from Guruji’s passing, she would do her level best to teach us.
  • Geetaji directed our attention to observe how after ten days of presenting some may understand how she is progressing to prepare for pranayama by starting with the standing asanas.
  • The armpits are the storehouse of vital energy. You have to know how all of the standing asanas prepare one.
  • Memory creates a positive samskara on the heart.
  • It is a resistance that creates energy.
  • As the Guru is not with us, we have the smrti. It is a vritti, but it is klista not aklista.
  • Loss at first is a shock. But memory is a gift to human beings.
  • Don’t break Guruji’s heart. Keep the purity of the practice. Stay truthful to him. Be sincere.
  • Uphold the method that Guruji has established so it doesn’t get lost. Be honest when you are teaching.
  • The fear complex is there. Not when you’re in communion with others. The loneliness is there, the darkness is there as in late at night when you’re alone. Keep stepping forward into the light.
  • Even though Guruji is gone, his presence is with us. We honor him by practicing in the right way.

One senior teacher I spoke with described Geetaji’s teaching as “astonishing.” It was. By her own right and at times directly transmitting Guruji, she transported us from a dull state to penetrate into deep regions of inner space, asking us to awaken from the inside awareness. We were led to pierce every corner of our bodies to create width, breadth, and length. The soul exists everywhere within and without, she insisted. We should search. We should feel our existence everywhere. Don’t rush. Take the time to absorb so that you move completely from the skin to the soul and the soul to the skin.

On December 5, right before pranayama, the air conditioning went on to such an extent that the whole hall became as cold as an ice box. People were wrapping themselves with whatever garments they had available and it wasn’t really much as most of our clothing was outside the hall space. After her teaching Geetaji asked us, “How can I make you to suffer when it is so cold?” She changed her teaching to warm us, to bring heat into our bodies. It was immediately obvious to me what she was doing. I thought, “She’s helping us now by giving us pranayama to create this heat.” How to plan what you’re going to teach? What is in the moment? Teach what is required. That was the lesson.

If Geetaji’s asana instruction was astonishing, her pranayama lessons were sublime. She encouraged, “Keep the problems outside...and bring the mind to an internal state to feel your existence everywhere like sun rays spreading everywhere.” “Let the thoughts die,” she guided. “In the end,” she quietly commented, “the silence itself is a prayer.”

Geetaji delivered profound reminders. Like this one: Krishna tells Arjuna, “On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.” (2.40)1. It was heart-warming to remember this and it assures all of us that our practice has deep significance.

In one of the afternoon programs, Abhijata reflected on many things she learned from Guruji. This one stuck with me. Guruji said to her, “Without love, without passion, you can never learn. Yoga is 90% an emotional subject.” For those of us who struggle to fit this massive subject into our brains, be comforted by this next one. In an asana, Abi was trying to coordinate so many actions that she became frustrated and exclaimed to him, “I can’t coordinate all of these actions with my brain!” to which he replied, “Who asked you to do it with your brain?”

December 11 was a glorious finale. Many of the teacher volunteers and others who helped organize the event were called onto the stage and given a lovely recognition. But most poignant was Abhijata’s beautiful concluding speech in which she talked about Guruji and how he wanted us to go ahead with this event no matter what would happen...and that his spirit is always with us. I encourage all to watch this three-minute speech on YouTube. Just type into the search field on YouTube, “Abhijata Iyengar concluding speech Yoganusasanam” and you’ll find it.

After the recognitions were completed, we were honored to receive a delicious and bountiful south Indian lunch hosted by Geetaji and Prashantji. This was our first view of Prashantji all week and he and Geetaji sat casually in the lunch room amidst all who stayed until the end. It was a remarkable ending to the intensive—to have Geetaji and Prashantji provide this lunch from their native southern region and have them sit with us in the lunch room. Many received Geetaji’s blessings there as well. As we all exchanged goodbye hugs and farewells, I realized how many new friends I had made and considered that probably hundreds of new Iyengar connections and friendships were forged among our global community.

Those who attended Yoganusasanam absorbed the touch of Geetaji’s compassionate approach, received the bounty of her astonishing teaching, and witnessed her stunning ability to deliver practical wisdom and profound depth to an incredibly diverse group of practitioners.

But you don’t have to miss out! The DVDs of this teaching will be available through the IYNAUS store sometime soon. Don’t hesitate to get them. You will be as grateful as all of us who experienced this masterful teaching firsthand.

Please note: Quotes are from my recollection and may not be exact wording.

Lisa Jo Landsberg is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor at the Intermediate Junior III level teaching in her private home studio and at Yoga Shala in Boulder, Colorado. She has been a Yoga practitioner for over 35 years and an Iyengar Yoga teacher for almost 20 years. She has been to Pune, India to study with the Iyengars several times and has served as an officer on the Board of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States and on many committees.

1 Bhagavad Gita translation by Stephen Mitchell