It seems throughout Geeta's Birthday Intensive the idea of time and what we choose to do with it seemed ever present. We celebrated Geeta's birth and we honored her father’s life and death. Opening up to this span of time via the path of Yoga means learning to be more present from the beginning to the end.
The last two days, Geeta maintained focus on Pranayama and the key preparatory actions to begin a Pranayama practice and sustain it. It is easy to overlook these actions and rush through. ‘Oh, I’ve done Ujjayi. I’ve done Viloma, so I am good.’ I feel Geeta wanted to get across the imperative of slowing down and paying better attention.
In our yoga practice, that means being even more attentive to the actions in our Asana so that when we move into our Pranayama practice, we can be more present in our inner world and really experience what the breath is doing. From there, we can be present to our life force energy, which in turn makes us present for even more.
Our personal yoga journey is very much our own. Geeta encouraged us not to lie to ourselves. She didn't want us to allow our egoic self to take us places we are not ready for. Pull back. Be present with yourself. What is working? What is not? What is the right side doing? What is the left side doing? Is my brain in my head? What if I put it in my upper back, my thighs, or in the openness of my floating ribs?
Am I overworking or under working? Where are the dark areas? What is my skin doing, my muscles, my organs, my bones, and my cells? Question. 'Decentralize'. We have to break everything down to little bitty parts before we can put it back together and really know how every part is working.
When I remember her words, I can’t help but think of a watchmaker I met in Atlanta. He’s the only watchmaker I’ve ever met and the last one I know of in our area. I used to have coffee with him at Aurora Coffee some mornings. I divert to this story because BKS Iyengar somehow reminds me of a watchmaker. Like a watchmaker, he was fascinated with all the many intricate parts and how those parts work together to create a beautiful timekeeping device: our body.
To be a watchmaker or to fix a watch you have to know how it works. You have to take it apart – experiment, explore, experience what does what and why, so that you understand how to keep even the most intricate parts working beautifully. I feel Geeta wanted to convey that her father gave us the tools to learn about ourselves in that way. I believe BKS Iyengar was a physical learner. He wasn’t as we say in America, a box learner. I believe his approach to Yoga is unique to his style of learning.
I don’t know if you have followed some of the comments on Day 6 of my blog; however, there seems to have been a bit of a ruckus going on there. Piety is an easy thing to slip into (for all of us) especially when we want to defend something that means a lot to us. However, we know so very little in the scheme of things that it's hard to justify piety ever. I don’t care how long we've studied something, how many degrees we have, or how many books we’ve read or written. We basically all just study what already exists, whether that’s what’s physically in front of us or something that has been taught or documented by someone else.
Most of us just regurgitate what we think we’ve learned, which is probably why Geeta was so fierce about us checking and rechecking what we think we know -- even when speaking to the most senior Iyengar teachers. Others, like BKS Iyengar, explore further. They experiment on what they’ve learned and may put it in some new form or explain it in a whole new way. Sometimes that new way resonates with others and gets attention or notoriety of some kind – but that still doesn’t mean that any of us has absolute knowledge of anything.
What I respect most about BKS Iyengar is his integrity. He wasn’t afraid to be BKS Iyengar. He never claimed to be an academic and freely admitted his strengths and weaknesses. When he discovered his ego had ruled his poses in his youth, he wanted his students know it, so they could be watchful of that in themselves. He was quick to tell students when he discovered something wrong in his teachings and (much to his granddaughter’s chagrin) was willing to admit it publicly to millions of people.
I feel BKS Iyengar was a true explorer and reported on what he found on his personal journey as honestly as he knew how. He didn’t need to be famous or even right – he needed to explore every aspect of his path. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe he ran around acting like he had absolute knowledge of anything or saying his yoga is better than someone else’s yoga. He stayed true to his personal path and explored it in every detail.
We are fortunate to be able to benefit from his explorations. However, if we choose to learn from him or someone else is a personal choice. I like the thought that BKS Iyengar mentions in one of his books, the idea of letting the ‘yoga do the yoga’. I feel you choose to learn from a particular path because it resonates with you and you feel you can get further along by studying it.
However, Geeta reminded us how we are always in a rush to get there. Wherever “there” is. We rarely want to take our time and many times we get stuck along the way. I often site one of my favorite stories in Light on Life by BKS Iyengar. It is the one about the great 19c. Bengali saint, Sri Ramakrishna. This fellow could go into (a seeded) Sbija Samadhi relatively fast. If you know the story, his Samadhi involved going to a place where he was blissed out in a divine love state with a goddess named Kali. Who could blame him for hanging out there, right?
The story goes on to tell about a Vedic ascetic monk who was wise enough to recognize that though Ramakrishna abilities were impressive, he was actually stuck. He let Ramakrishna know he could go further. So Ramakrishna went into his state of Sbija Samadhi and the wise monk watched him. To make Ramakrishna "unstuck" the monk took a shard of broken glass and pressed it between Ramakrishna’s eyebrows. The result of this shocking act was that Ramakrishna was able to metaphorically kill the goddess. An awful experience, but one that took him to a whole new level of (seedless) nirbija Samadhi. BKS Iyengar goes on to describe this state as “…the final state of aloneness, a Oneness with no Other, like the pure beauty of a prime number to a mathematician – an indivisible state.”
What I want to get across by this story is that Ramakrishna thought he'd gotten "there". He didn't know he hadn't. We know so little. The sooner we can be okay with that, the sooner we’ll stop feeling the piety of any practice we choose. BKS Iyengar was a humble man. When I saw the Institute, it drove that point home for me even more. And as far as I can tell, he never claimed to be anything he wasn’t. What we call Iyengar Yoga is an incredibly passionate man’s personal quest to answer his own questions, put words to his personal discoveries, and be courageous enough to share them.
I choose to listen to his words, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going on my own personal quest. I believe that is part of the journey and what he would want for his students. That is what I feel Geeta was trying to get across during this Intensive. She didn't want us to assume we know anything. She wanted us to keep experimenting, exploring, and experiencing what is being taught. She constantly asked what is your experience? She didn’t judge our answers. She wanted us to tell the truth and learn from our truth.
I would hope those who choose to use the Iyengar system during their personal journey choose it because they are learning something from it. I know I am choosing to use information gathered by the Iyengars to aid my journey, because it is what I can relate to – other people may not relate to it. I may not relate to it any longer one day. I don’t know. All I know is right now I am learning from it, and it is a system of learning that makes sense to me.
At this stage of my learning, it seems to me that as much as our individuation separated us into unique parts of a whole, our union back to that whole will be just as unique. However, we do need teachers and guides. While it is very easy for us to want to defend whatever path or teacher we are choosing, and to desperately want to share what we may think is a faster way to get ‘there’, perhaps we should just be happy with the idea that more of us are seeking to learn more about ourselves and the nature of our existence. If for anything else that is a step in the right direction.
We could try to categorize those who choose to utilize the lessons of BKS Iyengar as perhaps more physical learners. However, if you look at the demographics of Iyengar students, you see a lot of PhDs and highly educated academics as well. Therefore, putting his students into a category seems a bit silly. His students, whomever they are, find encouragement to learn through his systematic method. A method that moves us from the external to the internal – from the gross to the subtle.
By exploring all the intricate parts of our incredible timekeeping device (our body), Iyengar helps us begin to understand being free of it and merging with a timeless universe. As I've mentioned before, he's been an impeccable role model for how to live and how to die. I figure, if we follow his lead by staying humble, open and true to ourselves (exploring, experiencing, and experimenting) we can learn to be truly present wherever we are, so we can appreciate our life more from beginning to end ---and anything that just might be beyond it.
Thank you, Geeta for your time, your dedication, and your energy; thank you for your patience, your knowledge, and your wisdom; thank you for your fierceness and gentleness, your fearlessness and courage, your humor and criticism, your charity, your beauty, and your peace.