A tribute to Guruji BKS Iyengar
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
I was introduced to Yoga by a teacher who used to come to give tuition to my youngest sister. I was about 11 years old and he demonstrated ‘mandalasana’ (keeping the head in balance walking round it in a circle. I got it easily and that was my first and last Yoga as a child.)
When I got the Padmashree, among the 68 felicitations I received, one was near that teacher’s home. So I went and touched his feet. He was shocked to see a Catholic Priest touching his feet. I think he put the seed of the love of Yoga in my mind. Later in 1968 at the end of my Clerical Studies in Pune, Guruji came to the Papal Athenaeum to give us a demonstration. It was in the month of January. I finished my licentiate in Divinity and returned to Bombay to commence work as an assistant Parish Priest at Victoria Church, Mahim. At a concert by Yehudi Menuhin, I met Guruji. I asked him if he had classes in Bombay. To which he said that he did and it was in Campion High School, Fort. He was happy that I wanted to join since at Campion he was not very sure of being allowed to continue. One lay brother Br Tort sj was a faithful participant. It was great fun, hearing Br Tort howling in pain as Guruji adjusted him. Guruji welcomed all. The class was a multi-level class, young and old even a few children who today are grand Mothers viz the Motiwalas. Sam and Frenny Motiwala came with their three daughters and we used to go to their place for a high tea with Guruji after the Saturday class.
I distinctly remember my first day in class. Together with me there came in a Naval Officer. Both of us had to do the same protocol. Guruji walked up and asked us to go up on our head, Sirsasana. We did, of course with Guruji’s support. Then he brought us down and continued teaching the class.
Meanwhile left to do nothing the Naval Officer started attempting to go up again. There was a sharp voice from the head of the class. Guruji shouting, “Throw that chap out of the class.” The Naval officer, embarrassed, walked out of the class along with his entourage that was standing at the entrance of the class. Ironically eight years later, the same officer walked in Guruji’s class almost a cripple. He had a major accident as a submarine diver and had multiple injuries in his spine. He regretted walking out of the first class especially seeing me and others who had now gone deep into the practice.
Guruji did not have an Ashram in the way other Gurus have had. His was a teaching institute where we went regularly. He had intensive sessions in the hills of Panchghani and Mahableshwar as also at Matheran. They were very rigorous teachings. When we attended his week end class in Bombay, the pain in the limbs would linger for the rest of the week. After the death of his Wife, Ramamani, his students one of whom was an architect, helped to build the Institute and named it after his wife. Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute of Yoga. Guruji brought a new dimension to Yoga. No religion or chanting what so ever. People of all Faiths participated. His approach was very scientific and has stayed that way. He was the initiator of using props such as chairs, belts, bricks, ropes and a variety of wooden implements to help practitioners stay in postures which would be beneficial for health. He was therefore some times ridiculed as a 'Furniture Yogi'. To me he was like Mother Teresa my one dimension of my spirituality. Like the Yin and Yang, Guruji and Mother were my 'Ida' and 'Pingala' Nadies. Jesus being my 'Sushumna' Nady. The common denominator was compassion. Because just as Mother taught me to reach out to the poorest of the poor, Guruji helped me to reach out to the poorest of the poor in health. Some of these poorest of the poor in health happen to be well-known personalities like Lee Kwa Yew, the Prime Minister Mentor of Singapore and the Cardinals and Archbishops in the Church.
Seeing my love for the marginalised owing to addiction, Guruji helped me in putting together a set of Asanas to help people in recovery from addiction and addiction related ailments such as HIV AIDS. Ours is the only organisation that Guruji permitted his name to be attached by giving us the name, 'Kripa Foundation Iyengar Yoga'. This methodology has now spread in many countries especially in treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse. As I spent some quiet moments with Guruji’s daughter Gitajee after his cremation, I said to her, “Guruji truly, in the likeness of Jesus laid down his life for us.” Today people ask me where I get the energy to teach Yoga in over 40 countries and never tire of any jet lag or tiredness. The answer is the teaching of Guruji that has helped me to tap the 'Wisdom of the Body' and be filled, in the words of Mother Teresa with the joy of living, loving and serving.
(As told to Monarose Sheila Pereira)