Over the course of the five-day event, Abhijata Sridhar, the granddaughter of BKS Iyengar led the convention with humility, humor, and fearless authenticity, demonstrating under no uncertain terms that the next generation of Iyengar Yoga is in safe hands.
The Convention theme “From the Periphery to the Core and From the Core to the Periphery” was present throughout her teachings. The Sadhana IYNAUS 2016 convention magazine offers a nice piece on the theme by Nashville’s Gary Jaegar, an Intermediate Junior III Iyengar Yoga Instructor and Philosophy Professor at Vanderbilt University. Mr. Iyengar delineates the path inward and back again with the eight limbs or Astanga Yoga of Patanjali we follow:
“Yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama together belong to the path of evolution as they connect the Self to the Periphery (nature). Dharana, dhyana and Samadhi belong to the path of involution. Here the intelligence makes a return journey and moves from the skin towards the Self. “ [Iyengar, B. K. (2000). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā: Collected works (Vol. 1). New Delhi: Allied. Pg. 306]
Abhijata instructed by, as her Grandfather might say, using the ‘needle of consciousness’ to ‘fasten the body to the Soul.’ She explained that her Grandfather said that asana is a prop to penetrate to the Self. Her article in the convention magazine tells the stories of how the other props in Mr. Iyengar’s toolbox came about to serve us.
Her aunt, Dr. Geeta Iyengar, spoke to us from Pune, India in the beginning, middle, and end of the conference to encourage us each step of the way and left us with a seed of inspiration to plant at home. Her interview with Joan White in the convention magazine shares her history of learning yoga from her father.
BKS Iyengar, who many call Guruji stayed ever present in Abhijata’s daily stories and teaching. When she shared a few of her asana lessons with her Grandfather, she had us enact the scene (which we attempted with humor) so we could feel the depth of his teaching.
Senior Instructors were scattered throughout the Global Hall at the Boca Raton Resort & Spa where 1169 students held space for one another to learn. The Senior Teachers shared their stories on the stage and in the convention magazine, and like Abhijata, opened our hearts to their personal journeys.
As Mr. Iyengar has said, “Caught in the web of words, it is rather difficult to define ‘yoga’ so as to satisfy everyone,” [ Iyengar, B. K. (2000). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā: Collected works (Vol. 1). New Delhi: Allied. Pg. 100]. However, Abhijata did an amazing job explaining to the vast number of levels with respectful authority her specific lessons. Everyone seemed to honor her presence in kind by coming into the Hall with a beginner’s mind.
2.28 – yoganganusthanat asuddhiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakyateh,
“This means that by adherence to the practice of yoga impurities of body and consciousness are destroyed and the pure light of knowledge and wisdom is kindled, [Iyengar, B. K. (2000). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā: Collected works (Vol. 1). New Delhi: Allied. Pg. 102].
We listened to her well thought out discoveries of what she felt her Grandfather meant by his idea that “Habit is a Disease.” We learned by her personal examples about boga yoga (ego yoga) and the limitation that comes by using check lists in our poses. More importantly, we learned what our own process needs to be when trying to understand or interpret Mr. Iyengar's words.
“Education is that which teaches us first to know thoroughly the parts so that one moves on to know the whole. The art of learning begins compartmentally, working clearly, in order to experience the whole, one day. Education is complete when it makes one realize one’s ignorance and light the lamp of inquiry for progress. Education brings about the realization of what one does not know and how much has been left out of the known.” - BKS Iyengar
We could ‘collect’ the intelligence Abhijata offered because her precision in timing, sequence, repetition, and challenge assured it. She broke down lessons into parts we could remember. Concepts like hinge of the ankle, depth of the groin, the importance of finding equanimity and totality in our movements: shin to calf and calf to shin, tailbone to pubic bone, and upper thoracic (~T7/T8) to sternum. We studied the four corners of the feet and knee. We centralized the head of the humorous and femur. We circularized the upper thigh and weighted our ankles, and much, much more. Abhijata pricked our intelligence to penetrate our mind and body deeper and deeper with each class.
“We use our intelligence to see external things, but we do not know how to use the intelligence to penetrate internally. This internal movement of the intelligence begins through the practice of yoga and it travels from the body to the mind, mind to intelligence, intelligence to consciousness and consciousness to the self, so that you are drawn towards the core of Being- the Self. [ Iyengar, B. K. (2002). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā. Vol 2. New Delhi: Allied Publ. Page 212]
When moving us from what at first seemed like an 'all-level' Prasarita Padottanasana into Utthita Parsvakonasana, she warned us not to try this with beginners because the deep bend required a potentially harmful rotation in the hips for that level. It echoed the many warnings her Grandfather expressed in his written works.
“I am very wary about recommending exercises for physical conditions, because many people might say, “I will also teach that,” but what is important is how it is taught. If you don’t know how to do it, don’t teach it.[…] do not do it if you do not know. It is dangerous.” [Iyengar, B. K., & Rivers-Moore, D. (2002). The tree of yoga: Yoga vṛkṣa. Boston, MA: Shambhala. Pg. 97-98]
The films and stories of Mr. Iyengar’s teachings helped many of us better understand how he taught and why he taught the way he did. His student’s trusted him implicitly because they experienced such amazing changes in their mind and body -- despite disconcerting processes in between like what Mary Obendorfer shared about having numbness in her arms after one of his lessons.
“The light inside the pot cannot spread unless the pot is broken. Similarly, the guru breaks the cover that enshrouds the pupil's intelligence and makes it shine and spread. The moment ignorance (ajnana) is eradicated, awareness (prajnana) takes its place.” [Iyengar, B. K. (2002). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā. Vol 2 New Delhi: Allied Publ. Pg. 301 ]
It is abundantly clear to newer students of his work (like this writer) that Mr. Iyengar always put his students first -even if he injured himself in the process.
“You know that Mr Iyengar sometimes hits his pupils to help them in their postures, but perhaps you do not know what I get from my pupils! I also get the pupils’ imprints on my body.” [Iyengar, B. K., & Rivers-Moore, D. (2002). The tree of yoga: Yoga vṛkṣa. Boston, MA: Shambhala. Pg. 97-98]
In his explanation of the invocation below (chanted at the convention after the invocation to Patanjali), we learn that our first Guru is a teacher who helps us find the Guru within ourselves. Mr. Iyengar's body of work is now in the hands and feet and every part and particle of Geeta & Prashant (along with his other children), his granddaughter, and his students. And every day is a new day to review our interpretation of his lessons, so we can use them to help ourselves and others begin to know the Self from the inside out, and back again.
Gurubrahma gururvisnu gururudevo mahesvaraha
Guru saksata para brahma tasmai sri gaurave namah [Iyengar, B. K. (2002). Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā. New Delhi: Allied Publ. Pg. 301 ]
The closing ceremony of the event offered beautiful demonstrations with the likes of U.S. Iyengar leaders like Patricia Walden, talented voices like Jarvis Chin and Leslie Dillingham Freyberg, and the inspiring Lighting The Way award given to Lois Steinberg, one of the bright light workers among us. We left the halls ringing with a message from Patanjali:
Sutra 1.33 maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam, “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.”
We ended grateful for Abhijata and the Iyengar Family, along with the many volunteers who helped make the event happen. We filled the place with an energy that is sure to affect guests of the resort for years to come, and a vibration of compassion from our closing Sutra that we can only hope will penetrate into the earth and reverberate outward across the land.