BNS & I (or how I found my path)
Change is in the air! Feels like there is finally some light at the end of the COVID tunnel. The seasons are changing and nature is starting to bloom. There is also a war happening not too far away which is deeply heartbreaking. This is all life, constantly changing and moving along. Some things feel pleasant, good, desirable. Other things feel unpleasant, bad, undesirable. The first ones cannot exist without the latter ones. All things must pass, as George Harrison wrote, whether good or bad.
Life events are like the changing weather and seasons. Everything that comes our way has a purpose and a role to play. Living that truth may require some courage to face things as they are, but it also opens the heart and fills it with compassion. It allows us to experience profound levels of peace as we align ourselves in harmony with reality.
I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and reflections on my own personal journey on the path of yoga.
In 2011 I realized that yoga had significant positive effects on my life and felt I needed to dive much deeper into it, to its roots and essence. It seemed like India was the place to go for that. Things have shifted in the 21st Century, yoga in India had changed drastically, it was either catered to the Western taste and commercial, or mystical, esoteric and not really accessible to foreigners. Most renowned yoga teachers were Westerners who travelled to India in the 70s and 80s and studied with the great Indian yoga masters of the 20th Century. However, I felt I needed to go to India and see for myself where yoga came from and how it evolved to be what it is.
I researched a lot and decided that there were six main places where I can find an interesting teacher or useful environment for development. My first stop was the city of Mysore in the the South of India, the birthplace of modern yoga!
Mysore is where T. Krishnamacharya (the father of modern yoga) lived in the early 20th Century and taught his new "Vinyasa" based method. It is also where the Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga style was introduced to young Western seekers in the 1970s by a guy named Pattabhi Jois who continued spreading his method for decades to follow. It was also the place where Iyengar Yoga was developed by the famous B.K.S Iyengar who suffered from many ailments as a young kid and was healed through yoga. There were also other important figures who either lived in Mysore or passed by there and later were part of the spread of yoga all over the world, all of them can be traced back to T. Krishnamacharya, they were were his long time students, family members or students of his students.
These days most yoga seekers who go to Mysore go there to practice the Ashtanga-Vinyasa method, which was my plan as well. It was well known that the practice in Mysore was intense and that strong physical adjustments were often used. I had a strong feeling that this was not the right approach to yoga but at the same time I felt I needed to go through this experience as part of my journey and so I had to get my body more resilient before heading to Mysore, therefore I started attending Mysore Style Classes in a studio where I lived a few months before going to India.
I arrived to Mysore and went to visit the "Main Shala" which is the famous center where Pattabhi Jois was teaching before he passed away. I had a chat with his grandson Sharath who is the heir to the throne, but didn't get a good impression from him, it didn't feel like the right environment for me. So, I started practicing daily at a small yoga shala in Lakshmipuram which is an area of the city where the alternative yoga scene was.
After a few days of daily practice I realized that all my preparations were useless. I was totally exhausted! The practice started at 6am and usually lasted about 2-2:30 hours, 6 days a week. It took a few weeks for me to get into "Ashtanga Shape". I also broke my finger on my second day, but that's a story for another time..
I had a lot of free time throughout the day which I started filling with more yoga studies and practice. I was very thirsty to learn all that I can about yoga, I wanted a different perspective from what I got at home, wasn't sure what to expect. My intuition told me to look for an older teacher, one who embodied decades of yoga experience and perspective, and that's how I got to know B.N.S Iyengar who was and still is a legendary figure in Mysore.
The name Iyengar was famous in the yoga circles. It was actually worldwide the most popular yoga method at the time. The Iyengar I met in Mysore was most definitely not the world renowned Iyengar who wrote many best selling books, had many thousands of followers and an iconic look. He was BKS whereas the Iyengar I met in a small room in Lakshmipuram was BNS, no relation whatsoever!
The one thing they had in common was that they both studied with the great Krishnamacharya back in the day. BNS Iyengar was 84 when I met him, and he is still teaching yoga to this day.
[Side-note: "Iyengar" is a very common family name in these parts of India]
I started coming to BNS Iyengar's shala every day in the late morning. He was teaching Pranayama, Mudra, yoga philosophy. I made myself open and available to learn whatever he was offering. Under his guidance I started doing an intense Pranayama practice every day. It was surprisingly quite challenging. He was gradually introducing longer breath retentions along with different locks and holds of the subtle body (Bandha). At times this practice went so deep that I had to rest for an hour afterwards.
Some days Mr. Iyengar was very impatient and demanding, other days he was softer and smiling. He was very focused on teaching and not interested in any chit-chat or playing guru. He lived a simple life in his small home, riding his old scrappy scooter everywhere, and refused talking about himself or gossiping, even though he was constantly asked to.
He was very rigid in the way he was teaching and demanded that everyone follow his instructions to the tee. He had a very conservative old-school approach, dogmatic, non-compromising, expecting non-questioning dedication. He kept on using references from ancient Vedic texts and emphasized the goals of yoga - full liberation and Self realization! anything short of that was a waste of time.
He was just the opposite of where and who I was which was triggering me on all levels. And yet every day I couldn't wait for my 11:00 am session with Mr. Iyengar. I wanted to face the resentment and resistance that came up and find ways to open myself to his teachings. It was very clear to me that under the rough surface there were some shiny diamonds, some of them were very small and required some digging.
I ended up staying a full year in Mysore, with a couple of breaks in the middle, and dropped my plans to visit other significant yoga locations in India. My time in Mysore was like doing a bachelor degree in yoga. My days started with an intense Asana (yoga posture) practice, followed by a late morning session with BNS. In the afternoon I went to visit a local Sanskrit scholar at his home who taught me yoga philosophy in depth. I took workshops and courses on different yoga related topics, from different local teachers. I engaged in profound conversations with like minded people who came from all over the world in search of the same things I was searching for. I developed a deeper understanding of the essence of yoga and realized that it also had many faces and flavors and that I would have to find out what works for me instead of following one method or teacher blindly.
I also realized that the ancient practices that Mr. Iyengar was trying to preserve were around long enough to be effective in many ways, whereas the newer and modern modifications are still evolving and some of them are far too watered down or stay on the surface level. I needed the foundation of the ancient teachings but also had to integrate others perspectives and maybe a more evidence based approach. I started inquiring how to create an effective yoga practice for myself and others, an inquiry that is still a work in progress.
I wouldn't be able to discover my path without facing BNS Iyengar and allowing my heart to open to all the valuable knowledge he had to offer without being blind to his shortcomings and the irrelevant and impractical parts of his teachings. Walking that thin line I discovered that being able to entertain opposite perspectives simultaneously, giving them both space in my heart, is the most important skill that I needed to develop.
B.N.S. & I
How to find your yoga path:
Try different styles of yoga, different approaches, different teachers. If you have a gut feeling that something has value give it a chance, go to a few classes not just one. Eventually make a choice and stick to one or two methods so that you can go deeper into them.
Always be aware of how you feel during and after a class. Pay attention to physical experience but also to the mental and emotional one. How is the practice affecting your daily life?
Inquire about different aspects of yoga such as breathing practices, meditation, the philosophy behind it.
Join a yoga or meditation retreat, it is a very effective way to dive deeper..
Share your experiences and thoughts with like minded people, ones that encourage and support you on your path.
Stay open and avoid becoming dogmatic or rigid even when you feel that you found what works for you. Things may change, you may come across something or someone who will give you new insights and open a door or two for you on your journey.
Thank you all for joining classes and bringing your individual unique essence into the room!
Looking forward to seeing you in yoga as the days get longer and warmer :)
With love and gratitude,
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