FOR BLOG

 

Now on vacation in India, in South Goa, I continue to have limited Internet, available only for the occasional email from my phone. Stirring within has been the desire to convey something of my experience of yoga in international community in Bellur, birthplace of Guruji Iyengar.  Ordinarily I have referred to the Yoga Master of my lineage as BKS Iyengar; but when I had the experience in Colorado in 2005 of direct teaching from this master of yoga, what surprised me most were the tidal emotions of love and gratitude that seemed atmospheric as we witnessed and experienced his radiance and knew the bhakti element of our form, which had sometimes in my  “second generation experience,” been eclipsed by precision and brilliant methodology, the heart obscured by the technique. But in that moment, the experience of my “first generation teachers” all of whom studied for many years arduously and with devotion, in repeated immersions in India with the master himself, became in essence SOMETHING more of my own, and the love and devotion now palpable to me, reflected itself in an authentically uttered “Guruji,” a more clearly reverential and devotional naming of Mr. Iyengar.

 

In Bellur I touch this experience again in my heart, and remember in my body, and in my soul, the naming that suits the true inner feeling of blessedness to have been given this path towards liberation that carries me most deeply and persistently in my spiritual pursuits. I overflow with gratitude to make pilgrimage to this birth place of the master Guruji, and to see the flowering of a village from abject poverty into a thriving village graced with a small hospital, water facilities, a high school and college, a temple for Patanjali, as well as restored heritage temples for Vedic Celestials, Hanuman, Shiva, and Vishnu.  Just four years ago, I visited Bellur for Guruji’s 90th birthday celebration, and the transformation of his birth village continues with alacrity, now turning towards completion of a yoga school on the campus above the little village where the temples exist. BKS Iyengar and family, as well as his students, have generated the resources for this transformed village. Some of you may have seen the images I posted of the village children chanting the Invocation to Patanjali, and the asana demonstration with which we were graced as part of our visit.

 

Teachers for the 2013 Bellur Retreat were “first generation Senior teachers” Patricia Walden, an American teacher from Boston,  and Rita Keller, a German teacher from Cologne, for asana and pranayama.  Paul Sherbow from New York, and Georgie Grutter, originally from Germany taught the philosophy section of the retreat, while Jarvis Chen from Massachusetts assisted in the asana classes. We arrived as an international sangha at our retreat site on December 31st, ushering in the new year with a puja (sacred ceremony) at the Patanjali shrine.

It felt truly auspicious to step into the new year at this place, with sacred ritual and chanting, gathered together with people from all over the world.

 

Our daily schedule included a 7 am pranayama class, followed by tea and a light breakfast, and then chanting of the 108 names of Patanjali , the Invocation, Aum for lengths of time, the Gayatri Mantra, and other less familiar chants as part of puja; asana class followed, for 1 hour to 3 depending on special events, and then an afternoon lunch and tea, followed by philosophy class; then asana class once again, usually with inversions. asana, pranayama and philosophy classes were taught by the various teachers, but in sync with one another, and with a weaving among them, which added to their excellence. Again in the evening we chanted and had puja, followed by dinner and the return to our rooms. Lodging on the campus where I stayed was sparse; I was housed with two German women, our three cots in one room with a shared bathroom. We thoroughly enjoyed one another, and I had the chance to practice the small bit of German I know! Our days were brimful of practice, with truly hardly a moment of leisure. Our meals were delicious South Indian cuisine, and thoroughly enjoyed, from curry to curd to mango pickles!

In the daily immersion in all aspects of integrated practice, I experienced a fulfillment entirely unique in my 25 years of Iyengar yoga practice. Hindu priests led the puja, and the sense of inclusion in sacred rite that is difficult to know in visiting temples on one’s own in India, lent a feeling of acceptance to me as a Western practitioner; the priests in Bellur of course know the international nature of Guruji’s following, and have no apparent ambivalence about sharing the rituals with Westerners. The manager of the retreat, whom we called Mr. Govinda Sir, also knows English well, and was able to help us to understand the rituals  in which we partook. Just as one example, at the culmination of the puja ceremony, there is a passing before each person present, of a tray with a lit fire for purification. Each person sweeps his or her hand near the fire and brings its warmth and light into him or herself.  Then one receives water into one’s hands that has been infused with tulsi plant and cardamom, and drinks for internal purifying. And lastly a red powder is offered to each person to place a tika mark on the forehead. What has seemed an Indian cultural “marking” little understood held new meaning as Mr. Govinda described it as a signifier to oneself of the intention around meditation of concentrating one’s attention inwardly, with single pointed focus, or dharana from the eight limbs of yoga.

 

I am uncertain how this deeper experience of my own tradition will translate into my own practice and teaching at home, though I imagine it filtering through like a time release capsule, slowly more fully understood and integrated.