In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the first Sutra states roughly “Now the study of yoga begins” The operative word being now. As we read further into this book and begin to grasp the meditative aspect of yoga we realize it is always and only now. And this understanding is essential to the study of yoga.
This upcoming trip will be my fifth visit to India. I am an Iyengar yoga teacher; when an Iyengar yoga teacher tells you they are going to India they mean Pune, and by Pune we mean RIMYI, the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. Although this will be my fifth visit it will always be like my first visit. To arrive in India with expectations is, like with all expectations, a set up. But even more so in India where not just one god but many will playfully pull on your strings, stirring up the past and mingling it with the present, and the only solution is to stay present. Expectations are fancy, based on the past which is over. There is only ‘atha’ auspicious now.
My first visit to RIMYI was in December 2002/January 2003. I had planned for it and dreamed of it for years. Waiting until my daughter was old enough, my practice strong enough, until my multi-disciplinary clinic could run without me and my massage therapy patients were well looked after… ducks all in a row. Visiting the Iyengar institute for the first time was both a terrifyingly exciting and profoundly sobering experience. I was so grateful to finally be here. The first day of class Prashant Iyengar walked the 100 plus students in attendance around the main hall to observe photos of Guruji Iyengar from Light on Yoga. These pictures create a border that wraps around the room like a classical frieze. He wished for us to observe the meditative facial expression, the inward focus. This lesson set the standard for me in practice and I have never forgotten it. This trip was also my first meeting of Mr. Iyengar. I was there for his 84th birthday. Although short in height his lion like nature radiates as does his full on smile and attention. I have returned three times since and now about to embark on my fifth journey. Guruji Iyengar is now 95 years old. Wise and precious, I look forward to seeing him.
I went to India that first time in 2002 thinking it was the trip of a life time. Pune was a quaint city of three million. There were very few cell phones and a few internet cafes one would go to every few days to write home. There was the occasional special public phones for international calls. You would have to go, with all your coins, at night to phone home because of the time difference. Day time was mostly spent in practice, doing yoga, talking yoga, eating, reading and napping. It was bliss. My husband met me and at the end of my study and we took a week vacation in Goa. Goa was breathtakingly beautiful with fishermen in outriggers fishing on the Arabian Sea while Indian and foreign tourists walked the beaches. We rented a scooter and headed south down less traveled roads to pristine beaches, across bridges to river outlets and through jungle where monkeys peeked out through the foliage. The whole time Geeta Iyengar’s lessons ringing in my ears, my heart, and filling my lungs, continuing to penetrate deeply.
On my second trip in 2005 the city had grown to four million and there was a brand new cinema walking distance from RIMYI. It was an entertainment extravaganza and I went to two movies! During this visit I spent two months in Pune. I took a laptop, wrote letters that I would copy to a disc and from the internet cafes I could load my letters from my disc to the computer hard drive and attach to my emails. I spent my free time in the RIMYI library and took Sanskrit lessons at the university. On January 1st Guruji’s granddaughter Abhiji, barely an adult, taught the first class of the year at RIMYI. Showing us every bit that she was her grandfather’s prodigy, strong and confident, it was a delightful beginning to the year and glimpse into the future of Iyengar Yoga. We were blessed to have Guruji, on the side lines, teach many of the women’s classes that month and Prashant had us plowing and irrigating our inner gardens through the chanting of Sanskrit vowel sounds. In February Guruji gave us many lessons in the practice hall.
By 2008 the city had doubled in size with over 100 shopping centres going up in one year. One immediately across from RIMYI. This visit was for one month only, having brought both my husband and daughter this time. John and I both studied at RIMYI and my daughter, a chef, spent the month attending cooking classes all over the city. The internet cafes were disappearing but more of the restaurants had wi-fi. I could take the laptop to one of these restaurants and send emails or blog posts. During our 2008 visit there was the terrible bombing in Mumbai and some people in our apartment building and associated with RIMYI were directly affected by it. We had to pull together and help one another. RIMYI classes continued uninterrupted but the staff at RIMYI were doing everything possible to see that those affected were attended to. The need to keep our community together and continue our practice was strong as ever.
In 2012 I stayed the month of January with dear friends, immersing myself in local culture. I also assisted five days a week in the medical classes as well as attending classes, assisting with the archives and practice time, often spending seven hours a day at RIMYI. I bought a local SIM card for my cell phone and could make local calls. I also brought my playbook for email and social media, posting photos on face book. In February John joined me and we travelled north on a spiritual quest; first to Aurangabad Buddhist caves, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Shiva worshipping city of Varanasi on the Ganges where Siva reigns death and destruction – Om Nama Shivaya!, the Krishna worshipping city of Vrindavan where love reigns – Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari!, and finally to Delhi and home.
Every time I visit RIMYI I learn something profound about myself. The first time I found meditation in practice, on my second visit I learned to get over myself – that was a big one. The third trip changed my feet. The fourth trip, was a profound spiritual journey and, 10 years after the first trip, forced me to accept my changing body. Assisting in the medical classes has made me a better teacher and has been immensely helpful in my massage therapy practice. As with all opportunity one must go there an empty vessel. You cannot give to an already full cup therefore the journey must NOW begin anew.
It still astonishes me that in just a few days I leave for Goa, Pune and my fifth journey to RIMYI. With two of my students attending RIMYI for the first time and my husband joining me in February to attend the medical classes for his knees. This year my Pune apartment has wi-fi and I have a smartphone. How it all continues to change. Hopefully people still leave books in the apartment. I look forward to sharing the gems of my journey with you here on my blog over the coming two months. Beginning with lush Goa and study with Fr. Joe Pereira followed by six weeks at RIMYI. Meanwhile please enjoy the new website. It is my hope that this new format, photos, quotes and offerings will convey to you a glimpse of the gift of yoga and inspire you.
Leigh Anne Milne