That’s me on the far left.
It has taken me time to process Mr. Iyengar’s death and my relationship with him.
I first met Mr. Iyengar in 1977 when I traveled to India to study Yoga at the tender age of 36. My Yoga teacher, at the time, told me that Mr. Iyengar would ‘fix’ me.
I didn’t know what that meant, and it scared me, but Mr. Iyengar was a teacher and without students he couldn’t teach and so, I reasoned, I was as important in the process as he was.
When I first saw Mr. Iyengar he was teaching Yoga in Bombay (Mumbai) at the top of many flights of rickety stairs. Needless to say I was afraid to meet him and especially since I heard that he hit his students. I had secretly decided that if he hit me, I would hit him back.
But when I first caught sight of him, he looked and reminded me of my Italian uncles—short, blustery, loud, with a sense of humour and a sincere heart. I liked him instantly.
And, he liked me. He would (affectionately) bat me on the side of my head with, “This one, she understands.” I would nod, knowingly, even though later I didn’t know what it was that I understood.
He even elevated me to a more advanced level in the class and he never hit me, although, I did see him whack other people, as he said, to wake them up in their bodies. I still told myself that if he hit me, I would hit him back. I wasn’t afraid of him.
I did worry about him, though, because I was there to celebrate his 60th birthday and with so much adulation coming his way, I noticed that he believed what people were saying. I worried about that.
On the other hand, I got that he was helping people. I saw them get stronger in their bodies, as I did, in the three short weeks I was there. And, when it came time to leave, I promised him I would come back to study with him again.
I never did return but we did exchange letters back and forth. He was my guide. I built a beautiful Yoga studio beside my home, as had done. And, I taught Yoga with the same spirit of wanting to help people, as he had helped me.
But studying with other teachers I found a depth to Yoga that introduced me to the wounds in my emotional body and I learned how to connect with them and dissolve them. This put me in touch with my shadow side and how it played out in my life. I felt more whole, connected and alive. When, in a letter, I explained this to Mr. Iyengar, he wrote back to admonish me but it was too late.
I had already discovered the finer sensations of a more graceful body and I couldn’t return to bulking up my muscles and lose this connection to my inner self.
But Mr. Iyengar remained in my body and in my heart, as it was his teachings that laid the foundation for my Yoga practice. And, I wished that one day I could share what I had learned with him. Deep inside myself I felt I would.
After I heard he died what I learned from him came more alive in my body. Certain muscles in my legs began to wake up (I almost felt him whacking them!) and both legs became more the same.
Even though he was gone, I felt him with me and knew that one day we would meet again, as we had done many years ago, and once again, we would recognize each other as friends.
Photo is of me at Mr. Iyengar’s “Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute” in Pune, India in 1977. I am on the very left in the back row. Beautiful Pegge Gabbott is the other woman in the photo.