In the final part of our Stories from Pune series, IY teachers Hannah Lovegrove, Sharon Gleeson and Karen Bans share their experiences.
RIMYI, Pune: November 2016.
At RIMYI, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, you’ll often hear Geetaji use the phrase, “You people” to Westerners when one of us has behaved like an idiot in class. It’s true – when we arrive most of us just don’t get it; the learning curve is very steep. During my visit there in November 2016, I realised there’s a fundamental issue with our skewed Western view of the purpose of humility and respect.
Take the crazy traffic as an example. The rule is: keep moving forwards, don’t waver and pedestrians: NEVER step backwards. No one stops at roundabouts with the “After you” attitude of the British give way system. Anyone who wavers causes problems for everyone else. Dogs, cattle, pigs, hand carts and street sweepers (women in lovely saris with a long wispy broom) wander up and down the roads quite safely while lorries, cars, motor bikes and scooters, often with several people on them including children and babies, are doing things you’d get arrested for in the UK. It might look undisciplined and dangerous but if anyone causes an accident their stupidity will quickly gather an angry crowd.
The Institute is a sacred place where for over 40 years, Iyengar Yoga teaching has been developed, practiced and freely given. The city of Pune and its 2.5 million inhabitants (about the size of Greater Manchester) now has four or five generations of Iyengar Yoga students and teachers. The daily classes are filled to capacity. The teaching is strong, quick and detailed; every instruction is delivered from ‘a very straight bat’. The locals love it, and their love and respect for their teachers is clearly evident. In the world-famous Medical classes, Iyengar Yoga and props come together and are used with years of skill and experience, providing relief and respite to those who need help.
Indian culture is rich with gods and rituals. Humility, homage, respect are naturally and unselfconsciously displayed by people on every street corner. Discipline doesn’t need to be rigorously applied – the Institute isn’t festooned with notices telling us what we can and cannot do – because if you behave with humility, pay attention and show respect, there’s not a lot of need for reminders. But Western stupidity knows no bounds, apparently. We saw a group of Westerners bring out a picnic in the practice hall between classes. That’s as bad as bringing your shoes into the Institute. Self-discipline and appropriate behaviour grow naturally from humility and respect.
Hannah teaches classes and weekends at Saddle Street Farm in Dorset.
My first trip to Pune was in December for Yoganusasanam 2016. I have been practicing Iyengar yoga since 2002 but had never been tempted by a month long stay in Pune – a journey to the unknown for a month just seemed like too much of a risk! When the opportunity of visiting for 2 weeks presented itself it seemed a little less daunting – if I hated it I only had to make it through 2 weeks and if I loved it I could go back for a month.
I had heard lots of stories from Pune, good and bad but the time had come for me to experience it for myself and I set off on my little adventure with 2 yoga friends. We flew from Dublin to London and London to Mumbai with British Airways. Our taxi ride from Mumbai to Pune was not for the faint hearted! The traffic in India has to be seen to be believed.
We arrived to Pune and to our lovely hotel The Ketan which was recommended to us. We had spacious rooms with balconies and were very close to the Deccan Gymkhana where Yoganusasanam was held. I think that the guidance of our wonderful senior teachers in Ireland allowed us to have the very best possible experience of Pune. Aisling Guirke gave us an email guide which became our bible and we referred to it every day. We knew where to eat, what to eat, where to shop, where to sightsee, where to find a pool on our day off, where to find great jewellery in a lovely shop that gives you chai and nibbles while you shop ! even what type of car to request when booking a taxi to the airport.
Yoganusasanam was wonderfully organised. We were given backpacks containing the props we would need for the event and ID cards which were colour coded to ensure that we got to move around the room day by day. Abhijata’s teaching was excellent and she taught with a deep knowledge of Iyengar yoga which she presented with sincerity, humour and great skill. We loved her more as each day passed. We also got to experience talks with Prashant and the highlight for me was when Geeta spoke to us for over 2 hours, despite her ill health.
Guruji’s birthday anniversary on December 14th was celebrated in style and we got to spend time at the Institute listening to Birjoo and Zubin sharing their memories of their time with Guruji.
When Yoganusasanam was finished we spent another few days in Pune and got to attend a class at the Institute. It was such a treat to attend a class there – a place I had seen so many times in photos and in videos. It was very exciting to see the Institute for real and we spent hours in the bookshop.
I enjoyed every second of my little trip to Pune and am already looking forward to going back.
Sharon teaches in Blackrock, Ireland
My first trip was in November 2016. After qualifying in 2013 as a teacher I felt the time was ripe! My mum’s former Iyengar teacher who is now in her 80’s went to Pune in the early 1980’s and had told me about her time there. She mentioned how Guruji had spotted an injury she had even though she had not declared it. Four decades later her respect and awe of the great Mr Iyengar was still ripe. When Guruji died, I put in my application and two years later my time came.
Fate had it that Sheila Haswell who I had trained under as a teacher was there at the same time. I shared an apartment with her and she was my guardian angel, sharing anecdotes on her previous visits and allowing me to copy her notes after class. The icing on the cake was that we had Geeta teaching the women’s class twice a week. She was incisive, perceptive and brilliant and boy was I terrified of her! One of the teacher assistants at the Institute told me, “If you think she is tough you should have seen Guruji. He was ten times worse, like a fire God!” The institute during practise session was like a playground, curiosity allows you to try out the array of props and share ideas with other students and just marvel at some people’s practise. It was an awakening watching the different teachers and inspired me to change my approach to my ownpractise back home. That is too immerse myself more into the philosophy and pranayama. Having experienced the teaching of Prashant, Geeta, Sunita and Abhijata was a privilege and a joy.
Karen teaches weekly classes in Wolverhampton