It’s Wednesday morning, 9:25am and I am sitting on the floor in front of the stage at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India waiting for the Ladies Class to start. Without fanfare, Geetaji rounds the corner of the door to enter the hall and I nearly drop to the floor and sob. She starts the class without further ado and sits magnificently in the same spot for 2 hours orchestrating over 200 people. I am in awe.
To understand the depth of my experience I must explain that I am of the generation of Iyengar students and teachers that were taught by teachers that were heavily influenced by Geetaji. All of my teachers in the Teacher Training program at the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco would talk lovingly and passionately about Geeta’s teachings. I have her books and the Women’s Guide to Yoga that Lois Steinberg published is one of my bibles. But the first time I came here to Pune to study with the Iyengar’s, Geeta was ill and did not teach at all. In fact, she has not been teaching regularly for the past couple of years. So, for her to come out of “retirement” to teach this class was such a gift for me.
I dearly love and am devoted to all of the Iyengars, Guruji, Prashantji and Geetaji. My gratitude for their teachings cannot truly be put into words. But there is a special place in my heart as a woman for Geetaji because of what she did for the practice of yoga FOR women. Of course her father was instrumental in this because he is the one who trained her and put her up there on the stage. But between the two of them I can safely say that they revolutionized the practice of yoga for women. We take it for granted now that most yoga classes are filled with women, mostly women in fact, but that was not the case even 50 years ago.
Just think about it. 80 years ago yoga was a fading practice that was practiced mostly by men. The teachings were generally passed down teacher to disciple one on one or to small groups. BKS Iyengar not only started the practice of teaching to larger groups of people but some of those first classes were WOMEN. And, then he trained his daughter Geetaji to take over his work. Within a generation, the practice of yoga has spread all over the world and is dominated by women practitioners. Think about it….
At the end of day I don’t believe it is about the human form of “male” or “female” but more about the energies they represent; in finding a balance in honoring both of those energies, in our bodies, in our world, in our spirit. Our world has become greatly imbalanced in favor of strong, dynamic male energy that seeks to control and harness the world rather than cherish and nourish it. The fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond is a reminder that we live in a world where people have chosen to rely on an energy source which is unrenewable and destructive. It is time for the feminine, the Earth to be honored and cared for again. For us all to honor that part of ourselves, BOTH male or female.
An interesting thing has happened in the past year as Abhi, BKS Iyengar’s granddaugher, has been teaching with Guruji, they have started letting men come in and take the Ladies Class on Wednesday mornings. I think this is because some of the men complained that they only had classes with Prashant and wanted the experience that the women were getting of classes transmitted directly from Guruji. They have all the men stay in one area of the back of the room. I did not feel like the men were an intrusion, in fact I felt like they were a support. Here was a room full of women practicing yoga together and around the circle, protecting, honoring them were the men. Harmony. Integration. Yoga?
This is not a spiritual practice where the answers are handed to you on a silver platter so I will have to rely on my instinct, my experience, my knowledge. But when I look at the work of BKS Iyengar and Geetaji I see an incredibly revolutionary act. One that will effect the world for many generations to come.
With a deep bow and moment of silence I give great thanks to my teachers.