IYISF teacher, Brian Hogencamp reflects on his time in Pune, India and shares his thoughts and experiences from his time there.

Humbling and Inspiring

I have now been “home” in San Francisco for 18 days. The teachings and imprints from one month of study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India are still fresh, the depth and width of which I will only come to realize as my practice continues. It will take time to digest – to penetrate, percolate, sift, and filter the teachings through my practice. Our system is based upon keen observation and experience. Words are only indicators. Practice goes beyond words. Practice reveals. Practice can transform.


 brian 1While in Pune, I go into low-distraction-mode – sleep, pranayama, class, practice, friends, coffee, assist medical, observe class, study, and back to sleep – and remain open to what the day may bring in the rhythm of the Institute. Each of these extended-study trips provide an extraordinary experience – a unique, intricate web of study, practice, and teachings from Guruji, Geetaji, and Prashantji. This particular December was no exception, as it also held the anticipation and celebration of B.K.S. Iyengar’s 95th Birthday.

Leading up to the birthday celebration, Geetaji, B.K.S. Iyengar’s daughter, surprised us by teaching a 5-day pranayama intensive, “On Pranayama”. Participation was for Indian teachers, but others were graciously provided access to the teachings via closed circuit television in the upstairs asana hall. Throughout the intensive Geetaji conveyed the sequence of learning, and therefore, of teaching. She explained how to develop sensitivity, to experience and understand the method. She pointed out that her own learning was based upon her keen observation of Guruji, and she emphasized the importance of this skill by saying if we are not watching, observing, then we are not doing Iyengar yoga.
The day following the birthday celebration, Geetaji continued her ongoing Bhagavad Gita lecture series with Chapter 12 – The Yoga of Devotion. Here she observed and marked the appropriateness of this particular chapter as it was followed Guruji’s birthday. She then proceeded to beautifully summarize the chapter and skillfully weave in the Yoga Sutras. It was hard to miss the relevance of the qualities of a yogi discussed to B.K.S. Iyengar’s own exemplary life.
Attentive Devotional Practice
The theme of the birthday was yoganganusthana from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

2.28 – yoganganusthanat asuddhiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakyateh,

“By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed; the crown of wisdom radiates in glory.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

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Compare this to a later translation from Guruji:
“By attentive devotional practice of all eight aspects of yoga, the impurities of body, mind and intelligence are eradicated and the essence of knowledge and wisdom radiates throughout life.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sutras)
Dedicated practice. Attentive devotional practice. yoganganusthana. 
In his commentary in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Guruji writes, “Patanjali sums up the effects of yoga in this one sutra.” He explains that in this sutra Patanjali has used the word anusthana instead of the usual word abhyasa (repeated practice). He explains that while abhyasa brings stability, anusthana develops maturity of intelligenceHe concludes his commentary on this sutra with, “Yoga can cure or lessen our physical, mental, moral and spiritual sufferings. Perfection and success are certain only if one practices with love and whole-hearted dedication.”
Beauty, Knowledge, Serenity – 

The birthday celebration was held at Govinda Gardens with students offering chanting and words of gratitude. Guruji followed with a heart-felt acknowledgement and then proceeded to give a message to us all. In the message, he coins beauty, knowledge, and serenity as marking his own transformation in the eyes of the public.

For our practice, he requested that when we are practicing, we should not think of the extension and expansion of the body, but the extension and expansion of our intelligence and consciousness. Watch the entire 95th birthday message by clicking here.
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In past years, Guruji would receive the good-wishes of each and everyone who had come to celebrate, one by one. This year the plan was for him to acknowledge everyone as a group from the stage. As this became evident to the crowd who wanted to individually express their birthday wishes, Guruji tenderly transformed their emotional unease into a beautiful moment of connection:
“I revere you, therefore you need not come each individually to express your reverence.
I love you all, I’ve got reverence to you all as you have reverence to me.
As you are devoted to me, I am also devoted to you.
So please accept all, at this single moment, that I and you are all one…”
Flow of Intelligence

During the morning practice in the main hall, Guruji inevitably pauses his own practice to teach. While these teachings are usually directed to his granddaughter, Abhijata, or a visiting or local senior teacher, interested practitioners gather close to listen, watch, learn – and then, do.

 His teachings almost always intertwine practical aspects of asana and elucidation of the yoga sutras. In a flash while observing a student think on an answer to one of his questions about the asana she had just come out of, he said “Do not think about the asana, study the flow of intelligence.” He challenged us to perform asana with no breaks or interrupts in the flow of intelligence – vivekanimnam.  A common theme was emerging, wherein he prompted us to expand and extend the intelligence.

brian 4So many poignant moments and teachings surfaced from these precious interactions. There was the quick, comparative study of various asana wherein we were prompted to note particular qualities or signature aspects of the asana. Then the subsequent culmination wherein the presentation of one asana was enhanced by the inclusion of signature aspects from one or more other asana. He emphasized and reminded us all that the simple asana must be understood thoroughly to carry forth to the advanced asana. He instantly and clearly pointed out our mistakes or lack of understanding, and then compassionately proceeded to correct and illumine. At other times he revealed the subtle aspects of an asana which had a profound affect on the gross body and mind.

A master of interaction and teaching, Guruji generously shaped and transformed these interactions into teaching pearls, guiding inquiry in the asana with prompts for the faculties of awareness and intelligence. He guides how to study, how to learn – sharing insights into some the methods and techniques he has used throughout the decades to propel his own practice and understanding to its zenith, viveka-khyati, and beyond. A hallmark of his teaching is to hone in on an aspect of the microcosm and yet provide context within the macrocosm. This is especially true in his writings. His mastery of the subject as a whole shines in these moments – art, science, and philosophy are interwoven and skillfully presented for all to catch.
Fund of Experience
At another juncture during practice, Guruji was teaching the intricacies of Lolasana so swiftly and effectively that we were awestruck. Our attempts at incorporating these actions dramatically improved our poses and sparked understanding. Abhijata asked Guruji how he was remembering all of these things, to which he responded that he was not “remembering” – that this did not have to do with memory. He quizzed us by asking what is the definition of memory according to Patanjali. As we flipped through the mental pages of Samadhi Pada to the vrttis, Guruji was ahead of us. He referred to smrti parisuddhau from Sutra 1.43 and then proceeded to contrast his use of memory with ours.

brian 51.43 smrti parisuddhau svarupasunya iva arthamatranirbhasa nirvitarka

“In Nirvitarka samapatti, the difference between memory and intellectual illumination is disclosed; memory is cleansed and consciousness shines without reflection.” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)
In his commentary on this sutra, he writes, “Memory is the recollection of past thoughts and experiences. It is the storehouse of past impressions.  Its knowledge is reflected knowledge. The sadhaka should be aware that memory has tremendous impact on intelligence. By perseverance in yoga practices and persistent self-discipline, new experiences surface. These new experiences, free from the memories of the past, are fresh, direct and subjective; they expunge what is remembered. Then memory ceases to function as a separate entity. It either merges with consciousness or takes a back seat, giving predominance to new experiences and bringing clarity in intelligence. For the average person, memory is a past mind. For the enlightened man, memory is a present mind.” He later continues, ”

Even for the unripe mind, there is a right and wrong use of memory. It is not for recollecting pleasure, but for establishing a fund of experience as a basis for further correct action and perception.”
We are all immensely fortunate to be the beneficiaries of this man’s lifetime of hard work, experiment, experience, and generosity.
In You and Me
On a Sunday afternoon, as a dear friend and I were stepping out of a rickshaw in front of the Ganapti Mandir in Pune, a local man approached us. He smiled, and said “All gods the same,” and gesturing to his chest and then to us, “in you and me.” He then climbed the steps and disappeared into the temple.
Practice, my friends!
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BGIt is often surprising to me how some phrase spoken many years ago in my childhood seems to stick in my mind. During a French class our teacher introduced a well-known French quote: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. The question then becomes do things change or do they appear to do so?

For the last several months and longer, the subject of change has been on my mind. Although the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco (IYISF) has been at its present location for about 30 years, I never felt that it was an appropriate space and traveling to the Outer Sunset was quite an inconvenience. Despite this fact, I personally did nothing about it until relatively recently. We had a place that worked to some degree. I and many others in the community who knew the change was desirable did not take action because of the fear of change – conscious or unconscious. Patricia Dinner, a close friend and devoted student of mine, and I started to look at some properties – not for a new home for the Institute but to open an Iyengar yoga studio in a more central part of the city. Although we had come to the point of looking at properties, at least I was avoiding the more necessary effort of looking for a new home for the Institute. At some point during our search, we hooked up with a contact of my friend who was involved in commercial real estate and got more serious, moving away from the idea of a private studio and looking for a new space for IYISF. There were not many options for us because of the square footage required and our somewhat limited budget. However, we did come up with a space in a location which is very central and in my opinion a perfect new home for the Institute. Shortly thereafter the Board made the decision to sign a lease for the property.

Ever since the news broke that we had made a commitment to relocate, there has been a lot of resistance to the move in many ways. All kinds of reasons came up as to why the new location did not make sense – parking, change of schedules necessary to make the new space viable, etc. Several community members were exhibiting a fear of the unknown to a greater or lesser degree. This is one of the reasons that change is so difficult. If we do not make the change, we are dealing with a known quantity although it may not be ideal. At this point I think most are getting used to the idea of moving and embrace the change more whole heartedly.

Making a change is, in a sense, taking a risk. In business or professional situations, those who are willing to take risks and make changes are often the most successful.

Change comes into our lives in many forms: changes in nature; seasons; climate; daylight/darkness, etc; political structures; economics and fashion, just to name a few. We often experience change due to external circumstances in a negative way. People in their older years often look back commenting on how things were better when they were young and how bad things are today.

Whether we are open to it or not, change is inevitable. In my opinion one of the tools that develops the resilience to cope with these changes is YOGA. The nature of the practice is that it creates change in us. Upon taking their very first yoga class, a student will say “I feel completely different”. Yoga creates changes in all the major systems of the body. Muscles feel stronger and more relaxed; the respiratory system is enhanced; the nervous system feels less agitated are examples. These physical changes are the first and more obvious ones. The process of getting more in touch with our own bodies starts a process of being more sensitive to others and our surroundings. Obviously being more compassionate with family and friends has a positive effect on these relationships. We may also get more in touch with nature – our environment.  As a result we begin to take care of the planet. Perhaps to begin with in simple ways like separating trash or using earth friendly cleaners or eating less meat.

Through the course of a life time we are here to learn some lessons. This often involves working with our psychological tendencies – perhaps we are blocked by fear or we are moved to anger very easily. So many times we face fear during a yoga class or practice. Once we overcome the fear of kicking up into Adho Mukha Vrksasana (full arm balance), it is hard for us to understand why we were afraid in the first place. There are many such examples and when we have that personal experience that fear can be transcended in this way it is very empowering and tends to spread into our daily lives.

Yoga helps to clarify what is important; what we need and what we want in life. Before embarking upon the yoga journey, we may feel that we need an elegant wardrobe, a fancy house or an exotic car. Through the changes fostered by yoga, we begin to see clearly how few our needs really are; that owning “nice” things is OK but not essential to our survival.

In general living a more simple life is living a happier life. It becomes clearer that the outer world is much less important than the inner one. Focusing on the inner changes we need to make allows us to “grow and blossom” as Guruji says. Yoga changes our perspective instilling us with the knowledge that what appears to be change is an expression of who we really are when we let go of values that no longer serve us.

One last thought – do we really change or do we appear to change?

“There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The wise are not deluded by these changes.” – Bhagavad Gita

Love and light, Janet