In 1978 I fell under the spell of a yoga teacher named Martyn Jackson. Martyn taught a kind of yoga that he’d learned in Pune, India from his teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar.He alleged that, in the sixties, he was one of few western students to study with Mr. Iyengar.
Martyn went to Pune from New Zealand to undertake one-to-one lessons with Mr. Iyengar. He had a story about arriving on Mr. Iyengar’s door step because a guru visiting New Zealand, Swami Vekatesananda Saraswati, had advised him to do so. Martyn said he liked the sound of the name Iyengar because it sounded like I-anger to him. Obviously, he was looking for a tough teacher and that’s exactly who he got.
Here’s a photo of the house where Mr. Iyengar was instructing Martyn (pictured). It was comprised of only two rooms, so Mr. Iyengar’s wife and children occupied one room while the lessons were conducted in the other.
I’d been doing different types of yoga, such as Satyananda and Oki, before I met Martyn. Early on in my yoga journey, I had even taken private lessons with a teacher who mixed Religious Science with yoga. I was obviously looking for something.
I don’t know whether it was Martyn’s teaching style or what he was transmitting from his rigorous mentor, but once I started the Bondi Junction classes, I couldn’t stop. Pretty soon I was in a teacher training course with 25 others. Eight of us made it through the gruelling six months, five-days-a-week training.
I accompanied Martyn to the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute 1981 where I met the great teacher for the first time. Martyn introduced me to Mr. Iyengar as his fiancee because, back then in traditional Hindu society, it was frowned upon to be in a de facto relationship.
By 1984, when I returned to India to attend classes at the Institute, Mr. Iyengar’s popularity had grown hugely. In the following years his fame and popularity grew to proportions that could never have been predicted. From the time of his adolescence to his recent demise at 95 years old, Mr. Iyengar influenced hundreds of thousands of students worldwide through his teaching, the perfection of his asana practice, and his books.
I was one of those impacted by him. In the early days of the Australian Iyengar Association, I acted as a treasurer for the organisation, and also as an assessor for those wanting to become teachers of the Iyengar method. I was part of the small Australian community of Iyengar yoga teachers until I made a conscious decision to leave it.
Something changed for me, and I became disaffected by Mr. Iyengar’s personal teaching style. Perhaps I was afraid of the fiery temperament that he was capable of which manifested as sudden verbal and physical attacks on students. “People used to call B.K.S. ‘beat-kick-shout’ or ‘beat-kick-slap,” said John Schumacher, one of Mr. Iyengar’s senior teachers in an article in The Atlantic magazine. “Practicing with him was “exhilarating, it was terrifying, it was exciting, it was demanding. But the two words that most come to mind are enlivening and inspirational.”
I was the ‘victim’ of one of Mr. Iyengar’s tirades in a class at the Institute. He shouted at me until I became upset, and I tried unsuccessfully to choke back tears. (Imagine crying in headstand. Tears will totally soak your head.) After this incident, I knew that I should just buck up and ‘get over it’. But I couldn’t get past the feeling that I needed to disavow Mr. Iyengar as my teacher. I’m sure my decision had everything to do with the fact that, as a young child, I lived in a household with intermittent violence and physical and verbal abuse. I was going to need years of healing to get over that. And, I was to discover, yoga wasn’t a cure-all.
When I heard of Mr. Iyengar’s death last week, I initially felt nothing. Somehow that didn’t seem right. Here was the man who had propagated yoga all over the globe. By and large, his teachers are among the most dedicated, caring group of people on the planet. Moreover, I’m sure that my passion for yoga has it’s roots in the fire of ‘the lion of Pune’. As my colleague and friend says of her own relationship with ‘Guru-ji’: “He is in my pores, in my cells. He has made me in a way.”
Grief eventually caught up with me. After teaching my second class of the day of Mr. Iyengar’s death, I came home thoroughly exhausted. I went to bed early, but then woke up with a heavy heart, choking back sobs. I got up and found a place where I could let out all my grief, and I did. I thought at the time, ‘Where is this coming from?’
Had I been visited by the enormous energy of B.K.S. Iyengar? Was I overcome by feeling the loss of a great yoga light? Was my own inner guru serving me up grief to fit the death of a gigantic genius?
I’ll never know and it doesn’t matter. I just let the sadness be there until it wasn’t. Acceptance shifts everything. And even more so, gratitude.