I have been a fan of the Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale since attending my first introductory class in 2014. I had been inspired to sign up after hearing an obituary of BKS Iyengar on the radio. That first class felt like coming home for me. My siblings and I, as children, had learnt yoga postures from our grandfather that he had learnt in the Indian Army. As soon as I started an Iyengar class, it felt familiar to me. I had often tried yoga classes before but, as an overly flexible person, I could easily do the poses in a way that sooner or later would put my back out. At IYMV, I liked the feeling that my hypermobility was not going to fool anyone into thinking I was any better than I should be.
Despite the lifting of restrictions we continue to take the risk of Covid transmission seriously and are taking steps to keep the studios safe. If you are planning to visit the studios please note that:
We are retaining the reception desk screens and continuing to provide hand and equipment sanitisers.
We request that students continue to wear masks when moving through the building.
Studio class sizes will continue to be limited.
Pre-booking for all studio classes will continue.
We encourage students to minimise use of changing and showering facilities.
All studio equipment will be available, although students can bring their own if they prefer. For reasons of comfort and personal hygiene, we would strongly encourage students to bring their own yoga mat.
Teachers will be monitoring the use and cleaning of studio equipment.
We have been through frightening and depressing times but there are things that may have changed for the better. Zoom has kept us connected to our weekly classes. There are two articles which demonstrate that our regular classes not only keep us flexible and sane, but keep us connected to our teachers and fellow students as well (p.2 and p.12). For many who have embraced this online learning, it has even increased the frequency and intensity of practice. Those of us who follow the path of yoga know that it is not just for the body and the mind but can help with creativity and artistic pursuits too. Four longstanding students working in creative fields share their views (p.6). Richard Agar Ward, who is one of the most senior teachers in the country and a teacher at IYMV, reveals to us he got into Iyengar Yoga and shares memories of his first meeting with BKS Iyengar. Iyengar teachers often mention parts of our anatomy that we may not have known before but which we certainly feel after a strong class. There are also some “Iyengarisms” which are not true anatomical definitions, like the ‘‘armpit chest’’. Alice Chadwick, Dipika’s co-editor, provides us with an illuminating article on the actions and effects of the armpit chest (p.34). Finally, and very close to my heart, is the quest to find the house where the first UK Iyengar Yoga class took place exactly 60 years ago. Having researched the subject for a long time, and with a good amount of serendipity and luck, I found the birthplace of Iyengar Yoga in the UK. Dipika is certainly more than just a newsletter; it’s a magazine where important facts about IYMV and Iyengar Yoga are documented for posterity.
With gratitude and wishing you some happy reading,
We are delighted to let you know that Alaric Newcombe will be teaching an intermediate workshop for IYMV members at the studios on Sunday 11 July.
Please note that places are strictly limited and must be booked in advance. Students are asked to bring their own mats for studio classes. If you are interested in taking out IYMV membership click here >
21 June will be the UN International Day of Yoga, which has been celebrated around the world each year since 2015 following a suggestion by Guruji in 2012. Below is the sequence Geetaji shared for students to practice on the day. Wishing students and teachers around the world a happy International Day of Yoga!
In 2015 Geetaji wrote:
“We are all yoga sādhakās and sādhanā is our very breath, our prāna. The United Nations has declared 21st June as the International Yoga Day, which will be celebrated all over the world. For us every day is yoga day. However to respect this special day, to respect Guruji, we have thought of a special practice programme for this day. Many students from across the world approached me if they could have a special sequence of practice for this day… the (summer) solstice.” – Geeta Iyengar
Members are reminded that the Annual General Meeting will take place online at 2.30 pm on Sunday 27 June.
All of our Annual Members are welcome to attend and vote at the AGM. There will be a review of the financial performance from the last year and plans for the upcoming year will be discussed. This is an opportunity for our members to feedback. All comments from attendees will be gathered and recorded then fed into the Board of Trustees’ meetings.
A link to join the meeting will be circulated to all members in advance of the date. Please note that only members with a current annual membership may vote at the meeting. Please find links to meeting documents below:
In order to provide face-to-face classes we have carried out a risk assessment and have worked to ensure that the centre is ‘COVID-secure’. We have taken all reasonable steps to minimise the risks to those who attend the building. Continue reading →
The class for MS & other neurological conditions is run by Korinna Pilafidis-Williams. It was held at the Maida Vale studios until the first lockdown of 2020 when it was moved online and taught as a weekly livestream class. The class is by application, please email email@example.com
Scorned by some, loved by many, Pune shorts are a familiar sight in Iyengar Yoga studios all over the world. Perhaps the closest thing we have to an unofficial uniform, wearing them in public requires more letting go of the ego than many students are prepared to suffer. But where did they come from and why do we (some of us) wear them?
We’re always looking for Annual Members to put themselves forward for trustee/director vacancies on the Board as and when they arise. If you have expertise you think could help to guide the charity, then please feel free to contact us with details of your experience and interest. We will get in touch to answer any questions you may have and hold your details on file until there is a vacancy. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Board members must be annual members of IYIMV of at least one year’s standing. Once a name is put forward, the proposed trustee/director must be nominated by the Board and elected at the Annual General Meeting. Members of the Board of Trustees serve for three years from the date of their election.
The role of the board of trustees is:
· to determine the strategic priorities of the charity,
· to monitor activity and outcomes, and
· to ensure compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.
Our current chair, John Robinson, is due to retire in June this year, and the board is seeking one (or more) new trustees. Our current treasurer, Miguel Ortega, is chair elect and current trustee Jonathan Jones has agreed to take on the tasks of Hon. Treasurer.
Becoming a trustee
Trustees are annual members who voluntarily undertake responsibility for the strategic direction of the organisation, and for ensuring that it fulfils its legal and charitable obligations. They are elected at the AGM to serve for a period of 3 years. Trustees are also appointed as directors of the company (IYIMV) during their period of office.
Why should I become a trustee?
Trustees represent the whole membership from entirely new students to the most experienced teachers. They consider strategy and take decisions on how the organisation is run, subject to the powers invested in them by the Articles of Association.
In taking responsibility for running a charity and a company, trustees accept obligations to fulfil the objects of the charity on behalf of its members in providing a public benefit. We depend upon this voluntary activity to maintain and improve a healthy and vibrant organisation so, if you have benefited from your experience of Iyengar yoga at IYIMV, we hope that you will consider contributing to its future.
Your contribution to IYIMV may take many forms and may be based on your:
business or academic experience,
experience in Iyengar yoga,
interest in the building or design,
desire to expand the range of classes, courses or workshops we offer,
wish to promote research,
and any other skills or experience that may help to improve the work of the organisation and promote it to a wider public.
By becoming a trustee, you can support the work of the charity and make changes for the better. You should be independent minded but also prepared to act together with your fellow trustees for the benefit of all members.
Am I eligible?
Potential trustees must be over 18 and have been annual members of IYIMV for a period of at least one year before becoming eligible to serve as a trustee. They must not be persons who are disqualified from holding office.
What do trustees do?
Trustees meet regularly to discuss the business of the organisation, to review its activities and to make decisions on how it should operate to fulfil its stated purposes (the objects) on behalf of the members. They act collectively and have a wide range of powers which are set out in the Articles of Association. All potential trustees receive a copy of the Articles along with other training, support and guidance. Trustees are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the organisation fulfils its legal and charitable obligations and are protected from personal liability so long as they act within their powers and in good faith.
What don’t they do?
The role of trustees is strategic, so they are not required to perform the day-to-day administrative and managerial functions of the organisation. These are delegated to one or more paid employees with specific contracts of employment. However, trustees are legally responsible for the work of the charity. The Chair has the additional responsibility of acting as line-manager to the manager.
What experience is necessary?
There is no formal qualification for becoming a trustee save for being an annual member of at least one year’s standing. However, you should have the time and energy to devote to the responsibilities involved. We seek to achieve a balance of experience within the board. This may be in business (for example: finance, marketing or advertising, human resources, IT, governance) or other charitable work. Your involvement and interest in IYIMV classes is taken as given.
How often do they meet?
The trustees have board meeting every 6-8 weeks throughout the year. They may arrange additional meetings to discuss specific matters as the need arises and may establish sub-committees to discuss specialised areas of activity and to report to the main board.
Board meetings usually last 2-2½ hours and are held at times arranged to suit as many trustees as possible.
Sub-committees set their own agendas consistent with the tasks allocated to them by the board. Currently there are three sub-committees, each chaired by a member of the main board.
How many trustees are there?
A maximum of 12 members may be elected. Usually there are about 8 including a Chair and Honorary Treasurer, elected by the trustees from among their number. By convention two teacher members serve on the board.
8.What guidance is available to me?
Trustees are required to take part in an induction process with the Chair and manager and, on election, to sign a copy of the ‘Trustees’ Code of Conduct’ which sets out the principles of service.
The Charity Commission produces a wide range of additional information for the guidance of charitable trustees. Copies of essential documents are provided to all potential trustees. The principal guide for individual trustees is ‘The Essential Trustee’ (CC3).
9. How do I apply to become a trustee?
You may apply by sending an email or letter to the office, or by calling into the office for further information. The manager will be able to provide you with all the information and documentation you may require in deciding to put yourself forward.
10. How does the election process work?
Potential trustees are nominated by the board of trustees at the AGM, usually held in June, and must be elected by a majority of the annual members present and eligible to vote at the meeting.
Trustees serve for three years from the meeting at which they are elected.
Automatic retirement occurs at the third AGM after election.
Previous trustees may be re-elected after a break of one year.
Applications would be particularly welcome from those with extensive recent experience in business or marketing.
For further information or an informal chat, please call Alan Reynolds on 020 7624 3080 or send an email to email@example.com with ‘Trusteeship’ in the subject line, and we will get back to you.
We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting two Livestream Extended General Classes with Dr Rajlaxmi Nidmarti. These classes are suitable for students with two years or more of regular Iyengar yoga practice. Continue reading →
Building self practice, or sadhana, into a regular routine has many benefits. It gives you the opportunity to develop understanding and skill at your own pace and build on what you learn in class. While it is easy to understand why self practice is a good thing, it can be a challenge to make it a part of your day-to-day life. So, we have compiled some resources to help.
We have introduced a new way way to purchase livestream classes for IYMV members. The Livestream Yogacard and Concessions Livestream Yogacard are 11 pre-purchased livestream 90 minute classes for the price of 10.
Livestream Yogacard £90
11 x 90 minute livestream clases for the price of 10
Valid for 6 months from first use
Booking classes online is quicker and easier
Please note that you will need to log into your account to purchase.
The concessionary Livestream Yoga Card is 11 livestream 90 minute classes for the price of 10. It is valid for 6 months from first use after purchase. It is available for IYMV members who receive Universal Credit and have supplied proof of status. It can be purchased by calling us on 020 7624 3080.
In exceptional cases, such as illness or injury, we may at our discretion extend the validity of Yogacards provided that the membership remains valid throughout the period of the extension. In these cases, the bonus 11th class will not be valid. Applications for extensions to Yogacards should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org and state reasons for requesting an extension.
Please note: possession of a prepaid Yogacard does not confer any priority right or guarantee a place in any particular class.
We are delighted to let you know that we will be hosting two livestreamed Pranayama classes with Jawahar Bangera for IYMV members this February.
Not an IYMV Member?
You can join us for as little as £10 with our 1 Month Membership which includes a free livestream class. Find out more >
The classes are suitable for general level students and above who have been practising Iyengar yoga regularly for at least two years.
Saturday 27 February
LIVESTREAM Pranayama Class
Sunday 28 February
LIVESTREAM Pranayama Class
Please note that the price is for both sessions and we are unable to take bookings for a single class.
THESE CLASSES ARE NOW FULLY BOOKED
Please keep your IYMV membership updated to get early booking alerts for special events.
About Jawahar Bangera
Jawahar started practising yoga directly under Guruji in 1969, and accompanied Guruji to many conventions over the years. He is a very experienced senior teacher, leading classes all over the world and at home in Mumbai where he is a director of the Iyengar Institute Yogashraya which was inaugurated by BKS Iyengar in 2002.
Jawahar is also a trustee and driving force behind the Light on Yoga Research Trust (LOYRT), formed more than 35 years ago to promote the learning and practice of Yoga in the Iyengar method, including the publication of RIMIYI journal Yoga Rahasya.
Gulnaaz started Yoga at the Pune Institute (RIMYI) under the guidance of B.K.S. Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar in 1990, when Ali Dashti, her brother, insisted that she should join. Gulnaaz lives in Pune, India – and has been teaching all levels at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute for over 20 years. In 1998 Gulnaaz was granted a teaching position by B.K.S. Iyengar to teach beginners’ classes at RIMYI.
Her practice of more than 20 years and teaching general and medical classes at the Institute has been under the ever-watchful eye of the Iyengar family and particularly guided by Dr Geeta Iyengar. Since that time she has become one of the senior teachers who teaches beginners’, intermediate, advanced, as well as assisting in the medical classes. Her teaching is full of energy and good humour.
These classes are open to IYMV Members with two years or more of regular Iyengar yoga practice.
The recently imposed Tier 3 (Very High Risk) Covid regulations require us to close the studios again for the time being. As soon as we have further information which will allow us to re-start our studio classes, we will let you know. We’re sorry for any inconvenience and disappointment this may cause, and look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.
We are glad to announce that under the new Tier 2 regulations, we are able to re-open the centre from Wednesday 2 December and will be offering a limited range of classes in the studio in the period before the New Year.
The same Covid-secure measures as before the lockdown will remain in place, please see details below.
Our extensive timetable of livestream classes will continue for the foreseeable future.
We offer a timetable of livestream classes for all levels delivered via Zoom.
Livestream classes are available exclusively to IYMV members with the exception of our Introduction Class for students who are new to Iyengar yoga.
Our 1-month membership includes a free livestream class and costs £10. If you take regular classes the most cost effective option is our annual membership for £55. We also offer 3 month membership for £25. You can take out membership here >
Book into the class online. Please note that booking opens 14 days before a class and closes 1 hour before the class starts.
Once a class reaches is full no further places can be booked
Check that your device is fully charged and ideally that it is plugged in to charge so you can enjoy the full class without loss of power!
You will receive a Zoom link to join the class by email 1 hour before the class starts
You do not have to have a Zoom account to attend a Zoom live class. You will be prompted to download the software, once you have clicked on the link that you have been provided. You may also wish to create an account, but that is not required to participate in a Zoom meeting.
Click the link to join class 10 minutes before scheduled start time
The audio for students participating in Livestream Classes will be switched off so that background noise does not disturb the teaching. There is a message function on Zoom so you can type comments and queries
If more than one person in your household wishes to attend a class and share a screen, please ensure that each person is a member and has registered for the class separately.
Please note that you can cancel a livestream class up to two hours before the start time. We are unable to refund classes that are cancelled less than two hours before the class start time.
Classes with fewer than four students booked in to attend will unfortunately have to be cancelled. You will be informed by email and your class fee will be refunded.
Members suffering financial hardship because of the current emergency can email or phone the office on 020 7624 3080 to obtain the concessionary rate for livestream classes.
TEACHERS DISCLAIMER All students must have their camera switched on. The teachers’ association and insurers have stated that teachers must be able to see all students online, just as in a regular class. If you take part in a class with a teacher you haven’t practised with in real life please introduce yourself to the teacher before the class and let them know your level of experience if possible. By booking a IYMV live streamed class you assume responsibility for any risks injuries or damages known or unknown which you may incur as a result.
Thank you very much to everybody who replied to our survey on the livestream classes and for your comments and suggestions.
We had an overwhelmingly positive response with 85% of responders rating their online experience as 8/10 or more and nearly 50% at 10/10. 92.3% of responders were happy with the class times.
A number of requests and comments recurred so we have prepared some FAQs to reply to those:
Can we have more time slots? Can we have early morning sessions? Later classes?
We are currently operating at capacity in terms of technology and staff. Each class is supported by a receptionist who starts the hosting procedure 2 hours before the start time.
At present we cannot offer early morning classes, but we are looking into offering one from June. Also, from June we will be changing the start time of some of the weekday 6 pm classes to 6.30 pm.
What does Beginner/General mean? And General/Intermediate?
Beginners/General:Students should have at least 1 years’ regular Iyengar yoga practice.
General/Intermediate:For strong General and Intermediate students. This level is not suitable for students who are new to General level practice.
Where are the other teachers? Why is my regular teacher not teaching?
Seven of our teachers – Stuart Miller, Stephen Richardson, Rosemary da Silva, Ainhoa Acosta, Elisabeth Wengersky, Keiko Onishi and Alaric Newcombe – have chosen not to teach our livestream classes. Two teachers’ availability did not fit in with our livestream timetable, but we are hoping to include them from June. So please check the June timetable for classes with Patsy and Khaled as well as the current teachers.
Please can we have pranayama classes/philosophy lectures/workshops?
We hope to include Pranayama classes in our livestream timetable from June.
We will also arrange a Philosophy lecture plus Q&A.
Given the limitations of the student/teacher relationship in livestream teaching, we consider that workshops are not suitable.
Do I have to attend classes with my regular teacher?
Provided you have already attended classes with an IYMV teacher, you can attend livestream classes with any IYMV teacher.
All students in online classes must be visible to the teacher, so keep your camera switched on.
The classes are too expensive. You must be raking it in.
We have continuing overheads for staff and building regardless of where the classes are taught, and we are committed to engaging all teachers who wish to take part in delivering the livestream classes.
While there are fewer teachers and half our regular classes in the livestream timetable, teachers are paid for two hours’ engagement for each 90-minute class. Currently reception staff are working more than their regular hours to support the livestream classes.
We are also continuing to support two teachers providing weekly livestream classes to vulnerable groups through our Outreach Programme.
Members suffering financial hardship because of the current emergency can email or phone the office to obtain the concessionary rate for livestream classes (£3).
Will the online classes continue after IYMV re-opens?
Since we anticipate that we will not be able to offer a full timetable in the studios when we re-open, because of the need for social distancing, we will continue some livestream classes to make as full a timetable as possible.
The Teaching Committee and Trustees are considering all the possibilities and permutations of running classes in the studios and online as safely and accessibly as possible. Even when we are fully open, we will continue with livestream classes if there is a continuing demand for them.
I am having connection problems
We believe this is settling down as everyone has become familiar with the technology. If you have a connection problem the best thing is to leave the meeting and immediately sign back in using the same link.
if you have recurring connection problems please do not log in at the last moment, but give yourself time to check your connection, as well as the camera angles so that you are ready to start promptly.
Make sure your device is fully charged or even still charging.
If you can send a message via the Zoom chat facility, one of our support team will pick it up.
Roger Cole, Ph.D. is a certified Iyengar yoga teacher trained at the Iyengar Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and Pune. He is also a Stanford University educated scientist with specialties in the science of relaxation, sleep, and circadian rhythms.
In the video below, Roger explains why setu bandha and viparita karani are such beneficial poses. He demonstrates how to trigger the baroreflex, one of the body’s mechanisms that helps maintain blood pressure at a constant level, to quiet the brain effectively in inverted postures and restorative practise.
Many of us begin our practice with the invocation to Patanjali. His statue sits in Maida Vale’s large studio, one of the few objects other than props in the room. Like the birds in the garden or the rain on the roof, it lends its calmness to our space. Here we can put down the things of daily life and pick up the tools of yoga. But why this particular sculpture? Where did it come from and why is it on a plinth in the corner?
The Statue is Commissioned
The statue was bought in Bangalore, India for the first Institute building in London, founded at Maida Vale in 1983. The following May, the carving was blessed in a private ceremony with BKS Iyengar. Almost a decade later, Guruji was again at Maida Vale for the dedication of the new building (1993). The statue was garlanded with marigolds and carnations, Guruji recited the invocation and a priest performed a puja (ceremony of dedication and devotion). On completion of the building (1994), a photograph of Guruji in Padmasana was placed on one side of the glass doors and the sculpture, on a high shelf, on the other.
November 1997: Mr Iyengar attended the official opening of the new Institute
It was his last visit. A puja was again performed in front of Patanjali but Guruji was unhappy to see the idol on its high shelf. It must be on a pedestal, he insisted, at eye level, connected to the earth and facing northeast. And so Patanjali came to be placed where we see him today, both raised and earthed by a plinth, as Mr Iyengar required.
In the statue we meet Patanjali in his mythic form: the incarnation of the Serpent-God Adisesa. According to legend, Adisesa witnessed Shiva’s cosmic dance and was moved to become his follower. Searching for a human mother, he saw Gonika, a learned yogi, praying for a child to pass her knowledge to. She scooped up an offering of water and Adisesa, in the form of a tiny snake, appeared in her hands. She named him ‘Patanjali’, meaning ‘fallen into folded hands’ (from ‘pat’, to fall, and ‘anjali’, hands folded in reverence). Patanjali grew to become a sage of exceptional understanding and was charged by Shiva to communicate his wisdom to humankind.
Half-snake, half-human, the Maida Vale Patanjali sits on his tail with seven cobras’ heads above him. His lower hands make the Anjali mudra, as befits his name and his devotion to Shiva; his upper hands hold a conch and wheel. He bears a red ‘tilaka’ (mark of honour given during puja) on his forehead. Sacred carvings – more properly ‘murti’ (idols) – are traditionally installed by a priest, who infuses them with ‘prana’, or cosmic life force, and welcomes the divinity in.
Carved from hard black granite, the modeling is nevertheless rounded and graceful and the detail finely cut. In this respect, it is a typical Indian devotional carving. This tradition is old and cosmopolitan, with roots in
classical Greek and Buddhist sculpture. Carvings of Patanjali date back to the thirteenth century. The statue at Melakkadambur is one example: here Patanjali stands tall on his tail, a tiny dancing Shiva above his head.2
Fused with this divine figure is another Patanjali – the author/compiler of the “Sutras” on yoga. An Indian scholar and yogi (generally placed in the first centuries CE), Patanjali gathered together what had been disparate and unwritten, thereby enlarging and profoundly deepening our understanding of yoga. His text, admired for its wisdom, beauty and concision, provides a solution to the central difficulty of the human condition – how to live well in relation to ourselves, those around us and God. In the Yamas and Niyamas (ethics), the progression from postures to controlled breathing and beyond, the sutras provide a radically pragmatic approach, as BKS Iyengar explained: ‘To comprehend their message and put it into practice is to transform oneself into a highly cultured and civilized person, a rare and worthy human being’.3
According to Geeta Iyengar, Patanjali’s conch and wheel symbolise the wisdom and protection given to us by his “Sutras”.4 The ‘sankha’ (conch) calls us in readiness to practice; the ‘cakrasi’ (wheel/disc-shaped weapon) cuts through our ignorance, ego and other dangers. Patanjali’s snake canopy also embodies his protection, its multiple heads suggesting omnipresence as well as the many ways in which the sutras guide us. The agile, ceaseless effort required of us as students is represented by his serpent’s tail, while its arrangement in three and half coils symbolises, among many things, the three sacred sounds of A-u-m and the three works sometimes attributed to him (on yoga, medicine and grammar), the half coil indicating his complete enlightenment.
The importance of Patanjali to the Iyengar tradition can, then, hardly be overstated. He is the father of yoga, our powerful protector, author of its foundational text and BKS Iyengar’s first and primary teacher. Let us turn now to a man who has dedicated his life to a different sacred art – carving.
Shri Padmanabachari was born into a family of stonemasons, his ancestors having produced sculpture in the Bangalore region for around eight centuries.5 With many of his children and grandchildren apprenticed to him, the sculptor works in the traditional manner, outside, his stone directly on the earth and surrounded by chippings. The local granite is heavy and resistant; to master large blocks requires physical as well as artistic stamina. Despite this, and his advanced age (he is in his 90s), he works long hours and uses only hand tools. Rough shaping and fine carving are done with hammer and chisel and the idols are finished with polishing stones, emery and water.
Sculptors are considered the descendants of Vishvakarma, architect to the gods, and their sacred task is governed by long-established codes of practice. Specific prayers and mantra are recited throughout the process, asking blessing and drawing the divinity into the stone. As well as these devotions, Padmanabachari
emphasises the importance of study. Sculptors must learn Sanskrit, he insists, to better understand the gods they are making. Due to poverty, his own formal education was not extensive but his family was ‘rich in tradition of sculpture’.6
It was BKS Iyengar who first asked Padmanabachari to carve a Patanjali, as the sculptor recorded. ‘He [Guruji] wanted a stone idol of Sage Patanjali made. I was not that comfortable then, as I couldn’t visualize how exactly the sage looked? For that matter, I even didn’t know Guruji then. But out of spontaneity I had agreed […] to make one…. and that was the start of my association with sage Patanjali and of course with Guruji.’ Bellur, Guruji’s birthplace, is a short drive from Padmanabachari’s village. Having heard of him by reputation, Mr Iyengar arrived carrying Sanskrit texts. The two men studied together and an initial drawing was made. This sketch was the basis for the first Patanjali, a statue that took two months to carve. Padmanabachari then made it his life’s mission to carve Patanjalis ‘out of the toughest stones’.
If Padmanabachari was initially unsure what Patanjali should look like, we might imagine that Mr Iyengar – deeply knowledgeable about Patanjali – was absolutely clear about what he required. Some of Patanjali’s attributes go back centuries; others, like the conch and wheel, are entirely new to the Iyengar carvings. They are described, of course, in the invocation to Patanjali: ‘sankha cakrasi dharinam’, he (Patanjali) holds a conch (sankha) and a disc (cakra); ‘sahasra sirasam svetam’, and is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra. The statue brings, then, the poetry of the invocation before our eyes in concrete sculptural form.
Padmanabachari’s first carving was installed in the courtyard at RIMYI, Pune, where it remains a welcoming sight for visitors. To put the Pune and Maida Vale Patanjalis side by side is to be struck by a close family resemblance. It is no surprise to learn then, that after the first Pune sculpture was finished, a new statue was commissioned from Shri Padmanabachari. This Patanjali – the Maida Vale carving – was
shipped to London in a wooden crate; on arrival, its considerable weight surprised everyone.
Yoga & Carving
As a yoga teacher learns to read a body, to see beneath its surface and see with compassion, so a sculptor learns to read stone. ‘We are specifically taught how to identify and then be friendlier with the material we choose,’ Padmanabachari has explained; ‘there is a unique way to test the right stone especially for the idols, even before we hammer our first chisel on it. This kind of knowledge […] comes only from experience’. The sculptor must see the deity in the stone and find a way to bring it to life. The courage required to progress is significant – there are risks to the sculptor as well as to what he creates. Padmanabachari himself drew a comparison between the rigorous determination required by his art and that displayed by Mr Iyengar who, particularly as a young man, pushed himself to the physical and mental limits of what is possible in yoga.7
Equally striking is the comparison made by Guruji between breath in pranayama and the pneumatic drill, a tool used in quarrying stone.8 Both are at once powerful and dangerous; as well as courage, both require
wisdom and control. ‘Every stroke of our hammer is an act of responsibility’, Padmanabachari has said, a comment equally applicable to the teaching and practice of yoga.
If there is a kinship between making sculpture and teaching yoga, there is another between the statue in our studio and our practice of yoga postures. Seated comfortably on his coils, Maida Vale’s Patanjali is, in a literal sense, in a yogasana (the word ‘asana’ means seat). This compact, stable pose, together with his symmetrical upper body and benign expression, embody one of Patanjali’s own great yogasutras: ‘sthira sukham asanam’ (‘Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit’9). The carving’s snake-human form also reminds us that the asanas are rich with the power of animals, plants and gods to shift shape. But perhaps it is in Bhujangasana, cobra pose, when we might think especially of Patanjali. Here we are half snake (legs working together, spine supple and coiling) and half human (reluctant shoulders moving back, chest lifting up). If we begin our practice with an attempt to summon Patanjali’s serpentine fluidity, we end by seeking his unshakeable stability. Through long practice, the body, and ultimately the consciousness, find stillness. The carving’s stately bearing provides an image of this equilibrium, the inner stability that represents Patanjali’s definition of yoga itself.10
The collaboration between the sculptor and the yoga guru was long and productive. They were also friends. Perhaps Guruji recognised in Padmanabachari a fellow traveller: from a small village in southern India, he became a craftsman of great strength and skill, an artist of profound sensitivity and a man deeply committed to his sacred work.
To our opening questions, we can answer that the statue came from a village close to Guruji’s birthplace and was made by the sculptor Padmanabachari. We know of the deep connection between Patanjali and Iyengar Yoga, to this we can add the close partnership between Mr Iyengar and the man who carved the Patanjali idols. Together they took up an ancient iconography and gave it new life.
As to why the statue is in the studio, a number of suggestions can be made. First, it reminds us of the living relationship between Patanjali’s “Yogasutras” and our practice. His disc and conch represent the practical tools set out for us in his text; his metamorphosis reminds us of the suppleness and effort required if, like him, we seek transformation. To inspire our work, the statue provides an image of the perfect asana; in it we glimpse the equanimity of the fully evolved soul. Secondly, Patanjali is present as our protector. He shelters our practice and his writing guides us though difficulties. Thirdly, Patanjali provides the foundation for our knowledge of yoga. The carving reminds us of a legacy of scholarship and teaching that stretches back many centuries.
A final reason: in a recent class, we were instructed to stand up on two bricks in Tadasana. ‘We put a sculpture on a plinth’, the teacher said, ‘to give it importance’. I stood on the bricks feeling remarkably tall. ‘Step down,’ she said. ‘Feel the pull of gravity as you return to earth’ (it felt strong). When we sit down before Patanjali, we
step off the pedestal of our egos. We fold our hands and bow our heads, returning his Anjali gesture. Learning requires humility, as Geetaji has taught us: ‘you know that you are very small in front of that greatest soul […] you are “coming down” to learn something. And you can’t learn anything unless you come down’.11 Each time we step down before Patanjali, we receive the opportunity to remake ourselves as students.
My sincere thanks to Penny Chaplin, Jake Clennell, Gerry Chambers, Abhijata Sridhar, Alan Reynolds, Korinna Pilafidis-Williams, Stephen Richardson and Sallie Sullivan for sharing knowledge and images for this article.
1 Gudrun Bühnemann, ‘Naga, Siddha and Sage: Visions of Patanjali as an Authority on Yoga’, in “Yoga in Transformation”, K. Baier, P. André Mass & K. Preisendanz (eds), Vienna University Press, 2018, pp. 575-622.
2 Photo: Raja Deekshithar, 11 Feb 2007, with kind permission of Ian Alsop; http://asianart.com/articles/ratha/28.html.
3 BKS Iyengar, “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, p. 1.
4 For Geeta Iyengar’s comments on Patanjali: Peggy Cady, ‘Exploring the Invocation to Patanjali’, iyengaryogacentre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Patanjali-2.pdf.
5 For Padmanabachari’s working life and details of his first meeting with Mr Iyengar, I am indebted to
Jake Clennell, director of “Iyengar: The Man, Yoga, and the Student’s Journey” (in conversation).
6 Blogpost, V. Gayathri, July 9th 2010: http://creative-talk.blogspot.com/2010/. Further comments by Padmanabachari also come from this post, unless otherwise stated.
7 For Padmanabachari’s comments on courage, as well as footage of him at work, see the trailer for
Ainhoa has a Masters degree in Audio Production and has worked as a Promo Producer and Creative Executive for the World Service and BBC News. She teaches the children’s yoga class, a beginners’ class and an introductory course at Maida Vale.
When going to a yoga class for the very first time, some students may be surprised that we start the class chanting ‘Om’ three times. Some feel at ease straight away, while others might feel self-conscious or wonder why we chant a word in Sanskrit without knowing what it means. Sometimes that first Om is strained, not harmonious, only to become a smooth and pleasant sound by the third repetition.
Often there is the question of whether it has a religious connotation.
Let us look at this more closely.
The philosophy of Om
In yoga philosophy, Om is considered a sacred syllable. “Like the Latin word ‘Omne’, the Sanskrit word ‘Om’ means ‘all’ and conveys concepts of ‘Omniscience’, ‘Omnipresence’ and ‘Omnipotence’” (BKS Iyengar, ‘Light on Yoga’, p. 445). Om is a sacred ‘mantra’. It is considered a universal sound, the seed of all words without reference to any specific religion or god. According to the Big Bang theory, Om is the cosmic sound that initiated the creation of the universe.
This sacred syllable is not just one sound, it is actually three. The ‘Pranava’ (power) mantra comprises three syllables: ‘a’, ‘u’, ’m’, indicating the continuity of past, present and future. The Aum sound encompasses the masculine, feminine and neutral principles. It also addresses speech (‘vak’), mind (‘manas’) and breath (‘prana’) and alludes to the famous trinity of Indian cosmology, the creator (Brahma), the maintainer (Vishnu) and the destroyer (Shiva). By chanting Aum at the beginning of class or practice, the divinity within each of us is addressed, invited and called in. When we perceive the sound of our own voice, we notice our own presence. Through sound, an invisible yet physical expression, we are closer to perceiving our true self and our true nature. We are never separate from sound; even if we can’t speak or hear we feel its physical vibration throughout our bodies.
At the point of chanting Aum, there is no thought, no separation. Regular practice enhances a sense of centeredness. It is also said that while chanting Aum, the syllable is the target and our attention becomes focused on one point (‘Ekagrata’). Like holding the bow and using the Self as the arrow, chanting gives us a clear sense of direction and focus. It is the beginning of the inward journey and thus the beginning of the class and of practice.
The science behind Aum
The effects of chanting Aum at the beginning of each class go beyond the philosophical realm. It is well recognised that sound is a powerful tool for healing and can have profound effects. The ancient yogis knew and practised many methods that are now becoming accepted by the scientific community. One of these is the chanting of mantras.
Mantras are syllables that exert an influence or effect through sound vibrations that resonate on specific parts of the body. Different syllables vibrate at different sound frequencies and so they will resonate with certain organs and parts of the body. The human hearing range is 20Hz to 20KHz. Aum vibrates at 432 Hz, which is quite low within our hearing range. This means that the sound wave is longer and its frequency of vibration slower than a high-pitch sound at, let’s say, 15KHz. The physical result of this is that these sound waves will affect bigger surface areas.
At a physical level, the Aum syllable addresses the whole of the human sound instrument: we open the mouth (‘a’), move the lips closer to each other (‘u’) and then close the mouth (‘m’). This activates the larynx fully. ‘A’ resonates in the stomach and chest, ‘u’ in the throat and chest and ‘m’ in the nasal cavity, skull and brain. By chanting Aum we move the energy from the abdomen up to the brain. Those of us who chant Aum daily before our practice, feel how it helps us to calm our mind and clear our thoughts.
Specific scientific research
Modern technology, such as sound spectrum analysis and brain imaging technology, has made it possible to analyse the structure and quality of soundwaves produced by chanting, as well as the physiological responses induced by the repetition of the Aum sound. Separate research studies were carried out on volunteers who have never chanted before. The recordings and the sound waves were analysed before and after some weeks of chanting Aum on a regular basis. The soundwaves of those who had never done any chanting showed irregular patterns, indicative of unsteadiness of breath and more restless minds. By contrast, the soundwaves recorded after a period of regular chanting were smooth, evenly spaced and harmonic, a clear indication of more regular breathing. There was an increased connection between the breath and mind, which resulted in an improved sense of calmness.1 In another experiment, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (f-MRI scans) were used to analyse the brain and measure the response of the nervous system during and after the Aum mantra chanting. It’s findings showed that the regular chanting of Aum can be effective in the treatment of depression & epilepsy.2 Other studies have revealed that regular Aum chanting can help lower high blood pressure.3 Other effects of chanting Aum regularly are improved concentration and a reduction in stress levels.4
Modern technology and science confirm what ancient yogis knew about the healing power of Aum.
1 Gurjar, A. A., and Ladhake, S. A., ‘Time-Frequency Analysis of Chanting Sanskrit Divine Sound “OM” Mantra’, IJCSNS International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, Vol. 8, August 2008, pp. 170-175; http://paper.ijcsns.org/07_book/200808/20080825.pdf
2 Kalyani, B. G., Venkatasubramanian, G., Arasappa, R., Rao, N. P., Kalmady, S. V., Behere, R. V., Rao, H., Vasudev, M. K., and Gangadhar, B. N., ‘Neurohemodynamic correlates of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study’, International Journal of Yoga, January 2011, 4 (1), pp. 3-6; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21654968
4 Gurjar A. A., Ladhake, S. A., Thakare, A. P., ‘Analysis Of Acoustic of “OM” Chant To Study It’s Effect on Nervous System’, IJCSNS International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, Vol. 9 No.1, January 2009, pp. 363-367, p. 366; http://paper.ijcsns.org/07_book/200901/20090151.pdf
This article is taken from Dipika, the Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale Journal, 2020. If referencing this article, please credit as appropriate.
At the end of June we sent a survey about re-opening to our members so we could find out how everyone felt about coming back to studio classes. A big thank you to all of you who responded.
We know that many of you have greatly enjoyed continuing to learn online, but understand that there are elements of the real-world communal experience that you are missing deeply: the camaraderie; the energy in the room; and the level of precision in the corrections and instructions that your teacher can offer when they see you in three dimensions.
We also learned that, though many of you are keen to get back to your practice at the studios, there are still concerns over the use of public transport and the difficulties associated with carrying your own equipment to attend face-to-face classes.
First, we would like to reassure you that we will continue to provide livestream classes for the foreseeable future.
These have proved to be a great success, and the feedback from those who have taken part has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. If you haven’t yet tried a livestream class, please do consider it; classes at all levels will continue throughout August and beyond.
We have also agreed a discount code with Yogamatters to allow our members a 10% discount on props you may need for home practice. If you’re a member of IYMV, you will already have received an email about this. Please do not share the link with others as it has been specially agreed for the benefit of our members.
Secondly, we have been preparing for your return to classes at the studios.
While we cannot make your journey to Maida Vale any safer, we have been busy putting in place measures to ensure your safety in the building. To this end, we are providing the following health and safety measures:
Limited timetable to ensure time for thorough cleaning between classes
Only one class at a time through the day
100% online pre-booking and payment (no drop-ins)
Screens to protect students and staff
Limited class numbers to ensure sufficient space between students and teachers (following government guidelines)
Limited use of equipment, walls and ropes
Limited use of changing rooms (If you can, please arrive ready to practise)
Provision of sanitising products for students, equipment and surfaces throughout the building
Improved ventilation and enhanced cleaning to studios, WC’s and common areas throughout the day
Managed one-way system for entry, during classes and upon exit
Additional night-time deep-cleaning
In all of this, we will also rely on your cooperation to ensure that attendance at the studios will be as safe as possible. Because of this, the face-to-face timetable will necessarily be less extensive than in normal times. However, we will complement it with the livestream timetable to give the broadest possible range of classes and teachers to students at all levels.
Live classes will be starting during August. We will be in touch with full details as soon as possible.
We look forward to seeing you again soon and, once again, thank you for your continuing support during these last few difficult months and for the future.
Many of us have been improvising props at home. This can work perfectly well for home practice and livestream classes and Mr Iyengar himself was known for his innovation in repurposing household items to create new props. But, if you would like to upgrade from books, towels and cushions we can recommend the selection of equipment below.
We have chosen props that are similar to the ones we use at Maida Vale so that they will be familiar and easy to work with if you have attended classes at our studios.
IYMV remedial teacher Korinna Pilafidis-Williams demonstrates how to put the Pune ‘shoulder jacket’ on. This is a great method to counterbalance your shoulder girdle when you’ve been hunched forward over a computer all day.
For further information about Covid-19 (Coronavirus) please note these recommendations from the NHS.
In view of the most recent government advice, the centre will be closed for all classes, workshops and private practice until further notice. We will be posting sequences online and are in the process of preparing live streaming to assist you in your private practice.
Look out for further information bulletins.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus in the UK?
The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the public from moderate to high. Regularly updated information from the government is available by following this link
Health professionals are working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus.
How coronavirus is spread
Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly
how coronavirus spreads from person to person.
Similar viruses spread in cough droplets.
It’s highly unlikely coronavirus can be spread through packages from affected countries or through food.
How to avoid
catching or spreading germs
There’s currently no vaccine for coronavirus.
But there are things you can do to help stop germs like coronavirus spreading.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
Put used tissues in the bin straight away
Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people if you’ve travelled to the UK from the following places in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms:
Hubei province in China
Special care zones in South Korea (Daegu, Cheongdo, Gyeongsan)
Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people if you’ve travelled to the UK from the following places, even if you do not have symptoms:
Italy (since 09 March)
Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people if you’ve travelled to the UK from the following places in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath, even if your symptoms are mild:
Occasionally classes at Maida Vale get so busy that Members have been turned away. While not a regular occurrence, this is particularly frustrating for Members who travel from outside and across London to get to class. Online booking already works effectively for Workshops and Pregnancy Classes at Maida Vale. So, we are introducing class booking to our Members so they have priority access to busy classes.
A limited number of class places are available to book online. Every class also has drop-in spaces available so you can choose whether to book or not.
After more than 20 years of teaching at Maida Vale on Sundays, Alaric will be taking a well-earned twelve month sabbatical. We wish him many enjoyable weekends!
This year the Sunday 10.15am Intermediate and 12.30pm General classes will be covered by Marco Cannavo, Sophie Carrington, Penny Chaplin, Richard Agar Ward, Ofra Graham and Judy Smith. Please see the live timetable and the teaching schedule below for details.
Thursday Intermediate Class The Thursday evening Intermediate class will continue to be taught by Alaric as usual.
Workshops with Alaric Alaric will also be holding Friday afternoon workshops on the following dates. Workshop level and theme details to follow.
Over the holiday season there are some changes to our regular timetable. Please also note that we are closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. We look forward to seeing you for some seasonal yoga!
Let go of the concerns of the week and prepare for the weekend with our Friday evening Restorative & Pranayama class. The class is taught by our most experienced teachers and is suitable for all students at a General level and above. This means you have been practising Iyengar Yoga regularly for two years or more.
Restorative Practice Expect to hold postures for longer than usual. Often props like bolsters, blankets and blocks are used to support the body. This physical support helps you stay in postures comfortably without straining. The muscles can relax, heart rate lowers and the nervous system can be soothed. Restorative postures help calm the mind and open the body for pranayama.
The word Pranayama is made up of two Sanskrit words. Prana means breath, energy, life force and vitality. Ayama means, control, restraint, extension or expansion. Pranayama is the practice of controlling or conditioning the breath. It is the fourth of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga and consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process. Pranayama practice focusses on the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions, and trains students in an approach based on self-observation.
If you are new to Pranayama the Friday evening class is a great place to start!
We’re happy to announce that Judy Waldman will be taking over as the new teacher for the 60+ class on Fridays in place of Joyce Furrer, who has now retired. We’re grateful to Joyce who was a dedicated teacher until the age of 90!
There will be cover teachers for the next two weeks and Judy will teach her first class on Friday 15 November.
Judy Waldman is an Intermediate Level 3 Iyengar Yoga teacher. She has been a passionate practitioner of Iyengar Yoga for over 20 years and teaching since 2007. Judy has a keen interest in how the practise of yoga can aid recovery from particular health problems and to avoid future injury. Her 20 years of experience as an Art Psychotherapist in the NHS made her aware of yoga’s empowering effect on one’s emotional and mental state, explored through the canvas of the body
Members £7.50 or 11 classes for £75 with a Yogacard / Non-members £10
Join us for an evening of storytelling, music and poetry to recount the old tales and myths of Indian and Persian literature.
Sudarshan Singh, tabla player and Zahra Afsah, storyteller saw each other perform at the Centenary Celebration for Guruji last year and decided to join forces and work on some projects together. This is their first collaboration.
They will be unveiling the stories behind miniature paintings from the 14th to 16th century to reevaluate our oral understanding with regenerated sensations.
Saturday 16 November
Adults £10 / Children & Concessions £5
Sallie started practising Iyengar yoga in 1980. She has been a dozen times to study with the Iyengars in Pune where she has also assisted in the medical classes. She taught the Introductory Teacher Training Course at Maida Vale for 25 years and is an assessment moderator for the UK Iyengar Association.
learning only from Guruji in the UK, my first experience of classes with Geeta
was in Pune in 1992. She was clear, energetic, demanding and quite scary. I
adored and respected her in equal parts from the very first class. Her first words to me in that class were
prosaic to the point of banal: “Have you been to the toilet?” I had indeed left
the class to go, and returned to the hall with dry feet, not knowing I should
have washed them. She sent me back feeling like a naughty schoolgirl to wash
them. One soon learnt that nothing escaped her penetrating hawk-like gaze. This
power was still in evidence in the closing days of the Centenary course when
she called students onto stage.
Later that month
in 1992 I had a sudden attack of sciatica – I blame the hard Indian mattress. I
was early into the hall and settled to do some chair twists. Just before the
start of class, I told her my problem. She was abrupt – “chair twists won’t
help,” were her only words. Then she began the class with a sequence of leg
stretches with specific points that cleared the sciatica on the spot. That was
so often the way – a class that was perfect for someone’s specific problem yet
at the same time a cracking good class for everyone. And she didn’t look for
thanks, in fact sometimes rebuffed it quite roughly.
occasion that month, she taught with even more than her usual volume and vigour
in the women’s class – she couldn’t bear inattention or failure to practise –
then paused. “When I shout, you feel it here!” she declaimed, and with her fist
struck herself in the centre of her chest – the heart centre. Right on!
She had a
great sense of humour. On one of my times at RIMYI, the women’s class had the
job of shifting a whole heap of props for an imminent event. Casting her eyes
over us she announced what had to be shifted where – then thoughtfully gave a
lighter task to those of us with grey hair. A thought struck her: “And the ones
who dye your hair, you decide what to do.”
learnt names except those of the old-timers and pre-eminent westerners and
certainly never knew mine. At Crystal Palace, when I had the chance to teach
Bhekasana in front of Geeta, she found fault with my technique and my resulting
rock-hard buttocks. Later in the Q&A she gave me help with the same problem
in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. Soon after, I was back in Pune. In the first
class, she walked between the rows all in Tadasana, looking at our back view.
She stopped right behind me, came round in front to see my face and gave a
grunt of recognition. With a mixture of annoyance and amusement, “buttocks like
rocks,” she said. Later during that visit, with an open palm she half brushed
and half sliced downwards across my buttocks, and at last I got it, a blessing
not a slap.
As Abhi, her grandniece, described in her moving tribute at the end of the 13 days of mourning, Gita could be rough in manner, rude even. When they were recording Geeta’s classes, Abhi would try to note the time of any strong outburst, to tell the technicians to delete that part. But sometimes, Abhi said, that would just leave too many gaps. Sometimes she was so loud they could hear her in the family home across the courtyard. Often, although classes always started on time, the pranayama class in particular could overrun by 15 or even 30 minutes. It got to the point that they only gave the start time for pranayama on the timetable, not the ending. Holding back tears, Abhi told us how from now on the Institute would be a quieter and more polite place; they can put the finishing time on the timetable for the Friday pranayama class, and something very precious has been lost.
This article was first published in Dipika, the journal of Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale, Issue No.51, July 2019.
Geeta Iyengar died aged 74, still working tirelessly to assure the legacy of her father and guru BKS Iyengar. After his death she stepped up to oversee the teaching at RIMYI. Her ill health and failing strength was an obstacle but her spirit soared above it. Family and friends asked her to slow down and save herself for Guruji’s 100th birth anniversary. She promised: “Don’t worry, I will be with you for the centenary, then my work will be done.”
She taught the second half of the 10 day Centenary celebration course with immense energy and insistence making sure every one of the 1,300 participants kept up with her. There followed two days of celebration and she died two days later on 16 December 2018.
We have compiled a selection of interviews with Geeta and tributes from senior teachers.
Uday Bhosale spent fifteen years studying, assisting and teaching at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune with the Iyengar family. In addition to teaching the Childrens, Beginners and Intermediate classes at RIMYI, he assisted in Geeta Iyengar’s medical classes. He recently moved to the UK and teaches regular classes and workshops.
Do you remember your first class with Geetaji?
Oh yes, I do! I was 19 years old and was used to strong and active
work in class because I came from a martial arts background. Our martial arts training used to be strict and
disciplined. You followed the instruction
and dared not do more or less than that. Seeing my interest and keenness to learn more,
my first teacher of both martial arts and yoga, Ali Dashti, suggested I should make
the effort and go to Geetaji’s class.
Hence I went to the evening classes with her. The control and command she had over the entire class was so inspiring for me. What I remember particularly in that first class was the clarity of her instructions. Clear, precise wording along with an impactful voice pinpointing to the exact parts of the body we must work on and where we were dull. It felt like she was reading me and talking to me individually. It felt like I was getting private tuition in a crowded hall. Only later I came to know that it is nothing new, almost everyone had a similar experience in her classes. Ha ha!
Were you scared of her?
Not really, but there is something in my mother tongue which can be roughly
translated as: “to respectfully fear someone”.
Do you remember any amusing incident in her classes?
People generally recall her strictness, but
she definitely had a fun side too. She
used to crack jokes, at times mimic and mock sometimes. I remember an incident that happened during my
early days in her class. In my martial
arts background, we were trained to be attentive and quick-respond to instructions
as fast as possible. On that day she was
teaching “jumpings”, my favourite back then! She was explaining something while we were in
Tadasana. She used to call the name of
the pose first and then mention what she wanted us to work on and then we would
do it. So in her strong voice she
announced the next pose we were going to do: “Chaturanga Dandasana!” Her voice was so strong and commanding that in
a flash I was on the floor and in the pose. And then I looked around wondering why I was
the first in the pose! Guess what? Of course I was the first as I was the only
one to go into the pose. Everyone else was
still standing in Tadasana in anticipation of her further instructions. So I jumped back to join them, hoping she had
missed my foolish mistake. But there she
stood almost laughing and said aloud: “That is only the front brain working; he
is not using the rest of it.”
When you think of Geetaji now what is the first thing you see in your head?
Her smile and her eyes for sure.
Which of her character traits spring to mind?
It’s more of her caring side. I’ve always felt a motherly love from her and
how she cared for everyone. Definitely it
was not pampering. Her instructions and guidance
to students as well as patients in therapy classes made everyone easily feel
her caring nature behind the strictness. Even in her scolding there was a caring approach.
That compassion makes me miss her very
You were at all Yoganusasanam intensive courses in Pune. Do have any specific memory of being in a pose and being shown on?
Yes! There were many participants who remember this. I think it happened in 2014 – the year Guruji passed away. I was on the stage with one of my colleagues. It was a pranayama session. We were anticipating the invocation to start so we sat in our position upright ready to chant. Geetaji started to explain something, it went on further, a bit deeper and then on to a few more things.
It was common before a class for Geetaji to give an introduction but this one went on and on and on. It was more than one hour! I had taken my position and knew that the video cameras were focused on the stage and us. Sitting next to her feet while she was describing every detail, how could I dare slip into a dull, slouching pose? I was afraid of causing a distraction if I would fidget around to change my pose. So I struggled but sat straight all that time barely moving. My legs and back were getting so tired but I somehow kept going. Eventually we chanted the invocation. Thankfully we were made to lie down in a supine posture after that!
Who asked you to teach the children’s class, Geeta or Guruji?
She asked me to start assisting and then later I was teaching it. She would frequently come to the regular Sunday morning classes for children. Often Geetaji would check on us teachers and tell us how to teach. She would crack jokes, tease us teachers and have fun with us.
Can you describe Geetaji’s love for children? Both on her 70th birthday at Yoganusasanam 2014 and in 2018 she wanted the children’s class to be there to perform.
Teaching children was always something
close to her heart as Guruji had asked her to teach in schools when she began teaching. She was always keen to teach younger
generations. During both these events,
she was not happy that the children would miss their Sunday morning class at
the Institute because their teachers were busy at the Yoganusasanam event. So she wanted the children to be there with us.
She was also keen for others to have a
glimpse of how to teach children and understand the difference in approach, compared
to the general classes that we mostly train for.
With children, you
have to inspire them with your performance on stage. You have to do more, move faster, jump higher
to keep their attention. Otherwise they easily
lose their focus. In 2018, while we were
jumping from Tadasana to Uttitha Hasta Padasana, she commanded in her loud and strong
voice to jump higher and wider. I think
I managed to jump higher than ever before!
Did you see that she was tired during the intensives, especially after Guruji’s death in 2014 and the last one in 2018 before she passed away?
She had various health conditions all her life from childhood. But the way she practised and managed her conditions as well as all her other commitments was phenomenal. The way she taught her classes and the amount of energy she put into them was amazing! Especially during her later years, the way she managed everything despite her frailty was inspiring and humbling. After Guruji’s death she was emotionally very low and it obviously made her condition worse. But she slowly started to regain strength. We could see her looking so weak but when she went on the platform she was a different person. Once she was on stage she would talk and command even though sometimes her voice would go and she would cough. She would never hold back when she was teaching. She would give it her all.
What does it mean to you that she is not with us anymore?
Definitely I miss her! When Guruji passed away, everyone was sad but we still had his children with us. In a way I felt it helped to soften the blow. But now Geetaji is not there anymore. Of course we have Prashantji, but her motherly love, her caring touch, her control, her genius we will miss. It is a big loss. Saying that, as students and teachers we have the responsibility to continue our practice and to continue to share the great work the Iyengar family have dedicated themselves to. We should continue to contribute and share what we have learnt in our own individual capacity. We also need to stay together and grow further!
This article was first published in Dipika, the Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale Journal, in July 2019.
Mark Tully (former BBC’s India correspondent) visited Pune in 1999. The result of this visit was a memorable interview with BKS Iyengar and the BBC Radio 4 production “Head to Toe“. The BBC producer, Vanessa Harrison, has kindly given some of the interview transcripts to Dipika. This is a section of the interview with Geeta Iyengar who published her yoga book for women, “Yoga: A Gem for Women”, in 1983.
There is much to gain from starting yoga at a young age. Physically there benefits like enhanced balance, strength, coordination and flexibility. Plus, kids can improve their concentration and sense of calm with yoga practice. Children live in a busy world of hurrying parents, homework, packed school days, technology and socialising. Yoga helps counter these pressures. It introduces young students to body awareness and poses for relaxation. The act of practicing poses the skill of being able to clear the mind and focus attention.
Our Yoga for Children classes are for for ages 6-12. They are fun and fast-moving with a focus on learning about the body as well as doing yoga postures.
The course runs during term time and can be booked in advance. Korinna Pilafidis-Williams has extensive experience of teaching yoga to children and, as young JJ Fisher describes it, her classes are ‘fun‘. They also help him to concentrate on work and stay in shape for playing sports. ‘I like the fact that we learn about bones and the body as well as yoga.‘
Yoga for Children with Korinna Pilafidis-Williams Mondays 5.00pm – 5.55pm
£72 per term (pro rata’d for new students who join after term starts)
Book now on 020 7624 3080
2019 Autumn – Winter Timetable
Monday 17 - NO CLASS
Children’s yoga classes are scheduled during term time with a break for half term. We are unable to accept bookings for individual classes.
If your child has any health problems or you have any queries about your child joining our children’s yoga class later in the term, please contact the office. To help us protect the safety of children attending our classes, please tell the receptionist on duty the name of the person who will be collecting the child. Please notify us of any change in these arrangements as soon as possible.
Korinna has been practising Iyengar yoga since 1983 and started teaching at Maida Vale in 1995. She is a Junior Intermediate teacher and is especially interested in remedial yoga as well as teaching children and teenagers. She visits the Institute in Pune regularly. After having held the teaching portfolio as one of IYMV’s trustees for many years, she is currently the editor of Dipika, IYMV’s magazine.
Uday Bhosale and Korinna Pilafidis-Williams have extensive experience of teaching Iyengar yoga to children. In this workshop they will share their approaches to making classes engaging, fun and safe for young students.
Friday 27 September 3.00-5.00pm Members £30 / Non-member £36
This workshop is for qualified Iyengar yoga teachers and trainees.
Uday Bhosale spent fifteen years studying, assisting and teaching at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune with the Iyengar family. He taught the Childrens, Beginners and Intermediate classes at RIMYI and assisted in Geeta Iyengar’s medical classes.
Korinna Pilafidis-Williams has been practising Iyengar yoga since 1983 and started teaching at IYMV in 1995. She is part of the remedial and teacher training teams at IYMV. As well as teaching adults, she has been teaching children and teenagers for nearly 25 years and teaches one of the longest running children’s classes in the country.
Are you, or do you know an Iyengar yoga teacher who would like to teach classes to vulnerable or disadvantaged adults?
IYMV has established an outreach programme to bring Iyengar yoga to those who might not have access to regular yoga classes. We are inviting teachers to suggest a London based organisation to work with such as a community project, women’s refuge or centre, prison, special needs school or recovery project that does not already have funding.
Successful applicants will receive funding to teach a weekly class at their proposed organisation for an initial period of 6 months.
From 2 July the Tuesday morning General class will be taught by Megan Inglesent and the Beginners class will be taught by Jackie McCaul.
9.30 – 11.00am General – Megan Inglesent
11.15 – 12.45pm Beginners – Jackie McCaul
After 18 years of dedicated teaching at Maida Vale, Ofra Graham has stepped down from her regular classes. Her students will be glad to hear that Ofra will continue to provide cover for classes and will return to give workshops.
This summer we are running a second early morning Beginners/General class with Amparo Rodriguez on Fridays. Join us to make the most of the bright mornings and start your day right!
Our early morning classes are 75 minutes long so you have time to practice before you get on with your day. The new Friday class starts on 14 June and will run until the clocks go back. The last class of the season will be Friday 25 October.
Thanks to all of you who joined us to make the Centenary events on the 14th & 15th December such a success! The 100 Asana led practice and the evening of entertainment provided by our talented teachers and students were a lot of fun and very well attended. A big thanks also to Judy and Marco.
A total of just under £2,250 was raised and will be split equally among: The Bellur Trust, Mind and Crisis.
In the May 2002 issue of Dipika, the Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale journal, we published an intervew with Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar on the subject of pranayama by Lois Steinberg. Many thanks to Lois for allowing us us to share it here. Continue reading →
Dr. Geeta Iyengar passed away on Sunday 16th December at age 74. She made a profound contribution to the yoga community around the world with her dedication to sharing the teachings of her father and guru, BKS Iyengar. Her seminal work ‘Yoga – A Gem for Women’ has had an enduring influence on yoga techniques for women. Reportedly when asked about living in her father’s shadow she replied, “It was not his shadow, it was his light.”
In 1999 Mark Tully, the BBC’s India Correspondent from 1964-1994, visited Pune. The result of this visit was a memorable interview with BKS Iyengar for the BBC Radio 4 production: Head to Toe. BBC producer, Vanessa Harrison, has kindly shared the interview transcripts. This is a section of the interview Mark held with Geeta. Continue reading →
21 May, 1984 was a momentous occasion in the history of Iyengar yoga and for the Iyengar Yoga studios in Maida Vale. BKS Iyengar gave a talk and demonstration before an audience of 2,000 at the Barbican Centre in London. He talked about Patanjali and the eight limbs of yoga and he gave a demonstration of pranayama and asanas. The occasion also included a performance by some of his close students that had been rehearsed at Maida Vale. Guruji generously donated the entire income from the evening to the Maida Vale building fund.
One of his students who took part was our Senior teacher, Penny Chaplin. Here she remembers this special evening.
Following on from the popularity of our Sunday afternoon Pop-up Intermediate classes we have scheduled classes for the New Year. These are all drop-in classes so no need to book in advance. Just note the dates, come along and enjoy.