As The Yoga Place prepares for its annual celebration, it is always a reminder that we can also reflect on and celebrate the lineage of Iyengar Yoga that has been left before us. BKS Iyengar’s birthday was Dec 14, so many celebrations of studios around the world are held around that time. Less known is that Geeta Iyengar’s birthday was Dec 7. During her life, she deferred celebration and honor to her guru and father, BKS. However, for those of us who were touched by her teaching, her birthday is one to celebrate as well.
Admittedly, I am a “new generation” student of Geeta’s, but I did have the honor of being in class with her during 4 visits to Pune in the last 10 years plus a few Conventions here in the US. My last trip to Pune was right before her passing in 2018. Those few experiences were enough to be touched and changed by her presence and teaching, but I know that Chris and Francie surely have quite a few more stories to share, so don’t hesitate to ask them!
For this blog, I will take a description of Geeta from our most recent Yoga Samachar (the publication put out by the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the US) where a couple of our senior teachers refer to her as a “multifaceted gem”. This is one of the best ways to describe Geeta’s complexity and depth as a teacher and as a person.
First is to remember that Geeta was a daughter and the eldest of 6 siblings who lost their mother at an early age. She would probably say she was first and foremost a student of yoga, the practice of which was necessary on some level due to her health issues, and then becoming a strong devotee of her guru, BKS Iyengar. She was also a “mother” to many without ever becoming a mother herself, taking care of the Iyengar household with its many generations under one roof, not to mention all the foreigners who came through to study over the years. She was a business woman, heading up the workings of the Iyengar Institute in Pune. And, she was of course a teacher – of regular classes, weekly Pranayama, Women’s classes, medical classes, and traveled often for intensives and conventions around the world.
I first was a student with her at a Convention held in Las Vegas and was immediately struck by her energy and her ability to “see” an entire room of hundreds of people. There was no hiding in the presence of Geeta – in class or out. I specifically remember that she chided us for laying out at the pool during breaks and going out to shows at night. We were there for yoga, so what else did we need to be doing?
Abhijata Sridhar (Geeta’s neice and BKS’s granddaughter), in her speech at Geeta’s life celebration, referred to Geeta as “naive”. This at first took me aback, but then she explained…Geeta literally assumed that we ALL gave the amount of time and energy and study to yoga that she did. So, on reflection of all my experiences with Geeta, this made sense.
Some would say that Geeta was “harsh” in teaching, but if you consider that she looked at us all who came to conventions, intensives, or traveled across many miles to India as committed to yoga as she was, I too might be confused as to WHY we acted the way we did…unable to follow some instructions and being maybe a little further behind than our required 8-years of study to attend would indicate.
I personally found Geeta an intriguing combination of fierce determination and discipline balanced with keen humor and lightness of being. She embodied an energy that was larger and stronger than her actual physical being. Like her father, she was actually quite small in stature, but could fill a room with her presence. In class, she could penetrate to levels you may not even know were possible and then the next moment bring you to soft soothing laughter through her wit. There was always a fire in her eye…sometimes a laser beam and other times a twinkle.
There are a few stories and images that stand out to me when I think of Geeta and I will share them on the bulletin board where there is room. For those who never had the privilege of being in class with her, I would urge you to read the many books and articles she has left behind. She was always practical and had a devotion to the subject of yoga that may only be matched by her father.
Geeta said she did not stand in the shadow of BKS, but practiced in his light. Her own light combined with her father’s will keep the path of yoga lit for generations to come and for all who are interested enough to practice.
I am thankful and blessed to feel her light within my own practice and teaching.