From Darkness to Light…

Our family celebrated St. Lucia Day on Sunday, with some friends, having breakfast by candlelight, celebrating the light within darkness.  

Yesterday, December 14th, was the 97th anniversary of B.K.S. Iyengar’s, Guruji’s, birthday. Soon, we celebrate the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year for those of us in the western hemisphere, and we start coming out from darkness.

 In classes we have been practicing chanting the Guru Strotram along with the Patanjali chant. Guru is a sanskrit word that is usually translated as teacher, but the roots of the word means “darkness, light” and the meaning is one who brings others from darkness to light. B.K.S. Iyengar was someone who brought yoga to many, millions of people around the world, and he brought so many, thousands and thousands, from darkness into light.  What is darkness? Fear, pain, suffering & confusion on physical, mental & spiritual levels.  

I am profoundly grateful to have been brought into light by teachers, trained by B.K.S. Iyengar and granted the immense responsibility to pass on his teachings.  They did it so well that for me as a young woman, it was a very big desire, a singular goal of my twenties, to be able to travel to India to study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) to be near to him and learn. There was a lot of work and sacrifice that went into venturing for that trip.  I treasure those two months of daily practice mornings at the Institute, the awe of his brilliance, the will and vigor of his practice, even at the age of 88: 30 minute Sirsasana (headstand), 10 minute Kapotasana (pigeon pose).  He taught classes for us through his granddaughter, Abhijata, and sometimes Geeta, while he practiced in the back of the room, shouting out instructions for us, to her.  I watched him work in the medical classes, full of compassion, working with the hopeless and bringing them some relief, some healing, and some hope.  I am remembering afternoon hours in the basement library,  studying near Guruji working at his desk, and greeting him daily-- his sparkling eyes, and brilliant smile. That time being close to him, I will never forget.  He worked and practiced and strived to show us the way, even through old age, to give hope and transmit yoga, to set that example of constant practice for us all.  It is simultaneously humbling and uplifting.  When we see the photographs of his practice through the decades, of his asanas, and see the example of how he worked for understanding, for clarity, not only to help himself but to help others, may that be an inspiration for our practice.  Here are some photographs from one of his asana practices at age 94 in the hall at RIMYI in the last month of his life. 

B.K.S. Iyengar had to work so much to overcome poverty, disease, illness, weakness, and lack of education. His one chance in life was that he was sent to live with his brother in law, the yoga guru, Krishnamacharya, when he was 15 years old.  That was his beginning. Yoga saved his life and he brought it out in the world for all of us. Now even if you have not met B.K.S. Iyengar, or have just learned of his existence this year, by coming to these classes, you are all students of Guruji.

This is what the chant is about at the beginning of classes. There is a word for it: parampara, which means lineage and tradition through which the teachings are passed on.  So we pay honor to him as our teacher, whether he is our teacher’s teacher, or our teacher’s teacher’s teacher. We transmit this lineage and the light he has passed on through the power of our practice, the courage and compassion of our actions. This is the work that we do to bring yoga more into our lives, looking for the light in ourselves and others, and coming out of our darkness,  from ignorance into clarity and understanding, for refinement of action and being.  From dullness & darkness into vibrancy, from depression into openness and peace, that is the meaning of Guru. May he inspire us all to practice yoga and realize these things for ourselves.