Light on Life at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute
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Light on Life at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute

By Dale Hails

B.K.S. Iyengar in India

The Institute and the Iyengars' home are in the same compound. When coming to class or practice, we walk past their door. When the Institute is open for students' practice, B.K.S. Iyengar and members of his family are also in the classroom for their practice. Each day as I passed the door to their home, I was further impressed by how great an honor it is that they open their home so graciously to us. As a westerner, I was a bit ruffled when I first saw students bow before Guruji and touch the ground or his feet. But, when I think how much this family has sacrificed for yoga and the students that have come to them, bowing seems too small a ritual. It is not merely a question of displaying respect, but sharing a deeply felt emotion, gratitude, and blessing. 

In order to study at RIMYI, a student must study with teachers trained by the Iyengars for a minimum of eight years. They do not want westerners who are beginners at their door. Though there is a stringent application process for attendance at an intensive course offered by the Iyengars, it is easier to qualify for general class attendance. There are about thirty spots reserved in each general class for non-Indians. To get one of these spots, submit an application along with your teacher's referral. This is a long-term plan, as it may be two years or more for the next opening. If you enroll as a general student, you can study up to two months (with some exceptions). For myself, I find that after two months, I am ready to return home to the world I know best. Classes are offered for general students six days a week. A student does not receive his or her schedule of class and practice times until they register at the Institute. A student may also observe classes not on his/her schedule, including medical classes, by obtaining permission from the Institute secretary. Expect to spend two hours a day in class and two hours practicing.  Then, there's the library. Over the years, Guruji has amassed an extensive collection of in- and out-of-print volumes, many in English. So as a student you could spend 4-8 hours a day at the Institute. What do you do the rest of your day? Learn to live in India.

RIMYI is not a residential center. Students arrange their own lodging. There are apartments, hotels, hostels, ashrams, and rooms in private homes available near the Institute. Compared to the U.S., it is not expensive to live in India, but westerners are often asked to pay more than locals. Students may find themselves on the prowl for inexpensive lodging. For those who wait to arrange housing after arrival, the tension of house hunting can become as exciting as a car race. Rickshaw drivers in the area are familiar with the constant moves of yoga students.  The driver that took my roommates and me, with our luggage, to our new apartment, even had a song for the occasion. If your apartment is away from the street or you have an air-conditioned hotel room, there may be some quiet time during the day. But, for the most part, quiet is rare in Indian cities. The Institute itself is near a very busy intersection. Cars and trucks honk their horns whenever they come up behind another vehicle. Our teachers compete with the noise of traffic and vendors announcing their wares. Both during class and away from the Institute, we inhale some of the most polluted air on the planet, dense with diesel fumes and dust. While in India, we must be very careful of what we eat, the water we drink, and how much pollution we ingest.  Many people who come to study in India get sick. If you get sick, you are relegated to the medical class or to the back of the room with a medical sequence during general class.

Studying with the Iyengars and traveling in India are not easy tasks. I chose to study Iyengar's teachings of yoga because he had a family and he expected his students not to be renunciates, but to have families, jobs, and social lives, as well. I appreciated that he fostered his students' independence. To study with him, they were not sheltered in an enclave, but were expected to arrive equipped with the confidence and self-reliance to travel abroad. If you arrive needy, that state is short-lived. Learning how to use yoga from B.K.S. Iyengar is the gift of strength. We work and observe until it seems, almost by accident, we meet the Self along the way. 

September 12, 2005

Editor's note: This report on studying at RIMYI is part of a longer essay on the author's experience, to be published in the January 2006 issue of Yoga Therapy in Practice.