Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI)
PUNE FEBRUARY 2017
At the end of January a friend and I set off for RIMYI, the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India and the home of the Iyengar family. Although this was our third visit to Pune, it was the first time we were attending classes at the Institute itself. We had a couple of days to settle into the little flat we were renting about 10 minutes walk away. On 1 February, we set off feeling as though it was our first day at school and we weren’t entirely sure how to behave. After a whole month, I’m still not sure that I fully understand the protocol surrounding who you talk to in what order, but I have come away with a tremendous respect for the knowledge and dedication of the Iyengars and the many people working alongside them as a finely tuned, if a little quirky, machine.
The entrance in Hari Krishna Mandir Road
There is something very special about being able to devote a whole month exclusively to yoga in THE Institute with its energy and atmosphere, its cool marble floored spaces and all sorts of solid extremely well made props. I grew to love the long thick soft ropes strung from the double height ceiling for a free hanging rope sirsasana in the middle of the room. And I really wish I had some pillars to practice with regularly, they are helpful for just so many things.
The long thick soft ropes
In addition to the excellent daily class with Prashant or Sunita and our practice time, we could observe as many other classes as we wished. It was great to see the energy that Abhi and Raya injected into their able and mainly young intermediate students. Their classes were packed. Others were too. I saw Devki Desai give a cracking class at 7.30 one morning. This has convinced me that the Institute is unlikely to relocate, despite the appalling two stroke pollution in the city nowadays. The next generations of Iyengar yogis and yoginis in Pune are still happily riding their motorbikes, alongside the rickshaws, to and from class. (And having ridden pillion on occasion, I understand that this is the best way to get around the city, despite the particulates hitting your eyeballs and coating the whole length of your nasal passages.)
The Temple to Ganesh in Pune from the back of a motorbike
As it is over 25 years now since I was a beginner, I was particularly interested to see how beginners classes are taught nowadays. The answer, as in Maidstone, is that every teacher teaches differently. I was really interested in Kishor’s teaching. He used very few props but made effective use of the same one or two in pose after pose. I particularly remember him making his beginners hold one of the big heavy hardwood bricks in Urdhva Hastasana (arms straight above the head) and bend the front leg into Virabradrasana I (back leg straight and arms still straight above the head). I timed it and to my astonishment, the class held their bricks for a whopping 1 minute and 40 seconds on one side before being allowed to release. When they repeated, their spine, chest and arms must have felt as light as feathers without those bricks. I’ve stored that one away for future use.
I was also extremely fortunate to have been invited to attend the Medical Class twice a week. As some of you know, I have a long standing neck problem and I could feel that things weren’t good on the evening after the first class. One to one instruction from Rajalaxmi, with helpers running for any props I needed, was such a privilege. Apparently, BKS Iyengar (Guruji) had treated someone with a similar problem. After one hour in the first class, I looked in the mirror and saw my face looking more like my face than at any time in the last 5 or 6 years. The impact of accurate observation combined with the deep understanding of alignment that Guruji developed, is truly extraordinary. His method deserves far better recognition by the medical profession in this country and the West generally.
The unassuming entrance to RIMYI
Guruji was not born rich and the whole family still retain their connection with these origins. They display surprisingly little ostentation in a society where expensive cars and lifestyles and bling are put on show. While I was away, I was keeping in touch with students via Facebook and asked them to think about what they imagined the entrance to THE Iyengar Institute in Pune looked like. Rather than a substantial, grand, ornate but perhaps slightly decaying facade that we might expect, there is something about this most unassuming of entrances to RIMYI, that sets the tone. You bow your head humbly and enter quietly because the entrance is small and you need to watch where to put your feet as you enter the darkness and ascend the steps to the practice hall.
I understand why students return time and again. It is still a special place.
The busts of Guruji and Ramamani Iyengar now side by side