the lion of pune, rumi and i
posted: February 6, 2013
Today, we pay tribute to a master. B.K.S. Iyengar shone his light on yoga and lit up our world. We asked our ambassador Ryan Leier to share how his life and practice have been impacted by Mr. Iyengar. Here we revisit the story Ryan told on our blog in 2012 about his two-month journey in India.
“I am saddened by the passing of Sri B.K.S. Iyengar. What a remarkable man. He taught for almost 80 years and practiced daily until he was 95. In 2012, I found my way to Mr. Iyengar in Pune. I told him that there was no one on the planet that I wanted to meet more than him. I felt like I was with a super hero.
My yoga journey began when I found Light on Yoga in a library in Reykjavik, Iceland. That book led me to many of his students; Baron Baptiste, Father Joe Pereira, Eddie Modestini and finally in 2012 to the Lion of Pune himself.
May his transition be peaceful and his soul rest in peace. Thank you Guruji for your faithfulness, perseverance, reverence and passion for yoga that you have given your children. May God bless you.”
Many years ago I had a dream in which the yoga master, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, called me to Pune to “take care” of me.
B.K.S. Iyengar, whose students call him Guruji or Mr. Iyengar, has been named ‘The Lion of Pune’ because of his unswerving, faithful, fiery, fierce, frenetic, fearsome way of teaching yoga. He is also known for his compassion and capacity to serve as a healer through his therapeutic approach to yoga. This man’s presence is much larger than his five foot frame. When I told a friend who practices yoga that I was going to work with Iyengar, he said, “Dude, that is like going to learn how to bat with Babe Ruth.”
The day after I arrived in Pune, I went to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune to meet him. As I bowed to Guruji, I realized that I was in the presence of a truly remarkable man. I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude and reverence, but there was also a fair dose of terror. I had never experienced a man who emanates such energy. It was like the way the air feels during the moments right before an electrical storm. You know when this man is in the room; his energy is almost tangible.
When I told my teacher Eddie about that meeting and subsequent meetings with Mr. Iyengar, he sent me a quote from a Rumi poem that describes the awe and fear that Mr. Iyengar stirred in me.
“It takes immense faith to take one step toward the Lion in the presence of the Lion… This is the real step on the Path; all the other steps are just vanishing footprints.”
–The Real Step by Rumi
For the next two months, I spent my days at the institute in the practice hall and the library trying to learn as much as I could about and from this 94-year-old genius. I saw him on his mat practicing daily for at least two hours. Often he would stay in Sirsasana (headstand), Viparita Dandasana or Kapotasana (deep back bends) for 15 to 45 minutes each. This man practices challenging, almost painful looking poses, but he becomes so still and calm while energetically seemingly to flow like water. He encouraged me to integrate more relaxing, restorative poses to bring me toward stillness.
Mr. Iyengar’s daily routine consists of waking at 5:30am for a bath, coffee and Pranayama breathing, followed by the newspaper and another cup of coffee. At about 9:15am he goes to the yoga hall to practice and/or teach for about three hours. After that there is a bath, prayers and a vegetarian lunch. His afternoons consist of corresponding in the library, reading and studying. He is often teaching on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays. A vegetarian supper comes at around 8pm when he spends time with the family or watching news before retiring by 10:40pm. All of this at 94 years of age! He said to us one day as he was chastising his senior teachers, ”I am a senior learner and a junior teacher.”
A man with this type of discipline, inquisitiveness and commitment expects nothing less from his pupils.
“Do not expect to be always happy on this way.
You have been caught by a lion, my dear.
Watch the man beating a rug.
He is not mad at it.
He wants to loosen the layers of dirt.
Ego accumulations are not loosened
with one swat. Continual work
is necessary, disciplines.”
–Disciplines by Rumi
My first direct encounter as a student of Mr. Iyengar came at medical class, where he roared like a lion commanding respect and demanding precision, determination, humility and vigilance. Rumi’s Chickpea to Cook poem sums up how a little chickpea (me!) felt with the chef Iyengar seasoning him.
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it’s being boiled.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
“Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavour,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.”
Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
”Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.”
The cook says,
“I was once like you… My animal soul
grew powerful. I controlled it with practices, and
boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that,
and became your teacher.”
–Chickpea to Cook by Rumi
For two more weeks I was immersed in Guruji’s presence through the medical classes and in the institute. It was truly intensive care. As Eddie later said, “From the frying pan to the fire!” Through the blaze I saved many gems to share with you. Here is some wisdom to take with you for your practice:
“Be direct. That is how I was able to spend time with the great people of the world.” (when I approached him in the library)
“You think you are an expert, how am I to teach you?”
“Do not use destructive will power.” (as I shook and struggled to hold a pose)
“Don’t do with your head! Bring your trunk to your brain!”
“Your brain is hyperactive, it must be made hypoactive.”
“I’m not going to be here 24/7 for you.” (after he told me to do a few poses)
“Don’t help him, he must learn to do on his own.” (as an assistant tried to help me)
“The brain must be the witness in your case.”
“You must now consolidate all of the things I have been teaching you.”
When Guruji speaks of his pupils or students, he often calls us his children. This depth of love and compassion is probably much of the reason why he is a master teacher—this along with his discipline. He says, “To be a teacher, you must roar like a lion on the outside and be meek as a lamb on the inside.”
When Guruji addressed all of us, he constantly encouraged us to purify ourselves through the fire of practice.
“You have to practice with tolerance patience and perseverance, and then only each one can drink the nectar of life, by their own sadhana. God Bless you all.”
Brother/Sister, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun…
What is it to know something of God?
Burn inside that presence. Burn up…
You tighten your two hands together,
determined not to give up saying “I” and “we.”
This tightening blocks you.
–Tattooing in Qazwin by Rumi
Let us give thanks for the masters like B.K.S. Iyengar and Rumi. Let us be disciplined in our practice and pray for the courage to be fierce with our love.
Dynamic and inspirational, our ambassador Ryan Leier brings his unique energy to every class he teaches. Whether in his own One Yoga studios or as an ambassador of yoga to communities around the world, his expression of this ancient, yet vital tradition consistently touches people’s hearts. For more on Ryan, visit his personal website.