MR. IYENGAR'S EYES - A TRIBUTE
(abridged version read at The Emerson Majestic Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, October 12th, 2005, in the presence of B.K.S. Iyengar and 1200 guests)
I have heard it rumored, though one is never sure of these things, that in the Iyengar Yoga Institute archives in Pune, there are thirty-seven pages of Mr. Iyengar's notes describing the first standing pose, Utthita Trikonasana. Sometimes I lay awake at night contemplating these pages: if there are approximately 440 words per page, then there are approximately 16,300 words for one asana alone. If there are approximately 365 Yoga asanas, then there are close to 5 million words describing all of the asanas in the entire repertoire. In order for me to fully understand each asana, I have to fully understand the meaning of all these words. Like Jorge Luis Borges, who felt weighted down by Shakespeare's memory, I sometimes feel weighted down by the enormity of this task! No wonder I can't sleep!
When Mr. Iyengar came to Boston in 1987 for the First National Iyengar Yoga Convention of North America, one of the classes that I was asked to teach was called "Seeing and Understanding Bodies." No sooner had I begun, than Mr. Iyengar suddenly appeared in the room, his presence pushing out into the corners of the large gymnasium, his strong, broad feet moving slowly towards me. He immediately placed six students down on their backs in two groups of three and proceeded to adjust all three bodies in the first group. I stood behind him and studied each and every movement he made. I noticed the way he looked in the eyes of the student, the way he made his rapid fire adjustments, the way he used his hands, his legs, his entire body to help each student feel better.
As he approached the second group, I asked, "May I?" He looked at me, and after a moment's hesitation, handed me over to the three students lying on the floor. As I began to adjust them, I carefully mimicked each and every gesture Mr. Iyengar had made with the first group.
Then, something very strange occurred. Mr. Iyengar was standing close behind me. Suddenly, I had the feeling that his eyes were looking through me guiding my eyes as I looked at my students. I saw the exactitude and precision of his razor sharp mind, the extreme nuance and angles of the prism through which he measures and crafts the art of the asana, the honing and chiseling of his own perception as he adjusted this person into a near perfect headstand or that person into a healing chest opener. I saw him seeing through the corner of his eyes, through the back of his head, and straight on. And no matter where I turned, like the eyes of the Mona Lisa, his gaze followed me looking at me looking at my students . It was as though his eyes were inhabiting my eyes and I began to see how he saw what he saw, not just what he saw. Then, as quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared, whisking himself out of the room, the folds of his white cotton shawl remaining carefully draped over his shoulder.
Mr. Iyengar once said to us that,
"When doing the poses, the intelligence, not the intellect, enters into various parts of the body and connects with the consciousness which then graces the body....this consciousness," he continued, "is our pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant and always awake."
An astrophysicist friend of mine recently pointed out to me that dark matter is no longer thought to be cold but is actually warm. When I asked him for a precise definition of dark matter, he said that in every 10 cubic centimeters, there is one particle of supersymmetric dark matter. Would that mean that the other particles were filled with light?
Perhaps we could think about that one particle of dark matter as though it were our unaware mind, that part of ourselves which struggles towards the light. We could also think about it as the densest part of our bodies, that area which we are not able to touch and open up, to make free and alive. As teachers, we could think about that dark particle as though it were the most unaware area in our student's bodies for which we have not yet grasped or understood the correct action.
Like all of you, I am sure, as we begin to practice our Yoga everyday or as we stand in front of our students and look at their bodies, we struggle inside ourselves praying that we can understand the stories the body tells us. Many times, like all of you, I feel uncertain and unsure, overwhelmed by either too much knowledge or too little knowledge, too much memory or too little memory.
However, at that very moment of our obscure and blurry vision, perhaps we could imagine Mr. Iyengar's eyes looking through our eyes looking at ourselves or looking at the other. Perhaps in that very split second in time, we could just imagine, like Telesphorus of Aesculapius, the hooded monk walking beneath the earth lantern in hand, guiding people to the land of the light, lighting a beacon in the back of our eyes through which Mr. Iyengar's never ending gaze could travel with grace and ease, from his eyes to our eyes transforming that one particle of dark matter into one more particle of pure light and intelligence.
When I contemplate the task which Mr. Iyengar has taken upon himself to teach all of his students around the world the power of Yoga to strengthen and heal the body, when I begin to reflect upon the obstacles he has had to face to introduce his Yoga to the western world, when I think about how many thousands of people have poured into his Institute in Pune and the burden he has placed upon himself for the sake of others, I can only be in utter awe at the enormity of such a great undertaking.
And yet, knowing that none of us will ever be able to measure up to such a Herculean achievement in this lifetime, we can, at last, sleep at night, no longer weighted down by so much memory that is contained in those archives but rather carried afloat by the eternal flame of Mr. Iyengar's eyes burning inside and outside of ours, keeping the candles of our cells afire as he so often beseeched us to do as we perform our daily asanas helping to change the world, slowly, but surely, from darkness to light.