Remembering Geeta S. Iyengar

 

Dear friends in Iyengar Yoga,


Geeta S. Iyengar, eldest daughter of Yogacharya Sri BKS Iyengar, has passed away. The loss that we feel is profound and the gratitude we feel for all that she has given us is beyond words.


At the centenary celebrations for Guruji this month, Geetaji told us that the foremost thought in her mind had been to see Guruji’s centenary through. Over the five days that she taught, she was like a naked flame burning brilliantly, pouring forth her light and her wisdom and illuminating the dark places within us. She was a conduit for her father’s teachings, a divine instrument for the transformative power of Yoga.


Geetaji passed away on the morning of December 16. As word spread, those of us who were still in Pune gathered at the institute. We are grateful to the Iyengar family for opening their home to us in their moment of grief and allowing us to say goodbye to our beloved teacher. We were able to take darshan and to offer pranaams to her earthly body while surrounded by our brothers and sisters in Yoga. We accompanied her body to the cremation ground and witnessed the funeral rituals led by Prashant Iyengar and the men of the family.


The Institute is closed for classes for 13 days. But the Iyengar family, particularly Geeta’s sister Sunita, have been doing their best to care for the students who are here for the month. Sunita has been leading us daily in the chanting of the four padas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra in the main hall. Her voice is clear, powerful, and inspiring. On the platform in the hall is a huge photo of Geeta with her palms in namaskar. She wears the expression we often saw on her face when she first entered the hall to teach a class: her eyes are looking at us, open and pure, and there is a sweet smile on her face. There are mats set out so that anyone can come in at any time and pay their respects to Geetaji.  We chant facing her photo and it feels that we are receiving her light. After the Yoga Sutra, we chant the Vishnu Shantakaram mantra — something Geetaji chanted every day at home -- and selections from the Bhagavad Gita.


Chanting daily helps with the deep sadness and shock that we are feeling. There is a heaviness within us, but the words have a calming and vibrant effect on our eyes, brains, chests, and hearts, and over time the chanting uplifts us. Yesterday, Patricia asked Sunita what we should practice as we go through this period of mourning, and she replied that we should practice inversions (sirsasana and sarvangasana), long setu bandha sarvangasana, and savasana with the eyes opened or closed. When we are experiencing sadness, viloma I (abhyantara viloma) is the best pranayama to practice.


How we will be able to continue without Geetaji is unknown. At the centenary, Geetaji exhorted us to practice and to learn from Guruji’s example so that we find out on our own how yogic sadhana can transform our consciousness. She chastised us for those moments when tamas derails us from our path, and urged us to renew our efforts in each and every moment.


We will organize a memorial event to honor Geetaji in Boston in January. We hope that you will be able to join us.


May Guruji and Geetaji’s light continue to shine upon us.

Patricia and Jarvis

photo credit: Victoria Austin