SOS … Stay Humble!
A Weekend with Jawahar Bangera
By: Joni Barbagallo
The Kelowna Yoga House was full of nervous chatter. The studio was filled with wide eyed, enthusiastic yoga students anxiously awaiting their chance to work with a master. Jawahar Bangera has been a student and disciple of B.K.S Iyengar since 1969 and Trustee of the Light On Yoga Research Trust. I am excited too! Last year I had the privilege of taking only one evening class with Jawahar, so I feel I know what I’m in for this weekend - five days of razor sharp observation of every skin cell on my body and a practice that will push me out of my comfort zone for sure. In other words, typical Iyengar teaching but with a teacher whose knowledge, experience and commitment far surpasses most. I can’t wait!
Meanwhile, back in the studio, I joyfully roll out my mat and sit down to try and center myself. I suddenly feel a light tap on my arm from the student sitting next to me. She begins to gently whisper to me about how she is feeling particularly anxious about what she has signed on for. I naively reassure her that whatever happens, it is all with the intention of making us better yogis and better people. She, however, was a bit worried about being singled out in the class while everyone examined her flaws. I laugh and tell her that she should feel blessed if she gets singled out, that she should take it as a compliment; she should experience how your body becomes the sacred tool used to improve everyone else’s practice. What an honour! We laugh and the class begins.
We start with the Invocation to Pantañjali, and right out of the gate, Jawahar questions the way we are seated on our mats. Let’s just say that he is far from impressed with this motley crew of yogis he has in front of him. He strongly reminds us of some of the pitfalls of the seated asana we have chosen. Things like the misalignment of the knees in relation to the groins, the shrinking torso, the drooping shoulder girdle and the tendency of projecting the lower jawbone too forward are all recipes for future pain and examples of plain carelessness (just when I thought I could sit properly.) I soon realize there are all kinds of subtle and not so subtle mistakes I am making, so I adjust. I am more aware of the tips of my shoulders than ever before. I lift and roll them back and they descend along with my shoulder blades. I place my jaw as it should be - neutral. I release the tension in my face and neck and now my chest is lifted and my heart feels open. I can see that my breath is less laboured. The energy in the entire studio shifts from whirlwind to stillness. This is what proper alignment and awareness creates. We experience the Invocation. Jawahar then translates a short mantra:
Om Saha Naa Vavatu Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Veeryam Karavavahai
Tejasvi Naa Vaditam Astu
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
May The Lord Protect Us Together
May The Lord Nourish Us Together
May We Exert Together
May Our Learning be Luminous Together
May We Never Hate Or Quarrel With One Another.
We all just take a moment to ponder those words. I feel like I am receiving a big hug from every great teacher and spiritual guide with whom I have had the great fortune to have come into contact. I feel grateful and blessed. Then in a flash Jawahar claps his hands and it‘s down to asana business.
First stop in our learning is Adho Mukha Svanasana in the rope. Everyone gets focused and quickly organized at the wall. It feels like the class might be seeking redemption. We waste no time. We all fold into our best examples of Adho Mukha Svanasana. Well, at least I did! Hanging from the rope at my hip crease, I place my hands at shoulder width apart, placing equal weight and pressure in both hands. I keep my pelvis lifted. I externally rotate my upper arms working on creating space in my shoulder blades and I press the front of my thighs to the back of my thighs. I internally rotate both legs and I create more length in my legs and press my heels deeply into the wall. I feel I have no more to give, but I know I do, so I push more. I draw my thigh up into the hip bone and I press my thigh muscle even more deeply back towards the wall. My legs are on fire! I roll the tops of my arms outwards, and reach deep down into my dorsal spine. I straighten both my arms equally and spread my fingers, paying special attention at grounding the mound of both my index fingers. Oh yah - I was experiencing a superb Downward Dog moment!
I feel Jawahar scanning the room and I know that his gaze will just whiz by me… or, perhaps, he will stop and admire my informed and brilliant attempt at this pose? I am upside down looking at the back wall so I can’t actually see Jawahar. However, I hear Jawahar go over to my teacher and take her out of her pose. They approach my section together. Wow, I think, Don’t tell me my pose is so amazing that he wants my teacher to see it. I think about my conversation before the class. Will I get to be the “chosen one?” My train of thought gets interrupted. I hear Jawahar shout, “What’s with this one?” “What’s with this one?” Oh God; is he talking about me? My heart rate starts to rise, I can feel my face going beet red. “Why is her arm crooked?” My teacher starts to explain that I am coming off a bad fall and that my elbow is cracked and slowly healing. I imagine he is very concerned about my crooked left elbow. I feel relieved that my teacher has just gotten me off the hook by mentioning my injury to him. I’m feeling bad that she had to come out of her pose just to explain my crooked elbow. Oh well, except that wasn’t the end of it! He grabs my wrists and pulls both my arms forward, extending them straight. I scream in pain. My elbow hurts. My ego hurts more. Jawahar yells, “Now straighten your arms more.” So I do! It hurts, but there is definitely more length, more than I ever would have thought possible. Jawahar turns to my teacher and says, "She can do more.” And to my screams he says “Great! You are alive!” In other words, he is asking my teacher to challenge her student and showing me that there are more possibilities that I have been afraid to explore.
Study, Observe, Share and Stay Humble. Stay humble - maybe this is the most important lesson I learned so early in the workshop. This is what Jawahar challenges us to do throughout the five days of practice and throughout our lives. We study the teachings of BKS Iyengar and observe ourselves and each other in foundational asanas including inversions. We learn how to logically and creatively awaken parts of the body using various props. We revive the dorsal spine. We gently confront the stiff shoulder, the crooked elbows, the hanging calf and the middle buttock to name a few. Familiar poses get a reboot. Maybe we even deal with that darn ego! Hopefully, we begin to trust our internal dialogue.
We conclude the practice every day with life giving Pranayama. All of this combined introduces us to the beginning of our work with Pratyahara (withdrawal from what nourished the senses.) This workshop is Jawahar’s humble attempt at helping us master our rowdy mind so our practice may deepen beyond just science and transform into art. We are all very appreciative of our time with this Yoga Genius. And, in the end, Jawahar reminds us of our responsibilities. Iyengar students are called to humbly share our Iyengar teachings not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of all Mankind!
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