The solid marble yoga hall at Bellur Iyengar Yoga Center is gentled to pink by the sunlight rising through its open doors. Another dawn in the birth-blace of BKS Iyengar, where the legacy of his life’s work is honoured and furthered through the practice of many of its inhabitants. I am here to meet a group of young yoga students who were introduced to Iyengar Yoga through the community school built and run by the Bellur Krishnamachar Sheshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust and who, now aged between 17 and 20, have much to offer local and international Iyengar yoga communities through their practice and teaching.
A group of eight young men and women arrive, shy and smiling. Throughout our conversation, all articulate with passion and dedication their approach to the work of sharing the teachings of their beloved Guruji.
‘Guruji is the star in Bellur’, remarks Prashant. ‘Everybody knows him. The gift of Guruji is to cure our bodies. He cannot just stay in silence. When he sees a mistake in yoga practice, he has to correct it’.
‘He struck me’ adds Venkatachara with pride, his eyes flashing in remembrance of that illuminating touch. Guruji’s kindness and compassion towards children has often been observed, and here in his home village he raised within the secure boundaries of his love a generation of young practitioners of inspiring humility and integrity.
All of these young people have benefited since childhood from the Bellur Foundation, which has brought schools, colleges, clean water, a hospital, employment opportunities and of course the dissemination of yoga practice to their community. And they want to give back. All of them want to go on to become professional teachers of Iyengar yoga. Venkatachara wants to teach yoga to the Indian Army, ‘so that our soldiers will be healthy’. Lakshmi wishes to teach in schools so that other children can experience the same benefits that she has. Between them they already teach classes at 5.30 am every morning in several nearby villages and in the Yoga Center, offering yoga for better health and wellbeing to local people; children as well as men and women who are mainly agricultural workers. They teach their parents as well as their younger siblings. The concept of yoga for health is a key factor that emerges again and again. These young people have experienced first-hand the devastating effects of poverty, and are determined that yoga goes hand in hand with improved diet and hygiene to improve health and comfort and increase longevity. ‘I want to offer service to poor people’, says Sunita. ‘I have to fulfil Guruji’s dream, to spread Patanjali yoga in India and across the world’.
Back in the UK, I am lucky to be part of an established and growing Iyengar yoga community in my home town of Hereford. In January 2017 we opened the UK’s first publically funded Iyengar Yoga Centre and, inspired by Bellur (and other Iyengar yoga centres worldwide) have made it our mission to make the benefits of yoga recognised by and available to the whole community. Last year we delivered almost 300 free yoga classes to local community groups, including blind people, women suffering domestic abuse, the housing association, NHS staff and college students. As part of this outreach programme we are developing a comprehensive project with local primary schools. In four local schools, pupils taking part in weekly yoga classes have benefitted, according to their teachers, from improved concentration, body awareness, confidence and the reduction of stress symptoms. By introducing the practice to children we hope to offer them the best chance of integrating these benefits into adulthood.
At Hereford Yoga Centre, we are keen to develop the pedagogical skills and knowledge of our regular teachers, and others who have an interest in sharing yoga with children. Bobby Clenell will be visiting to teach a workshop on 24-26 May 2019, and the Friday will be focussed entirely on the teaching of children. Yes, it’s the same weekend as the National Convention (!) but do come by Hereford on your way to Nottingham and join us for the first day! This will be followed by workshops by experienced teachers later in the year and the further development of our schools programme.
We hope that over time everybody in our small community we will be provided with an equal opportunity to experience the vitality and peace that comes with a consistent Iyengar yoga practice. From a small village in Karnataka to a small corner of rural England, the dream lives on.