Shricharan Faeq Biria 14th November 1946 – 9th April 2022
Tributes and Memories
To start with, some observations from some of Faeq’s oldest friends in yoga; Pranshant Iyengar and Jawahar Bangera. These are taken from the funeral celebration of April 2022.
‘He was not only one of the most dedicated and devout students of Guruji but he stands out.
He was like a tree which bore out fruits of dedicated students and devout students so Sricharan Biria gave many dedicated students to Guruji and Yoga.…not only a dedicated student but a tree of dedicated students.
His dedication to Guruji and to Yoga is beyond words. His servitude towards Guruji is beyond words. His contribution was extremely mighty.
I cannot forget his contribution for Guruji’s work which we all know as Astadala Yoga Mala
…whatever Guruji did for the subject of Yoga, it is beyond doubt that Biria was a great assisting factor’.
‘..and I say this from my heart, after Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji, Balaji (affectionate nickname for Faeq) was the best Iyengar Yoga teacher in the world. I’m sure there is no disputing that.’
Below are some brief tributes to Faeq from UK based students. We welcome more. If you’d like to contribute, please send your words to email@example.com
My first experience being taught by Faeq was a workshop in Bath when I was a newly qualified teacher in my mid-twenties. It was Iyengar Yoga as I knew it, but he challenged me to apply myself on another level. Intriguing sequences, which circled back to a particularly difficult asana were punctuated by well-timed anecdotes, partner work or stories from Hindu scriptures. After that I attended many workshops in the UK and a retreat with Faeq and in 2016 I eventually made it to Blacons. His insistent enthusiasm for immersive asana practice was inescapable. He was like a child who kept saying ‘again’ or ‘last one’. The epic surya namaskar cycles felt like climbing a mountain. I accessed the deepest reserves of mental and physical stamina to reach the summit. There was never a moment to even consider giving up. I learned not only to surmount my doubts and limitations but the divine experience of spontaneous surrender as the whole body, mind and senses dissolved in Savasana.
It has been a wonderful, abundant privilege to stand a little in the light of Faeq’s wisdom. He loved and guided and taught in a way that at first made his students disinclined to disappoint him and then gradually, skilfully nudged us towards maturity and independence. Accepting error and misjudgement and failings, he expected only that we reapply ourselves on a daily basis to practise with faith, devotion, awareness, discipline, joy and love.
I miss Faeq. I miss his theatrical entrances, so pregnant with possibilities. I miss his stories and his skilful balance of solemnity with light-hearted fun. I miss the sound of his voice that resonated with absolute comfort. Most of all, I miss his touch. Faeq’s touch that was a true homecoming; his firm corrections and endlessly expansive and encompassing embrace. I miss all of those moments of worldly connection, and at the same time know that any sense of separation is an illusion.
Since Faeq’s death, many now face the daunting task of continuing to practise and teach in the absence of our beloved spiritual father. Faeq raised us. He raised our expectations. He raised our confidence, our trust, our faith. He raised our hearts and souls. I do not feel ready and know that I am desperately unprepared to carry forward the teachings of yoga in the way that he would hope and expect. I also know for certain that his guidance will never leave those who he inspired and that, despite all obstacles, his clarity of purpose and generosity will never fail us. I take comfort in knowing that there are people all over the globe engaged daily in the challenging, beautiful practice of improving their minds and opening out their hearts that they might, just a little, resemble Faeq’s.
Faeq was a real scholar. He was involved in politics as a young man and was acquainted with many of the intellectuals, poets and politicians of his era.
As for his love and knowledge of Persian literature and poetry, I don’t know where to begin. In his library he had around 8000 volumes of precious books. Last year he was telling me all sorts of tales about how and where he kept his boxes and boxes of books over the years, about the handmade binding of a set of encyclopaedias that he had loved and the unfortunate story of how they got stolen from him and how he has spent the past 30 years looking for them in antique shops and vintage bookstores. He mentioned that after he is gone, he wishes to donate it all to a university in Paris for their faculty of Eastern Studies.
The volumes and volumes of poems that he knew by heart always blew my mind. Another fascinating thing was that one of his hobbies was to buy different editions of Persian encyclopaedias and read them cover to cover and of course in his case effortlessly memorise all of the information. He did that with dictionaries too! So after more than 40 years of living outside Iran, he could correct your Persian or on the odd chance congratulate you with reference to some ancient scholar, for using the write verb or an uncommon conjugation or out of trend pronunciation.
Finding him a present to take to Blacons, was my yearly mission. I would spend months thinking of ideas and inspiration and the result would almost always include a book. One time, I went to his room (the famous room from where he watched us go by and occasionally shouted to correct our posture or calm us down after the sugar rush of the evening ice cream) and handed him the little bundle of gifts that smelled like home. As soon as he saw there was a book he took it out and opened it at random and his shiny eyes got even more shiny as he smiled and said:
‘Oh I know this poem by heart from when I was in Iran but I have forgotten the last few verses’. So of course he spent a few minutes reading it again, while my mind was just being blown away, and afterwards he put the book in a chest he had in his room and closed the lid saying: ‘If I don’t put it away I will stay up all night reading it all’. And of course in the morning class at 7 am, he passed next to my mat and told me that he couldn’t resist it and had stayed up late reading. And we had a good giggle.
It was really hard to recite a verse of poetry without him giving you the full story around it. And those moments were so precious and sweet.
In the early 2000s I had attended some workshops with Faeq in the UK, hosted by Richard Ward. I really liked his teaching and had heard rumours of an intensive that he ran in France.
I drove down to Blacons, arriving the Sunday before the Monday start. On reaching the village I went into the bar/cafe asking, in French, ‘Where is the yoga course?’ It was a bit like the scene in a Western when the sheriff turns up in the bad guys’ den. There was silence, then finally the person behind the bar said – “down there” – pointing to the other end of the village and nobody spoke to me or made eye contact. A bit weird really.
During that week I experienced every kind of pain my mind and body could provide. One morning I woke up feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, I could feel my body increasing in length as I lay there. The course was tough – 7-11 am asanas, then a coffee break, followed by an hour and a half pranayama, then asanas from 4 supposedly to 7, sometimes finishing after 9pm.
Some years later I told Faeq that my memory of that week was like being in a dark labyrinth and the only way out was to follow every one of Faeq’s instructions to the letter. Faeq looked interested and then said – “don’t you listen to my instructions any more?”. “Of course not, I am experienced now”, I replied. Being Faeq he then related that Guruji used to tell him off for not really listening any more to the instructions.
I must have enjoyed it as I came back for the following 20 years or so. I remember once, during a strong heat wave Faeq loudly and repeatedly exhorting us to pull our anus towards our heads in a number of poses. The windows were wide open. As we staggered out of the room at 9.30pm looking dazed and confused I started to realise the origins of the weird reception at the bar many years ago!
My first real encounter with Faeq was at a LOYA convention. His teaching was something else; powerful, engaging, in some ways mesmerizing. He taught several times for us at UK conventions and in Bath and memorably dear Corine and Faeq taught me during my pregnancy, very kindly hosting us in their apartment. Faeq was a very hospitable man and good company, he always had wonderful tales to tell of Guruji and more. But what has stayed with me most strongly was his teaching me something of mantra and puja, it was a profound gift for which I am most grateful. With Guruji’s blessing Faeq kindly performed our vedic wedding ceremony and pujas for our yoga centre openings. When he stayed with us it was a special joy to hear the beautiful sound and vibrations of his chanting. He was erudite and perceptive, complex and enigmatic, jovial yet serious. Thank you Faeq for what you did for us and for yoga.
My first encounter with Faeq was in a 2001 workshop in Bath. His teaching, and the demonstrations by two students accompanying him from France, blew me away. The practice was intense and after that first workshop I was hooked. From 2004 I attended his Iyengar Yoga intensives in Blacons and later in La Chaise Dieu up until 2019.
The Blacons experience was full immersion in Iyengar Yoga and the closest I can imagine to actually living as a disciple of yoga in the ancient yoga shalas of India. Blacons and Chaise Dieu are firmly marked on the road map of International Iyengar yoga practitioners’ yearly calendar. Students from different regions of the globe attended, with some 40+ countries represented. The weeklong intensives were structured into five different levels, each one building on the next towards more advanced asanas mirroring Guruji’s certification syllabus and different asana levels as laid out in Light on Yoga. I understand that Faeq travelled extensively with Guruji during the 1980s to assist with the intensives that he was teaching. Blacons was a living encapsulation of those times that Faeq had moulded, to bring the living experience of Guruji into the hall.
Practice would start at 07:00 a.m. sharp and If you were late, you missed it, as the door was promptly locked. The morning session started with 30 minutes of mantra recital, silent sittings followed by the ‘openings’; asanas to prepare the body for the pranayama. Into this Faeq inter-wove relevant Hindu mythology, stories of Guruji or quotes or sayings from Patanjali sutra’s or the Bhagavad-Gita, plucked from his vast knowledge of these subjects. As we were ‘enjoying the pain’ of the openings, he was prone to cracking jokes which would have the hall in rapturous laughter, which was probably his way of distracting our minds from the intensity of the practice. The pranayama session just before lunch were some of the most profound that I had ever experienced.
Through my job as an Oceanographer I have done voyages to many incredible places including the Arctic and Antarctic and in many of the world’s deepest seas. None have enabled me to journey as deeply as the Blacons experience guided by Faeq, which truly became the pinnacle of my year.
Faeq’s love and respect for Guruji as well as his generosity, humour and rigorous sharing of wisdom has contributed to my feeling of belonging to the worldwide Iyengar community.
I first met Faeq Biria in the early 2000s at Iyengar Yoga Centre in Paris. My French was fairly poor at that point so attending his classes was a multiple and fabulous challenge. My first workshop with Faeq was a beginners’ three-hour workshop in which I deeply felt the impact of his instructions as well as the pace and rhythm that accompanied each one of the participants in our own personal journey.
I first took part in the Summer intensive retreat in Blaçons in 2007. I had heard much about them and the experience surpassed my expectations. Starting with a moving and all-embracing welcome ceremony, Faeq guided us through a week of asana and pranayama that was in turns gruelling, inspiring, surprising and altogether illuminating. Faeq’s scholarly, thorough, bountiful,
light hearted, sharp-witted teaching led to us sharing the yogic experience both as individuals and as a community. Faeq instilled a unique way of practising asana, a practice of personal search supported by the energy of the group; a practice of compassion and gratitude emanating from this group from a combination of light-heartedness and rigour.
Thank you, dear master Faeq, for knocking down barriers, for opening wide the window to full, rounded yoga practice, like the windows in the yoga room at Blaçons opened to the power of the mountains; thank you for supporting me and so many through our personal yogic journeys.