It is the end and the beginning. Geeta Iyengar's passing 2 days after her father's birthday was both shocking and not surprising. In October, while I was there, she mentioned that she had prayed to make it through the Centenary of Guruji's birth and leave her body that was failing her and had been for so many years. She predicted her death as is said to be the power of a yogi. In October, she may have shuffled into the hall with help from her senior students and family, ascended the stairs to sit on her chair up on the platform but as soon as she began teaching her voice, her eyes, her determination were as strong as ever. I have always felt that she can see everyone and not just your body, she can see something else.
In one class, her niece translated the ails of one student who was refusing to do the forward bending sequence. Geeta had to help her but was getting angry because the woman was fighting her. Later, one of her senior teaches said they, the senior teachers, were trying to mediate the situation because once Geeta sees that someone needs help, whether they want it or not, she it duty bound to provide the help.
It took all her will to turn her attention back to the class and I saw her neice take the woman behind a column to help her, out of the sight of Geeta.
I have had the priviledge of being her student the first year I went to India. Subsequent years every time I was there she was not teaching. I would be disappointed but also felt there was a reason. Geeta was a very strong teacher and many had close relationships and were helped immensely, i've heard many a women contribute the birth of their child to the help Geeta gave them. I didn't have that relationship with her. I've never had the need to be in a medical class as a student and have observed from the back when I do go. I remember on one particularly bad day, her father was upset with something he saw me doing and she looked at me with such contempt- how dare you make him mad! As a child from an abusive home where my father's outbursts were completely unpredictable and not out of love or a duty to help me understand or learn I have a really hard time translating anger into anything other than something I want to avoid.
But one of 100 -200 in a large class, I can appreciate and revel in her touch. I have never worked harder in my life, i have never felt more freedom in my body. There were times I would be in such pain before class or during that I thought, no way, this is gonna kill me and then inexplicably I would always feel better. It was absolute magic. On the surface it might seem like simple commands to lift, push, press and so on but the way she linked her instruction and poses led me to a place of more freedom. I was always freed from any discomfort I came in with or thought I would leave with. I have also felt her touch via the teachers in India she has poured her wisdom into.
She was determined, persistent, unwavering and her dedication is awe-inspiring. She knew her duty was pursuit of yoga and to teach us in such a way that we should get closer to ourselves, understand ourselves, touch our souls. She must have felt her own as she taught tirelessly up until the day she died.
Yesterday, a fellow Iyengar yogi visiting me and I practiced to one of the audio classes from my time in October. I heard her words and instructions on a completely different level. It was like I had never been in this class before. Is it because I know I'll never hear her words again? Each time I went back to India I knew it could be her last so that can't be it. Do her words penetrate sharper and clearer now that she is no longer in her body? It felt like something different was speaking to me yesterday. I heard her determination, her strong guidance, her humor. Can I connect in a different way because she is no longer with us? I don't know but what I do know is that she is still with us and with me and despite myself her teaching has penetrated deep inside. "Go on! Find out yourself!" I hear her shouting. "You FIND OUT!" And most recently in a video on Facebook she addressed 1300 people 'I definitely love you, this is why I can shout at you , because I love you." Geeta is not a warm and cozy cookie baking motherly figure, neither was my own grandmother and I loved my grand mother like no other. Both women, with duties bound by their gender and the era of their lives. In this video, she goes on to say that half minded action or half minded attempt is intolerable and this is what can make her angry when we are only half engaged, half involved. I've seen her call out people in class who are fading away, checking out. She demanded us to be present. As she was in this video just days before her end.
Whatever your relationship with this dynamic woman who has brought the world of yoga to and for woman in particular, this loss is epic.
She spent her life on the path and pursuit of yoga, an experience that is so hard to describe. I believe she faced her death without fear and this is the aim of yoga. And I like to think she is not reaping benefits and getting answers to questions she might have had her whole life. May she return to us again in many forms.