Yoga Retreats: Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, India
“What better way to understand yoga than to travel to its birthplace?” says Katie Christ. Two years ago, the food stylist put her life in San Francisco on hold to spend two months studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India. “It was the biggest luxury I have ever allowed myself.”
Katie had been practicing Iyengar yoga, a style of hatha yoga that focuses on alignment and uses props like blocks and belts, for more than 10 years when she decided she wanted to study in India. She applied to RIMYI, where the venerable B.K.S. Iyengar (above), the founder of Iyengar yoga, occasionally teaches with his son and daughter. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” says Katie. “There’s no music. No incense.” RIMYI requires each applicant to have eight years of Iyengar experience plus a letter of recommendation from his or her yoga teacher. Acceptance can take up to two years.
The year before she attended, Katie traveled to Pune for two weeks to experience life in the city. That first visit happened to coincide with B.K.S. Iyengar’s 90th birthday. “I had no Indian garb appropriate for the festivities, so I went shopping, and in one afternoon I saw so much. A woman making a rangoli, a traditional folk art design, let me try to draw one with colored powder on the street. At the market I saw a man whose sole job was to peel garlic bulbs. I tasted the most amazing chai, made by a chai wallah who used pliers to crush fresh ginger into a pot of milk with tea leaves and ground spices. I knew I wanted to stay. [On my second trip] these experiences would become part of my everyday routine.”
The institute doesn’t provide housing, so Katie used her first visit to find a flat to rent for her two-month stay. “I had the perfect commute: a 10-minute walk through a public garden where I would watch teens flirting on benches and women in saris and sneakers taking their morning power walks.” Classes were held six days a week: two-hour sessions led by a member of the Iyengar family and three hours of open practice each day, and an hour of pranayama (controlled breathing) once a week. “In open practice, I experienced incredible generosity from students who were advanced teachers,” says Katie. “If someone recognized that I was struggling, they would come over to help me achieve better alignment. Several times Geeta Iyengar [the daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar] called out to give me specific instruction. I felt incredibly fortunate, considering there were up to 120 students in a class.”
When she wasn’t in class, Katie and her Australian neighbors, all senior Iyengar teachers attending the institute, would hit the markets and seek out the best chai, Indian sweets, and chappals (sandals). On Sundays they took trips to sights like the ancient sculptures and paintings in the Ellora and Ajanta caves. Katie felt her body becoming stronger and her head becoming clearer with each passing day. “The goal of yoga is to calm the chatter of the mind. When I arrived I had tons of chatter,” she says. “After practicing so intensely every day for two months, the chatter became a murmur.” A
From $450 for a one-month program, not including meals and accommodations. 91/(0) 20-2565-6134, bksiyengar.com. This story appeared in the January/February 2012 issue.