Everyone at the Institute was dressed in their best saris, waiting to welcome and felicitate Guruji, who had just won the Padma Vibhushan award in New Delhi.
The Padma Vibhushan is the second highest civilian award in India.
We were all anxious and excited like little kids, waiting with baskets of rose petals to strew at his feet as he walked up the ramp.
It was a sunny afternoon and somebody beside me was complaining of all the skin damage she must be suffering. I shoved more rose petals into her hand and glared at her.
The guards at the gate rushed to inform us of the arrival of his car and we took our positions.
Everyone but me was wearing a sari.
As I berated myself for not having had the idea to wear one, I saw Guruji, his white kurta and his wonderful white eyebrows, being brought up the ramp in a wheelchair. His family followed after him and we threw the rose petals.
He had the most beautiful smile on his face and with his palms together in a namaste, he was greeting and thanking all of us.
As he entered our yoga hall, I found myself wanting to quickly follow. I didn’t want him out of my sight. The energy was brilliant. This is something that I have felt each time that I have been in his presence.
But today was different.
I have been a practitioner of Iyengar Yoga since I was diagnosed with Scoliosis at the age of 12. Scoliosis is a spinal condition that makes your spine grow in an S or a C shape, instead of straight. Seven years of yoga has helped me battle my physical and mental problems.
It’s been difficult growing up with Scoliosis. I don’t know if the worst part was wearing a back brace or having the constant haunting thoughts of ‘Why me?’ I gave up the brace when I started yoga, and my spinal curvature has now immensely decreased.
Now and then, I am still prone to depression, but somehow, yoga always finds me. I tell myself that if I can stand on my hands, standing on my feet is no big deal. If I can conquer my body, there is nothing else that I can not do.
Today had been a difficult day for me. I woke up shaking and puking. My body was broken by the immense stress that I was going through in my personal life. I was scared about the exam that I had to give in a few hours and was in general, breaking down. As it turned out, the exam was alright and I left for the Institute.
The ceremony began. There were two speakers who spoke about Guruji and I was absolutely captivated. All my troubles ceased to exist.
“This is what life is about. It’s larger than your worries,” my mind was telling me.
Guruji, at the age of 95, had the best posture in the room and I found myself straightening up my spine from time to time. Finally, Guruji took the microphone to speak. He told us about how he had been a weak, sickly child, plagued by tuberculosis, and had had no hopes of survival. Yoga helped him turn everything that was difficult in his life into something positive and strong.
Guruji said, “The battles that we face, are the battles that define us.”
At that moment, the voices in my head reconnected to my true self. I realized that having yoga in my life was the greatest gift. The humbleness and greatness of Guruji is something I can not put in to words. You have to be in his presence to really know what I mean.
As I felt his presence, I thought to myself, “Here is a person, who overcame all his difficulties, struggled through a very tough life, and has now developed yoga so beautifully that it has spread worldwide and is helping millions of people find themselves every day. And here I am, sad over a break up.”
“This is not who you are. You are the girl who lifts and stretches her spine every day and has shone through worse. You are the yoga girl!”
And just like that, I found myself again.
“Body is the prop of the soul,” said Guru B.K.S. Iyengar.
He told us about how he now has some difficulty doing normal every day things like climbing stairs, but can still do abnormal things like a headstand for half an hour.
“I was always an abnormal person, so I am still doing abnormal things,” he joked.
And sitting there, listening to those words, I re-embraced all my abnormalities. I was smiling so hard and felt a sense of joy I hadn’t felt for months.
I shall wear saris now. I don’t care if my right side ribs stick out from under the blouse or if somebody sees my exposed, scoliotic back.
The ceremony ended and we went outside for snacks. Guruji was sitting at a table with my teacher. They were surrounded by people. I was busy eating sandwiches and socializing—which is something I never really do. I was all over the place, smiling at everybody, full of positive vibes, talking and connecting with people. I was amazed at myself.
Then I saw my mother motioning to me.
I went up to her and suddenly, she shoved me in front of Guruji!
I froze. My mother and teacher started to tell him about me. And he was smiling at me. I touched his feet and just stood there staring at him like a fool. What could I say? There was nothing I could say to someone so great, right in front of my eyes. I touched his feet a second time.
“What should I say? What should I do?” My head went numb.
A feeble “Hello” floated by my thoughts but I chose an inaudible ‘Namaste’ instead. In my mind, I was telling him about how he changed me today; about how grateful I am to him; how his words brought me in touch with myself; and how I have no words to express this gratefulness. But I couldn’t move, until finally, somebody else came in to meet him and I absolutely had to move.
“Mom, I couldn’t speak!” I said. She wasn’t interested. I’ve always been a shy girl. I hope he read my thoughts.
And so, the day I met Guru B.K.S. Iyengar, was one of the most transformational days of my life.
“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better you practice, the brighter the flame.”
~ B.K.S. Iyengar
By embracing yoga, your body and your soul, and the wide gaps between who you are and what you want to be, will slowly disappear.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Mutt Lunker/Wikimedia