My Five Visits to India
In August I returned from my fifth visit, since 1976, to study with the Iyengar family. It was the most positive and fulfilling visit so far. And as I reflect back I realize that these trips mirror going through the five Koshas, or layers, of our being. In our Yoga practice, we seek to integrate the Koshas by moving from the surface to the core to create a union between the body, mind, and soul. Yoga is union.
My first visit — 1976:
Anamaya Kosha – Physical Body
This was an overwhelming experience for me. Mr. Iyengar was my first Yoga teacher ever. Before my initial visit to India, my ex-husband Carl and I had followed Light on Yoga for five years, while living in Japan. We taped the instructions from the book course by course and followed the words daily. We thought it was like having Mr. Iyengar with us in the middle of Tokyo.
But when we finally met him in person, in Pune, we found him more dynamic and powerful than we had ever imagined from his pictures. Mr. Iyengar demanded not only 100% effort and mindfulness but also 100% courage and humility. He was more like a Zen Master than a gentle, comforting guru.
Mr. Iyengar’s intense instructions went right over my head, touching only the Anamaya Kosha (physical body). I had a hard time grasping his in-depth instructions, with his broad Indian-English accent. Most of the attention went to Carl, who had learned to do the majority of the asanas from the book. Mr. Iyengar challenged Carl physically and verbally daily in class, while I was just a shadow beside Carl and got little attention. That was not at all the case on my second visit.
My Second Visit — 1979:
Pranamaya Kosha – The Energy Body
On this visit I attended a three-week Intensive course led by Mr. Iyengar; it was an in-depth teacher training with daily asana and pranayama classes. This time I was in the spotlight and he challenged me in every class. I knew nobody in the group and felt singled out. I still don’t know why he focused on me so much. Some people told me he only challenges students he likes and in whom he sees potential. Others said he challenges students with big egos to humble them or to help them face their fears with courage and self-reliance.
On this second experience at the Institute I did go deeper into my practice, moving beyond my physical body and into my Pranamaya Kosha (the energy body). Each day I had to tap into deeper sources of courage to face Mr. Iyenger in class. Mr. Iyengar is often called the Lion and the Lamb because he can be fierce, but also compassionate. Well, during my first two visits to India I only had contact with the Lion!
Three months after my return to the States a friend in Australia told me she had received a letter from Mr. Iyengar mentioning, “Ingela Abbott had improved a lot!” This was a big surprise, as I thought I had done nothing right in his presence!
My Third Visit — 1985:
Manamaya Kosha- Mental Body
After trekking in Nepal for a month, I again went to Pune in search of more depth and inspiration. I joined a three-week intensive group of 35 Yoga teachers from around the world. Mr. Iyengar’s daughter Geeta taught, with help from her father.
Now, nine years after my first visit, I finally started to grasp some of the more subtle instructions. In the past, whenever Mr. Iyengar would single out a body and show us how to improve the pose physically or energetically, I often could see no change. But still I nodded yes, in fear of exposing my ignorance.
But on this third visit my understanding and experience deepened and my eyes became keener. I received Mr. Iyengar’s and Geeta’s instructions with greater clarity. I moved deeper into the Manamaya Kosha (the mental layer).
My fourth visit — 1995:
Vijnanamaya Kosha – Intuitive Body
Ten years later, long-time students of Mr. Iyengar got invitations to participate in a Pranayama intensive—an honor I didn’t want to pass up. This group of fifty international teachers was the most devoted and advanced with which I had been associated.
Prior to the intensive we spent 14 days with Mr. Iyengar doing Yoga in Rishikesh in Northern India, which is in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Rishikesh is on the banks of the Ganges River and is considered the birthplace of Yoga. The area is filled with sacred air, temple bells, chanting, and vibration. Millions of pilgrims come to participate in Holy Rituals along the Ganges. We visited the origin of the Ganges River, Deoprayagh, and some of us dipped our whole bodies into the glacial water three times to cleanse ourselves of past sins. Mr. Iyengar joined us like a playful child with big smiles. This was the first time I saw glimpses of the Lamb.
After Rishikesh, we flew to Pune to spend two more weeks practicing Pranayama. The sacred Himalayan experience and the breath opened my heart and took me on a deeper journey inward into the Vijnanamaya Kosha, the intuitive body.
My Fifth Visit — 2005:
Anandamaya Kosha – Soul Body
Last summer my 9-year-old daughter Maya joined me on my trip to India where she watched my daily classes from the back of the room. She observed us standing on our heads as she listened to “Charlotte’s Web” on her Walkman.
Now, thirty years after my first visit, Mr. Iyengar’s children Geeta and Prashant lead the daily classes. Many mornings Mr. Iyengar does his practice in the back of the room and several times I had the opportunity to have my mat next to his. It was fascinating to practice Yoga in his presence. I could sense a gentle, humble soul and the presence of the Lamb. Whenever my eyes met his, he smiled amiably.
In the past, I was too intimidated to face Mr. Iyengar eye to eye, let alone talk to him. On this visit I decided to step forward to connect with him. And to my surprise, he met me with genuine warmth that overwhelmed me.
Had I finally proven my commitment to his teaching by passing the Senior Certification? Or had his heart opened seeing me in the presence of Maya, my beautiful daughter born in Calcutta, India? The acceptance I felt from him touched my core, the Anandamaya Kosha. Whenever I remember looking into his eyes, my heart again fills with gratitude and reverence for having received the gift of Yoga from him.
Thank you, Guruji!