Student Spotlight: Srdjan Rajsic
How were you introduced to yoga and what is it about Iyengar Yoga that has captured your interest?
As a dental technologist, I spend most of my time at work sitting and focusing on small items in front of me. That
makes my whole body sink down and puts a lot of tension on my lower back. After a few years of not doing any physical activity and spending hours sitting in the chair, I started feeling pain in my lower back and all the way down in my legs. I visited a few doctors and all of them said I was fine. My MRI was clear and they said only Advil could help. I was on Advil for more than 6 months. After 6 months of waking up in pain and going to bed in pain, I decided to do something for myself. I joined a gym in my neighborhood and I started doing gym yoga for a few months. Even though there was slight improvement, I found that gym yoga was extremely boring and the teachers there did not pay attention to the students and their physical problems, if there were any. It was time to move forward. One of my friends from my country posted pictures on Facebook from her yoga studio in Serbia. The studio walls were covered with ropes and I saw lots of yoga props. I asked her, “what kind of yoga is that?” She told me that all those props were for Iyengar Yoga and she explained to me what Iyengar Yoga is. She promised me that I would not feel any pain in my back if I tried it at least for a few weeks. I said to myself “let’s find an Iyengar studio in Toronto.” I found Studio Po and after one month of doing Iyengar Yoga, my “addiction” to pain killers (Advil) had gone!
At this stage of your practice, what is your favourite asana and why?
After 14 months of practicing Iyengar Yoga, I must say my favourite asanas are Pinchamayurasana and Sirsasana, simply because I never thought I would be able to do either of these poses ever in my life. Every time when I do them, I feel good, strong. Moreover, I can feel that I have control over my body and most importantly over my mind. I can feel my whole body, and only then, I can reach my mind and shut it down for a few seconds. I can feel I am in the present. When I am in the present, I can feel there is no mind, no buzz in my head. Only silence and peace.
What has been the biggest surprise for you in your practice of Iyengar Yoga?
The biggest surprise for me is the feeling of happiness all the time when I do Iyengar Yoga. I have spent the last decade of my life depressed, angry, bitter, and anxious. Other physical activities didn’t give me much pleasure. I tried gym, aikido, judo, running, swimming, gym yoga, but only Iyengar Yoga put a smile on my face. I feel like I am finally living life. If Iyengar Yoga was a house, I have moved in permanently.
Have you found that there are lessons or benefits from your yoga practice that you carry with you in your daily life? Can you share an example?
Tadasana teaches me a very important lesson. I have difficulty facing reality and every day responsibilities. When things are not the way I like them to be, I get frustrated and I try to run away thinking that is the way to solve problems. In Tadasana I have to place my feet firmly, press evenly and grip the floor. I learned that I have to do the same in everyday life. Instead of running away, I have to apply what Tadasana teaches me, be like a mountain and turn inward. As someone said before: “The only way out is in.”
How did you find Studio Po and why have you chosen to take Iyengar Yoga classes here?
My very good friend Google helped me find Studio Po. To be honest, I was surprised when I found there are only a few Iyengar Yoga studios in Toronto. I was expecting Iyengar Yoga studios all over the city. The closest one to my home was Studio Po. I sent an email to the studio, and in less than an hour, I got a response from S&S (Sharon and Stephanie) asking me to come and try the first class free. Very friendly and knowledgeable teachers, warm and clean studio with everything you need to practice make me stay with Studio Po.
What is one piece of wisdom that you would like to share with someone beginning his/her Iyengar Yoga journey?
Enjoy every second of your Yoga practice. Do not let fear stop you trying new poses. Do not be afraid that you are not good enough, or that you will not be able to do a pose. If you think you cannot stand on top of your head or on your hands, just try to do it. If you fall down, so what? The floor is always there to stop you. Get up and try it again, and again. You will be happy when you see your yoga studio upside-down in head-stand pose for the first time. Put a smile on your face and do yoga no matter what!
History of iyenger yoga
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, a pioneer in the yoga world, Iyengar yoga is a practice with a rich history and a global reach. BKS Iyengar drew from the universal concept of union and alignment based principles that he applied to classical Hatha yoga asanas to represent the connection between body, mind and soul. BKS Iyengar infused his classical and authentic interpretation of yoga with the writings of Patanjali, an Indian Sage credited with codifying the practice of yoga and by following the eight-limed path of Yoga, known as Ashtanga yoga.
Sri B.K.S. Iyengar was taught Sri T. Krishnamacharya and was an integral member of this lineage that was credited with bringing yoga to the Western world. In fact, for decades, Western students made up the largest percentage of his followers. This fact was acknowledged by Time Magazine in 2004 when BKS Iyengar was listed in the top 100 of the world’s most influential people.
BKS Iyengar’s vision was that yoga is a universal subject and that anyone could incorporate the practice of yoga into their lives. This approach has allowed people of varying ages, levels of health and fitness to enjoy the benefits of Yoga, and to work toward sustained and advanced practices at whatever stage of life they were in. Iyengar also introduced the use of props (blocks, belts, bolsters, etc.) that allowed for deeper penetration and sustained holdings of the asanas. He also worked extensively developing a robust and powerful system that applies therapeutic applications through the practice of a set sequence of asanas. His work has helped numerous students either manage through chronic conditions or completely relieve themselves of these ailments.
Sri B.K.S. Iyengar was a foremost authority on the subject of Yoga until his death in August 2014, at the age of 95 years. He authored a number of classic texts on Yoga, including “Light on Yoga” which, today, is used by most lineages of yoga in their teacher training programs. BKS Iyengar shared his knowledge and built a formidable training programs. Iyengar yoga teachers are recognized worldwide as some of the best trained teachers. A force of nature, Iyengar practiced and taught Yoga until shortly before his death at the age of 95.
The work of BKS Iyengar lives on through teachings conducted at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India, led by his daughter Geeta, son Prashant, granddaughter, Abhijata, and also internationally through a host of highly skilled teachers that have learned through rigorous teacher training programs, to carry on his legacy.
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
CANADA AND THE GIFT OF MEDITATION
By any measure, the rise of hatha yoga from an esoteric practice first documented in the 1st millennium BCE to the global phenomena it is today stands as one of India’s greatest success stories.
Although in the West we tend to focus on the healing benefits of yoga on the body, the true aim of asanas (physical postures) has always been to facilitate the attainment of higher states of consciousness. So while many practitioners come to yoga through the mat, my journey began on the meditation cushion. Yet, my yoga sadhana (spiritual practice) might have never unfolded had my parents not moved to Canada when I was sixteen.
A few years after we settled in Montreal, my mother handed me a copy of that fabled book Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. That book was more than an introduction to yoga and meditation, it triggered an awakening where I experienced its teachings as old memories rushing back to the surface of my mind (even though I had zero exposure to Eastern philosophy or meditation). When I reached the end of the book, I knew two things: that I wanted to become the disciple of an authentic Guru and that I longed to meditate every day for the rest of my life. Three months later, both of those wishes were fulfilled.
My life as a yogin began to take shape when I drove through the Adirondack mountains to the ashram of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in the early 1990s. As I walked through the beautiful hallways, I stood face to face with a life-size black and white photo of a man wearing nothing but a loincloth. Although the picture was old, I could see that there was nothing ordinary about this man. I felt an enormous flow of spiritual power emanating from his image, and his skin seemed to shine like the moon. To my own surprise, I felt a tremor in my heart followed by an outpouring of the most intense love I had ever felt. Although I did not know it at the time, I had found my Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri (1897 – 1961). And though he had left his body even before I was born, in an instant I understood that his lack of physical presence would pose no obstacle.
After returning to my then hometown of Montreal, I began to meditate daily with the mantra I had been initiated into by Gurumayi during one of her programs. As I sat each morning, I began to experience a profound stillness of mind and waves of peace and bliss.
As my meditation gathered momentum, I began studying books on yoga, wisdom texts, the words of masters, and the writings of leading scholars of yoga; a habit that continues to this day, twenty-five years later. In this way, intellectual knowledge and spiritual practice are like the wings of a bird that support each other. As the saying goes, spiritual practice without knowledge is blind and knowledge without spiritual practice is barren. But while my daily meditation felt like I had stumbled onto the greatest treasure in the world, none of my friends or family were able to understand what the excitement was all about. If anything, they thought I had fallen off the rails.
Flash forward to 2017, and I am happy to report that my zeal for meditation is no longer looked upon with suspicion by society at large. Yoga studios are introducing meditation classes on a daily basis, and dedicated meditation studios are popping up everywhere. In other words, meditation has gone mainstream. It’s as though we, as a global community, have reached the second wave in our yogic evolution. Although many in the West started only with asanas, now hatha yoga and meditation are finally walking hand in hand, in the way that they were always meant to be.
As a meditation teacher, I am thrilled to see so many people taking an interest in a practice I know is the most precious gift we can offer ourselves. To be able to rest in the bliss and peace of our own consciousness is our birthright and the goal of all spiritual traditions. And to meditate strongly, we need a healthy body and mind. In this way, there is no better foundation for meditation than the practice of hatha yoga. On the International Day of Yoga, I thank Canada for having such a vibrant and loving yoga community.
Founder: Mahasara School of Meditation