Tag Archives: asana class

Pankaj Sharma, an outstanding yoga teacher

Standard

1918639_378943776943_3339646_nI visited Pankaj’s course in December 2014. I did not write about him then because of the lack of time. But I feel the need to do it anyway because the notes and sequences that I made on that course turned out to be so helpful, that I just feel I must write about this teacher.

Pankaj Sharma is a teacher of asana alignment (mainly, though he teaches pranayama as well) with many years of practice and teaching experience. He started in Rishikesh with local Iyengar teacher Rudra Dev and other Iyengar teachers that contributed a lot to his understanding of mechanics of the human body. Pankaj was a well known teacher in Rishikesh, then some 10 years ago or so he moved to Germany to live there with his family and chose his own path of practice – not strictly Iyengar, but still drawing a lot from similar sources and approaches. He’s Ashish’s brother and comes to Rishikesh to give just one course per year, usually in December, which he conducts in the place where Ashish normally has his classes, in the Green Hotel. This is usually 3 weeks course including 2 classes per day. The course is designed for experienced students and focuses on making them be more aware of their bodies, and learn approaches and tricks to control it better.  Over the time of these three weeks Pankaj shows a path from simplest asanas towards the most challenging ones, developing awareness, motor control, strength, flexibility and endurance.

Usually Pankaj does not allow drop-in classes, you have to take the entire course. The reason for this is very simple: Pankaj designs the course in a way that each class relies on the practice done in the previous one. The first class contains only 3-4 asanas with a lot of explanations and practice of basics, the next lesson builds on those basics to introduce new asanas, refine the previous ones, engage various parts of the body like feet or shoulder-blades or calves. So each lesson expands your understanding of previous practice, deepens and adds more nuances, and by the end of the course you see the whole picture, you are really equipped to do your own practice and know how to work with your body.
One word of caution: this is not a course for beginners. You will be doing pretty intense stuff and you better skip this course and practice with other teachers if you’re only starting your path in yoga, otherwise intensity can hurt you.

If you are interested in yoga alignment, you need to check classes of Pankaj. There are several factors that made his classes very valuable and definitely worth visiting.

He gives really well structured course

Each class is connected to previous, building wholesome picture of human body machine. It’s like you’re looking at the body through magnifying glass, learning to control one muscle at the time, and lesson by lesson connect everything together.

Good expert

Pankaj reads bodies excellently. You have probably heard those notorious anecdotes how alignment teacher looks at the student struggling with hand stand and finds the reason of those difficulties not in weakness of arms or shoulders, but in the fact that the student does not properly press the second phalanx of his index finder, or does not extend the right heel enough, or something like that. Well, jokes aside, it works. Pankaj will look at your body and will be able to identify the reason of your difficulties in certain pose, and very often, this reason will lie far away from the parts of body you think you’re doing this pose with. For example, he can fix your back bends with correct engagement of your feet, or arms, etc. It’s really amusing process and the most amusing part of it, it works.

Right degree of strictness

Pankaj is a strict teacher, he has rules and demands the students to give their best, but he does that with such softness that you never feel stressed. And you always feel that his demands are fair and are there for your own good.

Passionate encouragement

Pankaj can shout, but not in the way that some Iyengar teachers do (maybe because he is not an Iyengar teacher after all). He shouts instructions because he’s so intensely in the moment and wants everyone to pay attention, that it actually gives you encouragement and that extra energy boost. I have never felt any tension, let alone irritation, from his classes. By the contrast, some other “shouting teachers” made me want to kill someone after their classes.

He’s a practitioner

Pankaj practices and can show all those crazy things on his body, which is really helpful because you can SEE what he wants you to do. He is also one of those few teachers in Rishikesh who practice before the class. It’s also great, because you can use that time to approach him with some questions.

Charisma and friendliness

Pankaj socializes with people, very often invites everyone to join him for dinner in Chotiwala or juice place, organizes some picnics and celebrations. You feel a genuine desire to connect with people, to know them more. And this gives a wonderful effect: the whole class becomes like a one unit, one community of friends and colleagues. He knows everybody by name and jokes about himself and students, which makes classes entertaining and more “intimate”. He is really charismatic and open-hearted person.

He’ s not afraid to get his hands dirty

Once Pankaj saw Green hotel’s cleaning lady wipe the hall floor with the same rug she used for toilet. So Pankaj “fired” her right away and cleans the practice hall himself instead. That’s a rare combination of attentiveness and lack of unnecessary pride.

He does not seem to be focused on money-making

When I heard that Pankaj is coming to Rishikesh to give just one course, I thought that the prices would reflect the scarcity of that offer, and would be higher than usual Rishikesh prices. But I was wrong. Each class of the course in December of 2014 cost 200 rupees – that was the one of the LOWEST price asked by teachers in Rishikesh. Long are gone the days when yoga classes in Rishikesh cost 1 or 2 dollars. Now yoga in Rishikesh costs pretty much the same as you would pay in your home country. $5 is good price, and some classes can cost $10 or $15. 200 rupees was a very modest price in 2014 that only few people in Rishikesh charged (including Pankaj’s brother Ashish). But when you think, a teacher that comes from Germany to give just one course per year, and he does not allow drop-in students in the middle of the course (most teachers allow drop ins as it means additional income for each class), then you start thinking that money is not among the primary motivations for such teacher. Maybe this year the prices have changed – I would appreciate comments from those who have visited the course of 2015.

A teacher who gives more

Pankaj has conducted several breathing classes during the course. One of them was based on hyperventilating technique. Pankaj was giving instructions for each inhalation and exhalation to pace the breathing properly. So he was literally shouting “INHALE!!!” – “EXHAAAALE!!!” for 2 hours, very fast and without stop. And as we were doing it, I could not help thinking, “he does not have to do it, putting so much effort, just to make us have that experience”. Being a yoga teacher myself I understand very well how much talking during class is “giving”. And when you have to shout so intensely for 2 hours without stop, that tells something about your motivation and care of people.

So I hope you see, there are a lot of reasons to come to Pankaj course next December. I will just add a personal note that in what concerns physical practice teacher, Pankaj is by far my ideal teacher – knowledgeable, bringing you to the limit but gently, not forcing; charismatic, fun, easy going yet keeping structured discipline, generous, compassionate, communicative.

December 2017. Rishikesh.

You can reach Pankaj and via his page on TopYogis
Or any other time Frankfurt. His personal site for studio in Germany

Advertisements

Kamal Bhatt, a Yogi of Rishikesh

Standard
Kamal Bhatt, a Yogi of Rishikesh

We come to Rishikesh to learn the secrets of yoga, looking for perfect teachers who would be all knowledgeable, powerful, personification of enlightenment, mind control and superhuman power. When we understand that such type of yogis are not to be found here on every corner (or in every cave), we start to settle for something more realistic – a teacher who would be experienced and knowledgeable to teach us proper techniques of asana, pranayama, cleanses and meditation. There are several good teachers here who can offer such expertise. So we learn here and devote some (sometimes considerable) part of our life to learning and mastering these yogic techniques. We study right asanas, proper alignment, good injury avoidance techniques. We go deeper in our forward and backward bends, do some crazy twists, impressive arm balances. Maybe we learn some pranayama techniques and cleanses that help us keep our body purer. Maybe we learn some mantras and kirtans as well.

And this is all very good, but what is the purpose of it? Is the final goal of our “practice” to become more flexible or stronger or able to hold the breath longer, or being able to twist ourselves into some pretzel poses? Is this the end of it? Of course, you will say, better health. Agreed. You will also say, more patience. Fine. Better mind control. Certainly. But for me, the goal of yoga is not just that. Neither it is in becoming “enlightened”. Being used so much in all kinds of fairy-tale-ish legends about superhumans that nobody has ever seen, this lofty word does not bear any substantiality any more… For me, the path of yoga should lead to becoming a better person, and it should be seen in one’s attitude towards oneself and certainly, towards other beings. For a good practitioner and especially a teacher of hatha yoga, the yamas, moral conduct rules, ought to be something natural, engraved in someone’s nature. It’s natural that yogi should not feel violence towards others, that he is truthful, does not indulge in feelings of envy, jealousy, greed or lust. Yamas should not be a code that someone “adheres to”, this should become one’s nature. Goodwill to all people and the world around you, compassion, forgiveness, readiness to help when this help is needed, contentment and gratitude for what you have.

And can you imagine, in the world capital of yoga, there are a lot of good teachers that can teach you technicalities of asanas, pranayamas or kriyas, kirtans or meditations, but there are very few teachers who are just good persons by themselves. This may seem sometimes even discouraging. Too many teachers are working here not because of call of the heart and a longing for self-development, but merely because yoga is a good business in Rishikesh. But what we as “seekers” from the West really seek is a role model, someone who practices all these yoga practices and by his or her life and actions towards others shows that these practices help him or her in becoming better human being. There are really few teachers like that in Rishikesh, and Kamal Bhatt is one of them.

Kamal is a toga teacher who has been giving classes for about 10 years. His main speciality is shatkarmas, yogic cleansing techniques, natural lifestyle, and classic yogic asanas. When I was running a yoga school in Rishikesh, Kamal was our teacher and also helped us deal with everyday situations in the school. Not everybody in our school liked his style of teaching, the fact that he does not explain a lot of things or cannot provide you with lengthy intellectual explanations of why you do this or that practice and what physiological benefits it brings. He talks in simple language and explains effects from his experience. Because first of all Kamal is practitioner. One who really practices all these yogic techniques, and given the limitations of his knowledge of English language and maybe some rhetoric skills, speaks very briefly. But he definitely practices yoga and knows the benefits it can bring. He helped several severely overweight student with health problems to lose a lot of weight and become completely medicine-free in a few months. One girl lost about 25 kg under his guidance and corrected her hormonal balance to the point that she conceived a child right after the course in Rishikesh, something she and her husband fruitlessly tried to do for years. Kamal used combination of fasts, specific diets, serious yogic cleanses and asana/pranayama routine, which might seem to some boring, but turned out to be very effective.

Kamal Bhatt

Kamal Bhatt

But the most amazing thing about Kamal is his personal qualities. While working in our school, he was the most reliable person. I could ask him to substitute some teachers 30 minutes before the class, and he would always be there without failure. I could call him in the middle of the night saying somebody got sick and needs to be taken to the hospital and he would be right at the person’s door in twenty minutes, ready to drive them to any hospital in the vicinity of 50 kms. He never asked about the money, never said no to any request. He was a teacher with the smallest ego and biggest modesty, out of all we worked with.

One interesting instance happened a few months ago. I has not been involved with the school for 1,5 years and came to Rishikesh solely for personal practice. One day I received a phone call from my friend who has just received a head injury and called me, all in tears, to find out, where is the nearest hospital. I was some 40 minutes away from her. I had no scooter or bike. I was trying to think where the nearest hospital would be, so that she could get there as quickly as possible before passing out on the way. Who can help me? Out of all people I know in Rishikesh, I called Kamal. And certainly, he dropped everything he was doing and came to give the girl a ride to a hospital in Rishikesh. He registered her at the hospital, waited with her in the line, translated to the doctor her complaints and comments, paid her bills, rode her back home and without saying a word, proceeded on his business. Keep in mind, he does not know the girl. When I met him a few days later to give him some sweets and compensation for the costs that he spent on her, Kamal was really surprised. I said that he should take the money because he paid for her in the hospital. He replied, “It’s everyone’s duty to do that in such circumstances”.

If more people thought like that, the world would be a better place.

So maybe if you’re in Rishikesh, you can drop in his class. Maybe he will not become your guru or the best teacher of all times, but it will be useful for you to see a practicing yogi and feel his light energy.

Read more reviews on Kamal Bhatt and find our where currently he conducts his classes at his yoga teacher page at TopYogis.