Tag Archives: Iyengar yoga

Pankaj Sharma, an outstanding yoga teacher

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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

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Best Iyengar Yoga Teacher in Rishikesh: Usha Devi

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Now I’m going to tell you about notorious Iyengar yoga teacher in Rishikesh, Usha Devi. I was taking her class for a few weeks 2 years ago, and I got back for a few more weeks this year. Once again I concluded that nothing works on the body level as deep and as profound as Iyengar yoga. Before Usha, I was visiting classes of other hatha yoga teachers, all of them are very good masters, but once you go to Iyengar class, you know for sure that your body starts to work in much more profound way, and you engage not only big and superficial muscles, but deep, small, medium – all muscles that you can engage as much as your nervous system allows you to.

The effect also largely depends on who exactly teaches you principles of Iyengar yoga, as some Iyengar classes from other teachers here in Rishikesh may be quite boring, self repetitive, and not conductive to total involvement of student’s attention into the process of body alignment. Usha is the best teacher to get you working on the brink of your abilities, not only due to precise and detailed instructions, but also by really demanding maximum efforts from everybody in the class. This is done quite in a military style, and you will often hear words like “Hey, what are you doing?”, “Are you sleeping?!”, “Hey, what is this, I said open your fingers!”, etc. You may also get occasional slap on the buttocks or on the back if you aren’t following her instructions. For some very sensitive people, such military style of class may seem too much and not conductive to the spirit of yoga, where you should relax and let go of all the tension. But it surely serves the purpose of perfect body alignment and concentrating on mental attention on the body, on particular parts of the body that you’re currently working on.

Why do we need perfect alignment? It’s not as much to make you look perfect in the asana, as sometimes you may use straps, blocks and other props that do not look actually beautiful and appealing. Perfect alignment, as I see it from my experience, serves several purposes:

  1. Safety during yoga class. By following instructions of Iyengar yoga teacher, which are very precise and quite “medical”, as Usha describes them herself, you can enhance physical possibilities of your body in a safe way, being sure that you will not dislocate your knees, compress your spine, or tear some ligaments.
  2. Enhanced control of your body, and awareness of body processes. Iyengar yoga students who learn to control movements of smaller muscles and direction of skin, immensely enhance control of their body, which can be used afterwards in any style of yoga or physical activity at all.
  3. Improvement of health. This point logically follows previous two. Iyengar yoga is able to work profoundly on some problematic areas of the body, and alleviate physical problems. Usha herself is a great example of this. She got into serious car accidents two times during her life, that impacted her health significantly. Her pelvis and the bones of her legs were crashed, and the doctors told there was no way of her being able to walk again. Unbelievably as it may sound, with the guidance and strict help of her guru, B K S Iyengar, he got on her feet back again and now teaches Iyengar yoga, inspiring hundreds of people who visit her classes every year. In her class, I saw several people of age definitely over 60 who were as light and flexible as Russian ballerinas. One of such women told me that just a few years ago she was crooked and experienced difficulties in moving.
  4. Attainment of dharana though concentration on the body. During Usha’s class, you will have no opportunity to think of anything else besides following her instructions, which lie in watching and controlling your muscles, skin, and breathing. All the process is rooted in the body, and with good Iyengar teacher, your attention will be in your body during entire class. And as yogis say, wherever is your attention, that’s the place your energy goes.

There are few other teachers in Rishikesh that teach Iyengar yoga, but they are not as brilliant because they are not able to bring students’ attention to their body as well as Usha does, and cannot attain similar intensity of the class. For some people, however, because of same reasons, these other teachers may be a good option. As thought the benefits are numerous, increased intensity of the Usha’s class leads to increased nervous strain, which may lead to some nervous tension or even breakdowns for unprepared students. Of course, with time both body and psyche adapts to the level of intensity of the class, and there are many devoted students of Usha who feel great and attend her classes every day. Other people however, need some rests from these classes. In any case, it’s very beneficial to have additional meditation sessions, as shavasana in Iyengar’s class is very brief and may not be enough to relieve all nervous tension.

This, however, is not the reason to skip the class. If you’re serious yoga practitioner, or moreover, if you’re yoga teacher, you must learn Iyengar method of body alignment to make sure you understand your own or your student’s body and don’t harm yourself or your students. Afterwards, you can teach any style of yoga, but you will be greatly enriched with understanding of safety principles and mechanisms of intensifying body work.

With all that said, it’s not that easy to get to Usha’s class as her intensives are booked several months ahead, and her classes are always full. You should sign up for the next week class on Saturday, at 7 :30 PM, if you have place after all the students participating in previous week’s classes have signed up.

Time of classes: 6-7:30 PM from Monday till Saturday, every morning from 7:30 to 11 AM is a self-practice in the same hall.

Place of Class: Omkaragaganda Ganga Sadan Patanjala Yoga Kendra, next to Taxi stand near Ramjhula, Rishikesh. If you go from Rishikesh, you don’t need to cross the bridge, the center is on the same side of the bridge where Rishikesh city is.

You can read other people’s reviews on Usha Devi on yoga review and recommendation site, TopYogis. 

Back to Rishikesh for yoga

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Hi guys! It’s been a while since I wrote my last post. That’s all because I was traveling around Asia for 2-month long “visa run” to India. Now I’m back in Rishikesh and will attend some more classes of really good yoga teachers here. I will report on them in my blog, so that you could be fully armed with references before coming to Rishikesh.

So for the a few next months, I am going to visit classes of Usha Devi (Iyengar yoga), Surinder Singh, Yogi Vishvaketu (Akhand and Kundalini yoga), Yogananda Baba (Yoga Sukshma Viyama), Japanese woman teaching in Shivavanda ashram (don’t know her name yet, but got a good reference from friends), Vinay Chaitnya (Hatha yoga, Raj Yoga and Tantra), Kamal Bhatt (Hatha yoga), Naveen Joshi (Akhand and Kindalini), Kamal Singh (Ashtanga Vinyasa) and perhaps some more teachers. I will post my feedback on classes of these teachers, with complete details on timing and place. You will also get details on other teachers whose classes I don’t plan to visit (anymore) but you may run upon them once you’re here. So stay tuned!