I 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.
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.
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.