Firooza Razvi seems to have incredibly good yoga karma. At 18, a friend took her to a class of the Father Joe Pereira on a lark. It worked so well, he sent her off to study with a teacher she'd never heard of: BKS Iyengar. Her skills and style were so apparent that Mr. Iyengar quickly had her under his careful eye.
This week, Razvi comes to New York to give a series of classes at the Iyengar Institute, starting April 10th. In an unusual move, she will teach for five full days, unlike the standard 10-hour sessions given by visiting teachers.
NYC yogis will not only see what Iyengar yoga is all about from the source, but why she captivated two of India's most respected teachers. Alystyre Julian sat down to find out more about Firooza and her plans for NYC.
Alystyre Julian: How did you start practicing with the Iyengars?
Firooza Razvi: By chance. My first teacher, Father Joe Pereira, sent me after two years, to learn from Guruji. I knew nothing then about B.K.S. Iyengar - his achievements, popularity, or his powerful persona.
I was also lucky that I was at an age, 21, where criticism had not set in my fresh mind and I could lap up and digest every word and action which was taught.
AJ: Do you have particular anecdotes about studying with Mr. Iyengar?
FR: Every moment with Guruji was special. There were so many lessons in asana. One, which strengthened my standing poses, is where he taught me how the space between the big toe and the mound under the toe is the brain in standing poses. What a different that made!
But more than just the instruction, he taught me that sirsasana brings centering and focus, standing poses make me grounded, that sarvangasana gets me tuned to myself, urdhva dhanurasana can make me feel elated, savasana can help me go beyond bodily limits, and that the breath is not limited in any way by the shape and size of the body!
In the classroom, much learning took place, but I remember him most with the memories of the person he was. He taught by example and not by words. For the exacting and demanding teacher that he was in the class, there was never any demand outside the class. Friendliness, compassion, joy and understanding, tolerance and acceptance is what he had.
There was no fear of judgment. When he made sure that his students were fed well, it was his concern, like a mother. When he put his arm around the shoulders of my new husband, he showed unquestioned acceptance, like a father. When he made a passing remark to me of how teaching yoga is a noble task, as compared to teaching at the college, which was my job then, he was a friend and guide.
When he promptly replied to every letter I wrote to him then, it showed his respect for each of his students, however big or small.
AJ: How do you maintain your yoga practice, and teach?
FR: For the first 15 years, I practiced ardently, passionately, delightfully, sincerely and devotedly. I was like the seeker seeking one's beloved. I had many learning experiences, many of which I did not even understand!!
Then, marriage and the life of a householder and its responsibilities followed.
My practice took a back-seat, but never stopped. There were other priorities. There still are. But the teachings which were etched into my consciousness have always remained. Now, I don't have a strong daily asana practice, but when I do, on alternate days, I do them with utmost sincerity, with always something new to discover and learn.
I practice pranayama every day. I do it in different postural positions and many times in the classical upright position for long periods of time.....Time comes to an end. So, also the place and 'space'. These practices are my natural selection these days. I am more reclusive in my practice where I like to be by myself.I teach by the learning I have during my practices. And my major source of inspiration for teaching continues to be lessons with Geetaji and Prashantji in Pune.
AJ: How do you see yoga developing now after BKS Iyengar?
FR:The future of yoga? Should there be one? Why the anxiety?
A subject which has survived over ages will stay forever. People may clothe it in different garbs. It is for us to uncover and find the essence.
AJ: Do you emphasize certain themes or a particular focus in your teaching?
FR: Any yoga teaching devoid of understanding of breath is no teaching at all!
Arms and legs are organs of action. They are your supports for your practices. Focusing on them too much is like constantly shining your vehicle and pumping your tires but not servicing the engine!
It is the responsibility of a yoga teacher to see that what is taught leads to a nobler state of mind and not just a fit body.
There are more people suffering in this world today because of the mind rather than the body. I like to therefore explore how yoga practices transform the states of mind or rather, the consciousness.
AJ: How do yoga philosophy, asana, and pranayama intersect for you?
FR:After the initial orientation to and understanding of the body through asana and pranayama practices, very early on in my learning, I understood that yoga is a science and philosophy.
It led me to select philosophy as study for my university degrees. Asana and Pranayama, when practiced without the understanding of the philosophy can remain at best, only exercises of the body and breath, but not yoga. Yoga is essentially a philosophy. In India, philosophy is a ‘darshan’. It is not a mere inquiry but rather the endeavor of the seeker to have a glimpse of the seer or the ‘self’ within.
AJ: How does the practice of asana, pranayama, and philosophy begin to integrate through practice, (with most students), in your experience?
FR: The how depends on the method of teaching and instruction and the sincerity, sensitivity and humbleness of the student. The integration takes place during the class itself. Most students get, at least, a glimpse of it. But if a student comes with preset notions about what ‘should’ be, then they miss out on ‘what is’.
AJ: How will you juxtapose and integrate these elements in your upcoming workshop?
FR:By a humble attempt that those who come to learn from me may have the glimpses of what has been taught to me by my Gurus and what I see in my practices.
AJ: Do you have any advice for students about to take your workshop at IYAGNY?
FR: To learn is to be fresh, in the present moment, not the past. The teacher is only like a catalyst. True learning comes from within.
AJ: It is said that you were the MC for Guruji’s birthday, often introducing him. True?
FR: Yes. It was an honor to be asked to carry out this task. Alas, who was to know that, this would be his last birthday celebration while in human form? Every such moment with Guruji remains etched vividly in my memory. I totally miss him.
For more information about Firooza Razvi’s workshops, which start this Friday, please click here.