Category Archives: My Yoga Journey

Reflections on my practice of Iyengar yoga.

India: The Next Generation


[photo: Sara Swaty Roger holding an icon of Saraswati, 2009]

©2012 Bruce M. Roger

“Prepare for landing at Mumbai International Airport.” Our daughter Sara, who was now awake and jubilant, gave me a high-five, “We did it!” Sara, who was named for the Indian goddess of music and education, Saraswati, had grown up reading the mythic tales of India, and practicing Iyengar yoga with us at home. We were not surprised when she asked us in 2009 if she could study at the University of Hyderabad for a semester. First, however, Sara and I planned to spend time visiting the cave temple sites of Ajanta and Ellora, and then two weeks in Pune, while I attended class at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.

Our immediate task was to find a taxi to Pune, a three and a half hour ride. A passenger shared the name of a taxi service as we exited the airport. Amongst the hundreds of people trying to get the attention of passengers streaming by, I saw a tout with the taxi sign and negotiated a price. All of this was on the fly: I’d never taken a taxi before, only had a vague idea of the price, and was trying to explain to Sara how to do it at the same time. Fortunately, she picked up on everything.

It was much faster and easier — if not cheaper — than fourteen years before. The taxi was air-conditioned, unlike the bus; the road had expanded from two lanes to an expressway; people had upgraded from two-wheelers to cars. And since everyone used cell phones — there were 525 million of them in 2009, owned by 44% of the population — we had our host explain to the taxi driver how to find the apartment.

After settling down in our apartment in Pune, Sara was ready to venture out on her own. She had seen me negotiate rikshaw prices and explain destinations by landmark. I walked her down to the rikshaw stand at the end of the block. She explained in pigeon English that she wanted to go to the museum. The rickshaw-wallah set the meter. And off she went.



Welcome to India

“You shouldn’t be here,” BKS Iyengar muttered bluntly. My heart sank. Welcome to Iyengar yoga.

It was nine AM , January 2, 1984. Geeta Iyengar had read through our medical forms with a bare-chested, BKS Iyengar looking over her shoulder, hands on his hips. My first impression was that Guruji was… short.


[Left to right: Sharat Arora (back to camera); unknown student in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana; BKS Iyengar. Photo by Bruce Roger: RIMYI, Pune, July 1986]

Guruji, noting my sciatica, had pulled me out of our intensive group and put me in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, with my heel up on the Trestler. He looped a rope around the root of my thigh, and put a weight on it. When that wasn’t enough, he stood on it. It was painful but I said nothing. He was intense and put everything on the line, unlike yoga in the U.S.

I was suffering not only from sciatica, but also from the exhausting two-day journey, jet-lag, and culture shock. The farthest I had ever been from home was Mexico.

I had arrived two nights before. The Bombay airport was hot, dirty, noisy, and very crowded — at three in the morning. A quarter of a century later, my twenty-year-old daughter Sara innocently asked, after exiting the same — but now air conditioned — immigration hall, “What are all these people doing here?” I laughingly responded, “Welcome to India!”


[Sara Swaty Roger (left); Bruce Roger (right). Photo by Sara Swaty Roger: Pune, July 2009]

©2012 Bruce M. Roger

Here’s some of Sara’s photos:


Pilgrimage to RIMYI

©2012 Bruce M. Roger


Photo: Kailasha Temple: Shiva’s Abode, Ellora Cave #16.  The culmination of the rock-cut architecture (756-783 CE). It’s monolithic structure is carved out of a solid rock mass, from the top down and the outside in, and made to look like a free-standing temple structure. [Bruce M. Roger, 2009]

Life, as a pilgrimage from birth to death, has many stations.” So begins Stella Kramrisch’s 1946 landmark work, The Hindu Temple, an explication of ancient Sanskrit architectural texts. For aspirants unable to reach self-realization through Vedanta, she notes that pilgrimages to sacred sites are an alternate path to moksha, liberation, cited in the Agni-purana. Still, like yoga, pilgrimage requires control of the mind and body, spiritual knowledge (vidya), and the practice of austerities (tapas).

India is more than a modern political nation. It is a spiritual network of sacred sites, called tirthas, that forms a sacred geography. Tirtha comes from the root “to cross over” — both in the literal sense, such as a river, but also in the spiritual sense, such as “crossing,” as in its cognate, transcending, to be closer to God. Although I have enjoyed visiting many sacred sites over the last three decades, my primary purpose for going to India has always been to study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, which has become a sacred destination for many Iyengar yoga students worldwide.


Photo: Bruce Roger (left) garlands Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar during July, 1986 Guru Purnima Celebration at RIMYI. John Evans (center) garlands Geeta S. Iyengar (not in photo). Prashant Iyengar in background.

My pilgrimages to study at RIMYI have marked my different stations in life — my formal initiation into yoga, marriage, fatherhood, and family life. On my second trip to India, my prior host, my friend’s father-in-law, predicted, “First you came alone, and now with your wife. Later you will come with your children, and then grandchildren.” I only understood the full depth of his sentiment in retrospect.

Each trip to RIMYI has challenged me with a new set of tasks: the first to learn yoga, the second to learn how to teach, the third to learn therapeutics, the fourth to introduce my daughter to India, and the fifth to absorb the deeper spiritual truths with my wife, Linda. These missions have gradually revealed themselves over a long period of time, and only upon sufficient reflection.

In the pilgrimage of life, yoga links austerities (tapas) to the liberation (moksha) cited in the sacred texts: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that purification of body by self-discipline (tapas), of speech by Self-study (svadhyaya), and of mind by dedication to God (Ishvara pranidhana) reduces the causes of suffering (kleshas), chief of which is spiritual ignorance (avidya). Yoga purifies the body and mind akin to burning off the fog that obscures the sun, so that the light of the soul may shine through. Ethical and disciplined yoga practice reduces the kleshas and leads to samadhi, spiritual union. [PYS II.1-3] The highest level of samadhi, in turn, leads to moksha, liberation from the bondage of worldly pleasure and pain.

As pilgrims circumambulate the holy tirtha with only the name of God on their lips, so do yoga practitioners circumambulate the globe to purify their consciousness through study at RIMYI.

All Roads Lead to India: My Path to B.K.S. Iyengar

When I was younger, I never gave a lot of credit to fate. But, in hindsight, it is easy to connect the life events that drew me to yoga.


©2012 Bruce M. Roger

When I was almost thirteen, influenced by my grandmother’s tour of India, I painted a watercolor of the Taj Mahal. Who knew that exactly twenty years later, in 1984, I would be photographing it?

Roger_b_gtr12-64As a teen I was interested in music and architecture. Even though the post-war years were turbulent, it was a great time to be growing up in the suburbs: the maturing of the industrial age along with the GI Bill resulted in greater racial, cultural, and religious integration and an exciting turn towards modernism in the arts. But, it was my fascination with my ancestral religion, Judaism, that generated not only a worldly interest in social justice, but also a spiritual interest in why we exist.

After graduating college and working as an architect, I lost my job at the beginning of the recession that marked the end of the Vietnam War.


Reigniting my love of music, I joined a band that played rags, blues, and country tunes. In learning the violin, I found a slim book in the library in 1976, Six Lessons on the Violin, by Yehudi Menuhin. “First you must learn yoga,” he declared. Impatiently, I thought, “I don’t have time for that!” How could I know that eight years later I would be sitting at the feet of Menuhin’s guru, B.K.S. Iyengar?


The year 1979 was pivotal. At the age of twenty-eight, and divorced following an eleven-month marriage, I was working full time as an architect. My friend and I joined a yoga course held at the Hanley Junior High School gym taught by an elderly woman without much training. My friend quit after she pushed his six-foot frame into Halasana, in spite of his cries of pain. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the stilling and introspective nature of yoga. But I, too, found Halasana difficult.


Everything changed in 1982 when I attended a weekend workshop taught by Judith Lasater, a senior pupil of B.K.S. Iyengar. Up until that time I practiced on faith alone. Without an experienced teacher, the postures were always painful, sometimes even creating pain. I was not flexible.

As Judith was promoted as a “Teacher of Teachers” (she helped start the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco and Yoga Journal), I demanded to know why Halasana was so painful. She used me to demonstrate how to properly adjust and support the shoulders on blankets in Sarvangasana, shoulderstand. My relief was immediate, but something more had happened: for the very first time it felt right! I had discovered what the famous architect Mies Van Der Rohe had meant when he said “God is in the details.” Iyengar yoga also helped my migraines, sciatica, hip, knee, and foot pain. That summer, and the next, I spent ten days in class with Judith and Felicity Green at the Feathered Pipe Ranch.

When I saw Iyengar’s award-winning film, Samadhi [1977], I was hooked: the grace and beauty of his hand balance sequence defied gravity. I vowed to meet him. In 1984 I found myself in India at the feet of my teacher’s teacher, the yoga master himself, B.K.S. Iyengar. I was moved by his compassion and the precise way in which he worked with students. For him there was no demarcation between body and mind. He was the best teacher of anything I had ever met. It was uncanny how he could read his students.


There’s a story behind this photo. During the first week of the intensive course in Pune we were expected to balance in Sirsasana in the middle of the room for ten minutes. I had practiced it for about a month leaning into a wall — for three minutes. Although terrified of falling, and shaking like a leaf, I was determined to do it. Unbeknownst to me, Guruji had started to silently adjust students. When he tried to straighten me out, I felt I would fall. Knocking me over he growled, “How dare you resist!” I thought, “Oh, God! My mother told me not to come here, and now he is mad at me.” Chastened but unperturbed, I responded, “Let’s try it again.” He lifted me up, took me through all the twisting variations with a grace and lightness I’d never felt before, and then said softly, “You can come down now.” I never was afraid to balance after that.

A week or two later he needed a demonstrator to make a point. Everyone was afraid of being embarrassed — even senior teachers. With nothing to lose, I eagerly raised my hand, “I’ll do it.” “The worst one!” he countered. Then he taught how to lift the inner heels, as I struggled to do in the photo.

When I returned to St. Louis I began teaching yoga because students wanted to know what I had learned. I felt an obligation to teach any student, regardless of his or her limitations. I worked really hard in my practice, and started to study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and anatomy. But, more than anything, I wanted to repay my debt to B.K.S. Iyengar by teaching his method. And so began my life’s work.