Senior teacher Joan White (US) shared her experiences from the past convention in Pune 2018 with us, her thoughts on Geeta, Prashant and the new generation of teachers such as Abhijata Iyengar and Raya Datta, concluding with her opinions on current debates whitin the Iyengar Yoga community such as teacher training vs mentorship.
claudiyengar: What was your impression of the Convention in Pune in December 2019 and of the institute and the situation there?
Joan White: I thought it was a beautiful memorial to Guruji. I had just lost my husband of 50 years in a car accident a few days before I arrived so Geeta had given me special sequences to do so I was unable to participate in the asana classes but I was able to do the pranayama parts. The Pranayama classes that Geeta taught were inspirational, clea and comprehensive. Prashant incorporates a great deal of pranayama in his classes so I was not able to follow along with him as I wasn’t doing the regular classes.
Geeta set out to put on a tribute to her father and his teachings and she did that very well. In listening to the comments of others it was my impression that most students didn’t really understand that Prashant’s approach was to explain the how and why of Guruji’s teachings rather than focus on a lot of doing of the asanas. He often lectured for long periods of time which was confusing to many of the participants. Geeta’s style of teaching was much more the style of teaching that students could relate to. Her approach was so like her fathers and focused as he did on doing rather than talking while students were sitting on the floor.
Geeta passed away right after the convention ended so it was difficult to say what the situation at the institute would be. They have very strong teachers especially Abhijata and Raya who can carrying on the way of teaching that Guruji and Geetaji taught. Abhi is young, intelligent, charismatic and exceptionally well trained as is Raya. Prashant is adding his own ways of teaching and spreading of Iyengar Yoga that is geared towards the more experienced students who are ready to move on in their studies and expand their yogic journeys in a slightly different way. All have a great deal to offer and it is my hope that students will continue to go to the institute to study with these wonderful teachers.
claudiyengar: What did you take from the convention and talks with Geeta and the Iyengar family as a kind of message to the Iyengar Yoga community worldwide?
Joan White: I took away that Iyengar Yoga is alive and reaching many new communities. We heard an inspired talk from an important business executive on how he has used Iyengar Yoga in his business decisions and for his staff. The recognition of Guruji’s work in India as well as worldwide was important for all of us to hear. I felt the message to all of us was to continue spreading Iyengar Yoga and honoring it’s importance in the world. The system and work that Guruji started is and should be continued and spread because of it’s great value to people everywhere on so many different levels.
claudiyengar: What is your wish, hope or vision for the future of Iyengar Yoga ?
Joan White: This is an enormous question as were the previous questions. From a personal point of view I think that teacher training and mentoring should continue. Most people need guidance in learning how to teach, what to teach etc. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher and going through a teacher training program helps students find out if this is really what they should be doing. Mentorship is a fine idea but many people do not have access to a teacher and many teachers cannot mentor all the students that want that opportunity. In theory it is a really good idea but practically speaking I think it will be difficult for both students and teachers to accommodate all who want to be mentored.
I am concerned with the drop in standards in the United States that has occurred in the last 5 years and would like to see that stopped and returned to the much higher standards that existed previously. I think that candidates should be judged not by their potential but by what they actually show at an assessment. I know that Geeta was not in favor of this at all and now Abhijata is also saying that the quality has to be held high. It is my wish to see the high standards for teachers be upheld and if this means teacher training and/or mentoring than that should happen.
There is something very useful in being in a group training that is different from mentoring. In teacher training classes students have a chance to work with other students and to teach in front of other students which is a very valuable experience that is not part of mentoring.
However, mentoring gives a closer one on one relationship with a teacher which is also very helpful. Teacher trainings, if done well, reach students who might not have a chance to be mentored and encourages them to learn in different situations.
I am in favor of both as useful ways of learning. However I am not in favor of huge numbers of people attending teacher trainings at exorbitant prices.
claudiyengar: Dearest Joan, thank you very, very much for sharing this insides and your opinions with us, namaste!