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Yoga Pioneer Remembered in Lebanon

  • Kristin McGee leads her Gentle Yoga Class, including Nanci Severs of Lebanon, N.H., and Anne Harms of West Lebanon, N.H., in a time of reflection at the beginning of class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014 in honor of B.K.S. Iyengar, who died on August 20, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Kristin McGee leads her Gentle Yoga Class, including Nanci Severs of Lebanon, N.H., and Anne Harms of West Lebanon, N.H., in a time of reflection at the beginning of class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014 in honor of B.K.S. Iyengar, who died on August 20, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Allie Rudkin, left, and Nancy Chase, both of Lebanon, prepare to relax into Shavasana during the weekly Gentle Yoga class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Allie Rudkin, left, and Nancy Chase, both of Lebanon, prepare to relax into Shavasana during the weekly Gentle Yoga class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristin McGee leads her Gentle Yoga Class, including Nanci Severs of Lebanon, N.H., and Anne Harms of West Lebanon, N.H., in a time of reflection at the beginning of class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014 in honor of B.K.S. Iyengar, who died on August 20, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Allie Rudkin, left, and Nancy Chase, both of Lebanon, prepare to relax into Shavasana during the weekly Gentle Yoga class at Ancient Healing Arts in Lebanon, N.H., on August 22, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Lebanon — Upper Valley yoga practitioners were among the many devotees worldwide who mourned B.K.S. Iyengar’s death last week. The Indian guru was known for bringing yoga to the West and making it widely accessible through the use of props.

At the beginning of a gentle yoga class at Ancient Healing Arts on the pedestrian mall in Lebanon on Friday morning, teacher Kristin McGee read part of an email from the studio’s owner Jill Johnson.

“Our teacher has passed, but the teaching will live on,” she said.

Iyengar, who was 95 at the time of his death last Wednesday, began studying yoga as a teenager and brought the tradition to the U.S. in 1956, one of the first to do so, according to the Associated Press. His book Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, is the authoratative work for teachers and students around the world.

Those gathered in the AHA studio on Friday sat on yoga mats piled with blankets, cushions and bolsters at varying heights to suit students’ needs and comfort levels.

McGee told the class that Iyengar’s death had inspired gratitude for her teachers. She encouraged her students to “sit with feelings of gratitude for a few minutes” as they focused on bringing their sitting bones toward the floor.

“This kind of yoga has been perfect for me,” said Allie Rudkin, 67, of Lebanon, a student in the class .

Rudkin said the practice’s emphasis on feeling the essence of the poses, rather than striving for the “best pose” has suited her abilities as she ages.

“I think if I hadn’t started in Iyengar, I may not have ever found yoga,” said Nancie Severs, 61, of Lebanon, who lay her mat across from Rudkin in the AHA studio.

Severs, a nearly 10-year veteran of Iyengar yoga, said her experience has made it possible for her to “drop into classes anywhere in the world and not get hurt.”

McGee, an introductory-level certified Iyengar teacher, said she was drawn to this form of yoga by the care it requires to get in and out of poses. She said each time she enters a pose, she asks herself questions How does my body feel? How does my nervous system feel?”

The training required for Iyengar certification takes many years and is ongoing. Because of the continuous and demanding training regimen, McGee said, “I know if I go to an Iyengar class it will be the same sort of quality of teaching.”

While the quality is the same in Iyengar classes worldwide, McGee said, each teacher brings his or her own insights to the practice.

In each class, she said, she knows “I’ll always learn something.”

Diana Shannon, an intermediate-level Iyengar-certified yoga instructor from Strafford, said she has found inspiration in Iyengar’s life story. He was a sickly child and later injured in a scooter accident. To heal from these experiences, Shannon said, Iyengar brought innovation to yoga, utilizing props and self-exploration.

His life was an inspiration as much as his teaching,” she said.

Johnson, AHA’s owner, a trained physical therapist and intermediate-level Iyengar instructor, said she was inspired by the way in which the Iyengar method approaches injury and illness.

Johnson said she became fully committed to the Iyengar method when she traveled to India in 1993 and saw Iyengar help alleviate symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor through yoga.

Johnson, who once suffered from scoliosis, has used yoga to straighten and strengthen her back. She no longer suffers from back pain and “I’ve gotten taller,” she said.

Janice Vien, an intermediate-level Iyengar instructor who owns The Yoga Connection in Grantham, said in addition to his method, Iyengar was known for his discipline, practicing for many hours each day through illness and injury.

He was “very dedicated,” said Vien. “That’s what inspired many, many people.”

Though not an Iyengar-certified teacher, Leslie Carleton, of Upper Valley Yoga, in White River Junction said she spent her first 10 years of yoga with an Iyengar teacher in Chicago. She said that background “very much influences the style I do teach,” which is a combination of Iyengar and Ashtanga, a method that involves fluid movement or flow.

Carleton said Iyengar’s impact was profound, so that “any studio you walk into today” will have evidence of his method.

At the time of Iyengar’s death on Wednesday, Johnson and Vien]were both attending a workshop of one of Iyengar’s first American students, Patricia Walden, of Cambridge, Mass. — one of two North Americans to hold a senior advanced certificate in the Iyengar method.

“It was good to be together this week,” said Vien.

In addition to his immediate family in Puna, India, Johnson said Iyengar has a “huge family of students all over the world that will keep it going.”

Johnson said she plans to host a celebration of Iyengar’s life at AHA in Lebanon on Saturday, Sept. 13.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.