By Parveen Chopra
September 2000 Nivedita Joshi, daughter of Murli Manohar Joshi, was incapacitated for almost a decade because of slip disc. After a miraculous recovery under the living legend of yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar’s care, she has resumed not only her normal life, but also is so inspired that she is setting up an Iyengar yoga center in Delhi
One day at the young age of 15, Nivedita Joshi’s life came to a standstill—literally. Living in Allahabad, India, at the time, she was a brilliant student and a budding dancer. Unfortunately she had a weak muscular structure. This fateful day, as she was practicing a Kathak movement, she bent down and suffered a slipped disc (the cartilaginous disc between vertebrae that when displaced, pinches the spinal nerve causing low back or sciatic pain). The MRI test revealed that two major vertebrae were badly affected. Then followed long periods when she was completely bedridden and perpetually in pain. She somehow managed to study on and complete her masters in microbiology. Meanwhile, she continued to run from one doctor to another, one specialist to another. Cure or even partial relief continued to elude her. Her high-profile father, Murli Manohar Joshi’s connections couldn’t help either. She tried physiotherapy, even yoga, which were not of much help. Then, in 1997 at the age of 27, on the insistence of one of the students of B.K.S. Iyengar, she went to seek help from the world-renowned yoga guru based in Pune. She stayed there for six months and the recovery started. She went back again for long stretches of time to continue her healing and learning journey. Result: a few months ago, her MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) report said her spinal problem was gone. Today, she is active and free of pain, except when she overstrains or misses her daily yoga. But she says she makes it a point to never miss her practice. She is also quick to point out that yoga is not a painkiller, it is a way of life—it takes time to restore health and harmony, but you have to keep at it. What is most important to her is that after starting with Iyengar, ‘in 12 days I gained back the confidence I had lost over 12 years’. She is naturally gushing with gratitude and praise for Iyengar: ‘Not for a century will the world see another Iyengar.’ Having learnt yoga under Iyengar, she finds it the most aesthetic art and the greatest philosophy. ‘I had the qualities within me in seed form, Iyengar just poured the water of his knowledge to sprout the seed,’ she says poetically. It is a misconception, she says categorically, that Iyengar is a harsh teacher and a slave driver. ‘He is like a coconut, hard outside but with a soft core. He is super as a human being.’ It is a sight, she says, to see him take a class: as he moves around the room, he seems to have eyes all over his body, even in the tips of the toes of his feet, to notice and point out if the student is not paying attention to some part of the body. Each student requires and gets individual attention, and the Iyengar class changes everyday. Murli Manohar Joshi finds that Iyengar starts people on simple postures. He also finds his use of props innovative. At the ripe old age of 82, Iyengar himself is the best testimony for his style. He is as fit and supple and active as ever—the result of 60 years of yoga (practice). His son, Prashant, and daughter, Gita, assist him now. Nivedita also objects to the criticism of the Iyengar style as purely physical, a form of gymnastics. ‘First he teaches the more physical aspect,” says she, ‘going on to the middle and higher levels of yoga.’ ‘If it were purely physical,’ she argues, ‘how did I, who had become a total pessimist, gain everything? Today I’m hundred per cent positive.’ Then, there is the pranayama class and a separate class for medical cases at the Iyengar institute. One factor in Nivedita’s recovery may have been that she ‘followed Iyengar’s instructions to the T’. Nivedita’s experience is that Iyengar may not give discourses but he teaches everything. By doing yoga with him, you imbibe the whole philosophy of life. To the beginners, Nivedita continues, Iyengar says do the asana even if you are not able to stay in the pose. Come back to the starting position. Do the asana again. After some practice, you will be able to stay in the asana. Then, try to feel what’s happening in the body. There are adjustments to be made. Life is also like that. There are beginnings, discomfort and adjustments. You learn to tolerate. If you do everything right, the result is fulfillment; just like when a posture is mastered, it gives you bliss. Nivedita believes that yoga in its true form increases your capacity to endure challenges and problems in life. As they say, if you can’t cure something, you can at least endure it. There is the example of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa who had cancer in his later life. Problems will come, you either fight them or accept them gracefully. To partially pay her debt to Iyengar, Nivedita is starting an Iyengar yoga institute in Delhi, which, after Iyengar’s own center in Pune, will be the first in India. She had toyed with the idea earlier also but now she is prepared. She has Iyengar’s consent too. There is no teacher training course, she says, but if you spend a lot of time with Iyengar, that is enough to qualify. Informally, she has already been teaching yoga—to her family, friends and acquaintances. She wants to spread the message of yoga because ‘nobody should suffer the way I had to for years. I was praying for the time I became all right to do something about promoting yoga’. Focusing more broadly on Indian heritage, last year she conceived, scripted and anchored a TV serial titled Dharohar for Doordarshan, India’s official television channel. Nivedita hails from an illustrious family of Almora in the Kumaon region of northern India. She lives with her parents in Delhi and is there for her father if he needs any kind of help in his political work. She has a good rapport with him. ‘The difference between a guru and a father is that you can take liberties with your father but not your guru.’ She has no aversion to a more social or political role if the situation demands.
But for now, it is yoga.
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