David Meloni has been practicing IYENGAR® Yoga since 1996 and started studying at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute with B.K.S. Iyengar and his children Geeta and Prashant since 2003. In January 2018 he has been awarded the Iyengar Yoga Advanced Senior Level II by Geeta Iyengar, the highest level in the Iyengar Yoga system. In this interview he spoke about his time with the great yoga Guru and how his own practice developed over time, as well as his visions and wishes for the future of Iyengar Yoga.
Claudiyengar: How did you actually come to Yoga? Was there a special reason why you started to practice?
David Meloni: I was doing Karate when I was a teenager and one of my teachers told me that, when martial arts started in the 70s in Italy, there had been one master who had started to practice yoga and his capability to concentrate and focus had increased with this practice. So, I got curious. In fact, my mother did yoga with a book when I was five years old and I got interested in the movements, so that was actually my first contact with yoga. So, I tried it as a teenager and found out that it gave me more stability and flexibility for my Karate. I searched for more information in books and through this research I found Guruji’s book…
Claudiyengar: …THE book.
David Meloni: Yes, (laughs) THE book: »Light on Yoga«. In it I found poses that were fascinating to me, and even sequences, so I started to practice with »Light on Yoga« for one year. However, soon I felt that my nervous system was shaking too much, because if you really follow the book, you start with 1,5 h per day, but soon go up to five hours and that was too much for me at that time. So, I understood that I needed to find a teacher who could help me. Then I found Patricia Walden`s videos in 1994 as they were advertised in Italy on television. Along with the videos came a little booklet with information on where to find Iyengar Yoga in Italy. The association had just been created some four years before in 1990. So, I started to go to Florence to practice and also to do my teacher training and then in 2003 I went to Pune for the first time. At that time Guruji was 85 and I was so happy to see him practicing. He was in a very, very good state, unbelievable for an 85-year-old…
Claudiyengar: Can you recall your first encounter with B.K.S. Iyengar in Pune?
David Meloni: Yes, absolutely! When I entered the practicing hall for the first time, he was doing Hanumanasana. It was amazing to see this legend alive and right in front of me. The elegance of his practice struck me. His physical condition amazed me. It was a very inspiring moment and at the same time a bit intimidating, I did not want to disturb his practice, I did not dare to breathe. I wished to be close to him, but at the same time I was scared. At that time, I was lucky, because he also gave classes, which he had not done for a couple of years, but in 2003 he did a conference on the connection between the asana practice and the Nadis and Chakras. That was very interesting for me.
Claudiyengar: When did you get in contact with him?
David Meloni: Actually he noticed me quite early because other assistant teachers and other students came up to me during my first stay in Pune and told me, Guruji has asked about you, »who is this guy?!«. My practice clearly had not been very refined at that age, but I was so dedicated and I put in so much effort, that I think this dedication to Yoga had been visible.
Claudiyengar: You probably also were one of the youngest students at the institute?
David Meloni: Maybe, yes, I was in my early twenties and at least all the Western students were much older. Anyway, I was excited of course, that Guruji had asked about me, but then, nothing happened for the next five years. Silence. I went every year for one to three months, which in those days still had been possible. In 2009 he started to ask the assistant teacher to help me to do this and that. He started saying things to me, not directly, but through the assistant teachers. For example, we were standing next to each other and he said to his assistant: »Tell him to do this like that.« (Laughs) No direct communication. After this step, he advised his assistant to come and tell me to go close to him when he was practicing at the tresler and whenever he taught Abhijata, his granddaughter. He asked me to just stay there, observe and repeat. So, this was what I did. At the start, I tried to escape from time to time to do something else, but he always called me back: Hey, you, I said, you shall stay and watch.
Claudiyengar: Would you call that the specific Iyengar Yoga way of learning: Watch, observe, imitate, repeat, repeat, repeat?
David Meloni: Yes, well, I knew that already from Chinese and Japanese martial arts: Almost no verbal explanations or communication, but staying close to the master, observing and repeating his movements. Also, being strict and tough as a teacher I knew from studying the eastern martial arts. There is no chance to escape. The master is not gentle. This is a western idea of yoga, that yoga should fulfill this need or that need. No!
The master has to be tough because he needs to break your ego first of all. Otherwise you cannot surrender and he cannot teach you anything. Guruji was doing exactly this as he then started to address me directly, he often said: »You don’t understand anything, your practice is useless«. He was right of course, because I needed to let my habits go and my attachment to my practice itself. It is not just a performance. You should break all the conditions and just trust the master and practice what he was saying, hours and hours the same thing, months and months the same principles. And then after some time, I started to feel the effects and to understand the meaning of it all, which at the beginning, I did not.
Coming to Pune every year and staying with him at his side, practicing as he had said, understanding more and more what he meant, his behavior towards me changed as well. There were more and more moments when we spoke face to face and when he became almost gentle in his directions and explanations. As Prashant once said: »You could learn very much from Guruji in the yoga hall, but even more outside of it«.
So I started to be in the library studying, when he was writing and editing his books and I experienced him in all kinds of situations: people arriving, asking for advice or suggestions from him. These moments are like a treasure to me and what I learned in them, continues to come up at the right moment now, when needed.
Claudiyengar: How did the death of your teacher, your Guru, affect you and your practice?
David Meloni: B.K.S. Iyengar`s death came as a shock to me. It felt like a total loss. Questions arose like: »…and now, what? Who is going to teach me? Who will see my mistakes and make me aware of them?« The more the years are passing, however, whenever I am practicing or teaching, I feel him right at my side. So, for example, I am practicing something and I can hear his voice behind me: »hey, what are you doing?!« As well as Geeta Iyengar’s voice! When I am doing a medical class for example, I can hear her corrections. All the things I saw, studied and heard from her are coming up and are present.
Claudiyengar: So, you discovered a kind of toolkit of knowledge inside yourself, that you got from both B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta, that springs open whenever you face certain situations?
David Meloni: Yes, absolutely!
Claudiyengar: What is your advice to the very young Iyengar Yoga generation, who unfortunately never got to know Iyengar or his daughter?
David Meloni: Parampara! Fulling the tradition, the lineage: From the master to the student the knowledge is passed on so that one day, the student becomes the master. So the tradition is not lost. That is also the reason why Pune wants the mentorship. If someone is a real teacher and someone else wants to become a teacher, he or she should be close to the teacher. It is not enough to just see a teacher from time to time, once or twice a year, do a workshop and then do the assessment, no. The students should practice close to the teacher, should assist, should help, should observe. Many things that Guruji´s close students learned from him, could not have been learned in a regular class. I know that these people, myself included, had been under very rich conditions. As you are under the direction of someone, you are getting many seeds from many different situations and then, with time, these seeds of knowledge and understanding grow.
Claudiyengar: Are you in favor of the mentorship, rather than keeping the teacher training?
David Melon: I am absolutely in favor of the students being closer instead of just meeting a teacher 4 or 7 times a year in teacher training, but following other teachers during the year. The main imprint should be from the mentor. From my experience it is not enough to just offer the regular classes to those who want to become a teacher, as, at least in Europe, there is no possibility to assist in a therapy class every day like in Pune, or to be taught by a senior teacher every day. That is why I group those who want to become a teacher in a special group in order to teach more refined details to them and also to put them together in a situation where there is support and exchange amongst them.
Claudiyengar: This topic was also a huge point of discussion at the Centenary Celebration last December in Pune. What did you take from this special convention?
David Meloni: The two weeks of convention were amazing and then of course, Geeta Iyengar´s death another shock. A huge loss as she was the second pillar of the institute. Though, this time I was better prepared because I had already the experience of Guruji´s death. But again, what she gave with so much heart, has stayed with me and all that I learned from her is coming up in different situations of my practice and teaching. Nothing is lost. The question is now, how to keep it? It is a treasure, that we should keep like we had received it. Not transforming everything, change everything, make it nicer and “fancy”, because we are afraid Iyengar Yoga is not up-to-date anymore, no. What is fancy now, will not be fancy in the future. What is useless now, will disappear. But what is useful and meaningful and has quality will stay on! There is so much quality in the Iyengar Yoga, it will stay on, it will always be important.
Claudiyengar: I remember Geeta saying in December that change is not necessarily a bad thing or something to be afraid of, but the principles of Iyengar Yoga cannot be changed…
David Meloni: Yes, there was a lot of discussion about Guruji having changed both his way of practicing and teaching – but we have to understand why he changed: At the age of 20 surely one practices in a different way than at the age of 90? At the same time, more and more students arrived, also students with specific medical problems – of course he had to change his way of teaching in order to meet his students exactly at the point where they needed his guidance. From the outside this may have giving the impression that Iyengar Yoga is only therapy and working with props. But it is really about understanding the whole picture of Iyengar Yoga, all its principles of actions, the refined things. This is a lot of work. I have been practicing and studying in such a way for 20 years, observing, applying, adjusting, observing again. That is what is changing you. What makes you grow.
Claudiyengar: What is your wish or your hope for Iyengar Yoga´s future?
David Meloni: It is my profoundest wish that the knowledge, the creativity, the geniality of B.K.S. Iyengar is not to be lost. Close students of his should continue to keep the lineage alive by teaching in his style and way. It should be totally clear from the outside that you are a student of the master and not doing whatever or your own style but just using the name of Iyengar Yoga for prestige. No. It has been an honor, a great honor to study with B.K.S. Iyengar, but it is also a duty. For me at least, it is a duty to continue teaching in that lineage, a duty I will never get tired of.
Claudiyengar: Thank you very much for your time and openness, David, namaste!
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Photos: David Meloni.