Shael Sharma, yoga student, teacher and photographer from Mumbai, India, was fortunate enough to document the last Iyengar Yoga Convention in Pune, which was hold in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of B.K.S. Iyengar. He spoke with us about his yoga path, the role of photography for correct alignment in yoga asanas and his memories of this special event.
claudiyengar: First of all, how did you come to yoga and especially to Iyengar Yoga?
Shael Sharma: I first did Yog as a child with my grandfather. He was a devout Brahmin, a Kashmiri Pandit. My interest in Iyengar Yoga came much later in life due to injuries sustained while training in Martial Arts. I had a torn meniscus and two broken ribs. Iyengar Yoga helped me return to practicing and teaching Kravmaga (Israeli Self Defence) when I had been advised surgery and to stop all vigorous training and sport.
claudiyengar: Why did you decide to study yoga and to stay with it? You also teach, right?
Shael Sharma: What started as therapy became a practice and a passion. Iyengar Yoga became a frame around which to live life. I have had some amazing teachers who helped me in my Yog journey. Privileged to attend RIMYI for a few years now, I remain especially indebted to Prashantji and Zubin Zarathostimanesh for helping me take my study further.
I spend my weekends traveling between Mumbai and Pune to learn Yogasana as well as Yoga Sutras and other associated subjects.
Yes, I teach Kravmaga in Mumbai and have added Yoga for Sport classes to help athletes, fighters achieve higher performance, mobility and strength. I also wish to attain some proficiency in working with performance athletes in returning from sports injuries using therapy.
claudiyengar: What development did you notice in yourself over the years? What did you not expect?
Shael Sharma: Turning inwards and learning the path to a quiet mind is a key transformation I have seen in myself. The biggest gift that Iyengar Yoga has given me is an ability to be mindful at work or personally in my relationships. It has taught me patience. And most of all how to find a way to calm anxieties through the use of the breath to return to harmony and equilibrium.
claudiyengar: Iyengar Yoga is very much influenced by the pictures from the publication "Light on Yoga" by B.K.S. Iyengar. They are still regarded today as a yardstick for the orientation in asanas or as a reference for the further development of asanas. What significance do pictures or drawings of asanas have for you and your learning or practicing?
Shael Sharma: Pictorial depiction either as yogasana photograph or sketches, drawings in course books and tomes along with instructions provide the first reference for correct yogasana and alignment. They also play a key role in classification of yogasanas into standing, supine, forward bend, back bend, inversion etc. Correction by a teacher and adjustment of course follow for the best yogasana practice.
Photographs represent the best pictorial specimen for initial or remote learning.
Later on of course breath and psyche in the asana become important but these can only be experienced by advanced students.
claudiyengar: You had the important role to document as a photographer the last Pune Convention in December 2018 which was the 100 th anniversary of Guruji – what was the biggest challence for you in this role? What did you like, enjoy in it?
Shael Sharma: It was a privilege to be the official photographer for the BKS Iyengar Centennial Celebration. Between social media and conventional media and photography it was a busy time. Geetaji’s sudden passing and the funeral created a whirlwind of events where I was glad to be of some service to the Iyengar Yoga family and the community.
This last Yoganushasanam was a ring side view of physical and emotional expression of 1300 Iyengar Yoga students and teachers from 49 countries students put through the paces by top Iyengar Yoga teachers including late Geetaji, Prashantji, Abhijata, Raya, and many others I won’t name here for brevity sake but all have my eternal gratitude and respect.
Copyright RIMYI, Pune. Photos: Shael Sharma.
My biggest challenge was to try and attempt some practice if the opportunity presented itself and yet not miss the salient moments of the Centennial. This wasn’t helped by curating 100s of images for social media and print media with a mediocre Internet connection. These 12 days were 16-hour days which were physically as well as mentally consuming but looking back I am proud to be able to deliver to the best of my ability, despite some hitches and misses.
claudiyengar: How was your perception of the convention - throught the lense of the photographer?
Shael Sharma: It was quite a spectacle to witness so many practitioners under one roof in a mega class. I was lucky to get many interesting expressions of our top teachers in action, as well as the emotional aura prevailing in Balewadi Stadium last December. All in all this was the magnum opus, gobsmacking once in a lifetime experience. I was also destined to take the last family picture of the Iyengar Family before the passing of Geetaji. I view that with mixed emotions between pride, grief and nostalgia.
claudiyengar: What is your favourite pictures from the that convention and why?
Shael Sharma: I actually have two favourites: One is Geetaji smiling at Prashantji in a child like glee only siblings can share. That was a very special photograph if you ask any vintage Iyengar Yoga student. The other remains of Abhijata gazing at Geetaji lost in a a timeless moment from the past to the present.
Copyright RIMYI, Pune. Photos: Shael Sharma.
claudiyengar: Thank you, Shael, for sharing this with us!