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Even small amounts of physical exercise deliver a bounty of benefits to your physical and mental health. Knowing this, many people have turned to yoga to tone up their bodies and minds.

But not all yoga is the same, and yoga practitioners will tell you yoga is most certainly not an exercise program, but so much more.

Devoted practice

The concept of Iyengar yoga is to connect the body to the mind and soul, helping heal and tone all aspects of one’s being – physical, mental and spiritual. Iyengar is intended to teach awareness, through which one’s enhanced mindfulness and inquisitiveness spreads to all aspects of everyday life, ultimately helping you make better decisions.

Iyengar yoga is named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, a yoga master who practiced for 80 years, 10 to 12 hours per day. Using his own body as his experimental subject, he carefully studied the effects of poses on his health and well-being. The benefits of Iyengar’s practice was studied and published in numerous medical journals.

Iyengar found the poses, when properly practiced, had positive effects on a cadre of persistent conditions such as hypertension, stress, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and other physical and mental conditions. Wanting everyone, regardless of personal limitations, to reap the benefits of each pose, Iyengar developed and encouraged the use of props such as straps, bolsters, blankets and blocks to help people practice each pose correctly.

For the past 18 years, Rochester, New York, has had a dedicated Iyengar yoga studio.

Originally known as the Iyengar Yoga School of Rochester, ownership was in 2013 passed to Amita Bhagat, a certified Iyengar yoga instructor, who changed the studio’s name to Sadhanaa, which means “devoted practice” in Sanskrit.

Listening to awareness

For years, Bhagat had always thought she would move away from Rochester, going so far as to even pursue a master’s degree in international affairs. But when she found yoga helped her manage stress, she also discovered her life’s calling. Bhagat attended an intensive 200-hour Yoga Alliance® teacher training class, which just happened to be taught by a senior certified Iyengar yoga teacher.

Bhagat went on to study at the National Iyengar Studio in the United States, and since 2012 (with the exception of 2015) has traveled to Pune, India, to deepen her practice at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute.

“I come here to study because it’s like nothing else,” Bhagat says. “It doesn’t compare to any of the teaching anywhere else. The art of teaching just runs through the instructors’ veins.”

The instructors to whom Bhagat is referring include two of B.K.S. Iyengar’s children, Sunita and Geeta. Every December, Bhagat returns to India to study for several weeks.

Healing connection

There is an interesting connection between Bhagat and the Institute. In 2011, she sustained a serious head injury. The night before her accident, Bhagat dreamed she was in a class observed by Iyengar. In that dream, she achieved a perfect savasana (corpse pose), something she’d never experienced in real life. The following day, she went to meet a yoga teacher, which several months later led her to the Institute.

In 2013, Bhagat sustained a second head injury in the exact same spot, and subsequently suffered from tremors, persistent headaches and exhaustion.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I didn’t have a teacher at that time to go to.”

She decided to write a letter to Geeta Iyengar, the oldest daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar. Geeta had a doctorate in Ayurvedic medicine and dedicated her life to the study and teaching of yoga, and authored a book on yoga and women’s health. She agreed to see Bhagat.

“Geeta saw me for five minutes and said a few sentences. She gave me a special medical sequence of poses (asanas),” Bhagat says. “My symptoms disappeared. I owe her my health.”

Life’s decisions

In late 2018, Bhagat closed her Rochester studio and returned to the Institute, this time intending to stay there for several months. The extended stay, which was ongoing through the holidays, is rejuvenating her yoga devotion during an important change in her life. She plans to move to California upon returning to the United States.

“I just felt like it was time to close this chapter of my life,” says Bhagat who plans to eventually open a studio in the Golden State. “It’s hard to leave my students but I’m very drawn to California. I’m not nervous at all.”

Bhagat’s stay in India has coordinated with what would have been B.K.S. Iyengar’s 100th birthday. For the event, she participated in a 10-day intensive course with 1,200 people from 56 countries. To Bhagat’s delight, one of the teachers was Geeta. However, within days of the course concluding, Geeta passed away unexpectedly. She was 74 years old.

“I feel grateful to have been here when Geeta passed away,” Bhagat says. “I’m grateful to have this time and take classes and improve my practice. It’s what I get from my practice that my students appreciate in what I teach. I get that from here.”