Requiem* for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles

Whenever I pause before leading the invocation in the opening moments of class, I visualize the statue of Patañjali at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. In my imagination, to the right of Patañjali are my teachers who no longer walk on this earthly plane. To the left of the statue, are those who I can still visit in person. Honoring the lineage is my way of acknowledging the years of experience, of community gatherings, of rituals, of us all beginning the practice of yoga together. I.1. Atha yoganusasanam. As Guruji BKS Iyengar translated the first sutra, “With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.”

The Iyengar Yoga Institute in Los Angeles had such a beginning, and, as the Iyengar community grew, the Institute became a refuge. Reminiscing back to my early years, I now recognize that what I so valued was being a part of a group of like-minded seekers. And of having teachers who had devoted their lives to this study and who had integrated the journey into all facets of their lives. As a young woman I sought role models. Now, at sixty five, I realize that my life has become a map of my journey, my struggles, dead ends, discoveries, all leading to the “new now.” I have now become a mentor, a light for a younger generation; and yet I sit, every day, in Padmāsana, at the feet of the practice. The refuge is now in the practice itself.

The LA Institute closed its physical doors in March. As with so many other small businesses, it ultimately became a victim of the pandemic. At some point its physical form may be resurrected in a new location. For the time being, its presence is online and continues with far fewer faculty. I am, sadly, not one of those teachers. This next chapter of my life will surely honor Guruji and his teachings whether I am a part of the Institute or not. Yet for many years the Institute was the hub of all my activities and those teachers and students were like family.

This post is to commemorate our community. Here are a few highlights, and of course, there are more omitted then I can count! Please bear with me as I indulge in memories!

From 1985 until 2020, for thirty five years, the Institute was a home for students to mature into teachers, for teachers to create teacher training programs, for intensives, workshops, gatherings, catharsis, for soul searching. While we shared our studies, we also celebrated marriages, fundraisers, memorials, Guruji’s, Geetaji’s, Prashant and Manouso’s birthdays, and even bake sales. We hosted intensives with Sunita (Iyengar’s daughter), Faeq Biria, and Gloria Goldberg among others. Over the years, Eric Small continued as one of our senior teachers, trusted advisor, and our guiding light.

I began my studies in yoga in 1982, a long time ago! Iyengar Yoga was little known at that time. It wasn’t until 1984, when Guruji visited San Francisco for the first National Iyengar Yoga Convention, that Iyengar Yoga was truly introduced to Southern California. Manouso Manos coordinated and hosted the convention along with other members of the San Francisco Association. I will always remember Guruji’s demonstration at Davies Hall. He slowly inhaled for what seemed to be a very long time and then held his breath, for eternity. You could hear a pin drop in the huge auditorium. When finally he did exhale, it was smooth and relaxed. A master in the house. He showered us with that magnificent big grin of his as his bushy eyebrows danced around the room.

You know that you are in the “zone” when all the chips fall into place. The Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles was born. I began teaching there in 1987 and worked alongside Scott Hobbs, Justin Herold and Lynn Theard to manage the Institute. So many stories about those early days! Suffice it to say that I donated a portable dance floor which supported many Tadasanas (literally!) for several years until we had the funds to install a hardwood floor. Scott and Justin hammered, designed, and got dusty and paint covered, as the space gradually took shape.

Many people, Bonnie Anthony, Francie Ricks, Karin O’Bannon, Aileen Epstein-Ignadiou, Gloria Goldberg, Eric Small, Elisabeth Whalley, Sue Garfield, Jim Benvenuto and Eddie Marks, to name but a few, all dedicated their time to our vision of a haven for Iyengar Yoga in Los Angeles. It was the only place where we had the props, the equipment, and could dedicate the space full time to Iyengar Yoga. The first teacher training began in 1993. Karin O’Bannon, Diane Gysbers, and I worked together with Manouso Manos. Over the years, Marla Apt and Gloria Goldberg took over and further developed the teacher training program. How many graduates of those trainings now populate YWCAs, community centers, and yoga studios across Los Angeles and beyond? What a testament to the inspiration and dedication teachers found through these programs over the last thirty-plus years!

When we first opened, we were a collective of mostly students and a few teachers. Guruji advised us to bring in a senior teacher to mentor and guide us. Mary Dunn would travel from San Diego regularly in those early years. When she moved to New York, Manouso Manos took over, visiting us every other month. Guruji suggested that we work with one teacher until we had established some maturity in our community. Manouso became our senior teacher for almost thirty years. I remember picking him up at the airport in my tiny red sports car. I fit, but he’s so tall we had to open the sunroof! We must acknowledge our history! Wherever you find your allegiance in the complicated and painful narrative around the last few years, Manouso was and still is one of the most influential and for many inspiring figures in our community.

For many of you, Karin O’Bannon was your mentor, the heart of the Institute, and the champion of Iyengar yoga in the greater Los Angeles area. She embodied what a yogi’s life of service might be. She was an artist, a poet, and raised all those around her through her dedication to the practice. Here’s a poem of  hers I find inspiring:

Rain is smell and taste and touch
and feeling.
But rain has not sight.
It cannot see on who or what
it falls.
I would be rain
And never see the difference
Between you and me.

In 2004, Guruji was listed as one of Time magazine’s most influential people, so his name entered the mainstream. In 2005, he traveled through Los Angeles on a publicity tour for his bestseller “Light on Life.” He visited the Institute, and at UCLA, we hosted a Q&A with him and Annette Bening. It was fabulous!

The first big relocation happened in 2008. Our original home on 3rd Street was destined for commercial development. Chris Beach, then President of the Association, Mark Harelik, and Anna Delury facilitated the delicate negotiations with the new landlord. Eric Small helped finance the build out, and Larry Heliker supervised the construction. The new facility was big, bright, and had lots of parking. As the business grew, prompted by Scott Radin, we moved from a manual registration process to a computerized key swipe procedure. We had entered the 21st century.

2010 – IYILA and Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics hosted an intensive with Sunita Parthasarathy, one of Guruji’s daughters. People from all over Southern California attended. Guruji’s take-no-prisoners teaching style lived on in his daughter Geetaji, and Sunita was no different. I came to understand that this impatience for our slow and seemingly clumsy studentship stemmed from their craving for excellence, and an allegiance to preserving Guruji’s legacy. Sunita demanded that we be completely focused on the material, just as her father, sister and brother did. It was formidable and inspiring.

2013 – For Guruji’s ninety-fifth birthday the Association, here represented by Garth McLean, Marla Apt and I, in Pune, presented him with actual US postage stamps bearing his visage. He was completely delighted!

2013 – Marla Apt received the Leadership Award honoring her for her outstanding contributions through her teaching and guidance. Over 150 teachers and students joined us that evening. A demonstration of therapeutic applications of Iyengar Yoga and a dramatization of the Bhagavad Gīta with Mark Harelik as Krishna, Garth McLean as the narrator and three students, Laura Lenee, Dora Hasenbein, and Mary Ann Kellogg (who later became president of the Association) representing the different “Margas” or paths expressed in the Gīta. Bob Thiele and Billy Valentine performed the brilliant and hilarious “Yoga Man.” A must listen:

2019 – In honor of Geetaji’s Shraddanjali, the Institute hosted a festive memorial with a pūjā (ritual); remembrances of Geetaji by Marla Apt, Anna Delury, Chris Stein, Linda Nishio, and myself; followed up a scrumptious meal. Students showered the alter with rose petals as individuals bade farewell to our teacher. This was the last major event held at the Institute.

We hosted too many stellar workshops to list them all, but the ones I remember most fondly were Larry Heliker (seen here in the ropes),  Gabriella Giubilaro (from Florence, Italy), Arun H. Shamrao (from South India), Christian Pisano (from France), Kofi Busia, Ramanand Patel, annual visits by Elise Miller (on scoliosis), Carrie Owerko, Sutra studies with Edwin Bryant and John Casey, Ropes with Lori McIntosh, multiple sclerosis with Eric Small and later with Garth McLean, and weekly pranayama classes with Chris Stein.

There were so many celebrations, workshops, and people who could and should be noted here, I apologize for not listing them all!

Perhaps my deepest gratitude goes to those unsung heroes who served as our directors, controllers and office managers. These are the people who stayed late to turn out the lights, who handled bathroom backups, air conditioning failures, student complaints, cleaning props, ordering merchandise, and coordinating staff. In the earlier years the director did almost everything, hats off to Leslie Peters (seen here smiling effervescently with Eric Small), she took the helm for eleven years. David Charles followed, and then, in our new La Cienega facility, Marta Foust. Ah, Marta! Many of you remember Marta. She now has a child, still studies yoga, and enjoys a simpler life. Lori McIntosh supervised an inspired renovation of the facilities under the guidance of Gitte Bechsgaard. Gone were metal prop shelves. The beautified Institute now fell in line with the science of Vastu Shastra, creating spaces that promote health and mental lucidity.

Anyone who worked behind the scenes, knows our rock, Joyce Ireland. She made sure that our ‘I’s were dotted and our ‘t’s crossed, she handled contracts, insurance, taxes, and more. Bless her! In the final years, Amy Israel worked her way from the ground up as a staff registrar, to become our office manager. She drafted a formal Employee Manual, I drafted Teacher Guidelines, and we did a 360° review from faculty and staff. The Institute graduated into a formal business! Sincere gratitude to everyone named and unnamed who worked behind the scenes; without you we would never have flourished.

I served on the Board of the Institute in the early years with Scott Hobbs and Lynn Theard; and again from 2012 until 2015 with Marcy Mee, Scott Radin, and Allen Grodsky, among others. We would discuss strategies, review business models, and change the infrastructure periodically as each Board adjusted to the lessons learned about running a business. I came to recognize how delicate managing and supporting a non-profit organization was! So many teachers and students tried their hand at “being in service,” only to realize that volunteering to keep a business afloat took a completely different skill set than practicing asana. While I had dedicated years to teaching, I realized that perhaps the most essential component of teaching – besides having a firm base of the material – lay in communications skills. As I worked with senior teachers on the Curriculum Committee, I cultivated what I call the 5 “C”s of effective communication.† To a greater or lessor extent, I hope I helped!

Communication is so key to everything we do. Our community had an excellent newsletter, Yoga Vidya, edited initially by Jacqueline Austin, Catherine Fisher then Christi Hall. Linda Nishio was the sole art director since the inception of Yoga Vidya. I savor these issues.

For me, one highlight was our Tuesday night therapeutics class. Marla and I launched this class after we had completed a three year teacher training with Stephanie Quirk and had assisted therapy classes in Pune. Students came with all kinds of conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hip replacements, concussion, depression, shoulder injuries, to name but a few. We were fortunate to have almost as many certified teachers assisting us as students in the class. Tuesday nights exemplified a strong collective wherein we studied, reviewed and refined our approach to enable students to guide them on their path to healing. After the challenging class work, teachers and assistants congregated in the teacher’s lounge to debrief. Someone always brought fabulous chocolates, cupcakes, lassies or fresh juice. Our last class was the week before quarantine began, March 2020. Nine years of healing and such fond memories.

My love affair with the Institute has been a rocky one. Anyone who engages full on with a non-profit will tell you the same thing. I have taught classes, served on the Board for six years, worked on the Curriculum Council for seven years, created events, drafted schedules, handled occasional crises, and more. Ultimately, the Institute was a sanctuary worth dedicating many years of creative energy to, and a community that encouraged in-depth study.

Cheers and salutations to what we were, who we were, and to everyone who entered our sanctuary. I hope that the Association and the Institute will survive in these trying times. There are only three other non-profits in the United States that bear the name “Iyengar Yoga Institute”: one in San Francisco, another in New York, and the third in La Mesa in Southern California. All things change, but Guruji’s legacy continues through his teachers, students, books, and videos. This legacy has been a foundation in my life, and will continue to support me, my colleagues and my students as we move forward.

Epilogue

Upon reading this post, I realize that I have been avoiding the complicated and painful final two years prior to closure. While the pandemic ultimately caused the physical closing of the Institute, a rupture in the community had fatally sealed the harmony of our family. It drove a wedge between colleagues as teachers monitored what they said, paranoid of being reported for questioning the decision of the National Iyengar Yoga Association (IYNAUS). Just as roses have thorns, people are inherently political.

The Me Too movement enabled women to speak forth, if they had ever felt victims of inappropriate behavior. Allegations against Manouso Manos caused IYNAUS to hire a lawyer to conduct an investigation. As teachers claimed their positions pro or con, the hostility was palpable. Teachers were prohibited from speaking Manouso’s name in the parking lot; he was being ghosted and systematically canceled. Divorce is never easy. The emotional toll can be crippling.

This closing chapter of the Institute was painful and tragic. Most spiritual communities that go through this process rarely recover. While we had many meetings to discuss how to heal our community, the writing was black and white, the die already cast. Any challenge to the investigation meant that you might be ghosted or cancelled as well. For many of us, akin to Arjuna’s paralysis in the Bhagavad Gita, this was a decisive moment. Is this the reason I was never invited to teach online when the Institute graduated to a virtual classroom?

The grieving cycle has its own internal rhythm. Trauma cannot be quantified, it is a deeply subjective experience. The letting go of an idea of a cohesive community amidst the politics of this event will be ongoing for many of us. I find myself discovering renewed strength and refuge through my students, teaching, practice, and dedication to the gift of Iyengar Yoga, sans any need for the institutionalization of his legacy. Now, when I begin the invocation, the memory of the Institute resides with those who have passed on, sitting on the right side of Patañjali.


* Requiem: an act or token of remembrance

† My five “C”s of effective communication are: to be Courteous, Clear/Correct, Curious, Courageous, and Compassionate. I could count the pearls on my hand, like a mala, to assure that I had respectfully covered both the receptive, and the active part of dialog. I connected the C’s to the Yoga Sutras to establish my foundation for communication in yoga. In ancient yoga lore, one would practice awareness in body, speech and mind. Constructive speech was considered a primary virtue to be cultivated, and words were weighed rather than counted. I decided that my yoga practice would be to serve the community through these roles, on the Curriculum Council, or the Board, or as a senior teacher. I hope that the relationships I cultivated were as satisfying to others as they were to me.

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26 Responses to Requiem* for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles

  1. Janet Langley says:

    So lovely, Lisa. Thank you! And the five “C”s are fantastic. Here’s hoping they will be resurrected on a larger, universal scale very soon.

  2. Sandra Christenson says:

    This piece is so honest and true. As an Iyengar student for thirty years, I am pained by this purging of Manouso and the purity tests around him. I am reminded of the McCarthy era. I have taken many teachers, Chris Stein, Marla Apt in LA. Janet MacCloud, Brian Hogancamp, Michael Lucey, David Sirgany in Nor Cal. Raya and Prashant from India. Manouso online. Bravo for your courage to write this obituary. 🙏🏽

    • lisa says:

      Thank you Sandra.. IYILA continues with virtual classes, and I wish them success in the future. We often do not recognize the last chapter of a story until the story is over. So this post was my way of acknowledging how special the Institute was for many years, and, that it is time for me to continue my teachings, growth and exploration elsewhere.

  3. Ermin Cruz III says:

    Dearest Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing this. You’re such an inspiration of grace, dignity and dedication in all you do and the manner you carry yourself always. I miss you and I wish you and your husband well.
    Love and blessings always,
    Ermin 🙏❤️🌸

  4. Perre Jean marie jean-marie says:

    Thank you dear Lisa. Love from France.

  5. Joan black says:

    Lisa thank you for this marvelous history of the Institute. It was my refuge for many years when Leslie Peters was the director . Marla Apt was just a very young student , studying . Karin O’bannon and Jim and Scott and Sue and so many others were my teachers . You were my teacher at yoga Works and the institute. And Ramanand Patel and Judith Lasiter Rodney Yee and so many others when the San Francisco institute was my school before I moved to LA. memories of these days filled my heart . Thank you
    Joan Black
    Oh and Garth McLean was a new student ! Wow!!! Incredible to think how his dedication transformed his life . Yoga transformed all of our lives .
    I still sing the song to Patanjeli everyday with my home practice. Whenever I do adhamuckashavasana I think of Jim B! Haha ( sorry for misspell)
    Always my love to you Lisa
    Joan Black

    • lisa says:

      Joan, this is what i had hoped for from this post. That people would remember and celebrate the discoveries, the tribulations, the people, and the transformation. We did it together.

  6. Alfonso says:

    Thanks querida Liza
    You bring me in my teaching great inspiration
    2024 we were Paris long walk plaza of the republic be yoga
    Mucho amor
    Alfonso
    Rayodelavida.com
    Now in Mallorca Spain

  7. Krishna says:

    “Just as roses have thorns, people are inherently political.” That may be true but this was not a political issue. This was about assuring that there are safe spaces to practice yoga with out being sexually assualted by Manuso.

    • lisa says:

      I generally do not reply to anonymous comments. In this case, for the sake of transparency, I will. In my perspective, everything can be viewed as political and everyone is entitled to their point of view. I am glad that you are able to state your point of view, even if it is anonymous.

  8. Laura Baker says:

    Lovely heartfelt historical account. Much gratitude for your eternal wisdom, dear Lisa. You always have a way of speaking the truth and seeing the light through what at times can be a very heavy darkness. The practice will surely transcend the politics and institutionalization. Be well!

  9. Sahaja Douglass says:

    Darling Lisa, this is so beautiful, honest and generous. I miss starting off my week with you. We are all well sequestered on the mountain top. I am enjoying a life with little driving, but I miss our yoga satsang. Sending you, Ross and Sita virtual hugs and so much love. Are you teaching on-line? I must search through your social media to get my update. Aum Shanti!!!

    • lisa says:

      Good to hear that all is safe in your family Sahaja! I am currently teaching on the YogaWorks platform. Pranayama Wednesday morning from 7:30 – 8:30 and asana L 2/3 on Friday at the usual time, 9:00. miss your mountaintop pups!

  10. Carrie Noland says:

    Dear Lisa,
    Thank you for commemorating this important moment. I’m so glad you describe the importance of Karin O’Bannon. She was my first teacher in Laguna Beach when I moved from New York to teach at UC Irvine. My daughter’s middle name is Karin, chosen to honor my dear teacher. I’d like to correct one thing, though: Chris Beach was the President of IYASC-LA, the regional Iyengar Yoga association, when the studio moved to La Cienega. (Mark was VP.) Chris helped steer the committee that both raised the money for the move and helped negotiate the lease. So we owe a huge thanks to him.
    I, like you, have taken my distance from the current association. I am not a certified teacher and I have only taken classes with Manouso a few times over the years. However, the way in which the investigation was conducted, and the echoes of suppression and retaliation that persisted long after, have alienated me from the new official establishment. To forbid people from saying someone’s name in a parking lot, to forbid people from studying with a certain teacher at risk of punishment and denial of their livelihood, is just going too far. It is to forget a long history of oppressive government censorship in this country and elsewhere. Let’s not pollute the fight for women’s rights by using the tactics of fascist regimes.
    Anyway, thank you, Lisa, for your clarity, sincerity, warmth, and insight.

    • lisa says:

      Hi Carrie. Thank you for the correction. I updated and listed Chris Beach as President when we moved to La Cienega. He has certainly supported the community through his leadership both in our local and with the National Association, I believe it was ten years ago. and, as Larry Heliker so adeptly commented, “something” remains, even as students come and go, teachers come and go, the transforming nature of the practice remains. Awareness changes everything.

  11. Bailey says:

    Lisa,
    I hold so much gratitude for your honest, detailed, celebratory and courageous reflection of your journey with the Los Angeles Iyengar Yoga Institute.

    You exemplify the 5 C’s in this requiem!

    I trust you are healthy, living with deep joy and peace of body, mind and heart.
    Namaste,

  12. Dina Ghen says:

    Great Message Lisa.
    Thank you and just keep on going

  13. Kathy Alef says:

    Dear Lisa,
    I always thought you were a woman of the highest integrity and walked the path with such dignity. Your heart
    is pure and honest.
    May God bless you.

  14. Eli says:

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you for sharing history with the younger ones here too.
    I wish you a peaceful transition into this new Era.

    Love and Light.

  15. Elizabeth Whalley says:

    Thank you so much for this beautifully-written requiem. The writing transported me to those earlier times and filled me with warm memories. I am touched to be included in the list. With great love, Elizabeth

  16. Sammy Jo Watzek says:

    Thank you, Lisa. I loved serving as part of the IYILA team and had no idea the physical space had closed. Many blessings and well wishes to you all.

  17. Christine Newmark says:

    Dear Lisa,
    Thank you for your teaching and for sharing Karin O’Bannon’s poem, Rain. Beautiful and calming.
    Peace & Love,
    Christine

  18. Toni Black says:

    Thank you, Lisa!
    Your words lovingly penetrated to the core of my being. I appreciate your “neutral”, compassionate, clear POV of this chronicled evolution.
    I was fortunate to have stumbled upon the 3rd street studio. Karin, Leslie and Manuso all imparted wisdom that changed my life forever.
    You and I met at the La Cienega studio. The Tuesday evening “therapeutics” class was another game changer in my life.

    Your words here will stay with me, integrate deeply during my morning Sadhana and offer an evolutionary assist with each new breath.

    It is a gift to have crossed paths.
    Infinite Blessings.

    Respectfully,

    Toni Black

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