My teacher is gone…the sequel

TKV Desikachar
TKV Desikachar

As promised, here’s some more context to the situation surrounding last week’s post about Desikachar’s dementia, and the aftermath.

First of all, as I stated in the article, the primary reason I decided to go public was pure-self interest.  What no one could have known (except my partner and editor Lydia Mann),  was that as soon as I completed writing the piece, a full-blown, on-my-knees-to-get-out-of-bed, can’t-stand-up-straight, ice-pick-to-the-back-of-my-pelvis back spasm straight out of Dr. Sarno’s book…disappeared without a trace. Damned if Sarno wasn’t right when he claimed that suppressed rage can lay you low with pain – and last week I had 5 years of it being triggered by the news of Iyengar’s imminent demise.

I guess I was also extra mad that Iyengar’s students had a chance to mourn him and his accomplishments, and I was still in this limbo state of hidden grief since 2009 with no end in sight.

So, I’m very happy that so many people from around the world and within our tradition have thanked me for saying what I said…but I really didn’t do it for them – or anyone else. As I said in the piece:

“It’s been unhealthy for me to carry this silent burden of loss and anger for so long. I share this in the hope of a healing that will keep the beauty of Desikachar’s teachings from being tinged with pain every time I mention his name.”

So far, my lower back agrees that we’re on the right track. And, last weekend, back at my original Yoga home – the Sivananda Ashram, I taught a workshop and spoke of my teacher with nothing but love for him and the teachings.

Secondly, what’s also been very interesting and moving is how many folks out there are dealing with the dementia of a loved one – either now or in the recent past. I guess I shouldn’t find it surprising, but it really wasn’t in the front of my mind when I wrote the piece.

So, I seem to have tapped into a deep well of common grief – not just for Desikachar – but all of those we have lost, or are in the process of losing.  If you have your own story to tell, or anything else you’d like to contribute to the conversation, please feel free to leave a reply below.  I will read everything and respond when appropriate.


Comments (8)

Hi Leslie, I want to thank you for being so open to your grief and inspiring others to process their grief. Griefing ‘properly’ is not something that we do well in our current times. Namaste. Wai Ying

Thanks, but I really don’t think there is a “proper” way to grieve. In the face of devastating losses, we respond in uniquely individual ways – everything from complete breakdown to total repression and everything in between. It seems you can never tell when exactly it will catch up with you, though.

​Dear Leslie,
I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your humanity.

Mr. Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga was a gift to me when I first started yoga and​ it ended up being the very first yoga book I ever read. The last sloka of Krishnamacarya’s Yoganjalisaram on page 229 was probably the first “mantra” I ever memorized:

Regulate the breath, be happy,
link the mind with the Lord in your heart.

My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s and eventually my father and aunt had to put him in a nursing home. I don’t remember much as I was fairly young but eventually he did not recognize any of his family members.​ Although healthy, active and alert at 76, my father has been becoming increasingly forgetful over the years so I am aware that he may face dementia or Alzheimer’s and occasionally I wonder, how would I best care for him?

Since you have put this all out there, what I would find interesting, which perhaps would be helpful to other yoga students, is if you can share your svadhyaya of the whole experience you have written about thus far, in Patanjalian terms. Letting out repressed stuff is a courageous, therapeutic step. However, what you have learned about the suffering you have created for yourself surrounding the unfortunate situation—the dementia, which we could call suffering caused by natural elements, + faulty actions taken by Mr. Desikachar’s family, which we could call suffering caused by other beings—is, in my experience, at the heart of yoga.

So much dukha. Why rage? And anger over expressions of grief by Mr. Iyengar’s students? ​ ​What kleshas, vrittis, and obstacles were/are you facing and what states have they been in?

Is there any part of your practice you were neglecting over these years that upon reflection you are now able to see? You’ve mentioned sutra 2.1 in the past and so I wonder about Ishvara Pranidhana, surrendering to that which you cannot control—at the deepest level accepting things just as they are. Or the training of the mind that is required to understand that all of prakriti is change.

How much of the suffering had to do with attachments – to the thought that you would have years of study with Mr. D. ahead of you? Or to an idea that he would have a graceful exit from this lifetime and that you would be able to have a loving goodbye in person? Or with asmita and the required change of “I am a student of TKV Desikachar” to “I was a student of TKV Desikachar?” Or with your own fears of illness and death?

In the grand scheme of things, none of us knows the lifespan of anyone we have a relationship with much less ourselves. None of us knows when illness may come. Everyone is doing their best to get along in the world with the samskaras they carry, and that includes the family of Mr. Desikachar. Their actions may not suit what you desire, but alas we know desire as one of the causes of suffering.

I don’t think any less of Mr. Desikachar for his illness and the subsequent actions by his family to continue on. It sounds like some of the effects of their faulty actions—always taken in ignorance—have already played out. Perhaps they already wish they had handled some things differently. ​Perhaps we can use sutra 1.33 as a lens going forward, not only towards others, but also towards ourselves.

As far as the lineage goes, as students of yoga, we are charged to develop our discrimination and thus take what is useful and leave the rest.

And if I can say, or even just feel, in my final days that I am satisfied with what I have done, regardless of the state or location of my body, that will truly be a majestic death. I can only hope.

Kristine Bell

I am new to you and your blog, but found you through Amazon’s suggestion of your “Yoga Anatomy”. Thank you Amazon and your intuitive powers! I feel that I will be keeping your writings and “Anatomy of Yoga” book as consistent sources for daily contemplation!
I have been working through my own emotions regarding dementia. Witnessing my Grandmother lose her ability to form new memories has been both heartbreaking and fascinating. My grandmother can remember her childhood neighbor, but will never know who my husband and son are. She is overjoyed to meet them, as if for the first time, over and over again! But, her kindness, love and concern for her family’s welbeing shine through the cloud of dementia. Her inner light is a gem my family holds when we are saddened by the desintegration of the mind of someone so integral to our lives. The mind is so peculiar, frustrating, powerful, vulnerable! How does one handle the transition of a teacher, provider and nurturer into someone who is so needy? Are they teaching us some new lesson? Am I open to learn it? Or am I too busy missing who they once were?

Dear Christine,
Thank you for the beautiful post. You have said exactly what I was feeling and thinking after reading Leslie’s writings, only much more eloquently. I have read Leslie’s book and respect him a great deal. Feeling his deep rage and huge pain coming through the computer screen, I was at loss for words. Thank you for the reply, and best wishes…for everyone

Pauline Fleming

Do you think that Desikachar’s family are in total denial and are hoping that all will be well and are living in hope that Desikachar will return to ‘normal’. This is common. Dementia has many guises and the progession of the disease is subtle. I know this to be a fact as I looked after my mother for 12 years and watched her demise. However, at some point peace will come. For Desikachar he is loved and respected. I am sure his family will make sure his needs are met whilst he leads them into ‘unknown territory’ . It is a mind blowing experience for all concerned.

Pauline Fleming

Your insightfulness to the situation is remarkable. Thank you for this comment.

Mr. Kaminoff,
I have just read your statement about TKV Desikachar online. Let me back up: today reading about the floods in Chennai (Madras, to us), I felt a need to try and email my teacher of old TKV Desikachar, in hopes of finding him and the family safe. I studied with him privately before the mandiram was set up, in 1974-5, for nine months and, like you, credit him with marking the rest of my life, all for the good. I was not in touch with him after that, but he and his teachings remained a large part of my life. Imagine my shock today when instead of finding his email address I ran right into mention of a scandal, and something about our beloved teacher being ill. A little more digging revealed the salient information. I am so very sorry to hear all this, but especially, of the dimming light of one of the great men of our time. I sorrow with you.

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