My ending should be your beginning.

BKS Iyengar

krabappelsmokingLast week, the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak. A friend of mine was the first postdoc of Greider’s first postdoc. When Greider won the Nobel Prize, it polished her academic pedigree. She’s now the “grandstudent” of a Nobel Prize winner.

This made me think about my “degrees of separation” from BKS Iyengar. My current main teacher regularly studies with Geeta, Prashant, and BKS Iyengar himself. Unless I immediately apply to study at RIMYI in Pune, I will never witness Mr Iyengar (who will turn 91 this December) with my own eyes.

But am I at least a grandstudent of Mr Iyengar?

Well, PhDs and postdocs are much rarer than yoga students. Landing a prestigious postdoctoral research position is extremely competitive, and the relationship between mentor and protege is direct and often intense. Such influential relationships can and do exist between yoga teachers and students, but nowadays, with crowded classes and traveling teachers, they are uncommon. If students pursue advanced studies with a selective teacher (who accepts a limited number of trainees), there’s more potential for a mentor-protege type of relationship.

Still, if any teacher-student relationship continues for five, 10, or 20 years, it does become significant. Students don’t flat-out ask, “Can I be your student?” but long relationships speak for themselves: if there’s no chemistry, no compatibility, people move on.

For any degree of “transmission” to occur between generations of teachers, there is much responsibility on teachers—and also on students. Attending class and doing your homework are givens. But the best students also benefit the teacher: they bring new ideas, they challenge the status quo, they push the teacher to clarify her own ideas, they energize the class. Heck, they might simply amuse the teacher with humor, wit, and cheer.

Being an engaged student takes work, but my teacher reminds us that we should take advantage of our teachers: ask questions, volunteer for class demos, eke the most out of that $15 or $20 class. “Squeeze your teachers,” she advises—and she got that advice from one of her own teachers.

To consider myself a grandstudent of BKS Iyengar would be a leap. The grandstudent of a Nobel Prize winner shouldn’t mention it if she’s lagged in her own achievements. That would be empty self-promotion. Similarly, a yoga student should not brag about her teachers and their lineages if she has not proven herself worthy.

For more, see my past post, “Naming names.”