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Iyengar and Dona

Dona practising Yoga with Iyengar

Dona met B.K.S Iyengar in August 1964 while attending the annual Jiddu Krishnamurti Gatherings in Gstaad, Switzerland. She had known Jiddu Krishnamurti already since 1960, and was also practicing yoga since a couple of years.

While in Gstaad she heard that Iyengar taught both Krishnamurti and Vanda Scaravelli at chalet Tannegg, which Vanda Scaravelli rented every year for Krishnamurti. Apart from Krishnamurti and Vanda, Iyengar also taught the world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin at his chalet, also in Gstaad.

As Dona, age 22, had decided to make yoga her profession, she asked Krishnamurti to introduce her to Iyengar, which he did. Iyengar was completely unknown at that time; the only people who knew him were those in Gstaad.

Dona and IyengarAfter one class with Iyengar Dona decided to travel to India to study with him. Thus, in October 1964, Dona sailed for Bombay, where she spent a year studying with him at the Bombay dance school, where he taught on the weekends. In that one year Iyengar taught Dona all the postures.  The class consisted of four people, three Jains (including the parents of Aadil Palkiwalla) and Dona, so the lessons were on an individual basis.

Dona and IyengarBetween 1964 and 1969 Dona founded the B.K.S.Iyengar Yoga Work Group in the Netherlands, and taught her first Teachers Training Course. Some of the teachers that came out of that course became, in their turn, internationally known. She also wrote her first yoga manual for this course. (photos). Victor van Kooten and his erstwhile wife were part of that first group. It was at Dona’s instigation that Victor later traveled to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar.

Dona and GitaIn 1969 Dona traveled back to India, this time to stay in Puna. For a while she stayed at a hotel, and then stayed with the Iyengar family as part of the family. In that group was a French woman, and an Australian man. Training was again on an individual basis, and Iyengar helped Dona to perfect her asanas and pranayama techniques. Before the morning class Iyengar and Dona used to practice together, and Iyengar put her often in the postures. Sometimes Gita joined in the practice. In the afternoon sirsasana and sarvangasana, often practiced to Indian music, sometimes with only Iyengar, sometimes again with Gita joining in.

Dona and GitaAt the request of Iyengar Dona went to London after traveling back to Europe, and taught for a couple of years at the ILEA, the Inter London Education Authority, where Iyengar had introduced her as his ‘European Gita’. There she met and taught many English people, amongst others Angela Farmer, Maxine Tobias, Mary Stewart and others.

In 1972 Iyengar expressed his wish to visit Vanda Scaravelli in Roma, and Dona offered to take him there in her Volkswagen van, traveling all across Europe. Once in Rome, classes were held at Vanda’s apartment in Parioli, where both Iyengar and Dona stayed as guests.

When Iyengar went back to India, Vanda asked Dona to stay in Italy and found a B.K.S.Iyengar school in Florence. This school flourished for 27 years and produced many teachers, some of whom also became well known in their turn, thanks to the thorough training received at the hands of Dona.

Dona and GitaIn 1980 Dona received an invitation by Patricia Walden to visit the States. Thus Dona traveled to Boston, where she taught for many years Patricia Walden, Victor Oppenheimer and John Schumacher at Victor’s house. They made the first film of her on Martha’s Vineyard. At the invitation of others she began to travel to other parts of the States. At her invitation Gabriella Giubilaro and some other of her students from Florence accompanied her on some of those travels as apprentices.

Thanks to those early days and instructions these various people, who in their turn became well known afterwards, were able to receive their certification from B.K.S.Iyengar without having to go through elaborate teacher training courses, as Iyengar himself recognized their proficiency. Amongst those were Erich Schiffman, John Schumacher, Patricia Walden and others. Dona herself holds a Senior Certificate, given to her in the seventies by B.K.S Iyengar.

During those years both Vanda Scaravelli and Dona stayed in close contact, as Vanda had decided to move to Florence too. Each in their turn gave a more ‘feminine’ twist to the teaching received from B.K.S.Iyengar. Vanda was 35 years older than Dona, but their relationship went beyond the mere asanas, and they learned from each other. Dona studied for many hears the piano with Vanda, who had been trained as a concert pianist, and in turn helped Vanda with many of the postures.

1976 was the last time Dona went to India to study with B.K.S.Iyengar. After 1980 the international Iyengar community mushroomed, and as such lost that spirit which was present in the early days and became commercially and politically oriented. Thus with great regret Dona decided not to return to her original teacher, as she did not wish to be part of the ever expanding organization, but to continue her practice in the original pure tradition. Based on that tradition she wrote Dancing the Flame of Life, featuring all the postures learned and practiced with B.K.S.Iyengar, as well as Centering Down, a simplified version of Dancing the Flame of Life, and the Practice Manual. In the Practice Manual students are invited to follow the original program that Dona learned from and practiced with B.K.S. Iyengar in the sixties and seventies, and which throughout the years she continued to practice.

Currently she lives in the North of Italy and continues to hold teacher training courses. For more information please consult the section ‘courses’.