This is the mantra that I learned in the class of Surinder Singh and it serves me until the present day. The mantra reveals the spirit of Surinder’s classes: they provide the space where you feel like developing and growing in all dimensions of human existence, and Surinder is there to assist you in a soft and supporting way.
Surinder is well-known and respected teacher in Rishikesh who teaches hatha yoga to both beginners and experienced practitioners. His classes usually have a similar routine: they start with the joint-opening warmups, then a few rounds of Surya Namaskar series, a series of standing asanas, a series of asanas in seated or prone/supine positions, shavasana in the end. Very often, some pranayamas will be included somewhere in the sequence.
Surinder teaches asanas in a quite static way, you can expect to hold each pose for 8-10 breaths or more. Even poses of Surya Namaskar sequence are held for at least 3-4 breaths. Initially, he does not give very detailed instructions on alignment for each pose, but he goes around the class and adjusts virtually every person, so his instructions on how to perform the pose will be very individualized. Sometimes, the class is too big and Surinder will not adjust you in every pose, but he still tries to make sure to give personal attention to everyone. When some pose needs more attention and clarification, he can stop the flow of the class to give illustration on somebody, or perform the pose himself and explain principles of alignment. Sometimes alignment principles are similar to Iyengar’s, sometimes he explains them in completely unique way, linking to the laws of mechanics and biomechanics. Very often he explains asanas not just in the sense of physical alignment, but in the sense of attitude and mental state that one is expected to cultivate in one’s mind while performing the pose. For example, while performing the Tree pose, one should feel like a tree, stable and calm but always giving, just like a tree gives shelter from a sun. Warrior pose provides opportunity to develop virtues of warrior - courage, protection, discipline.
My first class with Surinder Singh was about 9 years ago. I remember, my first impression of the class was that it’s nice, but not too intense. That’s because Surinder starts with simple asanas and most of his sequences include classic yoga poses. But as I attended more classes, I understood that this approach is far more demanding than dynamic classes that I had in Ukraine, as it makes you go deep into each pose, hold it for longer time, strengthen your attention, work on your patience and persistence, and understand the way your mind works. In my first year in Rishikesh, I was visiting Surinder Singh’s classes twice a day for about 3 months, and I made tremendous progress in my practice.
That was not just a progress with asanas. Surinder stresses that the asanas are just an initial stage of yogic process, and with enough practice, we start to work on our mind more than our bodies, developing attitudes of patience, appreciation, attention to others, acceptance, kindness and understanding. These lessons from Surinder’s classes are still with me until the present day. I was going back to India for years with the specific aim to attend his classes. Now, I study with other teachers also and practice on my own, but coming to Surinder’s class always feels like coming home.
So, few practical recommendations:
1. Surinder’s classes are good for people with difficulties, physical challenges and disabilities, because he will attend to you personally and adjust the pose to suit your needs.
2. Some students used to more dynamic styles may find Surinder’s classes not so challenging, yet I think they can be quite useful for such practitioners, as they present a completely different perspective on yogic practice: not so athleticism-oriented by rather introverted, directed towards developing of mental stability, mindfulness and positive attitude.