Karen Garloch

Charlotte’s Iyengar yoga teacher returns to India

After her last trip to study yoga in India, Charlotte’s Phyllis Rollins was in debt for six months. But this time, she went without a worry. Her visit is being paid for by devoted yoga students who knew how much it meant for her to return.

They raised $4,000 to send Rollins to the 70th birthday celebration for Geeta Iyengar, daughter of the late B.K.S. Iyengar, who has been called the “Michelangelo of yoga.”

Rollins, 59, is credited with opening Charlotte’s first yoga studio in 1993, and she has been a devotee of Iyengar yoga since she learned it from a teacher who went to a workshop in the 1980s. “She came back and we were on fire,” Rollins recalled. “Yoga was just sort of easy and laid back (in those days), and this was really hard and very specific.”

Instead of just telling students to assume a “downward facing dog” pose, the Iyengar method involves describing each movement. Steps might range from “broaden across the palm of your hand” to “tuck your toes” to “take your buttock bones higher.”

Over the years, Rollins trained at workshops with senior teachers who had studied with Iyengar. In 1993, she got her first chance to study with the master when Iyengar led a workshop in Michigan.

She studied with him again in Colorado in 1996, the year she was certified as an Iyengar instructor. She’s the only one in Charlotte, but two of her students are about to take the test.

Rollins also traveled to India in 1998 and 2006 to study with Iyengar and his daughter. On the second visit, Geeta was the main instructor at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, named for Iyengar’s wife.

Meanwhile, Rollins was becoming well-known in Iyengar circles at home. She is past president of the Iyengar Yoga Association of the Southeast and has served in leadership roles in the national group.

When Rollins learned about Geeta’s birthday celebration, she assumed she couldn’t go because of the cost. Then, the elder Iyengar died in August. She told her husband: “You know I’m going to India, right?”

Rollins left Friday. She’ll be one of 250 Americans taking Geeta’s intensive workshop. “She’s not in good health,” Rollins said. “She’s probably not going to come back to the United States. … If I never get to study with her again, I will know that I did everything I could to get there.”

While Rollins is gone, two of her students are teaching her Charlotte classes. On Dec. 14, which would have been Iyengar’s 96th birthday, they will host a free open house – with demonstrations and refreshments – from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Yoga Center, 1940 E. Eighth St. See www.8thstreetstudio.com.