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Yoga teacher Mary Dunn passes away

October 23, 2008 23:22 IST

Mary Dunn, a pioneering yoga teacher and founder of the Iyengar yoga institutes in San Francisco, San Diego and New York, died recently in Scarsdale, New York. She was guru to thousands of people all over the United States.

She founded the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Berkeley, California, in 1974. Her mother Mary Palmer had studied with B K S Iyengar, founder of the Iyengar Yoga, in the 1960s and she was instrumental in bringing him to the US in 1973. Dunn became his student the following year.

Iyengar is credited to have brought and popularized yoga in the West. Dunn was a founding director of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States.

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1964. Next year, she married Roger Dunn, an editor, and moved with him to Cleveland, where she taught high school English. In 1967, they moved to San Francisco. They were divorced in 2000. Mary Dunn moved to Westchester County in 1986 and helped start the New York Iyengar Institute in 1992. She was the primary instructor and senior authority for dozens of teachers at the New York institute. She eventually began traveling to India every year to study with Iyengar, who is 90 now.

She died of peritoneal cancer, said her daughter Elizabeth Dunn Ingles, who lives in Scarsdale. She has another daughter, Louise A Dunn of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mary Dunn said that more than 20 years after she began teaching Iyengar yoga, it remained a rich experience for her. 'It's as if a great musician sat down and played the same Bach Invention he knew 15 years ago,' she said, 'only now he understands what those notes really meant.'

'Her intelligent study and infectious humor created demand for her teaching throughout the world. She reached out to all students, sharing her love and knowledge of the art of yoga with clarity, dynamism and generosity,' her colleagues said in an obituary. 'Mary faced her cancer diagnosis with wisdom and courage, and continued to teach and inspire others, communicating with her students and friends about her illness and how it informed her magnificent life,' it said.

On Guru Purnima this July, she spoke of her guru and his contribution.

'After a short time in the class, I was not only thrilled but actually convinced that here was a true teacher and here was a subject that embedded the truth,' she said.

'Here I was, a younger, California version and I didn't know much about yoga at all. He put me up on stage and said, "She's a rank beginner; she doesn't know anything." I didn't mind that at all because I didn't! He said, "I'm going to teach her in front of you and you all can learn from the way I'm teaching her." He had me as a model up there most of the time; and, of course, he made me look good! He put me up and held my leg up and made me absolutely sturdy. If I couldn't reach the floor, it didn't matter; and he'd tell everyone, "It doesn't matter!"

That was my first experience with Guruji. Later, I went back every year or two until just very recently. He is an extraordinary teacher who can teach from all different kinds of points of view: Physical, metaphysical, and psychological.'


George Joseph