Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.
JOYCE STUART: 27.03.1923 – 13.06.2019
The In Memoriam notice published in our Pietermaritzburg newspaper The Witness reads in part as follows: ‘Our dear Padma, pioneer (and “grandmother”) of Iyengar Yoga in Southern Africa, dedicated exponent of the Iyengar method, meticulous and inspiring teacher, colleague and friend…’ It went on to give the names of those in the city and KZN Midlands whose lives were most closely touched by her, and concluded with a favourite line of hers from the prayer to Lord Hanuman and Patanjali, found in Light on Pranayama, thus: “Where there is Yoga there is prosperity, success, freedom and bliss.”
In preparing the notice I seemed quite clearly to hear Padma’s voice enunciating these words, and it was natural to add the words she had had engraved beneath the photograph of her beloved late husband Ron: OM TAT SAT.
Hers was a long and eventful life, from its beginnings (as Joyce Prescott) in Liverpool, UK, through the move to Southern Africa with her family as a teenager, her marriage to Ron Stuart at 18, motherhood, work in an office, and, gradually, a developing interest in, and ultimately a passion for Yoga. Ron, the more introspective of the two, was the first to delve into Hindu philosophy and was involved in the Divine Life Society (DLS). Padma began her practice via the postures and with the encouragement of her first guru, Swami Venkatesananda of the DLS, who bestowed on her the name (=lotus) by which we all came to know her. As she would sometimes comment, laughing, the lotus rises up from the mud to become the pure flower above, so that when people called her “Padma” it acted as a nudge in the right direction.
Padma and Ron were already teaching asana classes in Pietermaritzburg when she first read Light on Yoga. This ground-breaking work was startling in its rigour and precision, and Padma felt compelled to apply to attend classes with Iyengar himself. There followed her first course with him in London, and one-on-one teaching from him in Gstaad, Switzerland and then, a little chastened but inspired by his tough teaching methods, a return to South Africa to spread what she had learned. In 1967 the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute of Southern Africa was established with Padma as Chair – it is seldom acknowledged that the Institute was founded in Pietermaritzburg and that its headquarters remained here for a number of years under Padma’s leadership.
Because the Indian government refused Guruji permission to travel to South Africa at that time, courses with him were organised in Mauritius, Malawi and Swaziland, as many senior members of the Institute will gratefully recall.
In addition, Padma and Ron went to India to study in Pune as often as possible, and were given Guruji’s permission to build an Iyengar Yoga studio – modelled exactly on the asana floor of the Pune Institute – adjacent to their home in the old Trelawney farmhouse. To their great joy Guruji was finally able to visit South Africa in 1979, and, at a gala event on September 22, he blessed and inaugurated the Iyengar Institute.
This building, known and loved by students, teacher trainees and teachers from many parts of Southern Africa for nearly 30 years, stood as a symbol of Padma’s and Ron’s unswerving devotion to the purity of the Iyengar teachings – a devotion recognised and respected not only here, but elsewhere in the world.
Since Padma left Pietermaritzburg in 2008 the Institute building has been encroached upon by a housing development and conference centre, and Yoga is no longer taught there. As Padma was leaving she expressed her acceptance of the changes, saying, “Yoga is the union with that inner divine form that gives you the capacity to balance your life…By the practice of Yoga you gain the…eventual wisdom and understanding of how life is to be lived.”
This wisdom and understanding went with her as she moved to the KZN South Coast, and surely helped her accept and deal with the difficulties of great old age (deafness, loss of sight, loss of mobility) and the cruel death of her beloved son and best friend Geoff. She surely was closer than most to the inner riches referred to in the prayer mentioned in the first paragraph, and to the freedom and bliss for which she always strove. She died at 96, the same age as her revered Guruji.
We cherish her memory and her uncompromising but always generous teaching. We shall endeavour to follow her example.