Clearing up a few misconceptions about Iyengar yoga

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Sayanasana-Yoga-Pose-BKS-Iyengar

Now that the world’s attention has focused more on Iyengar yoga since his passing, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about this style that I have seen in various blogs and social media.

Misconception #1: Iyengar yoga is prop based.

First, pick up a copy of Light On Yoga. You won’t find a single prop in his presentation of over 200 asanas…save a blanket and bench and a Noelle Perez-Christiaens. Iyengar designed the use of props to get students further into certain actions of the pose, and for those who could not otherwise attain the pose without supports. Further prop refinements, particularly in Salamba Sarvangasana (supported all limbs pose, or Shoulderstand) uses blankets for safety issues.

When Iyengar teachers go for assessment, we are advised to do and teach asanas without props in the middle of the room unless otherwise specified. Props are only used to…

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GEETA IYENGAR (1944-2018) GAVE ME INDIAN SWEETS

Young Geeta working at the Institute, with her father, BKS Iyengar, and brother, Prashant (unknown author and date)

Now that Geeta is no longer with us I would like to share my last personal memory of her. In 2017 I was in Pune for the month of December. One morning, as is customary after the main morning class with her brother Prashant Iyengar, I was practicing in the main hall, when one of the regular teachers at the Institute rushed in telling us that Geeta had invited us to celebrate her birthday…now! We all ran out of the hall excited and incredulous, making our way just across the courtyard, to the Iyengar family’s home.

The door was open as it often is, and Geeta was inside sitting at the main table and already offering Indian sweets personally to everyone who came in, one by one. Many people had already gathered around her in the small front room eating their sweet, whilst others were trying to form a queue hoping not to miss out on this unique and moving opportunity. However what we all really wanted was to simply sit in her presence and listen to what she had to say.

My turn arrived. I will always remember one of Geeta’s hands, supporting the other at the wrist in lifting the sweet from the box and handing it to me. It seemed that such a simple task was in fact not easy for her to perform. Her health then was not at its best. For some years already she had had good and bad spells. As soon as she felt good enough you would know! She would soon teach daily and tirelessly, general, medical or women’s classes. You could spot her also out in the courtyard talking to teachers she had come to know personally over the years and who were usually seeking her advice and help.

Geeta Iyengar in front of the family home (unknown author and date)

Once the sweets were all gone, we sat or stood around the table and Geeta started talking to all of us. At this point the room had become pretty crowded. As we all knew very well, December 2017 marked the beginning of the year-long centenary celebrations for the birth of her father, BKS Iyengar and the Pune Institute had many plans for this special occasion. One was, Geeta told us, to bring yoga to women who were working as cleaners, and were often too poor to afford regular classes. Not a surprise that she would mention women…her book ‘Yoga: A Gem for Women’ was a pioneer publication and has supported women in yoga ever since. Her main message was for us all to continue practicing yoga and added that the teachers amongst us should bring yoga especially to those who were less able to come to classes, and generally less exposed to yoga.

Geeta Iyengar, teaching, December 2018 (unknown author)

Just over a year later, after the centenary celebrations came to an end, she died, I believe, at that same table. She had just taught powerfully a 10-day intensive course to thousands of students from 53 countries.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/geeta-iyengar-renowned-yoga-exponent-passes-away-at-74/articleshow/67119933.cms

She started teaching at 16 and she never stopped, for nearly 60 years, leaving us with her enormous contribution to the practice of yoga for women and yoga therapeutics in general. My limitations are such that I can all but grasp a small (sweet) piece of it.

WHY IYENGAR YOGA IS NOT STUCK IN THE PAST

It has happened a few times recently that yoga teachers and students alike have commented on the fact that Iyengar Yoga seems to be ‘stuck in the past’ whereas other yoga methods appear to be very modern and fresh in their approach.

Surprised by these passing and matter-of-factly observations, I started to reflect on them and I came up with a few reasons why it is certainly not the case in my view, that Iyengar Yoga is old fashioned and needs modernising.

I assume that those who hold this opinion might just have in mind, as a point of reference, BKS Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga (LOY). It was published in 1966, its images were revolutionary when the book came out and they are still striking now for their beauty and mastery shown in the execution of the poses. At the time, the descriptions and detailed instructions accompanying each postures represented a novel approach to teaching yoga. The book was for many reasons the apex in yoga-related publications. However for the development of Iyengar Yoga, as it’s known now, it became on the other hand, the starting point for further developments.

Thanks to the progressive minds of Guruji Iyengar and his family as well as their openness and willingness to interact with and help their increasing number of students, poses, sequences, and ways in which to practice them grew steadily and organically. And they are continuing to do so….

Can you see a prop in LOY, or any of the now-ubiquitous yoga tools, in any of the images? No. Or almost…This is because they were fully developed later. Even the sticky mat. Moreover the familiar bricks, belts, chairs, all developed by Guruji Iyengar, were only the start. Many other tools like wooden wedges, metal rods, stools and bandages have continued to come out of the active mind of Guruji Iyengar and his family. As soon as a pre-existing support was not quite enough in helping a student to move further on his yoga journey, some other prop would be invented. Some of these aids have become mainstream, some others are to be found only at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in India.

Have you heard of Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana? No? Well it’s not in LOY! Since the 60s, more poses have been developed and many more familiar poses have been modified with dozens of ad hoc versions to suit specific people and conditions.

It may be a surprise to you to know that Guruji Iyengar started his yoga path with ‘Vinyasa krama’, but via constant yoga study and practice, as well as the meeting of many students over decades, he changed his approach in order to make yoga asanas more accessible to a wider audience, and more importantly, to all ages. So, to a certain extent, a vinyasa-type of yoga is the past! At the same time, a flow of yoga poses, or ‘jumpings’, is actually very much practiced in Iyengar Yoga, but not exclusively.

BKS Iyengar published many more books and articles since LOY. Topics vary from detailed aspects of yoga poses to yoga philosophy, from Pranayama to advice on teaching yoga. This is another concrete testament to his active and inquisitive mind but also to his determination to share his knowledge with all. The Iyengar Yoga library is constantly growing and becoming richer and richer with contributions from his children, Gita and Prashant Iyengar, as well as from Iyengar Yoga teachers world-wide.

The only way to be fully up-to-date with developments and changes within Iyengar Yoga is by going to visit the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. And regularly. Even as an Iyengar Yoga teacher I am always amazed by how fresh, new and constantly-developing Iyengar yoga is every time I go to India.

Curiosity, evolution, modernity and creativity are all within Iyengar Yoga. They all stem from the sincere and intense practice of Yoga, the only constant.

 

USEFUL LINKS TO FINDING AN IYENGAR YOGA CLASS NEARBY

 

 

As much as I would like you all to come to my classes I know this to be unrealistic and impossible. My deepest hope is however that as many people as possible are exposed to the manifolds and wholistic benefits of Iyengar Yoga, regularly. So: here I am listing people, websites and places that I have experienced directly and therefore I can vouch for.

First of all check regularly the full list of my classes, here: https://iyengaryogasadhana.com/__trashed/

Don’t forget to subscribe to my website and blogs in order to get updates on classes I teach-there maybe new ones added or other ones that had to be suspended… A new one in Brixton starting on June 17th!!

All Iyengar Yoga Qualified Teachers must belong to the professional body of the UK Iyengar Yoga Association. On their website, you can easily search for a teacher in your area. Have a look here: https://iyengaryoga.org.uk

 

If you live or work in the South East London and Kent areas, you could consult the Kent Iyengar Yoga Institute’s listing of weekly classes held by its member teachers: http://www.kentyoga.org.uk/pages/class-listing

 

I have started my Iyengar yoga life in 2000 at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of South London (IYISL). I still teach there but they also have a busy weekly schedule that should be quite helpful if you live in South East London, specifically in Deptford, Lewisham, and New Cross. See their full timetable here: https://www.iyisl.com/classes/

 

If you live in Birmingham, you are very fortunate to have the Iyengar Yoga Insitute of Birmingham at your doorstep! The director, Jayne Orton, is one of the highest qualified teachers in the UK. She is my teacher trainer and teacher. I go to the Institute as often as I can. I was there during the last May Bank Holiday weekend for example, for a workshop on yoga and philisophy taught by Jayne and Hindu Philosophy professor Ewing Bryant! Follow this link to see the Institute’s weekly class schedule: http://www.iyengaryoga.uk.com/schedule-and-events

My very first teacher Glenys Shepherd, also the founder of the IYISL, has now retired and she only teaches occasionally to small groups of her older pupils, like me. Since first meeting her I have had a few more wonderful and dedicated teachers in London… Wendy McGuire for example, who teaches in the Greenwich and Blackheath areas. Her classes are listed on her website here: http://www.wendymcguire.co.uk/classes.html

 

At the moment I am following one of Sophie Carrington‘s classes. She does not have a website but you can find her classes here: https://iyengaryoga.org.uk/teacher-listing/user/12793/

Whenever I can, but not often enough, I go to Uday Bhosale classes. Check on his website, especially if you live in Reading! http://www.yogawithuday.com/class-category/classes/

 

Farther away…planning a holiday anyone? In Pula, Croatia, there is an Iyengar yoga studio with regular weekly classes. This Summer and for the third year running I will be teaching a Summer workshop for Nataša, the owner of the studio, at the end of June. Check Nataša’s website’s for classes and workshops: https://iyengaryoga.hr/classes/

 

Finally here follows a list of places that I have visited for one-off classes, workshops and weekend intensives:

In Maida Vale, London: http://iyi.org.uk

In Manchester, the oldest UK Iyengar Yoga Institute: https://www.mdiiy.org.uk

Last but not least, in Pune, India there is the Mother Iyengar Institute: http://bksiyengar.com/modules/Institut/RIMYI/rimyi.htm

….and many more.

Get in touch if you are having trouble finding a class that is right for you!

DECEMBER 2017-MY LATEST VISIT TO THE IYENGAR YOGA INSTITUTE IN PUNE, INDIA

OFFICIAL LOGO FOR THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS OF B.K.S IYENGAR

For the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) the 14th December 2017 marked the beginning of a year-long celebration throughout India and the rest of the world, in honour of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, its founder. Guruji Iyengar would have been 100 years old on the 14th December 2019. I was at the Institute for the full month of December and was privileged to attend the first two events marking the year-long celebration. 

I have been at the Pune ashram three times so far. The waiting list for UK residents is of 2-3 years. Once your application is granted you will be attending regular classes during the month of your choice. This means one class per day, plus personal practice time in the mornings. In the afternoons and evenings, one can assist in, or watch any other of the busy classes, for locals and foreign visitors. The two studios are extremely busy and over 1000 people attend classes every week!

The stay never disappoints. The teaching is excellent, demanding, warm and compassionate. The range of yoga asanas and pranayamas practiced is very thoughtful and thorough. By the end of one month, there is more than enough to take home and ponder on, re-practice and perhaps even re-learn and discover again. Guruji Iyengar was known for its unstoppable evolving nature. Since the onset he developed his practice readjusting it to himself and his students, constantly reacting to his and other bodies’ and minds’ responses. No two lessons are ever the same and you can bet that you will be doing something new in each class you go to!

MAIN PRACTICE HALL AT THE RIMYI
MAIN PRACTICE HALL AT THE RIMYI

On December 14th 2017 an afternoon of talks and presentations was held in front of hundreds of attendees from India and abroad. Most of them are longstanding students and some just arrive from afar on Guruji’s birthday every year to pay their respects. The tradition continues even though he has passed away. Iyengar’s students and children alike shared their memories of their relationship with their guru and/or father. The interventions were moving, funny and inspiring. A memorable full Indian banquet was offered to all at the end of the evening.

MY FRIENDS AND I AT THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
MY FRIENDS AND I (3RD FROM LEFT…) AT THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
BKS IYENGAR PAYING RESPECTS TO PATANJALI-image used for the centenary celebrations
B.K.S. IYENGAR PAYING RESPECTS TO PATANJALI-image used for the centenary celebrations

The second special event was a week-long workshop given by Prashant, B.K.S. Iyengar’s son. A regular and well-respected teacher of the morning classes at the Pune Institute for decades, he set out to transmit many more of his dad’s and guru’s teachings during a very intensive week. He wanted us all to read between the lines of Iyengar’s messages. In Prashant’s words: “There are paragraphs and even books to be read in between Iyengar’s words….”

Over a 75 year-long teaching career, Guruji Iyengar has influenced not only his children and grandchildren, but also thousands of people from all over the world, directly and indirectly. Many of his students have gone to become teachers themselves inspiring thus more people. Two of his regular students have tabbed teaching me. Their gratitude and respect for their Guru shine brightly through during each and every class I have attended. 

All us students of Iyengar yoga are truly blessed in having such a strong tradition behind us.

When I teach I do my utmost to respect my teachers and stay true to the source.