Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Iyengar Yoga Rigid or Harsh? The process of "waking up"

This video is of John Schumacher, a Senior Level Iyengar Yoga teacher in the Washington D.C. area.  He talks about the perception that Iyengar yoga seems harsh or too rigid to some people, and he clarifies why we teach as we do.

Underneath the video is my summary of what he talks about, along with a few of my own thoughts.

John talks about the intensity of B.K.S. Iyengar as a teacher --  the yoga sutras of Patanjali say that a practitioner can be mild, medium, or intense.    Different teachers will have different intensities; different students have different intensities.   For many people Iyengar is too intense, or too harsh.   Many of his earlier students adopted this intensity and incorporated his mannerisms into their own teaching, until they found their own "voice" as teachers. 

 -- Those of you who know me know that I'm a mild person by temperament, and that's reflected in my teaching.    I'm seriously dedicated to this practice, but I couldn't adopt B.K.S. Iyengar's intensity and still stay true to myself (or retain students!).   But I've learned 98% of all I know about the practice of yoga through his teachings (mostly through higher level Iyengar yoga teachers, but also from him).

John talks about the perception that Iyengar Yoga is rigid.   He says we can let people do what they want to do in a class, and they may be fine and happy, BUT they don't learn as well as if they are guided.   If a teacher guides a student, is that "rigid"?   Some may perceive it as so -- probably Iyengar Yoga will not be a good fit for them.

John tells his beginning level classes that "this is not an exercise class, but a yoga class".   His job is to teach you about yoga; about "waking up", about learning to understand the connections within yourself and the connections between you and the rest of the world.    His job is to teach you to "be present".

To learn to "be present" you follow with the teacher's instructions.   That way you also learn the poses better, and avoid problems and possible injuries.  Paying attention and following teacher's instructions keeps us in the "here and now".      That's the "yoga" part -- to be mentally awake, to be present.   (He mentions Ram Dass's "Be Here Now")

If you're not present and paying attention, the teacher's job is to bring you back to awareness by pointing out what you're doing or not doing.   He gives the example of the instruction to make the feet parallel in certain poses.   Some students may think it's too rigid to insist that the feet be "just so".   Why should it matter?   Partly it matters because the position of the feet affects how the legs, hips and back work.   But also, more importantly, paying attention and following this instruction keeps us "present"; it brings us to awareness.   If the feet turn out after we initially make them parallel, it means that our attention has wandered (at least away from the feet!).   He says "If you're not doing what I'm saying, then you're daydreaming."  His job (and mine) is to "wake you up", to keep your mind from wandering, from daydreaming, and to bring your awareness, your concentration, back to the present, back to the body.   We can then become more perceptive, first of our own bodies and mental and emotional processes, and eventually of the rest of the world around us.   That is the aim of yoga!

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