Day 48

Style: Iyengar
Teacher: Karen Holtkamp
Studio: Iyengar Yoga Center

Secret society yoga? Iyengar is easily the most elusive style around. No yoga studio can teach this. It can only be taught specifically in an Iyengar center, a studio exclusively certified and dedicated to this type of yoga alone. The way I've understood it, there is no such thing as a drop-in class in the world of Iyengar. A student must sign up for an entire session, slowly increasing in posture complexity under the careful guidance of the instructor week after week. All in all, it's been completely shrouded in mystery, with talk of being tied up and hung from the walls. Becoming an Iyengar teacher takes longer then any other style of yoga, requiring at least two years of rigorous training for the introductory level certificate. To move up to the intermediate and senior levels of certification, this can sometimes take a decade or more. Focusing on the minute details, a student will progress very slowly, earning access to new more advanced variations. Essentially they're the Freemasons of the yoga world.

The style was created by a man named B.K.S. Iyengar. Among the many books he's written, Iyengar wrote "Light On Yoga", one of the most definitive volumes of all time on the subject. First published in 1966, it's considered a yoga-bible of sorts which describes and illustrates hundreds of yoga poses and many breathing techniques. Iyengar is known for its meticulous approach, characterized by great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment. It also comes with a reputation for using an array of props to guide the body into that proper alignment. I'm really not quite sure what to expect. One thing about Iyengar: it has no flow. There is no concept of Vinyasa, or a linking of breath with the the movements. It's a much less cardiovascular approach to yoga. Either way it seems very unique and my curiosity has continued to build. The mother of one of my friends is an avid Iyengar student, and she let me know that once a month, before the beginning of each session, there is a free introductory class which allows students who have never experienced the Iyengar method to have a taste of what it's all about. This just so happened to be today.

Walking into the studio and heading toward the change rooms I spot the notorious Iyengar rope-wall from the corner of my eye, looking a little like a dungeon torture chamber. As the class began, I quickly realized that I wasn't going to get the true experience of Iyengar I was hoping for. Lasting only an hour, the class was simplified down to the bare-bone, accommodating the most inexperienced yogi. It seemed to be designed for someone who had never been to a yoga class in their entire life. It was so basic and brief, never moving beyond a few basic positions. We did use a wide range of props in the short practice, everything from blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets, even a chair, but in all honesty it was the most simplified, beginner level class I've ever been in. It was more of a tease then anything. The strange ropes hung from the wall the entire time, remaining untouched. I'm still as confused and intrigued by the style as I was before I came, left with more questions then answers. Unfortunately, Iyengar remains the most unexplained, un-understood style of yoga from my perspective. In the future I hope I have a chance to find myself in a slightly more advanced level, something that I can sink my teeth into, to really understand what's going on behind the scenes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jesse,

Thank you for attending my free yoga class last Saturday. You are right, the class I taught was simplified and bare bones, suitable for somebody who has absolutely no yoga experience at all. I did this for safety reasons. There were 2 pregnant women present and people from several generations.

I can see that you are intrigued by Iyengar yoga and by yoga in general. Yoga is quite a vast field, not just limited to asanas. There are numerous practices ranging from asanas, pranayama, meditation, chanting, philosophy and more.

Since you think that Iyengar yoga is elusive and mysterious I would like to demistify it a little bit for you. You seem to be drawn to the rope wall: Practicing with the ropes can be fun. They help opening up the body and you are using resistance and gravity to your advantage. The same with the props. Sometimes they are used for safety reasons like giving a student more stability for example or they can be used to deepen the experience or level of intensity of a pose.

We usually start with the more basic asanas and take it from there. At first, you will learn asanas that bring some amount of mobility, strength and stability before starting to work on the more advanced poses which makes sense: We don't learn how to run before learning how to walk.

Vinyasa flow or sun salutations as we call them are done as well. There are numerous ways to practice them. Usually, we learn the poses first individually before linking them together. I sometimes practice sun salutations, they are invigorating and help me warm up for the rest of my practice but personally I like to stay in the poses a bit longer to experience their effect more fully.

As Iyengar yogis we also practice Pranayama or breath control which is taught seperately and only after having gained some stability and proficiency in the asanas first. You need at least some stability in body & mind before starting to mess around with your breath and life force. The sanskrit word prana encompasses both. Incorrect practice of pranayama can damage one's lungs and nervous system. It's a bit like playing with the fire, caution is advised.

All the alignment stuff we are working with helps us to practice safely and in a way the body was actually designed to move. This reduces the risk of injury and helps one to experience the effect the poses have on body, mind & spirit more fully. Using the principles of proper body alignment also helps to clear blockages in the nadis, the channels the prana is flowing through within the body.

I hope you will eventually find the right teacher and settle into a practice that works for you. I understand that you are still seeking at this time. Eventually it is better to stick to one method of yoga and stick with it. Otherwise it's like you keep digging only shallow wells here and there and this way you will never get down to the water. Please let me know if you have any more questions, I am happy to answer them if I can.

Wishing you all the best on your yogic journey,

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