Why Iyengar Yoga?


Somehow it feels important for me to answer this question. Why Iyengar yoga?  Iyengar yoga is what has informed my personal yoga practice, teaching, and it’s the practice I feel most grounded in.

I started yoga about 7  years ago in Cleveland. I started with Vinyasa. I then started practicing Anusara. It was becoming popular at the time, but I didn’t feel the whole Anusara experience. After studying the practice I saw that Anusara was what John Friend had taken from the Iyengar approach and added other elements. On a side note, if you look at some of the well-known yoga teachers in this land, most of them have studied Iyengar yoga. The truth was the whole vinyasa sequencing didn’t work for me. Actually, it aggravated me and I always left class feeling agitated, unsettled even. It’s a constitution thing.

I wanted authenticity, integrity, and alignment, yet truly needed some centering and grounding. Off I went into Iyengar yoga studying with my first teacher for 3-years while in Cleveland. It changed my entire practice at the time. I had to start at the beginning in a Level I class, I recall, because I had to re-learn the asanas. I remember thinking I should start at a higher level, and my ego was upset that I had to start all over when I knew how to do most of the asanas. It was very humbling. I learned the poses. I learned my body. I uniquely learned how to align my body in each asana. And, I left feeling grounded and aligned. I truly found myself home in a pragmatic, systematic, and precise practice. I felt connected to myself. It opened me up cell by cell, and gave me the grounding I needed. I have a vata-pitta constitution, in Ayurveda terms. To calm my being, I needed an Iyengar approach, a practice that was focused, grounded, and could bring me to stillness.

After Cleveland, I began studying in Boston with Peentz. With her I felt my practice change. I felt at home. Iyengar became my foundational practice. I had been teaching in the inner-city at the time, and it gave me my sanity. To simply practice alignment and become succinctly aware of imbalances within and work from that space to come to a place of balance allowed me to root into myself. It became simple. Aligning my body meant opening the deeper sheaths of myself, so that the energetic body could balance and come into harmony. The more I practiced in this way the deeper I went.

I remember once my teacher, Karen, in Cleveland said to me as my ribs pointed forward in swastikhasana and well in all asanas, as this is my tendency and structure, “Beth, let the universe come to you.” At the time, I remember not knowing what to say, because it was shocking to my consciousness. It enlivened me. I had to look at how I was living my life, and I was asked to examine myself.

And that is what part of yoga is about; examination and transformation. Yoga is not about being able to do  acrobatics, or get “exercise,” or develop your core, or to a get nice booty. The process is a humbling of the ego-minded self. Yoga is a spiritual practice with the purpose of self-transformation through self-examination. It was the practice that showed me that through examining myself  I was able to transform.

In terms of teaching and practicing, I continue to use an Iyengar approach to teach my classes, and practice in this way. I prefer certified Iyengar teachers, and mainly study with them. I like that if my foot is out of alignment I am instructed to move it a few inches to realign my foot, or instructed to elongate my left leg and bring my right hip deeper into it’s socket, so that I am in alignment. It helps me to continue this process of refinement and discernment. Is Iyengar yoga for everyone? No. Yet, I do believe it has maintained its integrity in the ever expanding menu of yoga styles, and it is a good place for a beginner to start to learn asana, or a teacher to learn alignment.

My caveat; practice is personal to who you are, what you need, and the journey your own experience.

One thought on “Why Iyengar Yoga?

  1. I absolutely agree with you that yoga is about discovery, transformation and examination. I love both Iyengar and Hatha yoga, where I am able to listen to my body and calm my mind in each pose. In Iyengar and Hatha, we are able to take time to examine our reaction to each pose and our reaction to things such as effort, challenge and struggle. Unfortunately, many yoga teachers today ignore the spiritual side of yoga and are just focused on being able to do each pose perfectly, as if each class was a gymnastics or athletic competition. For me, yoga is what we discover in the pose, more than the pose itself.

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