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The Internet = Vrtti

Oh yeah, like the internet really needs another opinion on yoga, or anything else for that matter. The immediacy in communication that the internet, or more specifically, social media, facilitates creates the climate for reactive, violent discourse. Even when some people care about a dead lion, they are castigated for not caring enough about other dead/dying/oppressed beings.

Most yoga writing that I come across is inflammatory. How to injure yourself in this or that pose. Why this or that method is bad/dangerous/great/not right for this or that body. But the truth is that many of these issues are already written about, and taught about, at length, by more informed people that don’t have time, or won’t allocate time, to the reactive morass that is internet discourse.

For instance, there are lots of ways to approach common issues like knee pain. Without seeing a student, how can blanket statements like ‘avoid bent knee poses’ or ‘don’t fully straighten the knee’ be true or even the least bit helpful? The secret is there is no secret, like any real discipline, and great practitioners and teachers are still constantly getting themselves into pickles and sorting it out.

So it might be a little bit of an unfortunate reality that, occasionally, one needs to say something about the subject. But we need to communicate somehow. I think there was more vital and intelligent discourse on yoga (and everything else) pre-internet. Now there is just more discourse. The same missteps in form repeating themselves, because there are so many ‘experts’. This alone is why many choose a ‘method’ or ‘lineage’. I don’t need to create my ‘own thing’, even though I am clearly finding my ‘own way’ through Iyengar Yoga. Yes, even with all my great teachers, I still feel ‘self-taught’ somehow. I hope that makes sense.

Yogascittavrittinirodaha – “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness” (from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). Of course, Iyengar related it to the body as well. He related it to everything, as far as I can tell. We don’t need more words, but sometimes we need a few. Maybe we need to start with a confused and reactive pose, and then ‘work’ to move the pose into stillness.

Spring News

Class with Firooza is a little unlike the other classes at the Iyengar Institute. The class size is so large that both teaching studios are used. In attendance are esteemed Institute faculty, other noteworthy teachers from the area, and many devoted students. Firooza acknowledges her students’ commitment while also acknowledging areas where they lack attention or sensitivity. Seeing this powerful educator guide practitioners, who I know from personal experience are formidable teachers themselves, is instructive. More so is the feeling – the zeitgeist of the work – that becomes clear. A bigger picture comes into view as she teaches simple pranayama, but with exacting areas of focus. So too, she guides us through many inversions, waking up the heavy area of the tailbone.

I certainly feel I am in good supportive hands here in New York, but Firooza Ravzi’s workshop helps to get an even broader perspective, and makes me more certain of both my own practice, as well as what I offer my students…

A friend who teaches another style mentioned she wanted to teach more, but felt intimidated because New Yorkers want so much precision in their yoga. I hear this kind of thing from time to time, but Is that really the case? As an Iyengar devotee, I usually feel that flow styles are more popular. Iyengar is a niche market these days.
But what a niche it is! I’ve had a fabulous year teaching people of such a broad range of ages, as well as a broad range of mobility. Those who are more rigid really respond to the clear directions in this method, as do those with common injuries, like meniscus tears. It’s been exciting to see something so meaningful to me help people. And that draws me in even more.
This method makes room for everyone, realy. When I began teaching, I actually felt as though I was going against the grain. Well, actually, that’s not quite true – my first students were friends, and they were really game for what, at the time, was pretty detail-heavy. In fact, these days my teaching is much simpler and more direct. I’ve really been inspired by my mentors these last few years; their teaching has a certain fire that really takes students somewhere. The method, this yoga we do, continues to unfold for me. And my students are perhaps the best teachers of all!

Results

For those who practice regularly, results become something resembling a platitude. They are ‘hope and change’, ‘enlightenment’, a deep uttanasana…. Results appear every once in a while. To loosely quote Mr. Iyengar, they relate to the powers attained in pada 3 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; they remind us we are on the right path, but we shouldn’t get to caught up in them.
Yet I teach, and continue to study the art of teaching. And this method has such a practical aesthetic to it; students often seek it out because it can help with injuries and conditions. Here, we teachers are advised to draw a distinction. We are not therapists, but there are guidelines for many issues. It is similar to technique when playing an instrument. The pianist with tendonitis overcomes the pain with proper technique. I frequently see new students light up when they fix technical issues in their poses.
One student has rather severe knee pain. It started with a tennis injury, and led to multiple surgeries. The pain didn’t abate, and pain management has yielded mixed results. In our method, we generally begin with the work of the work of the limbs. She remarked that the ‘lift’ of the knee that we emphasize so persistently gave her tangible relief.
Even a small reduction in pain is a huge victory for one who is suffering. Perhaps, like a siddhi, or power, she must see the result as a reason to redouble her efforts on the path.

Confidence and Caution

My teacher coaxes the most out of us. We are sluggish, angry, distracted… He demands we lift the thighs, tighten the knees, and stretch the side body. Each movement requires effort, and in his presence I work to go further. But in the midst of all this I catch sight of many of the other students in the room. Some are several decades older than myself. Some are working with various conditions. Yet we work in unison, taking the body towards neutral.

BKS Iyengar often tells his students they must walk the line between confidence and caution. Injury creates fear and anxiety. Yoga asks us to challenge our fear, but it also cultivates discriminative awareness. My teacher understands that injured person who comes to his room to study yoga does not want to wallow in pain. They want to feel something else.

In my own classes, I’m so inspired by those who work to regain mobility that may have been lost through injury or other circumstances. Very often these injuries create so much self-inquiry that they are, in a sense, gifts. They send us on this path that defies simple description.