Tag Archives: BKS Iyengar

…Three years later

I’m taking time from my busy life to commemorate BKS Iyengar on the third anniversary of his passing. His legacy, his system, and his community continue to thrive as a result of his tireless work in brining yoga from darkness and obscurity to light. It is quite fitting that the solar eclipse falls a day after his death’s anniversary. Like the eclipse, the darkness of his passing is temporary, and provides a different light cast on an ancient tradition which makes it fresh and more intriguing.

Even now that Mr. Iyengar has left this Earth, his influence continues to grow. Even Google has commemorated his accomplishments by giving him an honorary “doodle” on his birthday last year. In this era of gross commercialization in the yoga “industry” the Iyengar community has been steadfast in maintaining its standards and continues to produce high quality teachers.

As for me, I have been preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment in November. When one goes up for assessment, it never feels like you have done enough in your practice or your studies to prepare sufficiently.  My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley have been tremendous in encouraging me during this process. I just have to have faith that I will be ready at that time. My readers won’t probably hear much from me until it is over, so my apologies in advance. I continue to appreciate your readership and will respond to any comments about my posts.

Many blessings!

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…2 years later

Saturday marks the the second anniversary of Guruji’s passing. I think he would be happy to see that his community of teachers and students continues to grow. As it is now assessment season, we can expect at least another 100-plus Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) by year’s end in the US, and perhaps another thousand or so worldwide. Considering we are a planet of  7.5 billion humans, the number of CIYTs is exponentially small in comparison. However, we have to see how many lives each of these CIYTs touch to  give these numbers more power.

In the yoga world, there are very few who have not at least heard of Iyengar’s name. He has had such a large influence on the yoga world, that even those who practice other systems have to give some acknowledgment to his contributions in the systemization of  asanas and the way they are taught.

One year ago during Birjoo Mehta’s workshop in San Diego, he said that as a teacher he should not “parrot” Guruji’s words, but to rather convey the “essence” of his teachings.

I may be talking about what he is giving me through the guru tattwa which where the books of his, which where teachings of his, what he said in lectures would only serve to confirm to what I have to say, what I have to feel, but it is not something he said.

As a CIYT, I can understand this sentiment. I could easily sit in front of my class with a copy of Light On Yoga and teach straight from the text. But that would be mechanical and boring for the students. Instead, he has taught “how” to teach by observing to who is standing in front of you. That requires tremendously more effort and creativity than reading from a script. It also gives one the discernment on what to teach and more importantly what not to teach.

I think he wanted us all to learn to see our students deeper than they themselves can perceive. A lazy knee in tadasana is telling on many other factors that the student may not be aware. Once you bring that awareness to the student, many other changes happen as a result. Seeing Guruji’s tapes and videos, I have seen him bring this type of awareness to his students again and again and again.

Even his photographs on Light On Yoga has enormous teachings which are not written. During my teacher trainings, my mentoring teachers, colleagues and I pour over pictures of a certain pose we are studying and always learn one more facet of the pose through that experience. The text is just basic. But through his system we have learned how to “see” a pose even from a photograph on a very deep level.

What he have given the world is a miracle. He resurrected yoga as an old and antiquated practice, to something that has tremendous healing force for the world in its current state. There is study after study about the effects of Iyengar yoga on health and each study confirms the sophistication of this system as a legitimate healing modality.

In a newspaper interview earlier this year, Prashant Iyengar said about his father’s teachings that “he left a legacy and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt.”

So it is our duty as CIYT’s to carry his legacy forward by teaching the “essence” of what he has taught us. Even if we have never met him, we continue to be taught by him what has been passed through his senior teaches, his books, videos, and lectures.

May your light continue to shine on yoga and all of humanity, dear Guruji. You are indeed missed by all.

(photo credit: Penney Sing)

Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined

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BKS Iyengar was often quoted that he did not name his practice “Iyengar Yoga,” but that was a term his followers used to differentiate his style from others. He said at at a Guru Poornima lecture that there are many “write ups” about his teachings and that they are focused on his “physical alignment.” Guruji said that those writers did not have the discernment to tell that physical alignment is only part of the story. They were not able to tell that he was also teaching “prana-shakti” of the muscle movement which leads toward deeper aspects of Yoga. “Can you not do Dhyana (meditation) in poses other than sitting?” he retorically asked.

As a practitioner for a few years in Iyengar’s method, I can appreciate his frustration. Even more nowadays, this style is even described as “less physcial” than others like corporate driven vinyasa. And in silly blurb descriptions, like the kind you find on Yoga International, this style is just cast off as “the one that uses props and focuses on alignment.”

Very little of what passes as “yoga” now in the marketplace gives any semblance of value to the inner experience. Most now blast music as part of their “yoga workout” session, and skip Savasana altogether.  In addition, very few people actually have a home practice. And if they do, they are relying on sources like Yogaglo or other flash-in-the-pan flexible, young and lithe Youtube celebrities.

In essence, Yoga in the West is still in grade school. That is why so many are dazzled by Instagram, and not so much dazzled by Sutra-s that tell us that we are divinity in ourselves and that all the rest is a cosmic charade. I read somewhere that your “yoga age” starts when you first go to practice. With this definition, many are still in elementary school. Even more shocking, many are becoming teachers with this level of experience in the current commercialized climate.

If you read a book like The Alpha and Omega of Utthita Trikonasana, you are well aware that classroom instruction is just the first step. Just like going to grade school and learning the alphabet is the first step toward reading The Great Works. When one reads literature, one does not have to do so in a lecture, but has to do independently. Just like in asana practice, we have to use what we learned in class  to further our own practice. As practitioners in this style, we have to go beyond the physical. We have to monitor which asana-s produce certain emotional states. Which sequences give us peace when we face turmoil. Which pranayamas help us move away from the outside world and into our inner self.

Iyengar’s yoga can be deceiving to the naked eye. It appears very physical. Showing the book Light On Yoga to friends and family is often met with jaw drops at the postures toward the end of the book. That is the maya. Iyengar is using those very advanced postures to gain access to the inner self, the substance that cannot be photographed. Most cannot get beyond the physical and cannot comprehend what is not seen. But as all ardhent practitioners in this style know, Iyengar’s yoga touches all the limbs and touches all the Kosha-s.

Google to recognize Iyengar on his 97th birthday

I ran across this on my feed today. Google made a special “doodle” to honor Guruji who would have turned 97 tomorrow. Google is asking for those who knew him to comment on Youtube.

This is a special time of year for the Iyengar community, with Geeta Iyengar finishing up the second Yoganushasanam which began on her birthday, and just finishing the event right before Guruji’s birthday. The Iyengar community still has much to celebrate as the teachings continue to thrive and take thousands of practitioners worldwide deeper into their true selves through this uncompromising practice. Although Guruji has passed, his teaching remain alive through his family, certified teachers, and his writings.

Happy birthday Guruji, may your vision be realized!

Required reading for the student who is new to Yoga

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I was watching a video of B.K.S. Iyengar during the 2013 Guru Poornima, which is an annual observance and celebration of all of our teachers. In the address, he showed two books that were recently pressed from the Institute. He commented that when he started Yoga, there was no written material on the subject of Asana. Now it has gone the other way. There is now so much information about Asana on the internet and in books, that a new comer to yoga may be easily overwhelmed.

I often reflect on the reading materials that I first encountered when I came to Yoga and what continues to guide me on my path. The clear text would be introduction in LIght On Yoga. It is not just written well, it draws from a series of classical Yoga texts and digests it into an easy to understand essay coupled with Iyengar’s experience.

One does not need to be an practitioner of the Iyengar style to appreciate this text. Renowned Ashtanga Yoga practitioner Chuck Miller writes:

One day in 1974, I was in a bookstore and picked up a copy of Light on Yoga. A girl whom I’ve never seen before just looked over and said, “That’s the book.” I took it as a sign from above and bought the book. I went home that night and read the introduction, fifty-five pages, and it blew my mind. It changed my life. I felt I had my hand on the operating manual for the human being.  – From Iyengar, The Yoga Master 2007 Kofi Busia Shalamba Publications, Inc.

One of the gists of the text that I remember every day is that he views the ability to work as a gift. He draws this concept from the Bhagavad Gita, and links it wonderfully to how we integrate our daily practice as our dharma.

He also gives a brief overview of the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (the classical eight limbs from Patanjali Yoga Sutras). In subsequent texts, The Iyengar family asserts that Ashtanga Yoga is the ABCs of Yoga, and that the other forms like Hatha, Laya, Jnana etc. need a firm rooting in Asthanga Yoga before other forms can successfully be commenced.

In Light on Yoga, Iyengar also gives a brief overview of the obstacles on the path and how to overcome them based on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Iyengar had many obstacles that he overcame in his lifetime including childhood diseases, poverty, the early death of his wife, and two auto accidents just to name a few. He practiced Yoga up until he passed away last year at 95 years old.

Keep in mind that Iyengar Yoga style was not my first choice when I started Yoga. I went though many of the different systems until I have decided to pursue Iyengar as my path. Perhaps you may have another system of preference. But there is one common agreement among many practitioners is that the introduction of Light On Yoga is one of the classic passages.

Savasana: “the most difficult pose to master”

 

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Savasana, or corpse pose is the bridge between the external practice to the internal practice (bahiranga to antaranga). It is the linking pose between Asana and Pranayama (breath/vital energy control). It is one of the few asanas where one can attain Pratyahara (detachment from the senses). In short, it is arguably one of the most valuable postures in Yoga. But because of its absence of physical challenge, it becomes very difficult for the aspirant to stop the mind chatter (citta vritti) which is one of the major aims of true Yoga practice. Because of this, BKS Iyengar often referred to Savasana as “the most difficult pose to master.” Here is a brief tutorial:

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Props needed are a sticky mat, a strap, and a blanket

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Lay the sticky mat flat

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And use the strap as an intersecting line. This will be a guide for the spine.

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Sit on the sticky mat with knees bent and both feet on the strap.

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Symmetrically roll the spine down the strap measuring vertabrae by vertebrae.

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When the head touches the ground see that the chin does not project back like seen in the photo. If your neck does this you need a folded blanket…

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You can now see the neck is soft here.

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Using a chopstick, the measurement should be that the forehead should be well above the chin so the crease in the neck deepens.

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Now grasp the sides of the sticky mat and push the hands towards the feet. This lifts the chest.

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Keeping the feet along the midline…

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Slide one foot out at a time

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And let both feet fall to the side.

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Now release the arms

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And take them to a 60 degree angle away from the torso

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From the base of the arms, roll them externally pressing the index finger knuckle to the floor to spread the sternal area

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Then gradually let go of all effort, closing the eyes

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To create softness in the face, and block out light, you can gently lay the strap over the eyes.

To come out bend the knees to the chest and roll to the right, propping yourself back to a seated position.

In Light On Pranayama by BKS Iyengar, he dedicates 22 pages to teaching this pose (more than any other Asana). In subsequent years he had also taught many more refinements. So my demonstration is just the tip of the iceberg.