Continuing with Iyengar?

So I’ve completed my baby Iyengar course now (6 introductory sessions at the Iyengar Institute in London). I was sad to miss the final class with the usual teacher since I was (ahem) teaching a class myself. So I hauled myself down one evening after work to catch a session with another teacher.

iyengar-institute2It was interesting to see similarities and differences between teachers — as always. The cues offered were very similar and there was a clearly defined syllabus/repertoire of poses, so it all felt familiar, but the difference in teaching style was what struck me the most! The regular teacher was friendly enough although a little more brusque than I’m used to, but this teacher took it to a different level altogether.

“What’s wrong with you?” she snapped at the man in front of me as she tried to pull his arms closer together in Urdhva Hastāsana. “What have you been doing all your life, you’re like cement!” Wow! I’ve never heard a teacher speak like this to a student before, especially not a beginner who was clearly doing the best he could. She was sarcastic to another man who was confused about whether to use blocks or rest on his shin in Parśvotanāsana (“I said blocks! Is your shin a block? No? Well then, don’t confuse your shin with a block!”), and her assists to a woman across the room caused some audible groans from the student. Every time.

No judgements of another teacher, right, but I’m just glad this wasn’t my first experience of yoga or of this studio/tradition — otherwise it might also have been my last. But I guess I’m not a total yoga baby anymore; I know enough about how to look after myself … And I haven’t been shy in the past in telling an over-assertive teacher to back off in a strong assist. Even if they’re some yoga-celebrity, if a teacher doesn’t know me, they should be cautious in handling me. I can bite! The problem with this teaching style for me personally is that it brings out my bolshie attitude and I’m more likely to hurt myself without any help from the teacher, as I strain to prove that I really can do something! Did I use blocks in Parśvotanāsana after this exchange? Absolutely not!! …contrary to my usual tendency to use a block anytime I possibly can!

So despite the attitude of this particular teacher (and my stubborn ego!), I really would like to continue with some more classes there and explore a little further, if I can possibly cram it into my schedule. The different approach to poses in Iyengar style is making me more aware of my body, my habits and avoidances, the limits of my physical and intellectual understanding of each āsana. I hope this will eventually lead me to think about how to cue better in my own teaching and Hubby thinks my own practice has already changed. It’s all fascinating!

Plus I haven’t had a chance to use the rope wall yet! Nor one of those folding chairs!

But I don’t think I’ll be giving up vinyasa any time soon. I miss my flow…

10 thoughts on “Continuing with Iyengar?

  1. I really don’t think it’s necessary or helpful to be abusive! It sounds way too much like that teacher was using her position of authority in the class to let her own ego go crazy. Do some people like that style? Maybe. But I would not go back to her class!

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  2. I’m inclined to agree; it’s very different to my teacher’s style. But the iyengar teaching overall is much more formal and strict, so I assumed it was just part of the scene… Ah, and when I said I wanted to go to more classes, I meant with a different teacher 🙂 I too wouldn’t actively choose that teacher.

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  3. At the Institute here, we rarely get any adjustments unless there is gross misalignment. The teachers work you hard in class and can come across as taskmasters but the overall sense I get is one of compassion. There is a certain detachment in dealing with students but that’s more about practising vairagyam at both the teacher and student’s end.

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  4. Little late to the game here. I think there are several “eras” of Iyengar teachers and it sounds like some of the ones in London come from the era where there was a “drill sergeant” feel to it. I’m a bit of a renegade in that I am quite gentle in my instructions. I still do verb/noun, but am a bit more sensitive to my student’s mental state. I am after all, I mental health counselor by profession. In this morning’s class a student came in late and took a while to get situated, but I gave her space. After class she approached me and said her husband was killed in a helicopter crash a few days ago. I was able to provide her with appropriate grief support and referred her to another counselor (as I don’t want to have a dual role). Had I been like the “what’s wrong with you?” approach, she would have never come back. Sonia is correct in that there is a general compassion that doesn’t quite get through to new students of this style. After a while it is very abundant.

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    • Thank you Michael — def never too late for a comment, esp from you on this topic! 🙂
      I confess I found a certain austerity in the teaching. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, just very different from my regular place. But I didn’t attend for long enough to feel any sense of belonging and I think any introductory course can easily have a conveyor belt quality about it as teachers do their best to get through a set curriculum with newbies, knowing a lot won’t come back. I’m still hoping to take some regular classes there but it is a really effort (and a cost) in terms of travel since I don’t live in London. I’m drawn by my own curiosity rather than by the warmth of the teaching… so far!

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      • Try to catch Mary Obendorfer. She lives in Kauai and teaches a workshop there a few times a year. Also look up Ellen Wagner who is her apprentice who has a regular teaching schedule. Mary flies around the world teaching and that is why she does not have a regular schedule. Glad you are going to be in my neck of the woods 🙂

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        • thank you so much for the suggestions. It looks as though I’m not too far from EW. How exciting. I’m just sorry I’m still too far away from you. I’d have loved to hop into your class. I did try to tempt the family more towards O’ahu… 🙂

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