Finally I got to an Iyengar class! I had attended an introductory course at the Iyengar Institute in London a couple of months back, but given the distance and awkward schedules I haven’t made it back there for a ‘normal’ class. Meantime I was recommended a teacher locally, and although her small class is regularly fully-booked a place became available this week and next. Lucky me! Though it was at Intermediate Level, which I’m obviously not on the basis of an intro course only…
So I went to class this evening. So interesting of course, so different to my usual practice style (vinyasa).
Class started by me being sharply told that sitting cross-legged meant Svastikāsana not Sukhāsana, and on a large block not a brick! Oops. After my experiences of aggressive Iyengar teachers I did momentarily wonder if this was a good place for me to be! But the rest of class went smoothly and verbal corrections were less strict than I experienced in London (the teacher herself made some comment about IYI London being very very precise!). I suspect I flummoxed the teacher by being so proficient at some poses but so clueless and weak at others, but she kept a close eye on me the whole time which was good.
I found it interesting reflecting on the kinds of verbal adjustments I was given — figuring out whether what I ordinarily do in vinyasa class where I’m left more to my own devices shows poor alignment or whether it’s simply a difference in execution between the two traditions. For example in Trikonāsana I was encouraged to grip my shin, something I don’t think I’ve ever heard from my regular teacher; when raising the arms (e.g. in Vīra 1) I was told firmly to bring my hands closer together, even though this felt really sticky in the shoulders, compared to my usual teacher encouraging wider arms to allow the scapulae to relax down the back. But the most flummoxing is the position of the feet in open-hip standing poses. Heel to arch, I was repeatedly told, except on one side where I was told to try heel to toe for reasons that weren’t explained; in my own practice I am usually much wider than this. Hmm, I’ll have to play at home and figure out what I prefer, and why.
Overall I really enjoyed the stimulation of a new style and the different cues or emphasis within familiar poses was fascinating. How much I have to learn! I’m already looking forward to my second class next week. But most of all the experience made me appreciate how fantastic my regular teacher’s cuing is. Even in a brisk vinyasa flow he still finds space for some wonderful explorations of particular āsana, and often varies the anatomical focus which creates so much new awareness. I suspect that in the Iyengar style there is less exploration and more conformity. Well I guess I’ll find out if I continue with these classes. But really – if you’re menstruating you can’t do standing balances?? I wonder why. I’m certainly not used to class beginning with the teacher going round the room asking each person if they were ‘on’ or not!
The only disappointment of class — we didn’t do the formal invocation which I’d been nerdily looking forward to. There was some joke about not doing it in the absence of one of the regular students…. I don’t know. The class felt a little empty, a little mechanistic and I thought invoking Patañjali might have created some other atmosphere… I guess I’m just not used to the complete absence of music (or OM) and the emotional state that can support: a bit of chanting might have helped.