I, unlike many of my colleagues had a winding road to get to Iyengar yoga. My mother started yoga to help her with a debilitating back problem. Now, I wish I could say my mother and I practiced and she took me to her classes but as a teenager, I pretty much avoided anything associated with my mother.
Many years later, after college, I found myself in a lot of pain from bike messaging and sign language interpreting. At that time even in San Francisco, yoga wasn’t super popular. There were still spiritual centers that offered classes but I didn’t resonate. I was athletic and the religious part was of no interest. I landed at Bikram. Now, before your eyes roll, at this time Bikram was still new and the studio I went to was small and many of the teachers had been practicing other methods. I loved how I never had to think and it left me exhausted. I went all the time. Once I moved to NYC, the teachers suddenly were more like football coaches and I just couldn’t take the heat. Oh, and also one class in LA with Bikram yelling obscenities and mysognist comments from his throne sent me flying out the doors.
Vinyasa was at my gym next door to the world famous Jivamukti. My teachers were sweet and sometimes read something spiritual and while that bugged me, I put up with it. I injured my knee doing all that flowing and I found myself at an Iyengar yoga class and even though I had been told to start at Level 1, I went into level 4. I thought I did so well and when the teacher barely looked at me when I left, I bristled.
But see, but I didn’t understand the expertise of the teacher and my ego kept me from returning.
I ended up at a Buddhist center and found this teacher who was both charming, interesting and had a great story. She worked a lot with alignment and energy and I ended up in her teacher training course and we became very close. So close that I started to notice some weird things. Like, drinking. Eventually, three of her students including me confronted her and naively thought it would go well. Never confront an alcoholic without a professional even if she is a yoga teacher/meditator. At the end she was physically attacking one of us and threatening suicide. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. She told me I had to continue to study with her if I was to continue teaching. I left. But I was heart broken and very skeptical.
I was now looking for something that was “proven” not made up, a practice with a lineage and years of research and study, a rigorous system that if I had a question, I could find an answer.
Iyengar yoga. I didn’t know much but I knew this is where I wanted to be.
A few years later at my “audition” for teacher training, Mary Dunn said I was way behind the others and had to catch up. I had been to an Iyengar teacher in India but still the names of the poses escaped me.
I didn’t open my heart up immediately to Mary because of my past experience with my teacher. By the time, I realized Mary was my teacher, she left this world. Again, breaking my heart and leaving me without a captain on the ship of this journey.
The training was brutal and tested every part of my soul. But I stayed. And I learned. I observed, assisted and appreciated the intelligence and rigor of the system even if I didn’t really know what I was learning.
In the years since then, I have come to see the brilliance of the method. It’s not random or based on some personal whim. It has taken a leap of faith at first and now I rest comfortably on the legs of this method.
I have gone to India many times. I love India. the Institute in India is not typically Indian. It is its own world. It’s a strange place and visitors act a bit strange. At least this was the case my first year. My first year, I asked if it was ok to ask a question during the practice hall. The answer I got was, If you want. Which meant, you can but you might suffer the consequences and I’m not going to help you. And yet, I have also made my best friends here.
When BKS Iyengar came into the room, everyone surrounded him. Af first, I did too. But after a while it became clear that I couldn’t really understand and he was teaching only to those right there in front of him. Everyone was vying for a place and to be seen. The Institute at that time was not that of the 70’s when our senior teachers were 1 of 8 under the tutelage of BKS Iyengar. I was one of 200. And yet, I feel so blessed to have experienced his teaching.
I “met” him at a convention in Colorado that I just happened to get into by the skin of my teeth. I believe that was divine intervention. The Iyengars teach to 200 but it feels like they are speaking to you.
I had some really unfortunate experiences with Iyengar. I was told I could ask him a question. Despite my better judgement I went down the stairs to his study to ask my question. Something in the way I asked, made him very angry and he made it clear in front of others he was going to set me straight. I almost left.
Why have I stayed? Sometimes I wonder. But I stay because there is something that nothing else will fill. And over the years, I have seen a bit of what he saw in me that he wanted to break or get out of me. My last moment with him was getting “trapped” on the stairs as he came up. I was so afraid and he passed me, turned and looked me straight in the eyes with such kindness as if to say, I know you are hurting inside but I see you.
Many teachers feign perfection and fall hard. Osho himself, was just a few kilometers away from the Iyengar Institute. I like how the Iyengars prevent their students from putting them on a pedestal but even still, we are human seeking a perfect parent and vying to be seen.
Here is why I stay. It’s complete. It is not a fad.
You might enter for one reason and then it feeds a hunger you didn’t know you had. You might only want to focus on the body and then you find yourself fascinated with the philosophy and thinking about it in your everyday life. Or like me, it is what has given me the ability to even consider that there is a greater source than myself and that it is good and genderless instead of something punitive and masculine.
It gives me grit. The ability to take all the good and bad because I can learn from it all. It challenges me. You never don’t do something, you find a way you can work towards it. You don’t give up but you find a way to keep moving forward.
A Guru sheds light on darkness which means helps you move out of a state of not-knowing and ignorance to a place of knowing. Iyengar yoga does that it doesn’t let me stay and get stale. It keeps waking me up. I think my path in particular has allowed me to connect to my own self.
You can only learn something if you stick to it. And if you turn away from things you don’t like, you miss out.
The politics of Iyengar yoga are not perfect because we are human but the practice of Iyengar yoga is profoundly deep. The problem is that we aren’t always ready for that fullness. Are you ready to experience it?