Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco

IMG_2315On a recent trip to the Bay Area, I visited the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco (IYISF) for the first time. Tucked in a nondescript building at Taraval and 27th Avenue in the sleepy Sunset District, it’s the headquarters for formal Iyengar yoga study in Northern California. It’s also a troubled and financially strapped organization, perhaps due to its affiliation with (and control by) the Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California (IYANC).

The Institute’s summer special, five classes for $55, gave me the opportunity to try a bunch of their teachers. My favorite turned out to be a fellow who is leaving IYISF after 20 years, due to clashes with the IYANC board of directors and, it seems, lack of cohesion among the faculty.

The journalist in me was curious about the power struggles and inside scoops but ultimately I preferred to ignore it. Same with yoga gossip, yoga celebrities, yoga fashion… Amusing diversions, but only for a moment. Focus on the yoga.

It was fascinating to meet four different teachers in the span of a workweek. Why does one teacher stand out, while another grate on my nerves? You might think that those trained in the same method (especially one so structured as the Iyengar system) would teach similarly. Not true. Much of teaching is personality.

Tall and ascetically lean, with ponytailed long hair, Joe Naudzunas has strong opinions and a slightly exasperated (is that mock exasperation?) demeanor. He calls people on their errors and might seem rather severe if not for his dry humor and personal storytelling. His students seem quite deferential; I heard back talk and few questions in the two classes that I attended; it is obvious that his students were loyal and earnest learners. Naudzunas’s voice sounds oddly robotic at first, especially his oms and invocation to Patanjali, but it grew less so during class.

I quickly knew that I could learn a thing or two from this teacher. He is a straight talker, spouting no trite yogic platitudes but real-life anecdotes and real wisdom. I like the way he weaves philosophy into his asana teaching. His corrections are opinionated and picky, but that’s Iyengar yoga for you. He is fair; no one is singled out or harangued. I have always preferred strict teachers to accommodating ones; their own high standards have tended to raise my own.

Here are some interesting Naudzunas points:

  • If your form is off, question why your body is acting that way; don’t just follow the instruction blindly. If your leg is externally rotating in three-legged dog and your teacher corrects you, analyze why your leg moves that way.
  • The question is not “what should I be doing?” but “what am I doing?” Most students can describe a correct pose. That’s the easy part. The hard part is to be conscious of what you are actually doing.
  • While doing an asana, your internal state is as important as your external; if you can do a perfect handstand but you are grimacing or distracted or angry inside, that is not yoga; that is calisthenics.
  • Keep your body (your joints, your cartilage, your tendons and ligaments) clean and smoothly functioning at all times. You can do a big housecleaning every so often, or you can be efficient and keep things clean all the time. (Same with your closets or your car.)

NOTE: IYISF has an excellent in-store and online yoga bookstore.

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For other books, try this North Beach legend. Say no to Amazon, otherwise they’ll all go the way of Berkeley’s iconic Black Oak Books, which now operates only an online presence.

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6 thoughts on “Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco

  1. Sounds like the journalist in you is taking the yoga classes with you. Very nice summing up of what’s important and what isn’t. I think I agree more with your previous post — eat as much sushi as possible. Next time you’re in town we’ll go to Oyaji for the yummiest unagi.

  2. After 10 yrs. of laughing at others yoga students; debating over the pros and cons of Iyengar, Bikram, Rodney Yee, and Pattabhi Jois; parading into various yoga studios; critiquing the knowledge of yoga teachers; and gloating at my glorious posture in the mirror; I committed myself to the 2yr Advanced Teacher Training Program of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco.

    Well, a small part of my commitment was attending (for the next two years) a yoga class which would focus on “my posture.”

    First Class: Friday night from 6 – 9:00pm.
    Iyengar Yoga Institute
    27th Ave & Taraval
    San Francisco, CA.

    As I entered the Iyengar Yoga Institute, I was very unsure & nervous. “Can I do this?” “Two years of devoting myself to one thing?” And being that I had not glanced at the curriculum, I pondered over “who is the teacher?”

    As I entered the yoga studio, I nervously set in Virasana. And as I awaited the arrival of the teacher, I glanced around the room. I felt fortunate that there were 6 men in the room. Yet being the only Afro American in the room, I felt insecure. And after viewing the various warm up sequences of the 34 other teachers in training, I realized that my well scripted movie had changed its plot. Things weren’t running as I had planned. And, I contemplated running for the door.

    Yet as my 1st quarter yoga teacher appeared. I was assured that I wasn’t the only Afro American Male practicing yoga. Then, for some reason, I felt my well scripted movie was back on course.

    But it was the 2nd quarter that brought my greatest awakening . . . . .

    16 weeks later, I attended the first day of the 2nd quarter. I had read the curriculum. I understood the protocols. I knew my next yoga teacher’s name. And, I set patiently in Virasana (gloating at my glorious posture).

    Soon following, the 2nd quarter asana teacher appeared & we began the yoga sequence. Upon hearing “utthita trikonasana,” I smiled. Finally, a pose that I could do “perfectly.” A pose that would allow me to shine in my own glory. So, I struck a triangle pose. Yet, as the teacher walked around the room, I knew it. I could feel it. She was coming to “speak with me.” And then, it came out. She said, “What are you doing in the Advanced Teacher Training Program?”

    The room went silent. My breathing stopped. And, as I stood in utthita trikonasana, tears began to roll from my eyes. So quickly, I ran to the bathroom to cry. And as I sat hyperventilating in the bathroom, I yelled out terrible things. At that particular moment, I felt this yoga teacher had ruined my perfectly scripted movie; insulted my glorious yoga pose; and she embarrassed me in front of 34 of my yoga peers. Therefore, I contemplated tiptoeing out of the bathroom and out the backdoor of the yoga studio, Yet, I needed my shoes – the shoes that were in the yoga studio.

    After 10 minutes of hiding, crying, screaming, and crying again, I returned to the yoga studio. I finished the yoga class. And for the next week, I contemplated, “what am I doing in the Advanced Teacher training program?”

    And then came my awakening ..

    I realized that by asking a simple question, my 2nd quarter teacher stopped the filming of my perfect movie. And for a moment, she had removed “my glorious ego” and had restored humility to my life.
    I realized, I was in the advanced teacher training program to learn to stand with integrity and acquire a deeper knowledge of the meaning of Yoga. And in order to stand with integrity and/or practice hatha yoga –

    I had to quit debating over the pros and cons of various yoga styles;
    I had to quit critiquing the knowledge of various yoga teachers.
    I had to quit gloating at my self claimed glorious postures.
    I had to sit quietly and listen closely.

    Well, of the 34 students in the 2yr advanced teacher training program, 7 of us graduated. And now. 6 years later, I still remember that yoga class. I have developed great respect for my second quarter yoga teacher.

    Also, I’ve learned that regardless of which practice of Yoga . . . Laya, Mantra, Nada, Raja, Tantra, Bhakti, Hatha, Jnana, or Karma – Yoga begins with the removal of the perfectly scripted movie – allowing the possibility to see clearly – allowing the possibility to learn.

    Wishing the best of all possible worlds,
    Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Tony Eason…

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! It is unique, yet it also exemplifies Iyengar yoga, which grounds rather than exalts the ego. Any time, in any pose, we are humbled. That’s what I love about it. While some poses are certainly more complicated and difficult, there is no easy pose that can be mastered or perfected.

      Next time I’m in SF, I’ll look you up!

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