So, an Iyengar teacher is guaranteed to nail you for floppy arms, lazy arches, collapsed chests, and the list goes on (and on). You might think you’re in a deep backbend but, no, an Iyengar teacher will notice that you’re relying too much on that overly bend-y lumbar spine of yours. Analyzed pose by pose, Iyengar yoga might be considered rigid by some.
But, at the macro level, analyzed class by class, Iyengar yoga is remarkably dynamic. Teachers almost never repeat the same class sequence. I cannot recall my longtime teachers ever teaching the same class twice. Ever. Sometimes I even want them exactly to repeat a class, but they never do. They might repeat the same theme (such as hip opening or an advanced family of poses) but their sequences evolve. They’re always exploring and experimenting, and they revise on the fly, to accommodate the students at hand.
Ironically, vinyasa/flow classes (or generic “hatha” classes, discussed in a prior post) seem more rigid than Iyengar classes. Pose-by-pose alignment is certainly less strict, giving the impression of freedom and an “ahh” quality. I occasionally enjoy such classes, which build body heat with constant movement (and allow me to zone out, which is not a bad thing). The constantly moving sequences seem dance-like, loose, and liberating.
But most vinyasa/flow sequences also remind me of prepared speeches. Teachers whip out an iPod player, set the mood with Putamayo instrumentals, and then monologue for an hour. In such classes, there is no improvisation, nary a question asked, absolutely no interruptions. Rigid? Not intentionally. But classes are fixed by default.
(Note: Bikram classes are off-the-scale in rigidity. Teachers call out the same set of poses, forbidden from veering off the menu even if they were inclined to do so. They can merely say, “Change!” and students jump. A bold kindergartener could run a Bikram class.)
Iyengar teachers, by the nature of the method, must deal with unpredictability, a real give-and-take with students. It’s a juggling act: they’re teaching a prepared themed sequence, revising on the fly, demonstrating to (and on) students, answering questions, recommending modifications, directing students of varying levels. Unless they have a group of students eerily docile and flawless in form, they cannot follow a set routine.
Pardon the rant in defense of Iyengar yoga. I truly appreciate all methods and constantly try new classes, studios, and the gamut of teachers. I discovered yoga at a university gym, where I met my first mentor (who blended Iyengar fundamentals with Ashtanga vigor in an appealingly straightforward, un-New-Age-y style), so I have no uppityness about the “right” place for yoga. But, among the major lineages, Iyengar yoga is the one least known to the general public (even Anusara Yoga, created by Iyengar disciple John Friend, is rising as the go-to method for alignment), when it might be the most universally doable form.