During my immersion at the mega studio, I met teachers from various yoga backgrounds. Once, before a class, I chatted with the teacher, whom I’ll call Joan. She’d studied at a Sivananda centre before taking the mega studio’s three-month teacher-training program.
“That’s one type of yoga I’ve never tried,” I commented about Sivananda, which I know only from their ads (and from 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams‘s connection to it). “I’ve studied primarily Iyengar yoga,” I added.
“Oh, that’s the exact opposite,” she replied. “Sivananda is not really about alignment. It’s all about the practice.”
It was almost class time, and I was there to observe, not to debate. But, inside, it both amused and irked me that she’d defined Iyengar yoga as purely physical, just because of its high standards for form.
In a parallel incident, a gym-yoga teacher once commented to me that Iyengar teachers tend to “over cue.” She meant that they give too many instructions. Indeed, Iyengar teachers aren’t skimpy with specific tips on asana form:
- curl the tailbone down
- widen the collarbones
- lift the sternum
- slide the shoulder blades in and down the spine
- elongate the side waist
And these are the simple examples.
According to the gym-yoga teacher, “Let the students feel their own bodies and figure things out for themselves.”
Is she right? Is it better merely to tell students, “Stand in tadasana, spine straight, shoulders back” and leave it at that?
Regarding beginners, I find that detailed verbal cues are effective. Most beginners are clueless about their physical quirks. They’re oblivious of their shoulders scrunched up toward their ears or of their swaybacked lumbar spines. They might do trikonasana with the arm in parsvakonasana (or vice versa). By verbally directing them from head to toe, students learn to adjust their own bodies and to develop kinesthetic awareness.
Further, beginners are often easily distracted. They check out classmates’ skills. Their minds wander. They struggle with discomfort. When they hear a cue, they return to the asana, to their bodies, to their inner selves.
As a student, I’ve always welcomed cues. Ever too many? No. I absorb the ones that make sense to me, and I let the others waft by.
In Iyengar yoga, one is constantly “refining” the asana, sharpening one’s sensitivity. The initial focus is, yes, on the body. But eventually one focuses on the mind itself. To me, working on alignment and form is actually training the mind for pratyahara (sensory control), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation), the higher limbs of yoga.
I hope that Joan learns more about Iyengar yoga, but perhaps it simply will never resonate with her. Perhaps one is drawn to particular yoga lineages based on one’s personality. I’d find loose, anything-goes yoga only a diversion. And trance dance and loud sighing would feel silly and fake. But they might well suit others. Conversely, the detailed, thoughtful approach of Iyengar yoga challenges my body, hones my mind, and appeals to me.