The same student who sparked my prior post, “Criticism and praise in yoga classes,” asked another question about Iyengar yoga classes:
“I… love my vinyasa practice because of the familiar repetition and rhythm—you can lose yourself in the continual movement. Do you think you can ‘get’ that meditative experience in an Iyengar class? Maybe on a micro level (the specific postures)? Or is that more of a personal thing (not something you ‘get’ from a class). Do you know what I mean?”
Here are three answers off the top of my head:
Pose by pose My student answered her own question. On a “micro level” in the “specific postures,” one can find stillness. At some point, after the aligning and fiddling, one should settle down, breathe, and find ease. The long holds in Iyengar yoga are conducive to this process. Regarding props, I, too, sometimes feel hassled by complicated setups and a hefty stack of blankets. But holding a pose like Salamba Sarvangasana for five to 10 minutes, properly propped (and upright), leads you much deeper into the experience. Try it!
Flow in Iyengar yoga In a classic Iyengar class, there are stops and starts: A teacher demonstrates an asana while students watch. Then students try to replicate the pose, observed by the teacher. A teacher might use a student demo to further emphasize a point. For beginners, this “learn by example” method lets students watch without simultaneously trying to perform.
That said, when working with experienced students, teachers need not demonstrate basic poses. So classes can be more “flowing.” I’ve done countless sun salutations and continuous standing-pose sequences in Iyengar classes. These dynamic (yet still alignment-based) classes can complement the classic approach.
Class time versus practice time Again, my student already had her answer: a meditative experience might “not be something you ‘get’ from a class.” In old-school Iyengar yoga, there is a distinction between class time and practice time. In class, you watch, listen, and apply the lessons to group asana. At home, you practice.
Of course, most students expect to practice in class. I give my students an invigorating class because most don’t practice at home. But, if one is seeking a meditative (or otherwise individualized) asana experience, one can always inject class ideas into home practice. With alignment in mind, go ahead and do 50 handstands or sit and chant. The practice then becomes one’s own.