An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

During my Lonely Planet research trip to Hawaii, I dropped on 75-minute classes at two Hilo studios: Balancing Monkey and Yoga Centered. Neither offers Iyengar yoga , but one teacher’s bio mentioned that she’s in training for Intro II certification. Curious, I attended her “basics” class–and a half-priced “community flow” class at the other studio.

Guess which is which:

SEQUENCE 1

Sukhasana (on two adjacent blocks)
Adho Mukha Virasana
Spinal Stretch (to wall)
Vrksasana (back against wall)
Garudasana (legs only)
Virabhadrasana I (front foot on two blocks stacked against wall)
Parsvakonasana
Dandasana (on bolster)
Marichysana I (on bolster)
Marichyasana III (on bolster)
Triang Mukhaipada Paschimottanasana (on bolster)
Adho Mukha Virasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Resting Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (torso on bolster, feet on blocks)
Savasana
 

SEQUENCE 2

Supta Baddhakonasana (on bolster, legs propped)
Supta Padangusthasana I, II, twist
Dandasana
Paschimottanasana
Adho Mukha Virasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Sun Salutations (three sets)
Tadasana, Uttanasana, Lunge, Kneeling lunge, Forward bend sitting on heel with other leg straight, Lunge, Uttanasana, Tadasana, Repeat with other leg
Sea Salutations (several sets, see video below)
Tadasana, Uttanasana, Malasana, Roll backward into Halasana with arms overhead, Roll forward into Malasana, Uttanasana, Tadasana, Repeat with other leg
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (balancing, with strap)
to Parsva Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
to Parivrtta Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Ardha Supta Virsana (on bolster)
Hanumanasana (on bolster)
Resting Pigeon Stretch
Adho Mukha Svanasana, one leg raised, foot against wall (a standing split)
Ustrasana (prep only, hands against wall)
Ardha Matsyendrasana (prep only, seat on floor, no clasp)
Viparita Karani (on bolster)
 

It’s probably obvious to experienced yoga practitioners that an Iyengar yoga teacher would be unlikely to teach Sequence 2 (especially to drop-ins and beginners). Hanumanasana? Even in the teacher-heavy classes that I attend, we rarely practice Hanumanasana.

That said, here’s what I experienced in the two classes, both which were taught by pleasant, young, female, novice teachers. Regarding the Iyengar trainee’s sequence, I had no major quibbles, although it lacked a unifying theme and ended 10 minutes early. She spotted students’ weaknesses and gave a nice chair+bolster modification to a guy who couldn’t hook his ankle in Garudasana.

chakra_yoga_halasana

Regarding the flow class, I had doubts about the sequencing, yet I personally enjoyed it. In my home practice I do Sun Salutations almost daily, but the Sea Salutations were a surprise! Having sampled a number of flow classes over the years, I find them packed with poses–and invigorating and fun. There’s value both in learning fundamental form and alignment–and in dynamic movement, challenging poses, and unexpected stuff like rolling from Malasana into Halasana.

I wouldn’t teach Sequence 2 to beginners. And it did raise a few question marks. (Why do a standing split before Hanumanasana? What was that Ustrasana tossed in at the end?) I also missed a teacher’s precise verbal instructions and eagled-eyed corrections/adjustments. (Why didn’t she address all the “floating” hips in Supine Pigeon Stretch. Hmm, her own hip was floating in her demo.)

But I can see the appeal of how yoga is taught at non-Iyengar studios. Yoga might be presented as an external physical stimulus, but exploring the body’s abilities can be awakening. If (and I know it’s a big “if”) one can take care of oneself, why not go for it sometimes?

In the September 2013 issue of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada newsletter, senior-level Iyengar yoga teacher Margot Kitchen, based in Calgary, is quoted:

The supported postures are very important, but so are the ‘back of the book’ postures that young people have more access to – we don’t want to lose those postures and what they have to teach us.

Those of us who have been around a long time need to continue to teach these postures.

The AGM in Saskatoon a few years ago had the theme of vibrancy – this is what we need to teach, and help students experience – Virya (unflagging enthusiasm or the essence of vitality).

Her point is worth thinking about: for your own practice, for your own teaching, and for the future of Iyengar yoga.

Images: Sea salutations, Bruce Bowditch; Halasana, www.chakras.org.uk

11 thoughts on “An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

  1. I have taken some Iyengar and flow classes in my lifetime, and in my opinion, the sequencing on sequence # 2 does not sound right. Before I perform Hanumansana in a sequence, I usually precede it with standing splits at the wall, and some Supta Virasana or any type of psoas quad stretch as I am tighter in my psoas than in my hamstrings. Very few practitioners are naturally flexible enough to perform advanced asanas without warmups.

  2. Also Iyengar trained, I enjoy attending other kinds of classes to find out what the young ones are up to. Thanks for the Sea Salutations. What do you mean by floating hips in Pigeon? The bent leg hip may often be off the ground when going forward; the back leg outer hip tries to reach the ground, but may not in many folks. Do you mean that a block or folded blanket should be under any hip not touching the ground?

    1. Yes. If the bent front-leg hip is floating high, it can load too much stress on the knee joint. If it’s only slightly raised, it’s probably OK. And, yes, ideally both the front-leg hip and the back-leg hip flexors should approach ground. Ideally!

  3. I came to yoga (after several years of procrastination and confusion!) with the goal of alleviating and avoiding discomfort and injury, from sport, aging and sitting at a desk for half of my life.
    (I am seeing progress and also enjoying the process more than I’d anticipated.)
    I think a lot of people come to yoga with more immediate fitness goals in mind. Yoga programs have adapted to accommodate this demand.
    I’m impressed that you didn’t take a purist’s attitude to what must be a compromise to the practice of yoga. To each their own, provided they are well instructed.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Paul! I am a purist when teaching beginners (and when learning something new myself). One might be confused or take shortcuts otherwise. But once a practitioner truly understands the fundamentals, I believe that it’s wise, rewarding, and open-minded to explore beyond one’s realm.

      It’s akin to fusion cuisine or comparative literature. They make sense only if you are well versed in at least one subfield, whether Japanese cooking, Russian novels, or Iyengar yoga. And, as in all fields, some subfields are more important than others. In yoga, I believe that Iyengar yoga is essential. But that doesn’t mean that other methods have no value.

      Your comment is instigating me to follow up on this post. Stay tuned!

  4. You’re right there doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme in either. That’s when a class feels refreshing and that you made some connections in your body. But it takes time and experience to make a class flow even if it isn’t a ‘flow’ class. And novice teachers need experience. I notice though that novice teachers – at least, some – don’t seem to go out too far from the studio’s they ‘trained’ at so their experience of other teachers and their own practice is somewhat wanting. I don’t know how anyone can teach if they don’t know their own practice – how it makes them feel when they’re guided by their own body’s feelings in a practice instead of following a ‘course plan’. Instead find a rhythm that can inform their classes and what they teach in what order etc.. (at least for flow – I know Iyengar has a bigger plan – but still it helps to know the rules and then let your body guide you).
    As well, I think it’s ok to leave out the poses at “the back of the book” when you’re teaching beginners or basic classes. These postures need to be left to the more seasoned teachers to teach the more seasoned students. It used to be that if you wanted to experience these postures you had to practice, practice, practice. And with this practice came the confidence to move on to the next level of class and teacher. That’s how it should be done. IMHO Peace! C

    1. Great points, Christine. I agree that teachers should not teach “back of the book” poses until they (and their students) are ready. In the quote by Margot Kitchen, she, too, emphasized this: “Those of us who have been around a long time need to continue to teach these postures.”

      Readers, Christine is an Ashtanga yogi and compatriot in Toronto. Do you know that devoted Ashtanga and Iyengar practitioners have much in common? We enjoyed a blog exchange in July: http://yogafirsthand.com/2013/07/15/yoga-it-is-the-practice-that-teaches-not-the-teacher/.

      1. Thanks for including a link to my blog. I always enjoy your posts and our dialogue with you. Peace! C xo

  5. The first sequence seems appropriate for a pre-Intro II level teacher. The second sequence is waiting for an injury to happen. If you want back of the book poses, go to a more senior teacher or try them in your own practice. I know Hilo is limited with Iyengar teachers, but this is really comparing apples and oranges. Furthermore, even if the first sequence was taught by a senior Iyengar teacher, it would be exploring the depth of each pose rather than just jumping around from pose to pose. On an even deeper level, the Iyengar teacher was practicing satya, aparigraha, brahmacharya, and svadaya with this sequence by not teaching what she has not been trained to do. The flow yogini is just practicing vanity, delusion, and potential harm to a student with tight hamstrings.

  6. I was trained by some of the top Iyengar folks and have since recoverd by finding traditional aspirants with some actual knowledge of prana in the body. Sadly, much of the Iyengar sequencing in how things are taught is a bit misguided if authentic hatha yoga is what you are after. There is nothing wrong with teaching beginners hanumanasana to their capacity, nor is anything wrong with teaching uddiyana bhanda – which is actually a very critical component from the outset of a practice for proper energetic unfolding of asana, yet is treated like some gaurded secret not taught until the later stages of certification in Iyengar for reasons I never figured out. Like this, there is so much in Iyengar that is purely IYENGAR, that it needs that label to distinguish it from traditional hatha despite BKS’s verbose and misguided claims otherwise.

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