Saturday, November 2, 2013

Are Iyengar Yoga Teachers "Purists"?

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about my studio, Alcove Yoga, and she asked if I would consider adding other sorts of yoga. I paused for a moment before saying "No." She then asked if I was a "Purist." She clarified what she meant--"like either you're Baptist or Catholic, but not both."

Yes, I guess so. And I explained the reason. I don't offer other kinds of yoga at my studio because students will get confused. Let's suppose I teach them the fundamentals of a basic posture, like Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Posture) to a student. I want her to remember the fundamentals (placements and actions of each major body part) for the next time I see her, if not forever.

Then she goes to a "Hatha" class or a Hot Yoga class or some Vinyasa class or something else. She carries with her the instructions I gave her, but the teacher there wants something different that comes from his or her own practice. So the student, if she is respectful, complies with the second teacher, and now has a new Samskara (body/mind imprint) that I will have to deal with if this student ever comes back to my class. And the student will be confused about which way to practice. Or the student will just pick and choose different techniques for different postures based on comfort, pleasure, or convenience of memory. None of this constitutes yoga. Yoga is a practice that requires transcendence of the pursuit of pleasures or comforts. It requires discipline and commitment.

The Bhakti philosopher Edwin Bryant once said in class: "You should pick one method and stick with it. If you sample this religion and that, you'll find out a lot about different kinds of religions, but you'll never find the Atman [soul]." You have to commit yourself to one spiritual path. Otherwise, when things get tough (and they will if you are a seeker), you'll be too tempted to drop out and try something else that's easier. Or get a new teacher who might like you better. Provided there's nothing illegal or immoral going on, sticking to your method, religion, or teacher when things get uncomfortable, will help you go deeper. And it's absolutely necessary for a genuine yoga practice.

The second reason I may be called a "Purist" has to do with accountability and the relationship between Guru  and Sishya (Pupil). The word Guru means quite literally "heavy". Our Guru is B.K.S. Iyengar. We are accountable to him and his family of teachers, Geeta Iyengar, Prashant Iyengar, Sunita Iyengar, Abijata Iyengar. How can B.K.S. Iyengar sign our teaching certificates if we are mixing methods? How can there be accountability? We are trained to look at each and every individual in a group and make sure, first of all, that the practices are safe. If we are teaching something added from the latest popular trend and over time there are injuries, how can we know what is the cause of that injury? We don't mix methods in Iyengar Yoga because we are accountable for the practices we teach. They come to us from a master who has experimented on his own body for 8 decades of practice, and then passed on his knowledge to thousands of students with whom he has had relationships for decades. We don't make up new things to be entertaining or to compete with what someone else is doing.

Iyengar certified teachers can all trace our teachers to the founder of modern Yoga: T. Krishnamacharya. My lineage is the following: My teachers are Patricia Walden and Chris Saudek; their teachers are B.K.S. Iyengar; his Guru was T. Krishnamacharya. To be faithful to that heritage and lineage, we don't covet what others are doing, and we don't seek out the latest tips, tricks, or trends from other methods for our own practice or teaching.

I'm not knocking studios where different kinds of yoga are offered under the same roof. This is a practical necessity in most cases. That's just sharing brick and mortar and bringing seekers together. It's an opportunity to practice maitri, friendliness, with fellow seekers. I also think of all the churches that lend their spaces to yoga teachers; and how grateful I am to the Benedictine monks in St. Joseph's parish who let us have retreats in their Christian Life Center, as we explore a completely different spiritual path than Christianity.

I am suggesting that if you really want a transformational yoga practice, you have to make a choice. And you have be loyal and committed to your teacher.  I do not speak for all Iyengar Teachers. I am just giving you my view. Thanks!

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