Friday, 29 January 2010

Iyengar : ""When I was young, I played. Now I stay."

Should probably go to a few Iyengar classes and see what it's really all about, becoming fascinated by the man. Just all those ropes and props I find so off putting.


Check out the backbends 0.42 seconds in.
The tock back and into Hanumanasana at 1.00
His delicate Nakrasana at 2.26
Jump through at 6.57

Talking about practicing with a thinking mind at 4.05

I think the voice over is by Patricia Walden and seems to correspond with her essay found here

I really like this section on how his practice/teaching changed over the years, which relates to an earlier post and question of mine.

'In the early years, his teaching reflected his practice. We did many, many poses, including advanced ones, in each class. He rained instructions on us with a torrent of intensity. His focus was on action--- actions that fused body and mind: "Make the mind feel the stretch. Awaken the mind of the little toe." We would leave class, exhausted and exhilarated, soaked to the bone by the flood of his teaching, wondering whether we could even make it to our hotel rooms.
As the years have passed, he has added new dimensions to his teaching. We do fewer poses per class, but he takes us deeper into each. Demonstrating the nuances of practice, he encourages and cajoles us to see and to understand. He urges us to explore, to find out where we are dull or overworking, and to adjust, so that consciousness can grace the body evenly throughout. And most of all, he accents that the purpose of practice is to come closer to the soul, through balancing action and reflection. In his own wry words: "There is pose and repose."
With the mind of a scientist and the soul of a poet, he has spent thousands of hours using his body as a laboratory, experimenting, exploring, observing, and creating. I remember once watching him practice before teaching a class. I was startled to see his body twisted in uncharacteristically poor alignment; but later, in class, I realized that he had been working out the problems of his students within his own body. He once told me that he learned his method by exploring not only what was right, but what was wrong; and that he hoped his students could learn from his experience.'

And this quote below that Maya refered to in comments to my previous post

'At 80, he continues to practice intensely: 35 minute headstands, 108 drop-overs (cycles of tadasana, dropping back to urdhva dhanurasana, and then rising back to tadasana), 10 minute viparita dandasanas, and long introverted forward bends. As he says, "When I was young, I played. Now I stay.
'


17 comments:

  1. Apologies in advance for the long comment...

    FWIW, my main Iyengar teacher does 108 drop backs on her birthday. This past year she had slipped on some ice so she was unable to do it - and was rather bummed. Seems to be a Iyengar thing to do - almost like a merit badge.

    I asked her if her 108 were consecutive and what she said was that she does them in sets of 10 - counting with marker and taking a brief pause between each set. Somehow that makes it seem less intense. The most I've been able to safely get get to is 54 and that's with doing a light practice beforehand to limber up.

    Also, thought you would be interested, in one of Iyengar's books he referenced doing a 15 minute kapotasana (doesn't specify whether I or II) b/c he wanted to see if he could do it. He loved his backbends until he started doing pranayama where he found his back would get tired while sitting and his breathing labored. As a result he moved to a lot of forward bends to build core strength.

    But an absolutely fascinating man and from what my teacher has told me a tough man at that.

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  2. compelling video, wonderful to see a different approach, i appreciate holding the asana longer, doing fewer, i find when i do that, i feel movement deep within the pose...

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  3. Wow, I bow to him, amazing, and yes I believe also that the voice is Patricia, sounds just like the dvd of her...

    I hope you are not thinking of changing... ;-) just kidding

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  4. Maybe I want a 108 drop back merit badge to sew on my shorts next to my 108 Sury's badge.

    Still got my mouth hanging open at this 108 dropback idea. bt then you see his dropbacks in the video and it makes sense, he has such a nice rocking rhythm going.

    Can you remember which book it is he talks about such things ie the 15min Kapo, God, can't imagine five minutes, let alone twenty-five. the quote is interesting, no? ' When i was young I played .....'

    Hi Carol, i agree the long holds are interesting. i've started rotating longer holds. maybe one or two poses a day held longer, changing the poses each day. that way it doesn't seem to affect the rhythm of the practice too much.

    No not changing Claudia, orthodox boy that I am, but considering taking a class or two. Might explore some of the long headstands and multiple drop backs etc in the evening though.

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  5. Hi Grimmly,

    I use Iyengar classes as workshop spaces, that is what they really are meant to be anyway. It's a great complimentary practice, very precise, smart and thoughtful. And I'm sure you'll come around on the props, think of them as toys, or tools for exploration. They aren't always used to modify, many times they can be used to deepen a pose.
    It's like a jungle gym for adults!

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  6. The 15 min Kapotasana reference is towards the end of an essay on how he learned pranayama (page 65 of volume 1 of the Astadala Yogamala) - just mentioned briefly in passing as if that is normal. Normal for him maybe...

    Definitely agree with Liz2 - I hadn't thought of Iyengar classes as workshops, but yeah that's a really good analogy. As for props, I was supposed to go to a backbend on the ropes workshop this weekend - but will have to miss it due to work. I'm definitely totally bummed.

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  7. Thank you so much for this Liz. i think this is exactly what I was leading up to and wondering. I was hoping they would be complimentary. i wonder if it goes both ways. i can see that Iyengar, in the 'workshop' sense you mention could be complimentary to Ashtanga but i wonder if Ashtanga is of any use or that much interest to Iyengar students. I dont mean this in a critical sense to either.
    Your probably right about the 'play' aspect of the prop thing too. i think if it was my main and only practice it would irritate the hell out of me personally but agin in the complimentary sense I can see it might be beneficial. Certainly fascinating.

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  8. P. your comment came in just as i was responding to Liz. you've all got me fired up on this now.

    Lot's of Iyengar books out there. Anyone have suggestions I have Light on yoga, and something else i picked up in a charity shop by someone else, forget who.
    Any must have's?

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  9. Light on Life. Must have.

    WAY more interesting stuff in there than how many dropbacks to do or how to torture yourself by holding kapo for a long time.

    By the way I think you guys with your multiple dropbacks are absolutely NUTS, don't think I've ever done more than five! I have a friend who was doing that with a senior ashtanga teacher. Then she switched back to shadow yoga...

    An Iyengar class with a good teacher is fun. I also learned some good stuff from my Iyengar teacher, also learned some things I don't agree with though, hence one of the reason ashtanga suits me better (though there are things I don't necessarily agree with there either - but I do them!)

    Many things are done very differently in ashtanga and iyengar, and one can end up like the person who learns spanish and italian at the same time - speaking corporeal gibberish. Of course I think it's better to stick to one system, but I also believe in a 'shopping around' process that can take as many years as it takes (I did this for a few years - Iyengar once a week and everything else in the pot too).. just keep them separate.

    But will you have to wait till next year to try iyengar classes because you're doing '2S+' for a year??? lol

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  10. hey Susan, i had a peek at Light on life, wasn't sure about it, will have another look.

    Long Kapo's as torture, I wonder, surely the only way you can do it is to learn to breathe well in it, kinda makes sense no? Maybe not 15 minutes, but a comfortable five, long steady breathes seems worth thinking about. And did you see his drop backs in the video, that nice rhythm he has. If it takes 12-20 a day to develop that, I'm game.

    As for waiting 'til next year : ) well, the regime is 2s in the morning, what I do in the evening doesn't count, (yep, keep em separate) hell I might even do some Okido laughing yoga LOL (see, started already).
    You think my three extra poses in Standing count as a +

    Perhaps the thing I'm drawn to about him most is that he seem to have been constantly questioning, exploring, analyzing and experimenting with his practice. My kind of Yogi.

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  11. Wow, what a great video. I've never seen BKS Iyengar's practice in motion, but I have paged through Light on Yoga with awe and admiration many times. His body is so amazingly fluid. It's inspiring to see a practice that has grown and matured with the practitioner. I've been pondering the sustainability of my own practice lately, and this certainly speaks to that idea.

    What is the danger of mixing yoga styles? Is it a fear of corrupting the ashtanga tradition, or losing focus by mixing up the practice? My own practice has elements of both Iyengar and Ashtanga, as a result of learning individual asanas from Iyengar books, and building sequences from ashtanga resources, though I too shy away from the use of props. I prefer to approach my practice in a more minimalistic setting, and I can't imagine having to shuffle blocks, straps, and bolsters around between every pose.

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  12. Light on Life is great, but I get a little bogged down in certain chapters.
    In response to Misanthropic Yogini: I don't see any problem with mixing these two particular styles, but many people do, simply because certain asana are done so differently. I remember scanning over an ashtanga website (for a studio somewhere in the US), and they had a picture of the "wrong" way to do Vira I, and there was a picture of BKS Iyengar in the pose!! It was pretty off-putting, to tell you the truth...

    Another thing you get in Iyengar that you don't get in Ashtanga is all of the delicious restorative stuff. Highly recommend taking a full on restorative class if you ever get a chance. Like a massage, but better, IMO.

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  13. As for book - I definitely recommend: Iyengar: Yoga Master - Kofi Busia ed.

    That was the first Iyengar book I read. It's a collection of essays about Iyengar by "famous" Iyengar students. How better to learn about a teacher than from their students?

    I agree with Liz2 on Light of Life - and the Iyengar restorative class. Pure heaven. Well worth haggling with every single prop used.

    G. What happens if you start laughing while doing your morning practice?

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  14. I have light on pranayama and light on the sutras, both of which I refer to on a regular basis. I've never studied pranayama with a teacher, so maybe that's a bit dodgy, but I do feel the need to extend myself more with the breath. What's the usual protocol for an ashtangi to learn pranayama beyond ujjayi in the asanas? Is it a post-second series thing? Third?

    You've probably seen this, but on the off chance that you haven't, here's BKS flexing the diaphragm:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcPjvp4La8A

    It's my favourite of all the Iyengar stuff there (though I love the backbending too).

    I haven't read light on life; it's been on my amazon list-o-things-to-get for ages. I did read once that he claimed nothing could make him wuit asana; "even if God himself told me to give up asana I wouldn't do it!" Or something similar. I loved it! Such an incredibly devoted, pious man, bordering on irreverence (heresy even?).

    The one Iyengar class I went to drove me nuts, so I'm not likely to go back. I took my own big fat black mat, and spent half the class dragging it from one spot to another. Didn't know how in heck to use the ropes, and got promptly slapped by the teacher (nearly fell on my face in shock). Poses were timed using a timer. I dunno; I couldn't get into any kind of meditative state; no pratyahara. In fairness, it was so different from what I was used to ..... I didn't do any research into the school beforehand, so I don't even know if it was typical. but I figure I can get my Iyengar fix from his books (for now).

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  15. Thank you for sharing that - he is an incredible man and I have learned so much from his books.

    Even though I am dedicated to the ashtanga practice, I think we can learn a lot from Iyengar and his teachings. I also wonder how our practice will have to change and adapt as our bodies change throughout life... maybe the Iyengar practice is something I will be drawn to as I get older.

    A 15 minute Kapotasana?! WOW. I am going to think about that while I am barely able to hold it for 5 breaths.

    I love this idea that he uses his body as a laboratory... studying, experimenting, exploring, creating.

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  16. Hmm mixing of styles. I can't really comment with regard to Iyengar and Ashtanga but I didn't find a problem combining Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama.

    As it turned out, I'd already spent too long practicing Ashtanga and allowed it to get under my skin such that I missed that style of practice. The length of sequence seems about right for me and I like the movement between the asanas and linking of breath to movement. Most of all I like having a set practice and not having to think about which asanas to practice each time.

    In the end I keep coming back to the Krishnamacharya idea of 40 minutes of asana 20 minutes pranayama (though I prefer 60-90 minutes of asana). I really don't think it matters that much which asana as long as there is a degree of common sense involved. I'm sure I have a hell of a lot I can learn from the Iyengar approach to asana.

    Obviously if you go to a Mysore Self-practice room you wouldn't take it there but at home, well it's your practice.

    I tire of all the, you should do this, you shouldn't do that, you mustn't think too much or explore, or examine, or analyse, or question. My feeling is that you can do all that if your that way inclined, i really like that about Iyengar as i've mentioned above. But if that's not what your in to with regards to your practice, if you don't want to think about it but just get on and do it, well that of course is fine too. It's just Asana, it's what you do with them and while your in them counts.

    Not a popular view perhaps but it's been my current feeling for a while now.

    Interesting too, to look at different ways of practicing the same asana. Though again, your not going to take your Iyengar version into an Ashtanga class or the other way around.

    I ordered Iyengar: Yoga Master, Portside, thanks for that and I've ordered Light on Life too. ( I have his Pranayama book as an ebook).

    I highely recommend Pranayama Lew. If I remember, Iyengar recommends beginning practicing the different methods while lying down in Savasana. I had a couple of lessons when I was doing VK. Again, a little common sense is called for, start simply and build up but I really don't think your head is going to blow off, despite what the old texts suggest. And besides we've been doing Pranayama in Ashtanga all this time anyway with Ujaii.

    Amused by the image of you having to drag you black mat all over the place, must have been a real pain. I'm sure i'd feel the same but perhaps an occasional class might be interesting. Just as some pop off for the additional Bikrum or Shadow class.

    Hi Christina, love the body as laboratory idea too (just saw your profile, no wonder you like that bit : ) i said somewhere else that he was a Home Yogi at heart and still think so. My definition here of a home yogi is one not necessarily tied to a particular tradition ( though may well be) and thus having the freedom to experiment more freely in developing their practice (not to say of course that there isn't room to explore your practice within a tradition, my emphasis was on more freely).

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  17. Wow 108 dropbacks! I'm starting to repect the man! If he can do it with the ease like he does on the video, 15 min Kapotasana would just go for the relaxation. I will have to try this some day. For now I'm just experimenting with 100 pushups (sorry - Plank-chaturanga transitions).

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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