Several years ago I had decided to enroll in an intensive Iyengar Yoga class. Iyengar Yoga places a very strong emphasis on proper body alignment and positioning from the exact placement of the head and focus point of the eyes (also called drishti) all the way down to the pinky toe. I had maintained a fairly regular, almost daily, yoga practice over the previous year, but I wanted to study the Asanas, or posture, practice in greater depth. There were also many poses I wanted to improve upon, and due to several foot and ankle injuries from years of competitive running, I felt my balancing strength could also greatly improve. Adding four more classes per week would also challenge my self-discipline and endurance. Most importantly, or should I say most bravely, I wanted to tackle the inverted poses head-on. Little did I know that it would also turn my mind upside-down!
The military-like style of my Iyengar instructor was almost frightening at first, but it sure made me strive to become aware of every little muscle fiber that could be in better alignment. As each day and week went by, the instructor would have us go into headstand (shirshasana), handstand (adho mukha vrikshasana), forearm stand (pincha mayurasana), scorpion pose (vrishchikasana), and shoulder stand (sarvangasana) more and more often and hold them for longer periods of time. He’d even time us with a stopwatch! But as each day and week went by, I felt more self-confident with what my body could do, and I became ever more aware that the boundaries of my body’s capabilities were much further than I had thought.
I remember how I’d wake up every Friday morning with sore shoulders and say to myself, “I just don’t think I can do one more inversion. Not even for a second!” Somehow though, each and every time, I’d rise up into handstand with ease, surprised at what my body was able to do that my mind thought it couldn’t do. By the end of my three-month yoga intensive, I had met my goal. My Asana practice had improved dramatically, and I felt stronger than ever. I had also overcome my fear of coming crashing down while attempting the inversions. But, the most profound thing I learned was that we are capable of more than we think, whether that’s physically, emotionally, or mentally, when we set aside the worry and doubts of the mind and turn it all upside-down.
Oooph…I was planning to go for this next year…I wonder if I’d be disciplined enough!..lol
As a student, many years ago now, I did Iyengar yoga. At the time he was doing a fund raising tour of the UK so I was lucky enough to see him give a demonstration. He was already quite old by the then but some of the things he could do were truly amazing. Marie
Ooh. Brave woman. I will make friends with the fear of injury first. I actually am injured, so to fear it seems a bit silly but it is a warning mechanism to remain aware. I will stick to my limited number of asanas for now, and put hatha yoga on the list for next year.
You’re funny! 🙂 Iyengar isn’t hatha or vinyasa though. It’s more like Yin Yoga where poses are held for longer periods, but to fine-tune awareness of positioning of every part of the body, especially with inversions! I think had only gotten up into shoulder stand, maybe headstand a few times, before this experience. Rest, heal, love, and nurture your injury! Namaste _/l\_
That is why I will take on Hatha yoga. See if I can get to loving the injury first. Oh. I will look up Vinyasa. It sounds interesting. Anything but Iyengar! 😀
Ah, I see! 😀
You reached the goal in three months, that’s very impressive. I’m still practicing my basic yoga after several years…
I reached my study goal. That does not mean I can do every pose perfectly! 🙂
It is incredible what our minds and bodies are capable of, so much more than we think.
reminds me of a visit to Mysore to meet the master of ashtanga yoga – he was 81 at the time and hale and healthy.. I loved yoga back then, but I was never able to do anything more than the basics. Now i am older, I still try yoga, but find my knees are not as good as they were. I would advise caution when young, because the over use of knees can be a crippling experience in later life.
Indeed, any overuse of our bodies, our vehicles in this life, can lead to injury. Ahimsa (non-violence) should always be followed with any physical pursuit (see my comment to the first commenter). But also, the Asana practice is but a very small part of practicing yoga. Namaste _/l\_
Thank you for this! My teacher studied with Iyengar, and I believe it was a big influence on his teaching style. As a tight bodied runner and climber, I never felt that I surpassed my abilities in that way. However, I did discover and create relationship with many many muscle parts that I hadn’t known existed, and entered deeply calm and aware mental states. I agree, hope many become aware that it is a moving meditation, and preparation for still meditation.
You’re welcome Aggie! Yes, the Asana are there so we can learn to be still! 🙂
thanks for sharing the Iyengar experience. glad it helped overcome perceived limitations. yes, we are all capable of more than our mind can imagine. but, we have vastly varied anatomies and many have been hurt going passed their edge, into injury. Namaste:-)
Indeed, and glad you brought that up!
For all reading this: Ahimsa, the first yama of the first limb of yoga, must be adhered to throughout all other yoga practices, including non-violence to oneself while practicing Yoga Asana, which means do not push yourself into injury.
Having a foundation in the Yamas, Niyamas, and Pranayama (see my other yoga posts: http://juliannevictoria.com/category/yoga/) enables one to have a clearer awareness between meeting perceived limits, and true physical and anatomical boundaries, and I recommend beginning with those first or in conjunction with a gentle/beginner Asana practice/class.
I debated quite a while about posting about Asana, because “yoga” is mostly perceived as a work out, not as meditation (moving in the case of Asana) nor as a spiritual practice. I hope readers see this is not a post about physical agility, but rather mental awareness. This experience of my study (I did so much at that time because I was studying Pranayama and Asana) of the Asanas seemed to be a good example for this. Namaste _/l\_
thanks for the insightful clarity.
You’re welcome! It’s difficult to write about the Asana practice because yoga is thought so much as a fitness activity or work out. The Asana is but a very tiny part of yoga, but it is how it is mostly known. Though it is difficult for many to see that the body is an external vehicle for the soul that ought to be loved, respected, and maintained, I will try to clarify this even more in future yoga posts. Thank you!