I believe that yoga can only be learned through practice and experience, and it is difficult to assess progress and set goals in terms of ability to perform asanas and pranayamas. My honest opinion is that once qualified, teachers should become part of a community of teachers (where possible) who regularly support each other as they progress with the help of senior teachers. I am fortunate to have a community like this in London but it often feels that it is quite closed and not inclusive.
I am a school teacher by profession, and work in state education in London, where teachers are regularly observed by peers and targets are set to develop skills based on what is needed. I feel that there needs to be a more collaborative approach to developing already certified teachers, rather than an assessment model. I have felt tremendous pressure and stress through my last two assessments and don’t really feel like they contributed to a greater depth of understanding or had a positive impact on my life. I agree that the first stage of certification needs to be assessed. However, I think that after this initial stage, we should all be working together to develop or knowledge, skills and understanding of yoga rather than maintaining a pass/fail culture.
I was greatly inspired by Geeta Iyengar’s work and books as a trainee teacher and loved her approach and insight, in being able to break down learning the asanas into stages. I believe that as teachers, this is a vital part of our job. If we are to continue to just plough through a massive syllabus of asanas and build our egos with what we can perform, we will lose touch with new students and those who want to be introduced to the subject will go elsewhere. In my experience as a teacher of Iyengar Yoga, students are in need of a more simple, step by step breakdown of instruction. This needs to be taught by trainers and mentors and can be done through a small range of asanas. The beauty of the previous syllabi were that many of the asanas would come up again and again to encourage a new approach and a greater depth of understanding within the same asana.
I also believe that Pranayama should have a greater focus in the future and that this should be reflected in teacher development. So many teachers neglect to teach pranayama and have little understanding of Light on Pranayama, when it is such a vital aspect of what BKS Iyengar taught. Why is it not encouraged more? Again I am fortunate to have had teachers who have an excellent knowledge of pranayama and were able to share some of this with me. I think that Pranayama seems to be tagged on to the end of a syllabus without much care or thought about how it should be done. Yet, for me this is the key to a huge treasure that is being ignored.
Last month I took my Junior Intermediate Level 2 assessment in the Iyengar Yoga teaching system. It was an intense day of practice and teaching in front of 3 senior teachers and with students that I had never seen before. Unfortunately I didn’t pass this time but was given some clear feedback to work with. Initially I felt quite angry and dejected and it brought up insecurities about not being a “good enough” teacher. On reflection, I think it is more to do with how comfortable I felt in my role as an Iyengar Yoga teacher on that day. I’ve been teaching now for about 6 years and in that time have had many different challenges in my teaching practice. Not least the challenge of constantly asking myself whether my students are making progress in their practice.
How do you see whether your students are progressing? Is it about how well they follow instructions? Is it about whether they can stay in headstand for longer? For me, I look at whether my students are growing in confidence in their asana practice. Are they able to penetrate more deeply in a shorter amount of time? We may only work on 3 or 4 asanas in some classes but in some depth. Iyengar yoga is known for the amount of scaffolding and detailed instruction given to help you achieve the benefits of the asanas. However, surely we should be aiming to help students work from within to develop an internal understanding of the practice?
In London there are countless yoga classes, countless yoga teachers and “styles” available. There are some days when it feels like a challenge to even convince people that it’s worthwhile doing a good shoulderstand. I know that I will continue to grow as a teacher and am fortunate to have a great teacher who offers regular teacher development opportunities. Next time I face an assessment, hopefully I will have a bit more steadiness and will feel more comfortable in my role as an Iyengar Yoga teacher.
Triyoga Soho – Tuesdays 4.30pm – 5.45pm – Iyengar Yoga Community Class
Triyoga Soho – Fridays 4.30pm – 5.45pm – Iyengar Yoga Open Level
Virgin Active Chelsea – Thursdays 12.30pm – 2.00pm – Iyengar Yoga Open
Virgin Active Chelsea – Thursdays 7.15pm – 8.45pm – Iyengar Yoga Open
Virgin Active Notting Hill – Sundays 10.00 – 11.30am Iyengar Yoga Level 2
Virgin Active Notting Hill – Sundays 11.35am – 12.35pm Iyengar Yoga Level 1
One of the main principles in Iyengar Yoga is concerned with working within the asanas to establish correct action and appropriate directionality. Much of the credit for this blog must go to my senior teacher Alaric Newcombe who introduced me to this concept.
Action in my understanding is: “what you do whilst going into the asana and whilst in the asana to improve the asana itself.”
Directionality as I understand it is: “the directional movement of parts of the body, muscles or bones” (ie. upwards, downwards, left, right, towards the ceiling or floor)
If we look at a straightforward asana like Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, the actions might include: “spread the palm of the hand” “roll the wrist towards the thumb” “move the coccyx in” and “move the shoulder blades into the back”.
The directionality of this asana is more concerned with big movements: “lift the thighs up” “move the chest forwards and up” “stretch the heels back“.
Differentiating between these efforts can genuinely help to improve understanding of an asana and how to work. In the initial stages of learning we might be more concerned with the directionality and shape of the asana. Once there is some understanding of these broad strokes (you can imagine a painter learning to use a brush and creating the strong outlines of a painting), we can begin to add more detail and refinement within the shape.
Then we begin to find that action and directionality are intrinsically linked and that the more we learn to hone the actions, the better our sense of direction within the posture. Like reading a map, we begin to find that the landmarks help to guide us where we want to go, in spite of variables that will undoubtedly come in our way. On any given day we may find that the direction is harder to access, so we can work on the actions and see if it comes. On another day, the direction may be there but the actions may not be as accessible…So we work with what we have to create the best piece of art we can in that moment.
Exciting news!! The film about Iyengar’s life and work has received it’s first screening in Vancouver in Canada. Hopefully this means that it won’t be too long before we can see it in London.
I wrote a blog as an introduction to the Iyengar method which is now on the Tri Yoga website.
For many people, the idea of starting to practice yoga at home seems daunting. Is there enough time between family duties, work, social life? What if I do something wrong? Can I justify spending time doing some yoga when there is so much to do? These are all questions that trouble us and lead us to put off home practice until another time. Yet, it would be great to experience the feeling that we have after a good class on a more regular basis.
Here are some simple tips that could help you make a start:
1. Create space
You don’t need much room to practice yoga (believe me I have managed in the most tiny hotel rooms, train carriages as well as in the great outdoors). A spot in your bedroom/living room where you can stand and spread your arms will suffice. Make sure it’s clean and that you can find some quiet there at the time when you want to practice. Creating space also involves making time. Whether it’s in the morning or after work doesn’t matter as long as you claim some time as your own. Yoga mats are not essential but it helps to get you going just rolling the mat out and telling yourself it’s time to start your practice. You can buy them at http://www.yogamatters.com
2. Start with something simple.
We often do many different postures during Iyengar yoga classes and it is sometimes difficult for beginners to remember instructions and repeat them on their own. So, just begin with what you can remember. See if you can recall the postures that you enjoyed during the class and have a go.
3. No time pressure.
If you only have time for 10 mins of practice to start with that’s fine. When I first began practicing at home I would do 10 mins or so of stretching before going to work. It started every now and then and grew the more I developed an interest. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do too much. Just do what you feel like and enjoy it!
4. Ask questions.
If you want some advice about your practice, ask your teacher. He/she will be able to advise you on sequencing (the order of the postures), relieving pain and discomfort, practicing during menstruation or pregnancy and much more. Remember, all Iyengar yoga teachers are extremely well-trained and it’s their job to know these things!
5. Anytime anywhere!
Remember you can do yoga anytime anywhere. Don’t be ashamed to practice yoga wherever you can. Sometimes, the need to stretch is strong and whether you’re at your office, on a train or bus, in a restaurant or in the supermarket checkout queue, just do what you’ve got to do. I’ve had some great conversations with people at train stations who have asked what I’m doing and this has sparked fascinating conversations.
Finally, if you’ve managed to fit in a bit of yoga practice in your busy schedule, recognise it and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment! The journey has begun and it will be immensely rewarding, however far you choose to take it.
Enjoy your practice!