Iyengar Intro with Michelle at the Iyengar Yoga Institute

Yesterday I finally made it to the Intro class at the Iyengar Institute. Before you take any classes there, you must take a 90-minute intro class covering the basics. They only hold it once a month, and last time it was sold out.

I forgot to bring my camera, so I’ve included some Flickr photos by Gerry Visco. Hope that’s okay!

Michelle, the instructor
Michelle, our instructor

Iyengar Yoga is known for its precise, detailed alignment instructions. Their teacher training is 2 years; most others are 6 months or even 1 month (intensive). It’s the most popular form of yoga in the U.S., because it’s commonly recommended for physical rehabilitation, beginners, and older bodies. (In New York, however, I’d guess that less than 10% of classes are Iyengar.) Most schools base their alignment principles on Iyengar’s seminal Light on Yoga, although they veer off to varying degrees. (“We would now say that Mr. Iyengar is hyperextended [in Down Dog],” my anatomy teacher said.)

I’m designing a yoga book right now, so I’ve been wanting to take some Iyengar classes and review alignment. I think I’ve forgotten a lot of my beginner’s insights and instructions; I wish I’d kept a practice journal then!

The instructors stage
The instructor's stage

The space was, I dare say, ideal. I love when studios put the contrasting stripes of wood in the floor, to let students know where to line up their mats. The floors were spotless, and the changing rooms spacious. In each classroom, there’s an elevated stage for the instructor, so that everyone can see the demonstrations. One wall is custom-fitted with ropes and hooks, for more involved uses of props Mr. Iyengar believed that all people, no matter their strength or flexibility, should be able to access yoga poses, so he taught an extensive use of props so much that Iyengar is nicknamed “furniture yoga.” (We stuck to blocks and bolsters.)

The west studio
The west studio

The class was a good overview, we did:

  • Easy Pose how to sit
  • Mountain Pose how to stand
  • Chair Pose bending from 3 joints, torso lifted
  • Triangle Pose bending from 1 joint
  • Warrior II bending from 3 joints, torso lifted
  • Extended Side Angle bending from 3 joints, torso bent
  • Wide-Legged Forward Bend how to arrange the feet
  • Hero Pose therapy for the legs and feet
  • Child’s Pose how to rest
  • Downward Facing Dog lifting up
  • Cobbler’s Pose / Butterfly hip opening
  • Bridge Pose using a bolster
  • Corpse final relaxation
The rope wall
The crazy wall

Michelle started with some helpful little exercises that really got some key points across. For example, we started sitting on blankets and then moved to the floor, so we could really see how flat sitting compromises the straightness of the spine and the relaxation/drop of the hips. Or, we sat on a block, and pulled the flesh of just one buttock out from under the sitbone, so we could feel the pelvis straighten on one side only. Or, we stood with legs wide, turning the feet out, parallel, and slightly in, so we could feel how the turn-in gave the most support to the hips.

Another great note was given in Triangle: turn out the foot with the thigh, so the rotation is coming in the hip and not the knee.

I had to remind myself to breathe; there are so many instructions in an Iyengar class that it’s easy to get a little mental and up-in-the-head. (I’ve heard it’s not the best yoga for perfectionists, who will just reinforce obsessive tendencies.) Remember: the benefits of the poses come from deep breathing in the poses, not from the poses themselves. (I don’t know if Mr. Iyengar would agree with that.)

I am excited to try a few different teachers at the Institute. They arrange their classes mostly in series you sign up for a 5- or 13-week series of classes, instead of just showing up when you feel like it. (I have always thought studios should do this! It’s so chaotic to have everyone be drop-in.) Before you commit to a series, however, they recommend that you try a few different teachers, to find a good match. Some students like a strong commander, others prefer a softer, sweeter teacher. The people at the front desk said popular teachers are Carrie, Marcela, James… and a couple others I’ve forgotten. Lara Brunn also teaches there, she’s the Williamsburg teacher who fixed my pinchy backbend. I will probably end up back at her studio, it’s closer and cheaper ($16 drop-in versus $20), and she’s very very articulate and knowledgeable.

It’s weird to be going for this yoga that is not necessarily my ideal style, but it’s definitely the knowledge I want or need right now.