If you ask Iyengar yoga students what Iyengar yoga means to them, be prepared to hear a wide array of responses. I too could share a myriad of replies on any given day. Today, I direct your attention to one aspect of Iyengar yoga that has astounded me over and over again throughout my 15 years of study: the impact of an experienced Iyengar teacher.
Longstanding Iyengar yoga teachers have a remarkable capacity to meet, see, and accept students just as they are in a particular moment. They have a wonderful ability to hold space, being fully present and supportive. They simultaneously foster inner strength, courage and determination and challenge students to move forward and go deeper.
I think my Iyengar teachers have this gift because it was instilled in them and inspired by BKS, Geeta and Prashant Iyengar. I have yet to be in the same room with a member of the Iyengar family. Nevertheless I somehow feel their presence through my own teachers. My hope is that if I continue to meet, see and accept myself, yet have the resolution and will to continue the process of moving inward, I too may one day have the ability to hold space for my students in much the same way my teachers have done for me and the Iyengars have done for them. Paying forward the gift of Iyengar Yoga.
Citta vs. Lois
Day 3. Sitting, I am asked to lift my sternum. When in the presence of a senior Iyengar teacher they no doubt have 30 ways to describe how you can drop the chest. As Lois guides me through how to sit properly with an open and lifted chest, I am asked to soften the face, soften the eyes and close them. All of a sudden, they go wild. My eyes, darting from one side to the other, up, down. WTH? My citta just erupted, a desperate attempt to regain control!
An image comes to me quickly. It’s a pink brain with little feet and arms. The arms are equipped with boxing gloves and are ready for a fight. I realize it has come down to this moment. My brain vs. Lois Steinberg. It’s a tough match, Lois has no doubt had the upper hand the last two days.
There are two signature qualities of this tough Iyengar yoga teacher. She commands your undivided attention. The “grazing” citta goes hungry as your undivided attention is called to things like the inner upper right corner of the back left leg… where?... release the skin there to release the groins in Virabhadrasana I. Yes ma’am! Another amazing revelation in this seemingly introductory pose. The amazing thing is this time, I willed it to happen and for once this area of my body finally released, knowingly.
The second signature quality of Lois is her ability to dissipate your fear, quick. Fear of pain, falling, releasing, opening, turning backward, upside down, twisting in deep and unfamiliar ways. Fear of speaking up, digging deep into our own habits and patterns of thought.
Yes, it is a tough match. Inside I am quietly pulling for the winner. Lois – help me silence this beast, please! Then I realize it is my job alone. You can lead a horse to water as they say…
Just at that moment my attention is stolen! Her solemn bellowing aum led a bellowing response from the practitioners. What ensued for 3 hours after that was simply the goal of yoga. Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah. Cessation of the fluctuations of the mind… or something very close to it.