is the title of an article by Lois Steinberg, just published in Yoga Samachar Fall 2018 / Winter 2019.
Lois talks about how to teach beginner students, which should not be how we teach for the assessment, and generally talks about why there are so few younger students in Iyengar classes, an issue I had already discussed here. She advocates for more dynamic classes.
Overall, I thought it was a good read and I agree with the points raised. She asked to comment on the US Iyengar Yoga association facebook page to further the discussion. Thinking my reply would be very long for a facebook comment, I am writing a blog post with hopefully an extensive response, which I will link in the comments there.
But first, why I think I have some things to contribute to on this topic. First, for a couple more months, I am still in my twenties, and as such I feel like I can relate quite a bit to the “twenty-year old students” she mentions. Second, I have experienced Iyengar yoga being taught in several countries, mainly the Netherlands and now the US but also France where I come from. Though I have never been to Pune, I have thus experienced Iyengar yoga being taught in different cultures. I also didn’t start yoga with Iyengar yoga, but I initially studied Anusara, which I started practicing at 22, and moved to Iyengar yoga when I moved to Utrecht, and looked for a new studio.
First, you gotta understand that the yoga scene in France in 2011 was quite different from what it is now, and from what it is in the US in general, even 2011 US. When I started practicing, my main concern was that I wasn’t getting into a religious cult. It was still seen as a very esoteric pursuit, and I chose a “californian yoga” because it seemed way less risky. Now, I fell in love with the practice at first class, so all my apprehensions quickly disappeared. When I moved to the Netherlands, I wanted to find a “good” class, which at this point for me basically meant a class with inversions, which was surprisingly hard to find.
I started going to a yoga studio called Yoga Moves, which offers multiple types of yoga, and through an unlimited class pass, I tried many different classes, hoping to find a teacher I liked. I ended up getting into Hiske‘s class at some point, and I knew I had found my teacher then and there. When she opened her studio with Claas, I followed them there, and when she started a teacher training, I enrolled immediately. If you’ve followed my blog for a bit, you know I got my Introductory certificate last year in 2017, and then moved to New York where I’ve been living for almost a year now.
It is very clear to me that if I had moved to NYC when I moved to Utrecht, I would not be a CIYT now. And one thing Lois does not mention and I believe is a huge issue here, is simply the cost and availability of Iyengar yoga compared with other styles. I was able to pursue my PhD, go to classes at least three times a week, assist in one class a week, and attend weekend teacher trainings, all at the same time. My commute, by bike, was half an hour at most after the studio moved away from its initial location, before that it was 15 minutes. The classes were all at times I could go to after work. Trainings, as I mentioned, on the weekends. Classes, even workshops, on holidays (whilst here the Institute is closed on holidays). Overall, relatively easy to combine a busy work schedule with classes and even teacher training. Plus, the cost. Unlimited classes for 65 euros per month, 1000 euros for a year of training including books, with discount on classes and workshops.
Now, I realize that the rents in NYC are not the same as in Utrecht, so clearly, class prices have to go up. But one non-member class at the institute is $27. So for the same price as I could get unlimited classes in Utrecht, I can go less than once a week to the Institute (though to be fair if you get a 5-class pass it’s a bit cheaper, but not much). And my salary isn’t much higher here. I live in Queens, with my boyfriend, so we can afford a two-bedroom, which means I have a practice and teaching space. But what about people who can only afford a studio? If it was my case I would most likely go to a place that offers an unlimited package. As the classes at the Institute are also inconveniently timed for me (and the institute itself is far both from my work and my home), I try and go to workshops in the weekend. I just purchased a couple for January and February, which added up to around $500, which places my yoga budget almost as high as my food budget of $300 per month and the second most expensive item after rent.
All of that to say that at least in New York, not taking into account class prices and ease of accessibility might be a big reason why there just aren’t young people in class (and in Teacher Training, someone will have to explain me how you can have a full-time job and do YTT here?!) . If I had done my PhD here, not only wouldn’t have I been able to afford teacher training, but I wouldn’t have been able to take a whole weekday off to go to training.
Now, about the teaching itself. In my teacher training, we learned how to teach a class, and how to teach for the assessment. They are different skills, as Lois mentioned, and while I understand why the assessment is the way it is, it also means that even if you get your certificate, you might not be a good teacher (yet, hopefully it will improve). Is that an issue? I’m not sure. The bar for certification in other systems is so low that I am sure anyone Iyengar-certified is at least an OK-teacher, in that they will not endanger their students. But the style can feel SO RIGID, as I had mentioned in my previous article on the topic, I feel it’s really a pity. I remember my teacher saying during teacher training “Anyone can learn to say “turn your right foot in, left foot out”. I’m teaching your to be yoga teachers, not instructors” and I think this hits right on the nail. I’ve always felt the odd one out as I do not write sequences before teaching. It’s not that I don’t think about the sequence, or the poses, or don’t prepare class. I did write sequences in the beginning, but I quickly stopped when I realized I could never follow through. If I planned twisting, half of the students would be menstruating. If I planned X or Y, students would have knee pain or be pregnant or or or… When I started teaching at the shelter, I not only had to take into account the limited abilities of the students, but also their mood, as if pushed too hard on the wrong day, they would not come back. So now I think about a concept I want to explore, and teach based on what I see, which might mean that I might not talk about said concept at all.
I was quite surprised to read in Lois’ article that many teachers teach the way we have to teach at the exam. As I mentioned, in the Netherlands I have never been to a class taught “the assessment way”. I haven’t been to any here either, but I tend to go to non-beginner classes, so that might be why.
Astavrakasana, eight-angle pose
Finally, about dynamic classes and “fancy” poses. I love both. I have learned to love “fundamental poses” such as Trikonasana and Tadasana during teacher training, but my love of Sun Salutations, Handstands and arm balances was immediate. I’m not sure I would have gotten into yoga at 22 if the first class I dropped into didn’t have those. I remember being in awe of my teacher demonstrating Astavakrasana and thinking I would never manage to do it (spoiler: I eventually did). And starting one’s yoga journey through a dynamic style does not prelude of an incapacity to appreciate the tiny actions one can do to go deeper inwards. In my case, it was a logical progression. And I still enjoy a dynamic, non-perfectly aligned once in a while, and it’s a pity that it has to happen at home or in a non-Iyengar studio. I know of other teachers who guiltily go to a vinyasa class once in a while to get their “dynamic fix”, and that truly shows an issue with the Iyengar world as it is now. We have lost the fun of the practice, the exploration, and it’s not attractive for younger students. I had tried other Iyengar classes before I found Hiske’s, and I thought they were boring. I am glad I gave Iyengar another shot, all these years ago, for my life, and my practice, would not be the same if I hadn’t. Let’s get more young blood in!
Thank you Lois for raising up this important topic. As I have the opportunity to start teaching a beginner’s course for the postdocs of NYU Langone (more on this exciting opportunity soon!), a group in their late twenties – early thirties, this is a good reminder to add up some fun and movement, especially since there essentially won’t be any props available.