Finding my inner teacher

I’m currently in California, away from my usual, well-organized life. “On holidays” before my thesis defense, though actually still arranging things for the defense and writing my second first-author article.

It’s the first time in a very long time that I not only keep an hour-long daily practice minimum, and probably the first time ever when I’m not going to or following classes. And it’s definitely an interesting experience.

This week is the third of the month, so I’m practicing sitting poses. I think it’s the first time I’m spending so much time sitting on my mat. In a way it’s not as difficult as I expected (for beginners – which I’m still somewhat part of, at least in the Iyengar system – sitting poses are the most difficult to stay in). On the other hand, it is sometimes very confronting to be only with yourself.

I was thinking how incredibly hard it must have been for Guruji to keep on practicing and exploring in the beginning after he moved to Pune. I do realize that his relationship with his Guru was very different from the one I have with mine, however he learned so much from Krishnamacharya. It must have been so challenging to move to a town where he didn’t know anyone to teach something that was considered “stupid” at the time, notwithstanding continuing his own practice and exploration of all that yoga has to offer.

In a way we have it so easy, being able to regularly follow classes and learn from amazing teachers who sometime travel from a different continent to get to us! If one feels a bit down, unmotivated or uninspired, it is very easy to just go to class and get energy from the “flow” of the class. Of course on the other side, I’ve noticed that I can be pretty drained energy-wise after teaching a class.

Anyways, this is a good lesson which I hope to keep with me for a while. I feel that we humans are often attracted to the opposite of what we need. For example people who would benefit most from staying longer in poses will be attracted to more flowy styles of yoga. Self-practice, though very beneficial, is rarely done by students. It’s actually really hard for many people to get started with a home practice, yet it is where there is most room for growth.

Do you practice at home? What have you learned from yourself-practice? And how do you keep practicing when you can’t go to class?

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A parisian adventure

I spent last week in Paris, visiting my brother and sister in law. And as the obvious Iyengar-fanatic I am, I found a way to go to the Iyengar institute in Paris. I have to say it was quite the adventure. First, it was my first Iyengar class in French, ever. Second, my own teacher had told me that she was a little “impressed” by Corine Biria, one of the senior French Iyengar yoga teachers who teaches at the institute, so I was a little apprehensive – for Hiske is not one to be easily impressed.

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Corine Biria in Sheffield in 2002

Actually getting to one of the “high” level classes requires calling or dropping by the Institute beforehand, to check on your level. Even though they are clearly advertised as being tough classes on the website, I guess they had bad surprises beforehand. The class I ended up going to was a Level 4-5 2 hour class on Thursday morning. On the website they require that the practitioner is able to hold head- and shoulderstand easily for 15 minutes before attending. They have a Level 5-6 class for which the requirement is 20 minutes. While I felt relatively confident I would be able to hold a 15 minutes headstand (though probably not easily), I thought 20 minutes might be an overshot so I applied for the Level 4-5. When I called, the secretary asked for my level and I was like “huh, I have the Introductory certificate” – secretary: “I or II?” -me “huh, I-II?” -secretary “ok, are you aware this is an intense class?” – me, nervously laughing “huh, yeah?!” -secretary “alright well send me your name and birth date by email and I’m checking you in”.

 

Even though I had gone through the prescreening, when I actually got to the studio, I had to wait until Corine actually OK-ed me before I was in – a couple of minutes waiting that seemed very long… So I was a bit apprehensive about the class, as you can imagine.

 

If you’ve never been to the Institute in Paris, it’s in the XVIth arrondissement, aka the most expensive and chic part of Paris. It is located in a Haussmanian building, with amazingly beautiful wooden floors and murals. However, the practice room is small, even for Paris. Especially now that I am used to the immensity of the studio in Utrecht, it was a real change. I don’t know exactly how many people were attending the class, but I guess around 30, and every single inch of the floor was used. Mats were all touching and almost overlapping. I have to say that during balancing work I was quite afraid of falling over my neighbor and ending up in a domino effect.

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The practice room of the parisian institute

It was the first week of the month, so we practiced standing poses. Starting with wide stand Utthanasana, focusing on activating the feet and legs, especially the inner knee, then Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana, another Utthanasana this time with feet together. From there, classical sequencing of Trikonasana, Parvritta Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvokonasana via Virabhradasana II, Parvritta Parsvokonasana, Ardha Chandrasana and Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana. We did most poses twice, especially the Parvrittas, with what seemed like very long timings. The main focus was the buttocks, and we especially spent some time on the buttock use in Ardha Chandrasana and Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana.

 

NB: practice note for myself: I was corrected in Uttanasana because my right leg was not working as much as the left one.

 

I’ll try to describe the different actions. First, there are two planes of actions, which I will describe as being perpendicular or alongside the spine. In the perpendicular plane, the buttocks action can be separated into three components:

  • The lower part of the buttocks should go downwards and connect to the hamstrings. Corine insisted that many of us didn’t learn how to use our hamstrings yet (and I have to say I am having a hard time with this; since I injured my left hamstring I have realized how much I wasn’t using my hamstrings, which are long, but not strong. Working on it since, but it’s on and off).
  • The middle part should go inwards (towards the tailbone). This I find relatively easy / have learned to do during YTT.
  • The top part should lengthen upwards. Now, this I also sort of learned to do in teacher training, and it helped correcting my anterior pelvic tilt – but old habits die hard, and if I don’t pay attention or if the pose is a not-so-often practiced (thinking of you, vrikchikasana!), I end up losing the control on my abs and start crunching up my lower back again.

I think I have already referenced this article before, but there are some more details about these three components here.

Now for the spinal plane, I had never heard the instructions before. We looked at the pelvis of different people performing the pose and Corine pointed out which parts were open and which weren’t, after which we had to work on our own “issues”, with the instruction of getting both buttocks laterally away from the spine, so that the left buttock and the right buttock were both evenly giving space to the spine to stretch. We also practiced this with the help of the wall in the Chandrasanas, for more stability but ease of movement due to the wide angles between the legs and the trunk.

 

Thinking back, it was a very lateralized class, as I (and my side ribs) also remember the instructions of moving the breasts away from the sternum, and the right breast away from the left breast (with even more detailed instructions during the parvrittas).

 

Anyways, after all these we went on with Virabradhasana I and III, before Sirsasana finally got called up (we did have a couple of Utthanasanas and Prasaritta Padottanasana to recover in between some standing poses, and there was one Downward Dog at some point early on). I don’t know if Sirsasana was genuinely 15 minutes, but I stayed up the whole time and it didn’t feel so long; I think it is because 10 minutes without instructions is mentally exhausting whereas I most likely have the strength to hold longer headstands. Anyways, Corine said something incredibly poetic which I hope to translate properly: “In Sirsasana, think of the shoulder blades as of the wings of a bird beginning to fly”. Beautiful way to describe the outward rotation of the shoulderblades, isn’t it?

 

Finally, the class ended with Shoulderstand / Halasana, followed by Chatuspadasana before the final Savasana. I have to say I was surprised to hear the class was over; as often with great teachers, time flies (and yoga happens; it was two hours of living in the present moment).

 

In any case a very interesting experience, would definitely recommend going if you get the chance. I did have few vocabulary issues, but if I really didn’t get it Corine would point out what she was talking about on my body. And I gotta say that everyone in the class was incredibly nice and welcoming; they even gently made fun when I said I lacked some vocabulary after class and let me know that it was also “Corine words”.

Post-certification practice

I was recently reading this article from Fanny and her doubts about the “after” of certification. My own “after” brought a lot of change into my life, since I did not only graduate from YTT, but I am also getting my PhD soon, and leaving Utrecht. I actually already have left Utrecht and will only get back there for my PhD defense in November.

So it’s not only a question of maintaining a practice, but maintaining a practice away from my routine. I’m gonna be on the road a lot in the next few weeks, with little space to practice, and no classes to give or follow (except for one exception on which a post is coming soon).

In the first few weeks after the exam, I started practicing a lot “for fun”. Poses which were not in the syllabus, different ways of practicing, finding the initial “wow” again. The training to become a certified Iyengar teacher is hard and very regulated, and I needed this breath of fresh air, outdoor practice and arm balances.

After that, I moved to a new place where I couldn’t practice at home, and I was very busy, so my practice suffered a little. I still managed to go to classes about twice a week, but didn’t do any home practice. But now that I’m “on the road”, I’ve funnily managed to get back into a structured daily home practice. I’ve been working on building up strength and time in inversions. At this point, I practice headstand and shoulderstand/halasana for ten minutes each, but I want to build up to 15 minutes and ideally 20 minutes. I don’t think I will ever manage to go longer than that, not physically but simply because I don’t think I can spare more time than that during my day (it’s 40 minutes of headstand + shoulderstand without any other practice), especially since I would like to further my pranayama practice as well.

Anyways, I don’t really know where I’m going with this, and it’s probably different for many people, but I think that after getting certified, it’s perfectly normal to practice a bit less or a bit less seriously for a while – but it’s highly unlikely that you will stop practicing altogether. If only because you know what practice brings to you, and even without the guidance of a teacher, there is inspiration everywhere, in books, the internet, and your own body.

I don’t know whose credit this is… But I often feel like the Hulk!

What’s the best way to promote a lifestyle (aka: to instagram or not to instagram)

I’ve been considering starting an Instagram account. I keep on toying with the idea, yet not actually doing it.

On the one hand, Instagram clearly is an easy way to promote a healthy lifestyle, and inspire people. I believe that I am somewhat out of the regular yoga-crew, even though I am white, female, and relatively slim, since I also happen to be an Iyengar practitioner, who are relatively unknown on the interwebs, and I did my training while getting a PhD in structural chemistry, which I will defend and receive in November. I’m also a French vegan, which is still a rarity (though that is changing).

I genuinely would like to make Iyengar yoga more known and attract younger practitioners (I talked about age issues in the Iyengar community here). Few teachers are known outside of the Iyengar community, I would say Patrica Walden for sure but still mainly by older practitioners, and Carrie Owerko who is doing hell of a job at spreading the Iyengar world while making it seem fun and attainable.

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Interestingly, when I saw this cover of Yoga Journal, I did not notice it was Carrie Owerko initially, but my first thought was “wow she’s got her front foot really activated, really nice to see that in a yoga pic’ for once!”

Anyhow, the Instagram world, while full of yogis, is pretty void from Iyengar yogis, with the exception of yogi Zain who makes beautifully edited videos, and Fanny from Iyengar yoga notes. If you know of other follow-worthy Iyengar yoga instagrammers, by all means please leave a message in the comments.

So why am I not doing it? Well, I’m still wondering if having an Instagram wouldn’t make me addicted to a) taking pictures all the time and b) external validation. While I started this blog with the only intention to write down my thoughts, I would start my Instagram account with the idea of spreading my idea of yoga, veganism and generally my lifestyle to as many people as possible. First, I’m still not convinced I’m that worthy of an inspiration. Second, well, this blog is not getting many viewers, which I’m fine with, but what if my Instagram doesn’t either? Third, if it does get some traction, is it really promoting what I want to promote? Instagram posts are very short and centered around a picture. While it is easier to communicate and attract people through images, is an image-only medium really the best? Finally, the Iyengar community itself is quite critical about form. And I am too. If I would want to post picture of poses, they’d have to be pretty-near perfect… which might take a lot of time and fun out of my practice.

So overall, I’m thinking of changing the blog a bit, with maybe more short, Instagram-style posts. Maybe some “progress pics”. Maybe advertise my blog a bit more. But not a complete switch to Instagram.

What’s your opinion? Do you use Instagram? Do you wish there were more Iyengar yogis on Instagram? And what’s the best way to promote Iyengar yoga or simply a healthy lifestyle on the internet? Where should I promote my blog?  Looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions.