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!


The teacher’s dilemma

Since I passed my Introductory level assessment, I have been subbing quite a few classes since most teachers at the studio are or have been on holidays. This is ideal for me as I am planning to move to New York by December, so I don’t want to get a regular class when I will leave in a couple of months.

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Even though I genuinely enjoy teaching at the studio, I oftentimes find subbing an ungrateful job. Some people are clearly surprised to find you instead of their usual teacher, and many are reluctant to even give you a chance at teaching them something. Because my style is different from their regular teacher (as is everyone’s teaching style at the studio, which could be surprising considering we all teach Iyengar yoga, sometimes thought to be so strict and codified!), the students become impermeable to any learning experience. And sometimes they make their discontentment very visible.

This is usually when my true yoga experience starts; when I have to let go of wanting all of the students to like the class (and by extent, me!). It’s hard work for me. It’s hard work to enforce my own instructions, I find it awfully difficult to know whether a student is not doing what I’m asking them to because they know their body better than I do, because they think they know better than I do, because they don’t see the point, or because they don’t even want to try. And the bigger the class is, the more difficult it gets to tend to everyone.

I usually try to adapt my style of teaching to the teacher’s of the class I’m subbing. Oftentimes it works quite well, and it enables me to explore different styles (even though I’ve been teaching for two years, I still feel very much like a rookie teacher). But in a large group, I often have to let go of all my plans for the class because said plan and students clearly don’t fit together. Some students are then disappointed that the class isn’t challenging enough. For now, I’d rather play safe than sorry, but I’d definitely like to get better at giving different options for different levels. That said, as a student I often learn a lot from “beginner level” classes, and I wish “advanced” students would pay more attention to the explanations rather than start doing whatever I’m demonstrating immediately.

I definitely need to learn to care less about what students think and be a bit more authoritative. I have to say I now understand way better why Iyengar teachers are seen as strict by other styles. It’s not that I want to be strict, but I am trying to teach something here, and if the students don’t listen, best case scenario they will miss on understanding the teaching point, but worst case scenario they might hurt themselves and I will be responsible.

That said. I’ve been told by my teacher I often look like I’m really angry when I’m practicing in a class setting. And it really is my “what-is-the-teacher-talking-about-I-don’t-get-it” face. Nothing to do with me being annoyed with the teacher. So I need not only to be more authoritative and enforce my teaching, but also be less self-centered and take everything personally. So subbing might be frustrating at times, but it’s definitely bringing its blessings in the form of personal growth as a teacher*.

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Anyhow, if there are teachers from the US and/or more specifically NYC, I’m wondering what the best course is to start teaching once I am there. I will likely be on a scientist visa (probably J-1) so I am not even sure I would be able to teach for-profit, but I guess donation-based / non-profit classes are ok. Currently wondering if the US Iyengar yoga association helps moving teachers? Any tips welcome.

* During YTT, my own teacher once talked about how she wanted us to become yoga teachers, not instructors. She said that instructing someone to turn their feet and arms in different directions was easy, but that was only instructing. The teaching starts after, once you get students to go inwards.



Finally! (a new beginning)

First of all, let me get it out for those who are wondering: I passed my introductory exam! Since last week, I am officially part of the Iyengar lineage, and I’m incredibly grateful and happy about it.

It was a little tough physically, since it just happened to be the hottest day of the year, and at least 10C over usual temperatures. And of course, practising the 62 poses of the combined syllabus in a small room heated to ~34C, surrounded by 6 pairs of eyes strutinizing your littlest movement is not exactly how I imagine my ideal Thursday morning. One of the last poses we have to show is chatuspadasana, which is already not one of my favorite poses. I’m still learning how to use my glutes and hamstrings, and if I don’t use a belt my knees start hurting pretty rapidly. Anyways, at that point I was ready to give up and I really had to talk with my monkey mind: “Stay. Stay. Stay. She’s gonna call us out any seconds now. Press the feet down. Stay. Lift your pelvis once more. Just stay.”. The relief when the moderator called supta badakonasana was real…


Chatuspadasana – theoretically you’re supposed to hold onto your ankles, which I can’t do because short arms + sensitive knees, so I use a belt. If anyone knows where the credit is due please let me know.

I was a little surprised that the feedback I got by email in the following days was very short. No big surprises content-wise however. For the practice part, the main point was I am relying too much on my flexibility and need to build and work more from strength, and of course that I am overextending my elbows and knees. It might have been worse than usual during the exam due to stress – in those cases I tend to want to feel something (even if I feel the wrong places…). They also mentionned that I look very composed during asana practice and I should get more fire into my practice. I only partially agree with that point; though I very likely have a kapha dosha, I am actually very drawn to vinyasa practise, backbends, and quite pushy in my practise which has cost me a couple of injuries. I have had to stop going to one of my teacher’s classes at some point because I knew he would push me to do more, I would, and as a result I would injure myself.  I am striving to attain effortless effort, but even though I have heard multiple times that I make asanas look easy from the outside, well, it’s usually only from the outside.

I found this comment interesting, because it also somewhat came back in the advice for teaching. That I should put more energy, be louder, and have more enthusiasm when I am teaching. Part of this is just my character. I don’t think I will ever be one of the so-called “old school” Iyengar teachers, shouting at people to straighten their legs. After all, I am but an introvert, and even though I thoroughly enjoy teaching, it is already a thing for me to be the center of attention. However, I am very enthusiastic about yoga and transmitting my knowledge, which is why I became a teacher. I feel so happy when I see a student finally understanding something or connecting with their body in a way they had not before. It usually takes me a little time until I know the student enough to feel comfortable; that’s when I start cracking a joke or two during the class (which usually goes along the lines that you’re not supposed to die in the pose, except maybe savasana :D). For the exam, I obviously taught people I had never met, so I guess my teaching game wasn’t at its best – but then again, I don’t think anybody has their best performance on exam day.

The feedback also mentionned that I should insist more when the students don’t do what I want, and be more hands-on. I completely agree with the first part; this is one of my weaknesses. I don’t like singling out people who are not doing what I am telling them to, and it’s something I have to work on. Not caring what the students want but rather what they need. I was quite surprised by the “more hands-on” comment though, because in the Guidelines for Yoga teachers Guruji basically says to only touch a student if necessary. I think I tend to make too many hands-on adjustments, so I was a bit wary of that during the exam. Maybe I overshot it?

Anyhow, it’s a pretty weird feeling to finally be certified. The reactions of students at the studio have also been wonderfully heart-warming, everyone wanting to congratulate me and hug me – it is really a wonderful community we have, and I’ll be sad to have to leave it soon (off to new adventures…). But above all, I am immensely grateful to my teachers, especially Hiske Van Der Meulen, for sending me and guiding me on this path. My yogic journey is only just starting, and it’s a pretty exciting route that is awaiting me!

Becoming an Iyengar teacher

I’m taking the introductory exam this year. I’m very excited about it. For some reason, I just feel ready and look very much forward to it. I had fun during our “mock exam” and my teachers gave me their recommendation happily.

I’ve already handed in my theory exam and the deadline is over, so I figured I’d post some of my answers to questions I found interesting here.

I have to say that the question that puzzled me most was about the foundation of teaching. For some reason I had not really thought about it before and if we discussed it in teacher training, I forgot about it. I’m very much looking forward to hearing other opinions, but here is what I wrote (we had to give three reasons):

” The foundation of teaching is self-practice. 

It is not possible to teach something that you do not understand. Through practice comes understanding. Practicing to teach is different from practicing for one’s improvement (see Basic guidelines for teachers of yoga, p.4., B.K.S. and Geeta S. Iyengar). For example, I have a flexible body, so when I practice with my stiff students in mind I am trying to understand how I can get the same effect that I get and use the appropriate prop so that they are not limited by their flexibility.

Self-practice will also make demonstrations easier. While teaching we rely on the body’s memory so that we can rapidly get in and out of the asana. Without practice it is going to take more time to find back the proper position of the body. Oftentimes we also need to show not only the proper way to perform the asana, but also the mistake the students are making. This requires a very good proprioception, which can only come with practice.

If you do not practice, you are instructing in a “do what I say, not what I do” way which is unlikely to work. Students can see through the hypocrisy and they will not be motivated to give their best in the class. In a way this is also practicing the yamas and niyamas, namely satya, tapas and svadhyaya. “

Another interesting question, especially for readers wondering why I’m not posting all that often, was about our experience with Abhyasa (repeated practice), and Vairagya (detachment from wordly desires).

“I can relate very well to sutra I.14 (sat u dirghakala nairantarya satkara asevitah drdhabhumih “Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations”. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali p.64, B.K.S. Iyengar.). Sustained practice is usually not an issue for me; however, it is often easier to notice how much practice is helpful in times when it is difficult to practice and practice becomes scarce. Since I am currently writing my PhD thesis, it can be difficult to find time to practice; I can notice very easily that if I haven’t practiced for a couple of days I become much more easily irritated and my mind is much more difficult to restrain.
Vairagya is a much more difficult practice for me. I have issues not letting other’s opinions interfere with my behavior. As I get older and keep on practicing, it is slowly improving. I am becoming much less attached to physical appearances and belongings. But once again, since I am very much engulfed at this moment with finishing my PhD, it is sometimes difficult to separate “myself” from “my work”, let alone letting go of the idea of “me”. Entirely dissociating from the ego, the “I”, seems at this point in my yogic journey, if not unattainable, very, very far away. But I try to remind myself of this quote from the Introduction to Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar (p.12) “He {the yogi} believes that it is his privilege to do his duty and that he has no rights to the fruit of his actions”.”

An exercice which I had already done before, but which is always useful (especially reflecting on it months later) and which originally lead be to become vegetarian and then vegan, is the classical “Choose 1 Yama and 1 Niyama and explain how they work in your lifestyle and practice. “:

“I am currently working on applying Ahimsa and Svadhaya to myself. I have recently injured my left hamstring, without really knowing how. If I’m honest with myself, I have always felt like my left hamstring was slightly stiffer than my right one. Or at least, I would sometimes feel my left hamstring when I wouldn’t feel my right one in a deep Utthanasana for example. I asked my osteopath about it but he couldn’t really help me apart from saying that it might be due to my SI problem (I displaced my pelvis twice within the past ten years). Anyhow I kept on practicing as usual, which is usually quite an intense practice. If I would feel my hamstring, it would only be during the asana and not once I would come out, so I didn’t worry and assumed it was only stiffness. However, a couple of weeks ago I woke up with a pretty bad hamstring pain, even though I didn’t feel anything when going to bed the previous day. I took it easy for a couple of days and it got better, so I started practicing like I used to again. Except this time, I seem to be getting “bad” pain. Even if I don’t feel bad while practicing, either a couple of hours or a couple of days later I start to feel the tendon insertion of my hamstring onto the hip, when I’m cycling or even sitting. This is especially bad because before I always felt like the muscle tissue was hurting, but injuring the tendon is another story: it’s much more difficult to heal. Therefore, I am doing a lot of self-study (Svadhaya) in order not to harm myself (Ahimsa). It is difficult for me to back out and accept that I might not be able to do things that I was able to only a couple of weeks ago, and to practice in a way that I don’t feel my hamstring at all and don’t let myself be pushed either by my ego or the teacher. I am learning a lot in the process, both on my physical practice and my mental state.”

And finally, another question I thought might be interesting to share, was about choosing a sutra from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and explain what it meant to us.

“One of my favorite sutras is sutra II.47: prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached” (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali p.159, B.K.S. Iyengar). I find the concept of effortless effort very interesting. In my personal experience, the moments when I have been able to quieten my brain the best come when I am performing inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand. There is no doubt that there is effort involved in standing on one’s head for long stretches of time, however I find that after some time, on good days, I can grasp the effortlessness through the effort and my mind suddenly becomes much more sharp and focused. On these days, 10 minutes in the asana seems very short. I aim to find this type of quietness and ease in the pose in all other asanas, and focusing on the breath helps immensely, especially with standing poses. In my teaching, I like to remind my students that they shouldn’t “be dying in the pose”, which means that if holding the pose with ease isn’t possible anymore they should come out. I am often surprised at how long people stay in poses they don’t feel good in at all. I am not a lazy student, however if I feel that my pose is lacking quality and the alignment is suffering I will come out. Sometimes one has to battle the mind to stay longer in the pose; but it is difficult to walk the fine line between staying longer because the mind is being lazy, and even though the pose is still good, the muscles are getting tired, and staying longer for staying longer even though we cannot keep the proper alignment (and possibly injuring oneself in the process) and the practitioner had better come out and rest. “

I hope you enjoyed this short extract (the exam had about 50 questions and I filled in around 23 pages I believe) of my exam, and am looking forward to any comments / opinions / discussion!

Meanwhile, I am lucky enough to be in NYC for a couple of days and take classes at the Institute – I had a great class on Natarajasana with Lara Warren last Friday!


Natarajasana, all right to Leslie Kaminoff