Why I hate practicing Iyengar Yoga.

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I went to an Iyengar yoga class today—even though I hate Iyengar yoga.

Well, the word “hate” is a strong one… too strong, perhaps?

Just looked it up—hate is defined as passionate or intense dislike.

Yep, that sounds about right…

I love my yoga practice, but I’m a yogi who loves to flow!

I crave that moving meditation that happens as my body moves through asanas.

I relish the heat created internally, with every inhale and exhale of ujjayi.

I achieve stillness through the act of linking breath with movement.

I adore saluting the sun, and gliding through each motion of surya namaskara. 

But today, I set aside my vinyasas and attended an Iyengar class instead…

Iyengar yoga.

There is so much I passionately dislike about Iyengar yoga.

For one, it is incredibly slow-paced.

In order to calm my rapidly firing monkey mind—I crave action, movement, something to distract me from my screaming thoughts.

But Iyengar yoga can be slow-moving and static, disjointed even. So, I need to strive truly to control my thoughts—to stay focused.

And the props—good lord.

Don’t get me wrong, props can be incredibly helpful in certain postures…

Need a bit of lift in half-moon pose? Pop that lower hand onto a block.

Can’t quite reach one’s toes in seated forward fold? Whip out a strap for a bit of help.

However, in Iyengar yoga, props are a constant necessity.

There can be no flow when one has to incessantly stop and reach for a block (or two blocks!), or a blanket (or three blankets!) that need to be folded just so, and placed under one’s back—while a fourth blanket is rolled (not folded) and placed under ones’s knees.

So much work, just to get the props in place, before one can even actually begin the asana!

But then—once all the props are folded just so, and placed in the right spots—then start the holds.

After carefully calibrating oneself into the static posture being instructed—holding it—as the teacher surveys the room, inspecting alignment and adjusting.

Iyengar yoga requires so much patience.

So much focus.

So much subtle work—which is actually the most difficult.

“Pull up on your kneecap.”

Huh?

“Externally rotate your right hip.”

Wha..?

“Breathe!”

Oh, right! I was holding my breath, as I struggled to “create space” between my hips.

Iyengar yoga has so much attention to detail.

There is so much focus on breaking down each individual part of the body.

Hell, it can take nearly five minutes just to get into Triangle pose properly!

I hate practicing Iyengar yoga, because it frustrates me.

My body wants to move quickly, much as my mind tends to—but Iyengar yoga doesn’t allow for this.

Iyengar yoga wants me to slow down.

Iyengar yoga wants me to push my heels into the floor and make sure my feet are parallel.

I do so begrudgingly, because I lack patience.

Iyengar yoga doesn’t care.

Iyengar yoga wants me to keep my feet engaged for just a few more breaths…

Iyengar yoga challenges me.

My yoga practice can often be challenging, but Iyengar yoga challenges me in a different way.

Iyengar yoga challenges me in ways that I so badly want to resist.

I feel trapped, and I want to bolt.

Yet I stay.

I breathe, and I keep pressing my heels into the floor.

I feel my right hip glide across the wooden block, which is helping keep the alignment of my pelvis correct, as I externally rotate that hip.

Yes, I comprehend what that means now—I have gained an understanding, through the teacher’s instruction, alignment adjustments, and with the help of the props.

I rarely attend Iyengar yoga classes, but when I do, I always learn something new.

I learn something new about my body, and how it moves.

I learn something new about myself—like how difficult it can be for me to slow down.

I learn something new about yoga—like how I can sustain a particular asana with more ease.

This is why I keep coming back.

Not every week, not even every month (although I should!) but eventually—I do come back to Iyengar yoga.

Despite the fact that I dislike it, intensely—I keep coming back because I need it.

I need to slow down.

I need to cultivate patience.

I need to become more familiar with my own body and how it moves—what it’s capable of.

I have a teacher who likes to say, “The pose truly begins the moment you want to come out of it.”

I feel this can also apply to one’s yoga practice. Sometimes the yoga we need the most, is the one we dislike the most.

We need to keep challenging ourselves—learning—trying new things.

We find our “comfortable seat” by sitting with what makes us uncomfortable.

This is how we grow.

This is why I hate (and love) practicing Iyengar yoga.

 

Relephant Read:

Yoga is Like Beer. 

Author: Yoli Ramazzina

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Robert Bejil/Flickr 

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Yoli Ramazzina

Yoli Ramazzina is a California girl, born & raised. She is a poet, a dreamer at heart, and has been writing since she was 9 years old. Yoli is also a music lover and a retired KXLU deejay. These days she spends her time writing and practicing yoga. Things that make her heart happy include: her family, the wag of her dogs’ tails, the smell of rain, good music, and good friends.

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Comments

15 Responses to “Why I hate practicing Iyengar Yoga.”

  1. Frank says:

    This article might be of some interest to you for a different perspective on what is happening in Iyengar yoga.
    http://www.darshanproject.org/#/light-on-iyengar/

  2. george says:

    Actually in an Iyengar class things happen very quickly in various realms: physical, psychological, sensory, intellectual, relational, spiritual… but perhaps at a more subtle level than most of us are accustomed to.

  3. Heather says:

    Its wonderful to see a reflection on Iyengar yoga, but it seems very wrong to make such generalizations about Iyengar yoga. This article perpetuates stereotypes that are simply not true. Iyengar Yoga includes props and no props, moving fast and moving slow, focusing on detailed concepts and focusing on big more universal concepts. Iyengar Yoga is not one thing – though people would love to pigeon-hole it. I wish this author would try out more Iyengar classes until she found a teacher that resonated with her – so she felt compelled to study a little deeper to understand what the method is all about. Until then, there can be nothing but continued discontent. Iyengar Yoga is not well suited for those who want to "drop in". It is best for those who want to go deep within themselves in a sustained and repetitive way – it does takes consistency and time to understand all the components of the practice and how they build toward the aim of yoga – citta vritti nirodha.

    • yoli says:

      Thanks for commenting, Heather :} I have experienced a few different Iyengar teachers and classes, and they have all involved substantial use of props… this has just been my experience. I've also practiced with 2 different, phenomenal teachers who I have a great deal of respect for, so it's not a matter of finding a teacher who resonates… I have much appreciation for Iyengar yoga, even though I struggle with it (due to my own issues – lack of patience, etc.) But I hear what you are saying, and I agree that I need to attend classes more regularly in order to begin to become more accustomed to the practice 🙂 Cheers!

    • Tis says:

      well Said, Heather…. I agree with you. You just want the author to shut up and be calm.

  4. richard says:

    I can understand the appeal of trying out different styles of yoga from month to month or week to week — it can be fun to experience different approaches, trying out different styles each time, and getting a workout in the process. But that is not the Iyengar approach. Instead, think of yoga practice as being akin to music practice. You would probably not benefit as much from taking a violin class one week, then a piano class the next, then flute, and then maybe percussion class after that. Rather you would probably benefit more from consistent, steady practice, plus weekly classes with a knowledgable teacher. In those weekly classes the teacher observes your practice carefully and gives you detailed, patient feedback, and most importantly, material for you to work on in your own daily practice during the week before you meet again. If you follow this approach, then you begin to really appreciate a teacher who takes the time to make sure you understand the details, so you can study confidently at home, and integrate the practice, really make it your own. This explains the slow pace, the props, the thorough instructions, the subtle preparation, the patience. Not easy, not quite as "fun" as some other approaches. But stay with it and you achieve mastery — deep, systematic intelligence. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that those who follow this path achieve true happiness, deeper than anything we usually experience in our daily life. As with music, you are mastering an instrument. But in the case of yoga, the instrument is your body, your mind, your entire consciousness.

    • yoli says:

      Yes, that totally makes sense, Richard! I absolutely agree that I would benefit from a more consistent practice :} Of course, sometimes it is difficult to make ourselves do that which we do not like to do (for example, even those who enjoy playing instruments and want to improve, sometimes detest practicing!) This precisely what I am discussing here… I acknowledge the benefits of the practice, even though i struggle with it a great deal… Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  5. yogibattle says:

    I agree with Heather. To just get the bare basic underpinnings of this method, you have to practice consistently for at least three to six months (a year for some). I wrote a blog post about his subject a while back.

    http://wp.me/p48YD6-Fy

  6. Michael says:

    Yoli

    A woman who helps run the front desk at the studio, follows you on FB and recognized your name from Friday's class. She sent me the article you wrote. I am writing to tell you how beautifully you articulated the challenge we face in practicing.

    As I began to read my experience through your perspective, your words brought tears to me eyes. You're a talented writer and I wanted to tell you that..but, also to let you know that you are not alone. Mr. Iyengar has described yoga as moving against the grain. One may argue that Mr. Iyengar's focus of yoga is cultivating aspects of the Yamas or Niyamas or we can take it one step further and look at yoga as it relates to the kleśas as they appear in the second pada of the Yoga Sutras II.1 through II.9. But, however, we may define hate within the context of our yoga practice, one thing is for sure, the room is full of students who are struggling with the same challenges.

    We are definitely a community helping each overcome our these obstacles.

    Michael

  7. yoli says:

    Michael,
    Thank you so very much for this note! I truly appreciate your compliment and your compassion for my struggle! Although Iyengar yoga has always been particularly challenging for me, I do enjoy your class and appreciate the care you provide for your students 🙂
    With much respect,
    yoli

  8. Kate says:

    I dig how you find love inside of what you hate. (Funny aside: My husband and I once took an Iyengar yoga class from a teacher who was kind of impatient and aggressive. After that, we started calling it I-Anger yoga!)

  9. Anna Canaux says:

    As a 'baby' Iyengar yoga teacher, I've been reading these comments with interest! I tried pretty much every sort of yoga (although I've never got round to Bikram class) and I came to the conclusion that, although wherever there are teachers who have understanding and teach with integrity and commitment, there is 'real' yoga, Iyengar yoga is the truest expression of yoga as a 'science, art and philosophy' (quote from Mr Iyengar). Yes, the teachers can be off-puttingly grumpy. I think that comes from a mistaken attempt to try and imitate in some way Mr Iyengar's legendary fireceness. He did it to break through people's illusions about themselves, to force them out of their habits. But it takes a lot of love and devotion to your art as a teacher to make somebody (at least temporarily) hate you by shattering their illusions. As a teacher you have to be really devoted both to your student and your art (as Mr Iyengar said 'your student is your God') You have to be prepared for them to walk away and never come back. And quite a few do. Also, sadly, some teachers are just grumpy and impatient. We Westerners like Astanga and Bikram because a lot of us come to a yoga class, initially at least, just for exercise and we think exercise should be as strong and demanding and sweaty as we can bear it in order to be effective. We like yoga flow partly because we're so fidgety and impatient and we like being able to do lots of athletic yoga postures because they feed the ego and we all want to be fit and gorgeous and accomplished. OK well that's only human – and different strokes for different folks, but if you are really looking for a vehicle for total transformation inside and out, a lifelong study of infinite depth and subtlety which moreover , if you are true to it will take you by the hand and just force you to evolve, keep going with Iyengar yoga! The props aren't just there to make things easier for people, they are there to guide us into the fullest, deepest expressions of a pose so that the body doesn't 'cheat' and take short cuts. A high-level Iyengar yoga class is about one of the most intense experiences a human being can have, physically, mentally, spiritually; you do the poses – which are archetypes – with your whole soul … Well, as you can see, I like it a lot and I'm glad to see someone writing for Elephant getting it, too.

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