My first introduction to yoga was with an Iyengar Yoga teacher. I instantly connected to the precision and detail of her cueing. The class reminded me of ballet lessons because it felt very strict and structured. I can understand, now, that my free spirited, Vata dosha personality, craved the stable confines of Iyengar Yoga.
Although this style of teaching has profoundly shaped my experience of yoga, the precise anatomical cueing associated with Iyengar Yoga, no longer speaks to me. It has been an interesting discovery to learn that so many of the cues we have learnt as western yoga practitioners and teachers, came from Iyengar yoga.
The noun, Iyengar, is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a type of Hatha yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, and other objects as aids in achieving the correct postures.”
It is said that Mr. Iyengar found that the western bodies he was teaching, were very inflexible and required many props to assist getting them into asanas. He could be quite rigorous with his use of propping and hands on adjustments, literally pushing students into the “correct” shape of the pose.
So many of his cues became vernacular language for yoga enthusiasts through the popular magazine, Yoga Journal, whose primary contributors were Iyengar yoga followers. Western culture strives for achieving and getting it right, which may be why we embraced the focus on anatomical cues in yoga. We can credit cues such as, “square the hips to the front of the mat”, “tuck the tailbone”, “turn the back foot in 45 degrees,” to Iyengar Yoga.
Our current understanding of anatomy has shifted profoundly and perceives the body as a unique and holistic form. Each of us has our own unique set of bones, joints, connective tissue etc. With deep respect for all that Iyengar brought to us with his yoga, I believe that we are now at a point in time, forty plus years after his first arrival in the West, where we can step back from his teachings and question the need to focus on “correct” alignment of the body.
In the spirit of honouring the lineage of Iyengar Yoga, can we now strive to find our own, distinct voice in cueing our students, to honour their experience of asana practice in their own unique body?