From the Periphery to the Core, From the Core to the Periphery
From all over the country and the rest of the world, 1169 yoga practitioners, half of which Iyengar Yoga teachers, gathered in the summery Florida in Boca Raton for five days with Abhijata Sridhar, the grand-daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar, our beloved Guruji.
This was my 9th Iyengar Yoga convention/conference; however, it is still difficult to summarize the highlights, make comparisons, to synthesize, or even to express the myriad of feelings in words. Every participant will probably give different impressions and all of us will likely confirm how blessed we feel to have Abhijata on our lifelong path of Iyengar Yoga, almost two years after Guruji’s passing. The void of not having Guruji with us on this earthly existence and not having Geeta Iyengar leading the convention was clearly felt. However, we felt both of them with us, everywhere in the Grand Hall where mega classes were held. Perhaps to fill this void, Geetaji videotaped three short clips timely played throughout the convention at the beginning of the mega classes to re-direct our intent, to nourish our mental and emotional bodies and to generate a smooth transition of this rich lineage to Abhijata. There were many teary eyes including mine. At each of the morning mega class, various senior teachers shared their stories with us, many of which showed Guruji as a lively family man and a common man who was always absorbed in the present moment. There were tears of sadness, but also of heart-felt connections to the core of Iyengar Yoga: citta vrtti nirodha, i.e. the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness.
[Shaw featured in the Convention magazine.]
Despite the challenges, below is my humble attempt to share what this experience has distilled in my consciousness at this point of my yoga path:
Techniques in Iyengar Yoga are a tool to a purpose. They are to open the door of perception on the inner journey of yoga. In other words, they allow us to gradually and safely to know the unknown, to move from the periphery of life to the inner source of life. For instance, in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), we turn out feet and legs and take the arm down to catch the angle or place the hand on the floor. Abhijata pointed out that we often get lost in the movement of getting the arm down and in that process, pay no attention to the core action of the pose: the root of the thigh. As a result, the sensation is in the upper portion of the trunk and the lower trunk is not known to us. The technique such as “extend from the root of the thigh as you take the arm down” is not the end, but a means to reach deeper in our body and our experiences in our awareness.
To extend this concept, asana (yoga posture) is not the end, but a means to help us move from the tangible to the intangible, like Michelangelo working with his marble. When we do a yoga pose, we often start with what we know and what we have learned from our teachers. In our practice, we often stop where we start: at what is known. We often are reluctant or slow to explore further toward what is missing, what sensations are to be cultivated. Many students think that going to workshops and conventions would be worthwhile as an intensive dosage of information. What is missing is a regular studentship of checking with one’s regular teacher about what could be missing, what mistakes during the ingestion of information and what sensitivity is to be cultivated during practice. Iyengar Yoga is not about what you learn; it is about how one learns.
The joy of reuniting with long-time yoga friends and of connecting with new yoga friends is immensely nourishing. A sense of Iyengar Yoga community is quite unique. The periphery of the connection lies on our relationship with Iyengar Yoga: students, teachers, regional or national board members of Iyengar Yoga organizations. More importantly, the core of this connection is deeply rooted in our love for Iyengar Yoga, devotion for the lineage through B.K.S. Iyengar, Geeta and Prashant Iyengar, now Abhijata. It is also continuously reinforced through our collective sankalpa (intent) to share this connection with each other and to maintain it over time.
Every couple of years, Iyengar Yoga community honors individuals with outstanding achievements to the community at large by giving out the Lighting the Way Award. This time, the extinguished honor went to my long-time mentor Lois Steinberg. Decades of uninterrupted studentship with the Iyengar family and tireless teaching and serving on the IYNAUS have inspired many practitioners in the Iyengar Yoga community including myself. Moreover, she is a prolific author of many unique publications on Iyengar Yoga therapeutics. I can’t be more proud of such a teacher in our community and this makes us feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to learn and grow with Lois.
With a profound sense of gratitude, I realize that each of us carries a glimpse of light that Guruji and other teachers have ignited inside our heart. Together, we are one light, in yoga.
Practice From the Heart
Iyengar Yoga is practice-based. However, the concept of practice is quite different in Iyengar Yoga: it is more akin to internal inspiration, rather than to external perspiraton. It is not a outward exhibition of strength or flexibility. It is definitely not a physical workout. On the other hand, it is a self discovery, a winding trail of one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual experiences.
Whether if you are in a pose or doing pranayama,the awareness of the body extends outwards,but the sense of perception, mind, intelligence should be drawn inwards.
Many of you probably heard about Ryan’s cancer from me or other Iyengar Yoga friends. A young man in his late 30s, a new father and freshly certified Iyegar Yoga teacher, discovered months ago that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. [Read more HERE.] While his family and friends feel devastated, Ryan continues to show grace, wisdom and deep connection with others during this arduous journey with all of us and beyond.
I met Ryan for the first time during this convention on May 27, 2016. He is becoming thinner after the rounds of chemotherapy and the Whipple surgery. However, his eyes are deep as the ocean and his smile is full of light and energy. He shared in a post after the convention and below is a poetic presentation of what practice means in Iyengar Yoga:
“It has been important to be surrounded by my friends, teachers, students and fellow practitioners of yoga. This practice has grown to be fundamental to me since I began exploring it at the age of 18, especially after discovering the approach to the practice presented by BKS Iyengar not too long after. I am so very thankful to have this foundation of practice that I have approached with consistency and devotion for more than half of my life. My sustained practice has allowed me to enter this situation with a solid foundation of physical, mental and energetic health and soberness. As I move forward with my condition, the adaptability and pragmatism of this practice continues to support me. It actually allows me to progress along the yogic path, even in my weakened and fluctuating states. It has allowed me to direct the focus of my practice towards what I understand as the core of yoga. This creates an environment for the practitioner to explore the self to gain a greater understanding of our inherent mental, physical and energetic strengths, weaknesses, balances and imbalances. Because my energy is at times fleeting – I am discovering new and unexpected sensitivities. When creating an environment in an asana or while practicing pranayama, this allows me to tap into a greater energy source that is not self generated, or simply muscular. If I can practice in this way then it allows me to leave the practice refreshed and restored and if I miss the target it has the potential to leave me depleted. It is a practice that forces me to explore, except and question myself on a regular basis to become acquainted with my own habits, psychology and motivations. For that I am so very thankful.
Right now, I have this really ripe opportunity to live the rest of my life with the knowledge of my own mortality knocking at the door. It creates an environment that rarely allows me to slip into complacency or habits. This cancer is a without a doubt a son of a bitch, but it is also a gift that allows me to make sure that I live my life fully, leave nothing unsaid and live with uncompromising honesty and integrity.”
With gratitude. Namaste.
Owner/Lead Teacher at Seattle Iyengar Yoga Studio