Last month I flew to State College, PA to attend a weekend intensive for Junior Intermediate teachers with Dean and Rebecca Lerner. The intensive was oriented toward teachers who wish to advance in their certification within the three levels of the Junior Intermediate certification but it was not a teacher-training weekend. Both Dean and Rebecca repeatedly made clear that it would be a weekend to practice on a long list of intermediate level poses rather than a teacher training weekend.
After I returned to Seattle after the intensive and fulfilling weekend, I began to reflect on the meanings of studentship in Iyengar Yoga in a deeper way. One of the concerns that B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar is that aspiring teachers would focus on their certification levels rather than their learning, i.e. their studentship. The concept of studentship in Iyengar Yoga is not to be confused with one’s personal practice. I adopted the term “practitionership” to distinguish studentship to distinguish the two interwoven but distinct concepts.
According to Merriam-Webster, studentship denotes someone who is studying into order to enter a particular profession. It also signifies a “state of studying” on a particular subject. Studentship in the subject of yoga is considered the foremost and most fundamental in Iyengar Yoga, whether or not one is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher. Studentship in Iyengar Yoga entails a sustainable learning process including attending classes regularly, studying the topics of yoga and interacting with qualified teachers and teachings of yoga. Iyengar Yoga values ongoing studentship in person. The exchanges among the teacher, the student and the profound teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar constitute the base of pyramid of the path of yoga.
Practitionership, first of all, assumes a solid studentship. An Iyengar Yoga practitioner is already a student of yoga and has met the qualities previously mentioned. However, there is more to an Iyengar Yoga practitioner: special skill sets, and a personal understanding of the causes of citta vritti.
Many students including those are long-term students have told me that it was difficult to start a home practice on their own because there was nobody there to “tell them what to do,” or to “correct them.” To develop and sustain a personal practice, one must be have the requisite studentship, especially some time set aside to study the subject. Additionally, the student needs to acquire a dedication to interact with the teaching without the intermediary of a teacher. In other words, the student ought to transform himself or herself into his or her own teacher. This is a special skill that is best obtained through trials and errors.
Moreover, practitionership in Iyengar Yoga also demands the student to efficiently manage his or her time and energy. The ebb and flow of our life tends to pull us away from what is essential: our physical and mental wellbeing. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali enumerates five causes of citta vritti (fluctuations of the consciousness) that create (klesa) pain and afflictions. The first one is avidya (ignorance), a delusional state in which we mistake what is impermanent as permanent, what is unreal as real. Many of us go on with our lives as if our body and mind would survive the sinking weight of stress and neglect. Many of us keep whispering in our head: “I will do more yoga when _________,” “I will be able to take care of myself when I have more time.” We put a condition in our wellbeing and we do not really know how the condition or excuse would ever be fulfilled. Time is now, moment after moment. Therefore, practitionership becomes the journey to surf the waves of life applying the teachings of yoga as you go.
Seeing and practicing with my longtime yoga colleagues last month in PA was delightful and nourishing. As I enter into my 20th year of yoga studentship and 18th of practitionership, I have slowly begun to experience the profound freedom in my body and in my mind.
Namaste to all my past, present and future teachers.