by Adrian Edwards
Catharine and I have lived in Maida Vale all our married life, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that we discovered one of its best kept secrets, the Iyengar Institute. It takes us about 15 minutes to walk there from home, a route that takes us through our local park, over the busy junction at the Chippenham, past Essendine School, then across Paddington Recreation Ground. In virtually any weather it’s the perfect way of arriving for a yoga class. However life doesn’t always work out that way and sometimes it’s a scramble to leave on time, park the car and feed the meter. Once through that leafy enclave off Randolph Avenue that leads to the tranquil setting of the Iyengar Institute, the busy world outside gives way to a calmer place within oneself as the lesson begins.
I started yoga classes in answer to that common complaint, lower back pain. Catharine had experience of yoga so suggested yoga classes to me as a panacea from the pain that had particularly dogged me and us after long car journeys to holiday destinations. There was a set-back to our progress after a serious car accident left us badly shaken and I wondered whether we would get back into yoga. It was then that I made my way to the 59 + classes where the teachers are Elisabeth Wengersky and Joyce Furrer. I quickly learnt that the maintenance of a correct posture at all times of the day, not least sitting at the computer writing this article, was of paramount importance. Forward bend stretches and dog pose soon cured me of the pain which I now have put behind me.
Elisabeth and Joyce bring their experience and wisdom to bear on each class. It could be said that Elisabeth is more rigorous in her approach to her pupils, but that should not imply that Joyce is less so with her frequent injunction to modify the pose to suit the pupil. Yet of one thing we can be certain from Joyce, and the other instructors who take these classes, there’s nothing their pupils can take for granted. All instructors constantly challenge us to go that extra mile. They will be there with something new to teach us in each lesson, even in those regular poses with which we might feel so familiar. A word on posture or a modification in alignment can open up a new dimension. In my experience no two classes are quite alike and I’m pretty sure that’s a feeling shared. There’s never a hint of the routine. With the minimum of words, each one to the point, the instructors concentrate the mind from the outset which is directed toward the execution of the exercise in hand. Can I go one better and improve on my last effort? How do I juggle all the points that have been so carefully delineated by the teacher’s word and in demonstration? How do I achieve the alignment in the pose in question so it doesn’t look way out of kilter? Yoga isn’t sedentary. Equipment is required for different exercises, primarily in those inverted poses such as the shoulder stand, the penultimate one in many classes, employing the props that Mr Iyengar has introduced and modified over the years: the chairs, stool, blocks, mats and the comforting blanket.
The final part of each class focuses on pranayama, breathing. In Elisabeth’s class, we often begin with the chant on the syllable Aum which represents the sound of the universe. The chant takes the voice through the vowels, ending on the calm hum of ‘m’. The instructor gives the note, the class follows. The tuning of the voices from soprano to bass, albeit in different octaves, produces a clean unison, a sure indication that all of us in the class, renewing our acquaintance with one another each week, are in tune in one mind and one spirit! Sometimes we sing the invocation to Patanjali, a sage and patron of yoga who believed that each sutra or thread of his experience was woven into a garland of pearls of wisdom to be flavoured and savoured by those who love and live in yoga. To him and our instructors we are indebted for their patience and encouragement. What we take away from them resonates through the week as an aide-de-memoir. There’s no better feeling than the one of elation on leaving the class, the head clear, save for wondering what we are going to have for lunch!
Adrian Edwards is a freelance writer/broadcaster/producer and a regular student of the 60+ classes. Adrian’s wife, Catharine Robinson, is a singing teacher and recommends yoga to her students.
60 + Classes:
Wednesday 12 â€“ 1.30 pm with Elisabeth Wengersky.
Friday 11.45 -1.15 with Joyce Furrer.