I have been a fan of the Iyengar Yoga Maida Vale since attending my first introductory class in 2014. I had been inspired to sign up after hearing an obituary of BKS Iyengar on the radio. That first class felt like coming home for me. My siblings and I, as children, had learnt yoga postures from our grandfather that he had learnt in the Indian Army. As soon as I started an Iyengar class, it felt familiar to me. I had often tried yoga classes before but, as an overly flexible person, I could easily do the poses in a way that sooner or later would put my back out. At IYMV, I liked the feeling that my hypermobility was not going to fool anyone into thinking I was any better than I should be.
When the first lockdown happened, one of my first thoughts was what am I going to do without classes? I bought Light on Yoga (not before time) and started to practise on my own (also not before time). But I couldn’t have been more pleased when IYMV began to offer classes online. It was almost literally the luxury I’d have wanted on a desert island and it radically changed my whole lockdown experience.
Online classes are a surprisingly good substitute for going to the studio. Seeing the same teachers and hearing familiar names of other students gives a feeling of continuing to be part of a community. Not a community in that it is social or like work colleagues. It is a connection that feels durable and impersonal, based on a solid foundation of shared practice. This isn’t the most important element for me, but it is an unexpectedly enjoyable bonus.
I am always surprised to find that I enjoy the element of obedience in Iyengar classes. I am not remotely obedient by nature but I really love the feeling of surrendering my intention to the voice and directions of the teacher, in unison with the rest of the class. It feels like being in a shoal of fish or a flock of birds. Oddly, it feels like freedom.
Another quality that I value in these classes, again unusually for me, is precision. I really enjoy it in a teacher’s verbal instructions and corrections. I also enjoy aspiring to, and occasionally feeling progress in, the precision of my poses. Precision is not a feeling that comes naturally to me; approximation feels way more familiar.
I’m really fascinated by the different atmospheres created by teachers. The qualities that I enjoy include economical use of words; the right mixture of friendliness and formality; certainty. An attribution of ego to students always feels like projection. I don’t particularly want to be either charmed or shamed. The magic of the relationship between teacher and students is highlighted in the weirdness of online classes. An atmosphere in which I can, seemingly without effort, concentrate and extend my limits is a rare and precious thing. As a psychotherapist, this alchemy is of enormous interest to me. All research shows that, regardless of therapeutic technique, the quality of the relationship between practitioner and client is the real agent of change. And increasingly it seems to me that, in both practices, the crucial ingredient is who the teacher or therapist is, more than what they actually do. Their integrity, experience and directional focus are what make the difference.
My psychotherapy practice has really benefitted from the way that yoga enhances so deeply my body consciousness. An important tool, particularly working with clients who’ve suffered trauma, is embodied countertransference. This means learning to observe, moment by moment, nuances of my own somatic responses to the client’s emotional state. This minute consciousness of my own bodily experience gives a much less fallible reading of the client’s internal state than clever thoughts or theories.
There are so many other benefits of Iyengar yoga practice: flow, grace, balance (particularly hard for flexible me), strength, interiority. At a more prosaic level, lockdown life and online classes allow me to attend more classes, more regularly; they’re more time-efficient too, with no queuing for props etc. I know I am guaranteed ninety minutes of utter engagement. I’ve noticed recently that I’m waking up in the morning feeling completely comfortable in my body, and I’m amazed that this should be the case in my sixties.. I could go on. Basically, I love the feeling that this is a bottomless well. However long I do it, there will always be scope for more mistakes, more adjustments, more learning.