BKS Iyengar wrote and published Light On Yoga in 1966. The first book to ever comprehensively show the sequence of asana practice and step by step instructions on how do them. You could, and still can, take that book and learn yoga. It is amazing to think that with all the technologies today, that yes, this book and the information it gives cannot be replaced by an app.
It’s a reference book, with over 300 photos of the different asanas. You can buy a copy and start yoga. In this book you can see him doing the most amazing poses, and at some point you just lose yourself in the thought: how does that feel? Because it looks unbelievable.
So we start to practice.
Fast track forward…. There has been an explosion of yoga over the last decade. There are so many yogis now and with the availability of technology and media we are no stranger to the “yoga selfie”, Every man and his dog (pose) wants to see how they are progressing by looking at themselves in poses to decide if that is a pose that is ascetically correct or pleasing.
These yoga selfies from all over the world, taken by practitioners and lovers of yoga, get air time on social media every day. And if you strike an amazing pose then your friends believe in you and gain a new respect for why you get up at 5 AM to go to your yoga class.
The photos, are more than often beautifully executed and situated with stunning backdrops of alps, lakes, beaches or juxtaposed against a busy downtown New York street, make us gasp in amazement and feel just a little envy. Some of them are just in the kitchen, so you see that yoga can be done anywhere.
One day I get out the iPhone with a photo session in mind. I wanted to show my students how to progress into a headstand. But I can’t help firstly taking a photo of my own Sirsasana so I can see how it looks. I mean, I can feel how it is. And on that day it felt terrible. Heavy, crooked, totally distracted. But low and behold I hopped down and scrolled through the photos I just took and to my amazement, it actually looked brilliant.
How can we take a photo of how something feels? How can anyone capture what really goes on in a yoga practice? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want to be and have been inspired by photos. I use them to inspire my students, pointing to the incredible twist that BKS Iyengar makes in his parivrtta parsvakonasana and hearing their silence as we muse over a photo showing his extraordinary back leg, for instance. Because we know how hard that is.
On the mat we go to ourselves. With all our selves. On any given day practice is met with whatever we have physically and mentally. Some days we are brimming with life, creativity and we are very together. Other days it’s a wonder we even made it into the studio with all the distractions. There is no selfie with this process.
Then there is the tireless work in yoga. Over the decades, your body changes and we all get older. Even if yoga clearly states that it keeps the ageing wolf at bay. It’s not the case. But if you keep practising then you can still do complex poses no matter what your age, right? Right. Check out Vanda Scaravelli in her 80-somethingth year who started yoga in her late 40’s and went on to become one of the disciplines leading teachers.
It is this continual threading through the body, and the concentration and absorption it takes that keeps the yogic fires burning. It is the sparks of divinity, the freedom and the release from the body’s woes that keeps the cells refreshed, and the feeling of being alive, truly alive.
So as practitioners we return to the drug that is yoga. Witnessing how it has helped to save so many lives over the years. We see it deliver balance and light to our own days, feel it ignite the coals of the deeper depths of our souls and give thanks to the strength and sensitivity is gives us to carry on. Easy to put into words, and difficult to convey no matter how beautiful the photo.
Some photos, though, are just beyond inspirational. Like the U.S. marine veterans photographed by Robert Sturman. They will halt your complaining and move your mind in a completely new direction, away from all your insecurities and vanities.
As yoga teachers, we really learn around our own corners if we look at what our contemporaries are doing, and what the next generation perceive in their practice, even though this is an ancient art.
In the yoga arena, there are so many good teachers. They don’t have to be famous to deliver the goods. They just need to do the work on the mat and teach from there. I come back to time spent in India at the Iyengar Institute. Many Iyengar teachers visit this source to do classes. Once taught by Mr Iyengar himself.
Geeta Iyengar, his daughter, was able to manoeuvre with great skill, a room of over 200 people into refined asana movements. She always got results in her classes, and she made you and your body listen. It was a sublime experience. She once came up to me and asked, gesturing her heart, where is the breath coming from?
More recently, a band of us studied here in Australia with a woman called Stephanie Quirk who has spend many years with the Iyengars in India running their therapy classes. Because it is true, yoga can and does really help to fix things. Suffice to say, as a teacher we need to know about injuries and how to work with them.
We want to lift you up, and bring the mind out of its dug in focus, for instance, on your bad knee or back.
I’ve learnt stuff from many sources, and have also been with my teacher, Caroline Coggins, here in Australia for over 3 decades and I would say I am very lucky to have had her eyes behind me for so long. She is quite a philosophical teacher as well as a teacher who leads you to your edge, hands you the parachute, and says jump, when you’re ready. I’ve learnt some valuable tools from her, the main ones being how to trust my own process in yoga. How to sustain, grow and when to give as a teacher. She handed me one small but important article when I was 24 called Yoga as Self-transformation by Joel Kramer. (Here is a copy for you too) It steered me on the right track of what would and could be possible. In hindsight, it was a big influence in shaping the mind for yoga so that going to classes had a fuller meaning. So that what was being taught and learned made sense.
Students are also our teachers, as teachers. To think of the now thousands of people I have taught over the years and the invaluable experience of learning from them, as a teacher, is humbling. I have had the privilege of teaching expecting mothers, people on the verge of breakdowns, people recovering from serious injuries, people living with health conditions, high achievers and people with thin resources. To make some difference to any one’s life with yoga is the greatest gift one could ever hope for as a teacher.
We know this much: Yoga is not just making the physical body jump through hoops or shaping your mind so you become more agreeable or even peaceful. It is the fine art of learning how to work through the steps and feeling your way through your own boundaries, to what is possible, mentally and physically. This is what you may just catch a glimpse of when you look at a photo of a yoga pose or someone’s asana selfie, and say, wow, that is amazing!
Suzi Chin Silicz is an Iyengar Yoga Teacher teaching regular classes
at The Yoga Centre East Redfern in Sydney, Australia as well as private and corporate classes, workshops and retreats.. For more information visit: www.newgenerationyoga.com