Whenever I watch a sunset I know that the same light will rise upon awakening friends somewhere else in the world, and a new day will begin. Over the last few years my community of Iyengar yoga has watched several sunsets. It is a tumultuous time in our world. On the global spectrum we are struggling for the waning resources of water and air. The political narrative of populism and nationalism seem like a resurgence from the dark ages, where feudal wars would decimate any opposition and crusades silenced free speech. My community at YogaWorks has likewise witnessed darkening skies of grief and change. Yes, we are living through the saga of a setting sun.
Where will the sun rise? Who is waking up to change? And to new light?
Abhijata Iyengar is perhaps our Phoenix, rising from the ashes of our grief from losing both her grandfather Sri BKS Iygenar (Guruji) and most recently, her aunt Sri Geeta Iyengar (Geetaji). Abhijata (or as her students affectionately call her, Abhi) is bold, bright, gracious, welcoming, young, a mother, educated, and savvy in the ways of our international community. Abhi brings change. For the Europeans she hopes to bring some cohesion. In America, Australia and England, where assessment has become a goal oriented step ladder that has institutionalized what should be an organic process – that of studentship – Abhi has asked for a very different structure that emphasizes mentoring, personal experience and subjectivity (I will elaborate in a future post). She is asking that we join her in a dialog to explore how we can make our studies more congenial, sophisticated, layered, and cooperative.
Abhi embodies and is embracing her heritage. Having been mentored for almost twenty years by her grandfather, Guruji, and having traveled internationally to conferences with her aunt, Geetaji, Abhi has seen how a dogmatic approach can create what she calls “cookie-cutter” teachers. Every family has its struggles, and our Iyengar “family” is no exception. Abhi has been listening and watching for a decade. Now she has ideas on how to address our “issues”, and she has invited us to join her in an open dialog.
For context, she explained that, in the mid-twentieth century, yoga was unknown. Guruji initially had to promote yoga and himself through public demonstrations. The original script for Light on Yoga included three times as much material, but the publishers told him that it was too esoteric and too long for the general public. Even so, the interest in integrated body/mind practices and in Indian spirituality along with Guruji’s infectious enthusiasm caught the imagination of people on every continent. His teachings inspired the creation of Associations worldwide. Fast forward to today when everyone studies yoga (Prashant: “every Tom, Dick and Harry” is a euphemism for the everyman). Yoga, in the sense of Yoga as a body/mind/spiritual practice, has been exploited and manipulated to fit many commercial ventures. It has become an industry. Iyengar yoga has been pigeon-holed and is defined in the Oxford dictionary as a yoga that uses furniture.
Our approach to teacher training is similar, she explained. We package teacher trainings. But “can you”, she said, “honestly package spiritual studies, Svadhyaya?” Prashant is very vocal about this. Teacher Trainings (TTCs) have become “money making ventures” he frequently says. Iyengar yoga must redefine itself.
“There are two types of education; formal education, which is a set pattern, predictable, replicate, rigid format, a ‘cookie cutter.’ And the second is an informal education; it is effective, iterative, contextual, and geared to the ‘individual.’ No set rules. There is a third way. It is a non-formal way; through direct experience. It is a life-long process where science, art, and philosophy come together. How do we learn yoga? It is not linear, we grow, and we fall,” Abhi said.
She continued, “In early days we adopted the formal way because it was easier to scale and to replicate. Even though early learners learned the informal way, with refined sensitivity, we understood that the linear way is not effective. We now want to create a world that encourages curiosity.” This third path attribute is that it is “pulsatizes” (beats), it is alive, a vibrating system in resonance with reality.”
We spent seven days exploring, experiencing, and discovering ways to expand the paradigm of Iyengar yoga. Rather than orienting our practice around the familiar actions or points of an asana, both Abhi and Prashant worked with cross-categories of poses, with breath dynamics, Uddyana Kriya and steered us away from identifying Iyengar yoga as asana centric. “The core of Iyengar yoga is Yoga” Abhi said. “Connect your students and yourselves to the mother ship of Patanjali and yoga. For whatever reason a student comes to yoga, connect them to YOGA.”
How refreshing. How brave. How honest. How forward thinking. There is a sun rising, and light is upon our community.