A few years back the cover photo of Yoga Samachar, the magazine of the Iyengar Yoga community in the U.S. and beyond, which was published twice a year by the Publications Committee of IYNAUS, featured a charismatic, young teacher out of the Bay Area. Over time, probably in an effort to cut costs, the Yoga Samachar has been reduced to an e-newsletter delivered quarterly to IYNAUS members inboxes. You can see a sample on the IYNAUS website.
Anyway, I used to look forward to receiving my Yoga Samachar in my mailbox and I remember this particular issue because I thought the teacher featured was interesting, charismatic, and creative. These are not words I use very often to describe Iyengar Yoga teachers.
I recently stumbled onto his blog while sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office. The blog posting was about his decision to give up his Iyengar Yoga certification and to leave IYNAUS. The comments at the end of his post I found to be interesting and validating. I often think that teachers who really have a gift for teaching and inspiring others get held back by IYNAUS. Here are some highlights from his blog.
….I have observed over the years and taken note of ongoing tensions and politics at play in Iyengar Yoga (IY) communities—in the states and also abroad. Maybe it’s been the case for decades and it happens due to bureaucracy that comes in any large organization, I’m not sure. One plain example that comes up for me is hearing of conflicting views between teachers in their efforts to clarify principles and techniques of the method as learned from or shared by senior teachers who studied directly with Mr. Iyengar or members of the Iyengar family. I imagine this may be common in other lineage based practices—the debate of authenticity of knowledge from the source, the tension between traditionalists and innovators, conservatives and progressives. It was all fun and games while it lasted (and I actually enjoyed some of the teachers contradicting one another as it made things seem less dogmatic) but over time I reached a threshold of tolerance with the political atmosphere felt in IY spaces. There were undertones of moral superiority among some colleagues and senior teachers. I noticed its impact to divide yoga communities and leave students confused and hurt. It created drama. I too played a part in trivial debates attempting to explain why some things were “allowed” and “okay to practice.” Over time I felt this just got in the way of good teaching and it took away from a fuller mind-body experience for the practitioner….
….I always appreciate IY’s approach for delivering instructions with clarity, practicing with precision, timing, and intelligent sequencing. However, oftentimes I found many teachers’ attitudes in classrooms to be authoritarian, a self-righteous tone of command, and too type-A in class management, for what it’s worth. At times I was dubbed as a fresh, playful, and dynamic IY teacher. I continually felt like I was an apologist for Iyengar Yoga and trying to defend against its mainstream stereotypes of an IY teacher: serious, strict, nit-picky, fear mongering, etc. At some point I felt this was not my role as it exhausted my energies to teach freely and openly. Even when my intention was to make practice non-dogmatic and fun, there was a looming fear about bending rules or questioning trends in IY method. My aim was and is to help students think for themselves and value principles of alignment and use of props based on their own practice not because of a rule book or authority of a teacher. I felt resistance when teaching playfully or with laughter and joy, as if such an approach undermined commitment to the method. Maybe it was all in my head?
…..When it came to the subject of questioning and discussing abuse (verbal, physical or sexual) in the system, I felt estranged to speak openly and comfortably among my colleagues. As a student and a teacher, I felt a presence of cultish dynamics when it came to questioning some matters and moments in IY practice and IY history. While there is always room to give respect and honor the founders of any given system, there is also a chance where idolatry can easily make followers complacent. It’s possible to respect a “Guru” as a master of their craft and as someone who knows more than you and as someone who is willing to help you seek light from darkness; nevertheless, it is just as important to acknowledge them as a fellow human being, a person with human flaws and shortcomings. I felt the level of reverence towards B.K.S. Iyengar turn to guru worship, without question. I think it’s possible to have great admiration of a leader and system (for example the president of the USA and the nation’s governing body) yet still have the courage and conscience to speak against its injustices and dark past. I had spoken openly about this in a contentious Instagram post around this time last year…..
….Professionally speaking, I found the new rules and guidelines set forth and shared recently by RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute – the home base for IY located in Pune, India), would impede my opportunities to travel and teach as I was doing so before the covid pandemic. In their FAQ’s it’s clearly stated that a visiting teacher to a foreign country must be approved by any local IY association before being permitted to conduct classes, whether at an IY center or any other yoga studio which may be hosting the teacher’s workshops. This applies for both in person and online courses. While I respect RIMYI’s important guidelines for “the association to be aware of all the activities, online or offline, related to the system occurring in their country through a formal channel of communication,” I think it would be a bit too much interference and delay in getting workshops scheduled efficiently. In the past, I’ve had some workshops scheduled with as little as one to two weeks notice as a surprise visiting teacher. This would be nearly impossible to clear before an association and hold workshops with any successful turnout…..
….Lastly, this decision brings great freedom for me to explore, experiment and evolve in my practice. I have enjoyed the structure of teaching within the set of guidelines and principles from IY. These will still hold just as much value for me. My IY training will continue to be the backbone of my teaching and practice. Now, it’s time for me to let go being a lineage based teacher and continue on my own path. If I want to incorporate and adapt effective principles of mind-body awareness from another school of thought (i.e. Kinstretch, Feldenkrais, Animal Flow, etc.) I can do so without concern of any governing body to question me. I think we all synthesize information from various aspects of our life and create a fusion of understanding to share with others. I will choose to be influenced and inspired by what I feel is best for me and that may change time to time. I will choose to share practice in what I feel is valuable to me and that may evolve over time. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, yeah…..
You may read the blog in its entirety here.
And listen to BKS Iyengar talk about ultimate freedom here.
Yours in Yoga