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Iyengar Yoga might need a PR campaign

I was recently talking to a yoga practitioner from another lineage. We were discussing various topics in our conversation, not just yoga. At some point the conversation switched to my yoga classes and she gave a few reasons why she had never attended one of my classes. One reason was a shoulder injury and one reason was that she didn’t think she’d like Iyengar Yoga. I asked her if she had ever done Iyengar Yoga and she said no but that her yoga teacher told her that he didn’t like it. Her teacher gave several reasons and one reason was that we don’t do many poses and that we hold them for a long time. Of course, I told her that this was an inaccurate description of Iyengar Yoga and that her teacher had given her misinformation.

It’s true that many other styles of yoga often have more movement than in Iyengar Yoga. But we do do lots of movement, we also hold poses when necessary. Iyengar Yoga is not just one thing–it is a variety of things. Quick, slow, intensive, passive, quiet, loud, serious, silly (probably not all in the same class). What is done in a class depends on the students in that class, and what they need. If the group needs more movement we do that. If the group needs less movement we hold poses–maybe to look at an aspect of a pose. Often times it depends on the age of the students. Most of the time it depends on their level of experience and awareness.

But the fact that we move or don’t move is not what I found alarming in the conversation with my yoga practitioner friend. It was the fact that her own teacher made disparaging remarks about another type of yoga. Disparaging enough that she thought she didn’t like Iyengar Yoga, even though she had never tried it.

The Iyengar Yoga teacher certification manual has several pages of ethical guidelines that Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) must follow. Under the heading “Professional Ethics of CIYTs” it states: Iyengar Yoga teachers are not publicly critical of other Iyengar Yoga teachers’ character or of other systems of yoga. For one, it is just good manners not to speak negatively about other people. If I speak negatively about another yoga lineage my words might be leaving an inaccurate impression on the people who hears my statement. And what if that person would actually benefit from the other yoga lineage? Then that means I am keeping them from pursuing their path. Yoga is an important subject and we all should hope more people pursue the path–regardless of the lineage they chose.

This is not the first time I have heard people make inaccurate statements about Iyengar Yoga. People make inaccurate statements about lots of things, not just about yoga, or Iyengar Yoga. What is interesting is that I have heard a similar misstatement in the past, from different sources. And when you hear the same misstatement from various sources you have to wonder … As Iyengar Yoga practitioners could we better communicate to society at large what we are trying to do in our approach to practicing? Probably.

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