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What is Iyengar Yoga known for? (part 3: accommodating students)

Iyengar Yoga is known for:

  1. being a method with roots in tradition
  2. creating the best of the best teachers
  3. accommodating a huge variety of students

In the previous post (What is Iyengar Yoga known for? part 2: creating the best of the best teachers) we established that Iyengar Yoga Teachers are highly trained. Often taking years and years to become fully certified.

In the training process teachers learn how to look at individual students and address their individual needs. A Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher can then help students learn how to adjust poses to accommodate their natural limitations or to accommodate an injury. Students are often taught how to use props to help with their accommodations. But they are also taught how to refine a pose by activating muscles and positioning the body parts more effectively. This accuracy in the observation makes Iyengar Yoga able to accommodate a wide variety of students. When you go to an Iyengar Yoga class you see students of all shapes, sizes and abilities.

You might be asking yourself –> But how do you teach a group of students while addressing the specific needs of one individual? Good question!

A certified teacher is trained to scan the entire group to see if there are any poses that need help. Then, after making a determination, everyone works on that one refinement. For instance, a teacher scans the group of students doing the triangle pose (example at right) and sees a few people whose front legs are bent. At that moment the teacher might call out something like “front leg straight”, to the whole group. If the students do not straighten their leg then the teacher will demonstrate the pose (while the students are not doing the pose — just watching) and show how to straighten the leg. The entire group then gets a chance to try the actions they watched in the demonstration.

Most of the time this approach of doing, demonstrating and re-doing works pretty well. And there are some improvements in the poses. Sometimes students are able to straighten the leg a little better and can improve over time. Sometimes though an individual student needs an individual instruction. The instance of an individual instruction should either benefit the whole class, in some way, or be quick enough to not disrupt the class. This approach keeps everyone in the game. There’s never anyone sitting on the sidelines watching the “real players”.

Occasionally a student is moved to the sidelines though. If someone comes to class and suddenly feels ill or discovers that there is just no way they can keep up, for whatever reason, then they could be given their own sequence to work on. For example, a fit young man, who usually has a lot of energy, comes to class and after 20 minutes tells the teacher he has a bad head ache. The teacher can evaluate his situation and determine if he should move to the side of the group and instructed to do quieter poses with his head resting on a folded blanket or bolster (see the image above). If he starts to feel better he could rejoin the group or continue working on the quieter poses. (Of course, if you are sick, especially if you are contagious with a fever, you should definitely not come to class).

This approach makes Iyengar Yoga accommodating for a wide variety of people.

But some people don’t want to stop, watch, learn and re-do. They just want to keep moving moving moving. Moving moving moving is fine (and also fun) but the trouble is if you keep moving constantly there’s no way to learn. Hopefully a good teacher can find a balance in class where students are learning but also keeps the group moving. In the end the aim is not to constantly stop and be corrected. The aim is to still the fluctuations of the consciousness, and hopefully feel a connection, or union, with something bigger than yourself. And this connection is often better felt if the body is not experiencing pain by a gross misalignment.

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