What exactly is this, “Iyengar”, to which you keep alluding, Teresa? and for which you are probably screaming by now or have completely lost interest and no longer even care to follow.
Why do I-Yengar? Or rather, why do I have a regular yoga practise and more specifically, yoga in the Iyengar tradition?
About 6 months after my cancer treatments and shortly after my husband and I returned from our travels, I was in touch with a work acquaintance. We had planned to go for a lunch date and she suggested I meet up with her at an Iyengar yoga workshop she was attending on this particular weekend. I had always been curious about yoga and had thought about checking it out one day so it was the perfect opportunity.
So, that day, I showed up in my tights and stretchy top not having much clue as to what I was getting into but have lived on the west coast long enough to have observed that our fashion here is heavily influenced by a certain local yoga apparel company. I was ready at least attire-wise. I also brought with me my $20 not-so-sticky mat I had purchased in Arizona for an exercise class. I was so ready! The large wood floored room was full of a variety of people, all shapes, sized and ages. They were knowingly placing their yoga mats, blankets, wooden blocks, straps, etc., in their chosen spaces on the floor. Not being a particularly shy person, (my friends are snorting now,) I placed my mat on the floor and then pleaded for help. I was impressed at how helpful and kind everyone was as they, “bent over backwards,” to show me how I needed to fold my blanket, use a bolster, sit down with legs crossed, etc. I felt very welcome.
The instructor was a mature woman who, as her bio states, ..”has been a student of Iyengar Yoga since 1975.” Further,”she has been teaching Yoga since 1979″ She adeptly led the full classroom of mixed-experienced Iyengar devotees and I have to say, I loved it. Sure, my flexibilty wasn’t what it had been before all my treatments and yes, I could feel tightness in my right armpit but when I had difficulty in an asana, (sanskrit word for, “pose,”) there was always a modification available with the help of a prop; blanket, strap, block, chair, etc. and always, the teacher, with a watchful eye, was there to assist. The, “piece de resistance,” was the asana called, “savasana,” the sanskrit word for, “corpse pose.” This pose concludes every yoga class, the essence of which is to relax with attention, staying conscious and alert while at the same time releasing the tensions of your yoga practise as well as tensions that have been long held in your body and mind. For me, it was pure bliss!
I was hooked! Ever since that workshop, (2 years ago this month,) I have been an avid Iyengar student. I have a daily at home practise, go to class 2 times a week and attend workshops with senior teachers. It has done so much for my physicality; strength and flexibility. I have a chronic hip and lower back issue that I now, “treat” with yoga. The joint, muscle and bone pain, side effects from the cancer drug, Letrozole, is more than manageable now and I have so far been able to keep my lymphedema controlled. (Remembering to always wear my compression sleeve.) This is due primarily to the fact that the asanas encourage lymph flow as does the focus on breathing while working through a pose. Lymph flows as well through pranayama practise, one of the other 8 “limbs” of yoga as described by the ancient sage, Patanjali in his yoga sutras. Pranayama is breathing exercises, or more accurately, breath control, which clears the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and so the flow of prana, or life energy.
So what is Iyengar Yoga?
Yoga is one of the oldest systems of personal development in the world. Yoga means union. The union of body, mind and spirit. Yoga is for everyone. No one is too old or too stiff, too fat or thin or tired to practice yoga.
B.K.S. Iyengar was the founder of the style of yoga known as “Iyengar Yoga” and was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. The term, “Iyengar Yoga” was coined by his students to distinguish his approach from other styles of yoga. However, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar states that “yoga is one” and describes the yoga he teaches as traditional, authentic “Patanjali Yoga”. Patanjali, an Indian sage, outlined the eight-limbed (astanga) path of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, over 2500 years ago. Source: Iyengaryogacanada.com
Iyengar is more traditional; meticulous in its focus on finding proper alignment when in a pose. It truly challenges your body and mind to stay in the pose. You won’t get a, “workout” per se but you will definitely reap so many benefits; body strength, improved posture and balance, body awareness, relaxation, pain management, peace of mind, and so much more. To me, one of the best reasons for practising Iyengar yoga is the assurance that you will receive the top notch instruction from the most knowledgeable teachers. In order to be considered for entry into teacher training as described on the BKSIyengar.com official site:
* One needs to be a student of Iyengar Yoga for a minimum of 3 years.
* One is expected to attend at least 3 classes a week and should practice daily on their own.
* The teachers will judge the student’s practice further to start teacher training.
The training is comprehensive, so if one has injuries or chronic conditions, you know you will be safe in the hands of an Iyengar instructor.
My life was forever changed by cancer. While I would never say that it was a, “gift” as I have heard others say, (frankly it sucked!) my life has improved in so many ways. I left my stressful job of 34 years and while I always ate very healthily, one can always improve and I did. I quit drinking, I make it my mission to only get involved in projects and activities that are fun. If they start being no fun, I don’t do them anymore. To avoid negativity in my life, I surround myself with positive people. “Stuff” in the form of material objects have been greatly reduced which included moving to a smaller house.
And, I found yoga. It has freed my body, calmed my mind and it warms my soul. It is a philosophy and a discipline that one can likely never master. I highly recommend it!
Below are some interesting links to sites that relate to the benefits of yoga for breast cancer and lymphedema. The first one is an interesting study that was done on yoga management of breast cancer related lymphedema:
A few good Sites on Lymphedema:
stepup-speakout.org (Fantastic site)