My Yoga Journey Begins

I started my yoga journey in an Iyengar class (with Bob Metzler at Costa Mesa Yoga Works), but it was only when pregnancy made sun salutations in flow classes impossible that I truly began to appreciate the adaptability of the Iyengar tradition. I was going into yoga-class-withdrawal with only one prenatal class a week when the teacher Deb Murray suggested that I could go to any Iyengar class and the teacher would be able to give me modifications for pregnancy. Several of the other women from the prenatal classes joined me and we’d set up a prenatal corner in regular Iyengar classes.

Another “ah-ha” moment came one day in a class with Chris Beach, when the students included both a man who was recovering from heart surgery and a teacher of a very fast-paced style of yoga, plus various levels of students between those two extremes. Without missing a beat, Chris modified poses for the heart patient, challenged the fellow teacher, and inspired the rest of us to find our best poses. 

In 2006 I began attending the Iyengar Training Program at the Institute in Los Angeles, a 3-year, 500+ hour program. In 2011 I received the Introductory II level of certification as an Iyengar teacher. Iyengar certification requires that you work with a mentoring teacher, and for five years I had the privilege of assisting Eric Small in weekly classes in Beverly Hills. Eric is a pioneer of therapeutic applications of Iyengar Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis and other neurological issues. Currently, I study with Isabela Fortes, and attend ongoing teacher training workshops with Carolyn Belko, Gloria Goldberg and Manouso Manos.

Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training

Next weekend is the last meeting of the three-year Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics Teacher Training course I’ve been attending, and I’ve already applied to continue for the next year-long session. These weekend workshops with a group of senior Iyengar teachers – Manouso Manos, Marla Apt, Carolyn Belko, Gloria Goldberg, Garth McLean, and Lisa Walford – have been a great resource for me in my work with my own students.

In addition to deepening our own practice and our powers of observation with each other, we get to watch and participate in the development of therapeutic sequences in real time with therapeutic students. This has covered a wide range of issues, some of which I work on with my own students, like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and scoliosis. We’ve also covered emotional issues like grief and anxiety. Sometimes we assist, other times we practice the poses alongside the therapeutic students to feel the effects in our own bodies, and we also practice the adjustments and props with each other.

One of the most interesting things I’ve observed about the development of an individual therapeutic sequence is how much the personality and experience of the student determines the approach of the teacher. For our therapeutic students we’ve had everything from seasoned long-time practitioners and teachers, to those with only a few months of yoga practice. So one issue with that is trust – trust in the teacher and trust in yoga. Someone who has long experience with their yoga practice and trust in their teacher will be able to attempt more complicated and challenging poses than a newcomer to the practice. Someone who has never met the teacher before needs time to establish a trusting relationship with them, so less challenging poses that give immediate relief are more appropriate.

Then there is the overall personality of the student, whether they are someone who likes to be challenged and work hard or someone who needs to take it slow and ease into things. This is where sequencing is important not just for the physical effects of the poses but also the emotional effects. Someone who has had an active, vigorous exercise regimen and is now ill or injured still needs to feel like they are working hard on their recovery even in supported poses. These people may need to have their minds engaged on the doing of the pose in order to quiet the mind. On the other hand someone who has had many illnesses or injuries over many years may find even the simplest of new movements intimidating, so small, gentle steps may be needed to develop trust in the teacher and the yoga.

All this may sound obvious, but the genius of this therapeutic course is that we get to observe Manouso take in these therapeutic students: listening to their descriptions of their issues, watching him work with each one individually, and then hearing him explain what he observed and why he approached each student in the way he did, both physically and emotionally. It is this reflection that deepens my understanding of how to approach a therapeutic student to help them best. Looking back on the cues in how each student presented their issues, what they focused on, what they may have left out and revealed later, how they responded to the first few poses vs. how they were near the end of the session. It is training and exercising my powers of observation.

I am looking forward to another weekend with this amazing group of teachers, and I hope another year of studying with them.