It was a very, very hot summer, late in the last millenium, when I arrived in Austin. Like so many who came before me, I found my way here in pursuit of an ill-fated relationship. Was just a boy, twenty-five years old, halfway across the country from my home. I landed in the fantastic clocktower house on Mary street, just up the hill from our soon-to-be old kitchen. The first night I was here, my roommate took me to see Don Walser at Jovita's. Austin, Texas. Well, that ill-fated relationship didn't take long to unravel, and now I was at sea... emotionally distraught, vocationally uninspired, far from home, with very little in the way of tools to help heal myself. That same roommate invited me to join him for a yoga class. This was when yoga was just at the end of its time as a fringe pursuit, before "sticky mat" became part of the urban vernacular. We biked over to an unassuming house on Oxford Street. Outside the bedroom, there was no furniture in the house. Soon there were twenty or so people limbering up, packed in very close to each other, and the teacher, a spider-like rock climber named Christian Leeby began with a short invocation to Patanjali. I was wide-eyed and dubious, but any doubts that this was just some woo-woo were very quickly dismissed.
This was Iyengar yoga. You may have read some of the articles recently about B.K.S. Iyengar's death at age 95 last week. While he is credited for "bringing yoga to the west", Iyengar yoga ultimately lost its prominence in the U.S. to the various types of "workout yoga" that shaped business plans for so many clothing and accessory companies and shaped so many yoga butts across the country. It remained, percentage-wise, a fringe player.
Iyengar yoga is not for everyone, clearly. It is the "engineer's yoga", maybe the "architect's yoga", which requires rigorous learning, rigorous alignment, and long-held postures. It is taught by teachers who have been well-vetted and adjudicated... not just any schmoe can become an Iyengar-certified teacher. Our fair city, mecca of the yoga biz, has but a handful... four or five, maybe. Many Iyengar classes are truly classes--with extensive description and lecture--not workouts. The class is meant to support the home practice. Bluntly put, that is a flawed business model. However, as a means of disseminating knowledge, Iyengar yoga is one hell of an organization.
Simply, the asana (posture) work sets the body against itself, and all of the crazy twisted postures point back to the first, the most elegant, the simplest, the most complicated. It is called tadasana, which is alternately known by its colloquial name, "standing up straight." It took years of yoga classes for me to learn how to stand up straight. And that is the true gift... I haven't been to a yoga class in years, and yet never a day, probably not an hour goes by where I am not touched by the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar.
Of course, yoga lies not only in the physical realm... its physical poetry translates into emotional, nay spiritual balance, openness, clarity. Yoga citta vritti nirodhah. All in one sentence, it is described: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
Sounds good, right?! Nothing to it... just a lifelong practice. Thanks for reading along.