Tag Archives: BKS Iyengar

Praise in a #Yoga class: is it Satya?

satya3Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue, to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action. In Yoga, satya is one of the five yamas. It is the virtuous restraint from falsehood and, crucially, the distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions.

A student recently asked me why I didn’t give positive feedback to individuals in class. It’s a question that comes up from time to time. Speaking as a school teacher, she said she spent her working life encouraging and praising pupils for effort and achievement. Why is there no praise in a Yoga class?

There is a stock answer: when I say to a yoga student, “Well done”, I am giving myself a pat on the back. I am saying, “Look! My teaching is so excellent, and this student is living proof!” Is that Satya?

alignment1What about all the lessons that student has not learned, the basic actions avoided and evaded even after months and years of practice? Shoulders back, lift your chest – do I still need to say this every time? Clearly yes – I have not taught them this lesson yet. That these actions are not coming tells me their mind is elsewhere or their ego is still in the driving seat, and I have not dealt with those issues. That is the reality, the Satya in this situation. To say “Well done” is to distort reality for both of us.

How many of us experience moments of dread when the teacher moves on to our ‘worst’ pose, the one we love to hate? Somehow we struggle through, cling on and breathe a sigh of relief when they move to the next pose. And then when we are practicing, when we see the results begin to come, is there a part of us that looks forward to showing off our new-found skills and achievements in class, anticipating admiring glances from our fellows and praise from the teacher? Is this Satya?

satya12Some students just seem to flow into the  most demanding of poses – deep twists, spring up into handstands but how is their practice in, say, Savasana for instance?

And is it so very wrong to quietly say, “Well done” to someone who has been struggling and finally gets up into Urdhva Dhanurasana? When I’m immersed in my teaching, sometimes the words just pop out of my mouth! But what if a student is unlikely ever to achieve that pose? Maybe there’s an injury, a difficulty that precludes them from the final pose – is their effort any the less because of that?

satya11Saying, “Well done” to someone in a Yoga class is the quickest way to stunt their progress. When someone is praised, in that moment, the learning stops: out come the laurels and the ego, effort ceases and is replaced by laziness, apathy and then disillusion. The brain takes over and their experience of yoga narrows down to a few postures they can use to demonstrate their experience and ability. Satya includes the reality of our inexperience, our inability too.

In Iyengar Yoga the challenge is to learn the essence of the pose, not just its technique or shape. If it was all about form and beauty, Yoga would be an Olympic sport, like gymnastics. When Mrs. Urdhva Dhanurasana finally lifts up from the floor, to say “Well done” creates a distortion of reality: the discipline and effort are gone and the student gets mentally ‘stuck’, believing that’s all they have to do. Their practice will suffer because getting into the pose is only the beginning. My teaching therefore is at fault. That is Satya!satya9


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From #YOGA to Self-realisation.

Self-Discipline for Westerners.

As an Iyengar Yoga teacher, I’m at odds with Western depictions of what yoga is and what it’s about. To start with, there’s a fundamental issue I want to explore and that is our skewed Western view of the purpose of humility and respect.

At RIMYI, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, we hear the phrase, “You people” used to describe “us Westerners”, when one of us has behaved like an idiot in class. It’s true – when we arrive most of us just don’t get it, and the learning curve is very steep.

20161110_091700_resized_1Take the crazy traffic as an example. The rule seems to be: keep moving, don’t waver and pedestrians, never step backwards – someone could easily be squeezing through the gap behind you. No one stops at roundabouts with the “After you” attitude of the Western give way system. Anyone who wavers causes problems for everyone else and I’ve seen dogs, cattle, pigs, hand carts loaded with all sorts, street sweepers (women in lovely saris with a long wispy broom) wandering up and down the roads quite safely while lorries, cars, motor bikes and scooters, often with several people on them (including children and babies), are doing things you’d get arrested for in the West. It might seem undisciplined and dangerous but if anyone causes an accident he/she will gather an angry crowd in seconds for displaying such stupidity and endangering the lives of others.

The practice hall in the Institute is a sacred place where for over 40 years Iyengar Yoga teaching has been developed, practiced and freely given. All the yoga props you see around the world today – wall ropes, bricks, belts, the trestler etc– and their therapeutic use in yoga, originated here, from hours of experimentation and refinement carried out in this room and in the small library below by BKS Iyengar, his family and his team of senior teachers. Why? Because in the beginning, Yoga is about healing, and they wanted to “help people who could not do”.


Today, the city of Pune and it’s 2.5 million inhabitants (about the size of Greater Manchester) has five or six generations of Iyengar Yoga students and teachers. The daily classes in the two practice rooms are filled to capacity. The queues for registration in May each year are legendary. The rigour and discipline in class are eye-watering to soft Westerners, poses often performed completely without props, except for a sticky mat. (The Seniors use bolsters and belts to ‘help them do’, to sit straight, or to raise their arms.) The classes are strong, quick and detailed; every instruction is delivered from ‘a very straight bat’. The locals love it, and their love and respect for the Iyengars and their teachers is clearly evident. In the world-famous Medical classes, Iyengar Yoga and props come together and are used with years of skill and experience, providing relief and respite to those who need help.

But some of the Westerners don’t seem to get it. During general classes, if you make a mistake, the length of the tirade will depend on your ability to explain what you were doing and why: in other words, your level of stupidity in not acting on instructions. In taking it upon ourselves to do something different, are we suggesting we know better? We are teachers – we go back to our countries and pass these instructions and our attitude on to others. To bear the Iyengar name, our teaching must be of the highest quality to instruct our students safely and appropriately. And as a student, we must truly know ourselves, and as we develop, we need teachers to show us our blind spots. This isn’t always comfortable, but Geetaji’s lesson to me changed my lazy chatush padasana and I am grateful for it!

20161107_091241_resized_1Indian culture is rich with gods and rituals. Humility, homage, respect are naturally and unselfconsciously displayed by people here. Discipline doesn’t need to be rigorously applied – the Institute isn’t festooned with notices telling us what we can and cannot do – because if you behave with humility, pay attention and show respect, there’s not a lot of need for reminders. But Western stupidity knows no bounds, apparently. Last week a group of Westerners ate a picnic in the practice hall between classes. That’s as bad as bringing your shoes into the Institute. Self-discipline and appropriate behaviour grow naturally from humility and respect. ‘It’s a cultural thing,’ someone once said. If you haven’t grown up embedded within that culture, your understanding of it will only ever be sketchy.

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Filed under Iyengar, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

Iyengar Yoga home practice sheets.

These yoga routines are designed to be simple and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. The first six sheets are suitable for all levels. The last two are suitable for more experienced students.
If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.
With best wishes, Hannah.


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Filed under Beginners etc., Boost Your Immune System, Iyengar, Lifestyle Changes, Well-being, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic, Yoga Routines

BOOTCAMP & YOGA WEEKEND 2017: Friday 3rd March – Sunday 5th March

Contact Romla & Julian Ryan Tel: 01308 867 440 Mobile: 07920 262 971 Email: info@marshwoodmanor.co.uk

Marshwood Manor, Bettiscombe DT6 5NS

Marshwood Manor1This residential weekend is suitable for all levels, including Beginners. The teaching and small group size allows everyone to work to their own level. Please email me if you have any questions about the yoga, and contact Marshwood Manor to discuss the Bootcamp or to book. 

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Filed under Iyengar, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga Days

Daily practice to the memory of BKS Iyengar.

Dedication practice sequence

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Filed under Iyengar, Mindfulness, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga Routines

BKS Iyengar – Sculpting Human Kind (three videos)

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October 11, 2013 · 2:05 pm

A video card to Guruji from the Iyengar Institute in Moscow on his 90th birthday. Click full screen, turn the sound up and enjoy!

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October 11, 2013 · 1:49 pm

BKS Iyengar talks about the goals of yoga.

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October 11, 2013 · 1:46 pm