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The Day My Teacher Yelled At Me

Listening to Carrie Owerko I felt an ache of recognition at her words. Here is why...

I loved my Iyengar classes tremendously and learnt so much from my two teachers. 

For those who don't know, Iyengar teachers often adopt a workshop style where the teacher demonstrates and explains a posture, while students gather around to watch, listen and understand. 

The students then return to their mats and the teacher proceeds to instruct them into the posture. Many people - including my younger self - may find this tedious but I grew to love it. 

Unlike classes where it was easy to zone out or copy the teacher or student in front of us, there was no way to practise mindlessly in an Iyengar class. The teacher would snap you out of it with a sharp word (or worse).

It cultivated my attention, focus, patience, love and appreciation for my teacher - and his teacher, who was taught by BKS Iyengar. There was a sense of history, depth of learning and reverence for elders. 

𝙊𝙣𝙚 𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙗𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙗𝙪𝙧𝙣𝙚𝙙 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙤 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙨𝙘𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙨𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨...

My teacher was demonstrating Warrior 1, a posture we'd done countless times but still hung on his every word. That day, his emphasis was specifically on the back foot -- to keep it turned out, firmly grounded, while maintaining hips squared to the front, with an upright spine. 

A fellow student asked about limited hip mobility and the option of having the back heel up. "No", my teacher answered. "That would be a different posture." There was a ripple of nervous laughter through the room.

"But no one can do it," I said.

All eyes turned on me as my teacher thundered: "That's how Guruji did it!"

"But it's impossible..." The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. 

I can't recall his exact reply but this was the one time I witnessed him lose his temper. 

I don't think he was used to being challenged, and he taught with the utmost devotion for his teacher (HS Arun) and BKS Iyengar. "That's how Guruji did it."

The thing is, BKS Iyengar himself created his method, as a conscious departure from that of his harsh and punitive teacher (and brother-in-law), Krishnamacharya. The latter recruited him to demonstrate at an asana recital, demanding that he learn a series of difficult postures. 

Though weak and stiff, Iyengar did his best to comply, injuring himself badly but impressing the audience. Krishnamacharya eventually sent him to teach in colleges and gyms in Pune. Iyengar worked hard as an instructor, afraid that, if he failed, he'd have to return to his brother-in-law. 

He knew from experience the dangers of forcing onself into poses prematurely, and he set about developing a slower, more anatomically precise type of yoga, using props like blocks and blankets to help students find correct alignment.

Months later, with the above history of Iyengar Yoga in mind, I asked my teacher:

"If we are so dogmatic in our practice, how then do novel ways of practising arise?"

In my own practice, I have moved away from postures like Warrior 1 and Triangle which emphasise geometrical shapes and alignment of the body.

That said, I use yoga blocks (and other props) in almost every class I teach.

When I'm stiff, tired or my back hurts, my body craves yoga therapy and restorative yoga which BKS Iyengar created to heal his own body and his students'.

A gentler practice.

Carrie Owerko in a restorative inversion

In addition to this, I also do ballet and pilates -- all three inform my teaching style and philosophy.

Move like you love your body.

Carrie Owerko in front split

When asked in an interview:

What style, tradition, and/or lineage are you a part of (if any)?

Carrie replied:

'I have been teaching Iyengar Yoga for 25 years now, yet am often described as a non-traditional Iyengar teacher. My background in Laban Movement Analysis, modern dance, and movement theater, along with my in-depth and ongoing studies in movement science, greatly influences what I practice and teach. Sharing a mindful yet playful approach to learning and practice is my mission.'

Play is our brain's favourite way of learning.

What do you think?



'Iyengar And The Invention Of Yoga.' (23 August 2014)

'Meet Movement Optimist, Carrie Owerko'.

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