First Ever Iyengar Yoga Class

I mentioned last week that the Forrest Yoga class was the one we sweat the least in.  Well, I stand corrected.  We went to an open level Iyengar Yoga class and we sweat so little that we were able to save our towels for another day.  They were completely dry!

This is a big deal because I have walked into a change room before right when someone was talking about “how much the girl in front of me was sweating” (she was talking about me because she was the one behind me in that class) so yes, I sweat a lot and enough for people to be commenting about it!  And Tony?  Well, he leaves lakes and puddles all around his mat, enough for every teacher to know and comment on it.  Bikram teachers don’t care about sweat in class but Tony has exceeded even their levels of sweat tolerance.  In other yoga classes, he actually had a teacher say, “I can’t step closer because your towel’s all wet.” while he was trying to adjust him hahaha.  I must admit it is pretty gross when he drips his mat all over me when he’s taking it to the racks.  Anyway, for 2 people who sweat so easily, no such thing happened in Iyengar so it gives you an idea of the temperature of the room and the intensity of the class.

This class was super slow.  I mean, really really slow and it’s because each and every posture had to be held for a really long time if only to get your body to understand how to do it with the most correct alignment possible.  The class was 1.5 hours long but I’d be surprised if we got through 15 postures in that time!!

Now this was a real eye opener!  It’s one thing being able to do the postures quickly.  It’s another doing a posture and completely analysing it.  Where are my toes pointing?  Where is my knee pointing?  Where are my hips pointing?  Is my pelvis tucked forward or back?  Is my stomach sucked in?  Where am I breathing? Am I breathing?  Am I relaxing my shoulders or pulling them up?  Where am I leaning my weight? etc

Right from the get go all I could think was OMG my shoulders hurt, OMG my hips hurt.. OMG.. this hurts, that hurts… OMG this is so hard!  Meanwhile every time I turned to look at Tony to say “Why is this so hard?  We’re only doing a warrior pose.” he was just doing the posture easily and shrugging at me.  It turns out all those aches and pains I keep feeling (like my shoulders, hips, sacroiliac joint) are all because I’m doing my postures out of proper alignment!  It’s no surprise.  Of course that would be the reason for so many aches but… why hadn’t this been corrected earlier?  I’ve been doing it like that for years!!

The Iyengar teacher was very precise with his words.  He said things like “Your knees should be pointing in the direction of the wall with the ropes.”  as opposed to, “Keep your knees pointing forward” which can leave room for interpretation.  Believe it or not, I have asked a teacher that after one of the Bikram classes.  I mean, if you’re in a warrior and they say “push your hips forward” then which way is forward?  The way your body and hips are facing?  Or where your eyes, knee and hand are pointing?

Another great example would be doing plank pose.  Imagine doing that and getting the instruction, “keep your body straight”.  What would you do?  What muscles are you engaging and which ones are you relaxing?

In the Iyengar class, his instruction was more like “Roll your pelvis forward like you’re going to push your pubic bone against the floor but keep yourself off the floor by pushing your lower stomach towards your spine and squeezing your thighs up towards the sky”.   The sensation when you’re doing both of these simultaneously is very different to you just keeping yourself off the floor trying to keep your body straight.

Leaving you to figure out for yourself how to keep your body straight means some people will just never get it.  They’ll either have their butt sticking too high up or be sinking down but with such precise instructions, it actually keeps your mind consciously and actively focused on the one area that wouldn’t be straight and telling you which exact muscles you are engaging to create equal and opposite forces to result in keeping you straight!

Then he makes you stay like that for ages so you have time to think about and feel all the sensations of which muscles are working, which ones are hurting, which ones are weak and shaking, where you are putting your weight etc.  He doesn’t mention all of this but that’s where my mind started going when I was holding each posture.  The focus actually becomes very internal and you end up scanning your entire body with your mind and you get to know it very well – its strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, its pain, discomfort, where it holds stress, where everything is fine.  As I mentioned… eye opening.

Something else different about Iyengar, it uses props and this was the first time ever I got to use so many things!!  We got to use those huge sausage pillows (bolsters – they’re as big as and shaped like punching bags), a chair, a blanket and some blocks, all to do a plough.  It took about as much time to set up all the props and get into the posture (if not longer) than holding the posture itself but it was oh so comfy!!

So I’m in two minds about this class.  I think I need to go to it just to get my alignment and set up ingrained so I don’t have to be so conscious of it all the time.  However, when I start thinking about how long it takes to do one posture and how little sweat I have in that time, I start thinking about all the other classes I could have done, all the calories I could have burned, all the other new postures I could have attempted, another new yoga I could have tried  in the 1.5 hours instead.

Do I really need to spend so long learning how to do a warrior with exact precision especially when you only spend about 30 seconds in it, in most other yoga classes?  By the time you consciously tilt pelvis, align hips, ensure 90 degrees between thigh and calf, keep leg straight, make sure knee’s not overshooting the toes, check direction of chest, check arms, centre weight etc, you’re most likely going to be 2 postures behind everyone else.  As it is, I’m quite late getting into my postures in the Bikram series (just ask the teachers who keep telling me off about it).  With this new found information I’m getting even later because it’s taking me even longer to set up my postures as I go through the checklist in my head!!

I must admit, I am a stickler for doing things properly and really getting into the detail and I did get a lot of value out of one class.  As slow as it was, it was very enlightening for me just to understand how my body worked.  Tony and I finally worked out how to get our balance in the half moon and one basic correction of where to point my knee in my set up of triangle and more awareness of how to pull my spine up and away from my hips has helped completely alleviate all my hip/sacroiliac pain.  It’s been pretty awesome.  For at least a week now I have not felt even a twinge and this pain has been something I have been suffering with and continuing to practice with since it started in Feb 2014!!!

If I haven’t convinced you that an Iyengar class is well worth trying, I’ve just convinced myself to go back more often!  Pain free is the way to be!  So I’ll probably end up doing more of this than I originally imagined.  Maybe not frequently but this class is definitely well worth going back to just to check in and iron out all my bad habits 🙂

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