At the end of the 90s, I was working by Dorling Kindersley Publishing which was famed for its picture books. One of our big projects was making a few edits for the Australian market of the beautiful, hard cover Yoga tome by BKS Iyengar. As a practising yogini, I was asked for my input and added my yoga school at the back. The Australian Iyengees were apparently very cross once the book came out because that particular yoga school wasn’t specifically “Iyengar – even though my teacher had trained with him for a while. In future editions, that listing was changed. But was Iyengar that rigid? it’s probably fair to say that he just described his yoga as “yoga”.
The unbending (pardon the pun!) nature of some of these associations is interesting to me. Firstly because it suggests an element of control and perhaps even “fear”, that we don’t generally associate with “yoga”, and secondly, because in other modalities (for example psychology, physiotherapy), there is what’s described as “best practise”. In other words, executing a particular thing a particular way due to current evidence. Best practise will always change because science continually asks questions, discovers more and then changes its mind – just as evolved humans should!
Instead, what can happen in life and certain other modalities (yoga is one example) is that we can end up stuck in one particular methodology or ideology, even though many elements of the original teachings have a) been somewhat diluted b) possibly misinterpreted/ misunderstood or c) just arn’t appropriate anymore based on what we now know.
In other words, when we get stuck in tradition for tradition’s sake, we simply become stuck!
There are many instructions given in some yoga classes (one example is to straighten the legs in particular poses such as down dog or forward bends when a person could have overly tight hamstrings or lower back issues) just because that is what the original guru allegedly said. That is all. No other reason needed.
But yet, when we look at Light on Yoga (published in 1966 when Iyengar was relatively young), we can see that some of the instructions here are incredibly matter-of-fact. There are instructions here such as “bring your toes to your forehead” (in back arches like dhanurasana). Sure! Who can do that? Oh, and there is no use of props of any kind in this early work. So what do we make of this? Should we just do as the guru says?
I think it’s fairly clear that as Iyengar evolved and met people with modern bodies, who hadn’t lived the same lifestyle or had the same training as he had, his methodology changed. It’s obvious that his teaching system and style developed into a new “best practise” model. Hence, the book published by Dorling Kindersley in 2001 has completely different instructions and different posture options. It also has a whole segment dedicated to the use of props to enable those with stiffer bodies to experience certain elements of some of the more challenging poses safely.
True or not, we should resolve not to get stuck. Let’s keep learning and evolving and experimenting and making sure that we understand why it is we are offering (or abiding by) particular instructions that may or may not be useful or relevant or even safe…👌❤️🙏🕉