Saturday, September 5, 2015

5 Days of Iyengar Yoga

My first experience with yoga was not a great one. In fact, it was so unmemorable that I can’t even remember when or where I took the class. All I can remember was that it turned me off of yoga completely, and I generalized it as “glorified stretching.” I was already pretty flexible because of taekwondo (and probably some natural born degree of flexibility to begin with), so going to a basic yoga class was pretty useless to me. This was at least 10 years ago. 

Fast forward to this year. I’ve had the privilege of being able to spend time with someone who lives his life as a dedicated Iyengar Yogi. Before this year, I had no idea there were different types of yoga (other than Bikram, because of its trendy phase a while back), let alone what “Iyengar” yoga was. So when Jory told me he was a yogi, my mind immediately formed pictures of a stretchy hippy (sorry to all my yogi friends, this is what pops in my brain if you’re introduced to me as a yogi). I first met Jory at a Neurokinetic Therapy seminar, one that we were both assistant teaching in Taiwan. I had no idea how he applied yoga into his therapy, only that perhaps he used the yoga as the release/stretch portion of homework for his clients. 

Jory introduced me to a few basic poses during a trip to Taroko Gorge, between NKT seminars, and gave me several specific and intricate directions that made something as simple as standing a mindful difficult task. Apparently I had been standing incorrectly all this time. Well, I knew that part, but just did nothing about it. Jory had me get inside my body, controlling parts that I knew I had the ability to communicate with, but just never had. After a couple more poses, I was intrigued. And sweating. And frustrated. How was my body so inflexible, especially my awesome TKD hips? I knew my right hip was bothering me since my left knee injury, and my back has been bothering me for the last 2 years (also since the knee, but not purely because of the knee). So I worked on them for the next several weeks. Slowly, they improved, just with the poses that Jory gave me and also some additional exercises I did on my own. They still needed more (I didn't expect any miracles). 

My next yogic experience with Jory was 5 straight days and 13 hours of his yoga classes, including a couple workshops. These were not beginner classes, and I certainly did not belong in them. I was extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity by Jory to not only attend, but actively participate. As I knew my place in the classes, I also made it a point to do my own practice in the morning so I could review a bit of what was learned the day before. I had been doing this for the last few weeks anyway to continue with my own therapy and to get my morning movements in. Those 13 hours were HARD. Some more difficult than others, but none were particularly simple. Each second of his classes required full mental presence, an empty stomach, and the want and dedication to be better. Some of the poses required a lot of willpower for me, and breaking through some tough mental barriers, as there was quite a bit of fear trapped in a few parts of my body from injuries. Jory was clear, concise, specific, and direct with his instructions. He was not afraid to get in your face if you were being lazy, or just needed an extra push to get something to move. And right when I wanted to punch him in the face for the pain and struggle he had just put me through, he would have the class listen to a fun anecdote or let us do a resting pose for a minute. Every single time. And then, he’d move onto the next pose. The classes were very engaging, and there was no room for laziness or fluffing around. If you were there, you were there to learn and get serious work done. 

I journaled every day, wrote down what I could remember from the class, as much detail as possible, as I normally do in these types of circumstances. I think I filled up at least 7 or 8 pages, front and back. There’s undoubtedly much that I forgot, especially near the end, as the last day was excruciatingly difficult (3 hours of a shoulder and neck therapy workshop; with my right shoulder being injured, and my upper body being the lowest source of strength, comparatively). But I got through it, somehow, and was completely wiped for the rest of the day. Other students in that class were boasting post-class beers, desserts, and massages as a way to reward themselves for getting through that class.

I can’t say I enjoyed Jory's classes. I don’t enjoy when I am put in a place of incapability, frustration, and sometimes pain. But they were good. Really good. The classes were difficult, they were inspiring, they were encouraging, they were informative, they were nourishing, they were eye-opening, and they were challenging for both mind and body. Jory was specific, caring, strict, focused, respectful, professional, engaging, strong in his instructions, precise, and deeply knowledgable. Jory’s classes were fantastic. I am so grateful to have been able to experience his teachings, and inspired that there is more to yoga than simply “glorified stretching.” 

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