It's all about awareness!
Variations of a pose. Something for everyone!See our handpicked guides to Newcastle
BY ANNABEL ROBINSON
Iyengar Yoga (pronounced eye-en-gar) is one of the earlier forms of yoga to spread beyond India and indeed its founder, BKS Iyengar, is largely responsible
for helping bring yogic practices to the west. Before the fad of Yoga swept the planet, intrepid devotees were travelling to Pune, a sprawling city
in West India to study with this charismatic teacher. Through them, the practice migrated around the globe and has made its way here to Newcastle.
Iyengar Yoga is a very comprehensive method. Its unique style can be adapted to accommodate unlimited variations in ability. Strong, fit, young students will be generally taught a more vigorous challenging range of poses. Teachers may however incorporateprops into the practice to enable people with injuries, disabilities or the elderly to participate with ease.
One feature that really sets Iyengar Yoga apart is the rigorous teacher training and assessment demanded. 6 years is the minimum length of time as a student
before being permitted to even sit for assessment. So, if you’re just starting out and not sure what yoga style would suit you, you can be confident
your Iyengar teacher is highly trained and you are in capable hands.
This practice differs from your everyday yoga. Even if you have tried Bikram yoga, hot yoga, power vinyasa or yin yoga, I assure you that this form of yoga is unique and intriguing at the same time. It is difficult to summarise Iyengar Yoga from just one class, as there is so much variation in sequencing and timing of poses. They can range from dynamic jumpings to deeply restorative breathing practices. Aside from incorporating props to assist your body in performing different poses, the class I attended was low intensity and slow-paced. It was quite amazing to see what my body could do by progressing through the poses with no rush. Another class on another day, however, could move much more quickly and be quite a workout.
I was fascinated with the use of props and spoke with owner and senior teacher Amanda Hood, and she explained the philosophy around why props are important.
“The use of props is one of a number of tools we use. Using props can help to transform unhealthy movement habits as well as enabling students of all abilities
to participate. Throughout the practice, equipment can be used as a way to bring a particular sensation to the body. Bringing the mind to sensations
in the body is focused attention. Then a physical practice transforms into a mindfulness practice.”
We all live crazy busy lives. And it doesn’t take much for our minds to wander - we’re all guilty of it right!? But the beauty of the Iyengar practice focuses on alignment as a technique to really bring your mind into the present moment. Yoga philosophy is woven throughout the fabric of classes at Hamilton Yoga.
Now I’m not a dedicated yogi that can stand on my head for 10 minutes. But I have tried a heap of different types of yoga over the past few years. So I thought I would give a level 1 class a go to see what Iyengar yoga was all about! The class was led by Hamilton Yoga co-owner David Morley, who had previously run the Novocastrian School of Yoga here for 17 years. The class started with everyone on their backs, eyes closed, soles of their feet touching in a butterfly position. But instead of everyone’s mats spread out in rows across the room, all the mats were clustered along the back wall….different right!?
Throughout the class we used belts to assist our legs up on the wall, blocks on the ground to give height when doing different standing poses and folded up blankets as a support to protect our necks when doing shoulder stands against the wall. The class progressed through the different positions at a slow pace and assistance was given along the way. The practice was definitely intriguing as it is unusual compared to the ‘everyday yoga’ that comes to mind.
Classes at Hamilton Yoga are divided up into four levels of expertise. It is suggested you stay at the introductory level for a minimum of 10 weeks before you move into level one. After about one year here you will have the opportunity to progress into level two, although you don’t have to if you are happy at this stage. Level three is only offered to students if the teacher believes you are capable. Students in Level 3 have developed the skills to be able to work safely in the more complex poses, such as arm balances, stronger backbends, and padmasana variations. They have also developed the ability to remain longer and work in the variations of head and shoulder balances.
An intriguing point of difference of the Iyengar practice is the length of each class. Most of the classes run between an hour and a half – two hours,
with workshops sometimes running even longer. So I asked Amanda; Why such lengthy classes compared to other forms of yoga!?
“There’s so much to cover, we really progress. There is a huge range of poses. You really need that much time for your body to prepare itself and it takes you deeper into it. There’s so much content, I just don’t know what can happen in 45 minutes! Sometimes in level three, we might focus on back-bends for the whole two hours and the time just seems to fly!”
Before relocating to Newcastle, Melbourne-girl Amanda spent the past two years traveling around Australia meeting up with other Iyengar teachers, practicing
alongside one another. She thinks you can learn a lot from other teachers by practicing together and wants to work on getting a community of teachers
There are about 10 certified teachers within Newcastle that specialize in the Iyengar practice, with four of them at Hamilton Yoga. The Iyengar method is strictly regulated and teachers cannot mix different styles. Having said that, there is vast scope for experimentation and variation within the method. For a real experience to see what your body is capable of, and to delve deeper into an authentic yoga experience, it is something to put on your list of must do’s!