I don’t talk about yoga that much…maybe because it’s a little too important to me. I don’t actually think I’d be able to do everything I do without it. And I’d certainly be a lot more miserable—physically, mentally, and spiritually. And that’s the thing about yoga—even if you don’t intend it to, it deeply impacts all three parts of your self. It’s like exercise for the threads that connect us to ourselves and to everything else.
I’m not one of those naturally flexible yoga bunnies who traipse down the street in yoga wear with a sticky mat strapped to my back. No, I do yoga at home. And I’ve been fortunate to have two amazing teachers in my life. I do it at home because I don’t want my yoga to be about comparing myself to anyone else—I need it to be about me, and I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to afford private teachers.
Because of my disciplined nature and a desire to get as close to an original source as possible in all things, it was natural for me to gravitate to Iyengar yoga. Mr. Iyengar brought yoga to America in the 1950s and we’ve never been the same since. But I don’t chant (yet). I’m not a vegetarian (yet), and I’m not a Hindu, either. Although I do have quite a few Hindu goddesses hanging around the house—but that’s a different story. And I certainly don’t think that yoga is the answer to everything. In fact, since I’ve started running, my yoga has actually gotten better!
For about 13 years now, I’ve done yoga at home once a week, on and off (more on than off). I haven’t lost any weight because of it, but I’ve gained an inner strength that I rely on every day. And the only way I can describe it is that it opens the channels of your senses in your body to the extent that your perception of everything changes… It’s like putting on a pair of clean, new glasses, and suddenly everything is so much clearer. But it’s the nose, the skin, the ears, the heart, and the soul that also open. Like a lotus!
My first teacher gave me a very strong foundation. But as students often do, I outgrew her. She also taught me what not to do. For instance, I am convinced that I don’t need to become a Hindu in order to be a good yogini. And the definition of guru to me just means teacher—not some mystical holy being. We are all mystical and holy; it’s just that some people are more awake than others.
I was very fortunate many years ago, when we published Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar’s latest book, to get to meet him. He came to our New York offices, and everyone said, “Don’t touch him!” But he came right up to me and grabbed my hands. Then he took off his clothes (he was wearing his little blue yoga panties) and did a headstand. He was 87 at the time. Now, I’m not the kind of person to do weird stuff in front of others (I’m basically shy), but when I was invited to do a headstand for Mr. Iyengar and have him spot me, well…I couldn’t resist! (It’s actually one of my favorite poses.) The picture I have of me in my Armani pants doing a headstand with Mr. Iyengar is one of my most valuable possessions (although I also know that possessions are meaningless, really—and, by the way, I no longer wear Armani). Rumor has it he also drinks coffee, so I can really respect that man!
My current yoga teacher, Holly Walck from Jai Yoga is a little bit of a rebel, but she’s amazing. In fact, I will never trust a yoga teacher who doesn’t have a sense of humor. Holly does! There are many weeks when she shows up at my door and I am literally barely holding it together. And two hours later I am reborn. Because part of what is great about yoga—and what I love about it—is that it also acknowledges the importance of rest and reflection. The fact that each class ends with Shivasana is essential. Yoga reconnects me to my body, and in that reconnection, it balances my mind and restores my soul.
It’s not the “be all and end all” for me. Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave it all behind and go to India. Yoga is the beginning, not the end. As Mr. Iyengar said to me in a letter…”savor the nectar of yoga.” It is sweet and good and beautiful and filled with love.
Thanks for this posting, Maria. I have been wanting to practice yoga for years but haven’t been able to get started. After my first son was born, my OB-GYN recommended an instructor of Iyengar yoga. I went to her class twice and loved it and her but the 40-minute drive didn’t fit my new life as a mom with a fulltime job. Since then, I’ve looked around a little but couldn’t find anyone who specialized in Iyengar. I’ve picked up some books but I think it’s important to have instruction from someone well-qualified. You’ve inspired me to look into Jai Yoga. Thanks, Claire
The memory of that day, and especially your headstand, is one of my most cherised memories of working at Rodale. I thought then, and now, how amazing it was to work at a place where the (then) Vice Chairman (chairwoman? chairperson?) of the company gamely went into head balance in front of one of the world’s most respected yogis without a moment’s hesitation. Meanwhile I, probably the one person in the room who had a regular practice of Sirsana, was far too intimidated to attempt it!
You should probably start practising Yoga on your own at your house. You can find a lot of videos on google video search or you-tube. Search for “Baba Ramdev yoga” and you will find a lot of good stuff. Baba Ramdev is a modern-day yogi and his programmes are telecast in several Indian channels early morning everyday. All the best!
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured”
Thanks for this article Maria! In addition to my full time career, I am also a registered yoga teacher. My journey in yoga has been one of a hyper, overly anxious, at times clinically depressed young woman into a centered, productive, grounded adult who can handle what life throws at her. I practice Ashtanga and other vinyasa based forms of yoga, so it has changed my body, but the mind change was FAR more important. My favorite line in the yoga sutras is:
“Yoga citta vritti nirodha.” Which means, yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. I wish everyone could experience just once the peace that comes at the end of a practice. The world would be a much calmer place if we all could feel that. Peace and Love!
My favorite class is Centergy. It combines yoga and pilates. 🙂 I find that if the teacher is good (mine is amazing) and the music is good that it makes a huge difference in my life! I could never do straight yoga although I do love Tai Chi!
Great article. I enjoyed it. You have inspired me to study more about yoga. The little yoga I have done, I have really enjoyed, and felt stronger afterwards. I want that even more now, …so thanks! DO you have any suggestions for beginners, like something I can do at home, maybe even with or without all my kids ( like a DVD ) ?? The only yoga I have done is Biggest Loser yoga (which I imagine it’s like reading a super watered down version of a great classic) but its all I had. Thanks
I just had to write and say how much I loved reading your article.
I kept thinking ‘me too’ as I was reading it – I have been doing yoga for many years and the last few years I haven’t been going to classes but have a home practice. They are not so structured these days – I also absolutely love headstands and I have recently had a huge desire to do backbends. I gave up running for 6 years but am back into it since my son started school and I absolutely love it. Lately I really want to dance and I have discovered Nia, which rounds it all off nicely.
I would have loved to have seen the photo – why not headstand in armani pants.
Hello dear readers! If I have to recommend a DVD or workshop teacher, the two I would are Rodney Yee (a simply lovely human being) and Patricia Walden, who is my teachers teacher and whom I have never met but hope to one day.
Thank you all for your kind comments!
Thank you for sharing this on your blog, so lovely to read your words. How wonderful you got to meet Mr Iyengar!
I’d love to share a few of your thoughts on my blog too if you dont mind as you put it so beautifully.
Let me know if you are ok with this.
Dude! How can you tempt us all with such a wonderful image of Mr. Iyengar and you doing headstands (also one of my favorite poses,) and not post it, or at least a link. Shy or not, I wanna see!