A few weeks ago, I decided to try an Iyengar class at the lovely Lotus Yoga--a cozy, pine-paneled studio tucked away on North Willow (no doubt you’ve heard of Jennifer Kohl, founder and director of the Lotus yoga centers in Montclair and Newark as well as founder of Lotus in Action Community Outreach Program; http://www.lotusyogamontclair.com). You also may have heard of Joni Wellness, a certified Iyengar teacher who has been practicing and teaching yoga for 41 years (Iyengar since the ’90s—she joined the Lotus staff in July). Her credentials are impressive and far ranging; check out her website for details (http://www.joniwellness.com).
I was a little nervous about attending Joni’s class (I’ve been studying Iyengar yoga at a fitness center near my home, and I’ve grown accustomed to the place). Yes, we get used to our teachers and sometimes we just want to stay exactly where we are. There are two schools of thought on this, anyway: one is that you should choose a practice, stick to it, and devote yourself to your teacher and yoga style. The other is that you should be open to new ideas, practices and teachers, and not attach.
Before I continue, a word about Iyengar. If you don’t know about B.K.S. Iyengar, well, then, you’re probably not a seasoned yogi (and that’s OK—read on!) Iyengar is 92 years old, still practicing, the author of a number of inspiring yoga books, and the man who introduced props (bolsters, straps, blocks, etc). The practice itself is alignment-oriented and precise. It’s a practice—as Iyengar himself has demonstrated—you can do for life (he began as a teen).
As Joni says, “I love the Iyengar method because it is a method. It is brilliant, insightful, creative, fun, challenging, multi-faceted, ever-evolving, as a practitioner and teacher. It is progressive, so wherever you are, you start from there and go forward, way forward, and not just with asana, but with all aspects of yoga, with living your yoga. For students, it is solution-oriented. It is so empowering to help a student achieve something they thought was out of their range of possibility, whether due to injury, age, or lack of strength or experience. And, as I probably would point out, if they thought they couldn't do this [pose or category of poses], and it turns out they can (not to mention with confidence, ease and even joy), what else in their life is now possible?”
The sequencing of the Iyengar method alone, says Joni, brings us deeper and deeper, makes us more and more aware. “I see it as a fun game. I also see how vast the Iyengar influence has been with the spread of general yoga. Every time someone uses a sticky mat or a block or bolster, the seed of origin is from Iyengar's creative use of what was available, starting with the bricks in his garden.”
But back to the class: Joni began by asking if there was anything particular we’d like to work on. One student said she was having a bit of an issue with backbends. I piped in that backbends are definitely not my favorite poses. “Do you mean you have an aversion to them?” Joni asked.
“Well, yes!” we chimed.
I should have probably said I just adore backbends because if you tell a yoga teacher you don’t like a pose their eyes always light up. Sure enough, we did a backbend class. But Joni took it slowly, gently, and before I knew it I was doing a backbend on a chair in a way that Bev, the student next to me, described as “Delicious!”
Yes, it was a delicious class, and Joni, who also reminded us, “It’s not how far you go, it’s how you go far,” is a treasure. After class we talked a bit and she observed, “It’s good to have one teacher who really knows your body, and who knows what you need.” But, she also agreed that it’s good to try new things.
Actually, the whole class underlined the yogic concept of not developing too intense aversions or attractions…and learning to approach the things we think we have aversions to with gentleness, with ease, with open-ness. When we do, we may be surprised and the “aversion” may dissolve.
It’s a great lesson to take off the mat and into life, and I had a distinct sense that studying Iyengar yoga with Joni would yield those kinds of revelations on a regular basis.
The verdict on Lotus: Not only does the studio have some awesome teachers (think Jennifer Kohl, Jillian Pransky, Dalien, Adam Lippin, and Joni Wellness, among others), but Lotus also offers a variety of styles, ranging from Vinyasa and Iyengar to a powerful practice called Jivamukti.
Uh oh-- I sense a future blog in the making!