Drawing Young People to Iyengar Yoga, Part II

Read the first part of this two-part article

Early this year a survey was sent to IYNAUS members about the future of Iyengar Yoga and how we can encourage young people to embrace our method as teachers, practitioners, and students. Three hundred and eighteen members completed the survey, giving overwhelmingly positive responses. People credited Iyengar Yoga for transforming their lives, healing their bodies, and deepening their spiritual awareness. There were some complaints about teachers and teaching techniques. It was agreed that Iyengar Yoga should be marketed to the young by a margin of 10 to one. 

Here are answers to the second half of the questions in the survey; additional responses appear online at http://iynaus.org/yoga-samachar. Some responses have been condensed and edited for length; ellipses do not always appear when part of an answer has been deleted. We have made every effort to respect the intent of the writer.

We appreciate all responses; if yours was not selected for publication, it is likely because others had a similar theme. Special thanks to Constance Braden, Nikki Costello, Sharon Cowdery, Carole Del Mul, Brina Gehry, Anne Geil, and Pat Musburger for creating and tallying the survey. – Richard Jonas

How can we teach to younger people without sacrificing the attention to alignment and “meditation in action” which are hallmarks of our method?

A large percentage believed that classes with more movement and less detail would appeal to young people. Writers also advocated less rigidity, more playfulness. Many gave Guruji’s teaching as a model. “Don’t underestimate youth,” one respondent wrote. “They are fully capable of understanding and appreciating the Iyengar method.”

“Work them harder and gradually correct their alignment unless they are doing something that is dangerous. Give them a chance to see what they can do, then guide them little by little to correct alignment.”
—Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“Teach our teachers how to teach children, the absolute opposite end of the spectrum to our normal demographic. For ages 3-8: No instruction! There are other guidelines for the 8-to-adolescents group. Teens are also interesting, and so-on up to students in their 20s.”
—Bobby Clennell, Intermediate Senior I, 68 

“Repetition until simple postures become familiar. Don’t sacrifice the speed needed for young people. You have to watch them—how they move, how they behave—and take them at a pace which they are familiar with.” 
—Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“Some ‘other’ yogas are wildly popular in Denver. I often feel we Iyengar teachers are like the kids who do not get asked to the prom! We need to let the community know we’re not just here to work with folks who are ill or dealing with injury. Our image has got to be that this style works for ALL—the fit, the weak, the strong, the old, the young. One suggestion: have advanced teachers teach some beginner classes. Experienced teachers have the nuance, the sophistication, and the deep knowledge to make the subject attractive. This can be hard for a beginning teacher. I have seen beginning teachers teach as if they were going up for certification, with too much detail, too much demonstration, etc.”
—Deborah Baker, Introductory II, 48

“Please don’t sacrifice!!! Never, ever! The reasons why younger people like other practices, aside from the movement/sweatiness, could be superficial, such as nicer studios, post-class tea sessions, monthly unlimited passes and so on.”
—Catherine S. Marquette, teacher, 34

‘A lot of young people sit at a computer all day and don’t move. They really need us.’

“We should not sacrifice the method in order to teach to young people. We need to just find those young people who do enjoy the hallmarks of our method.”
—Aaron Fleming, Introductory II, 36

“Emphasizing the benefits of discipline and bodily awareness. Many young people take dance and martial arts, and many athletes take yoga as an alternate part of their training. Emphasizing the strengths that the Iyengar method has for these benefits could be of use. For instance, awareness of bodily alignment can help prevent injury in young athletes, and developing discipline and body awareness are invaluable skills.”
—Hillary Burgess, student, 26

“Keep the poses basic. Do lots of sun salutations at the beginning to tire them out, then go to standing poses to focus on the ‘meditation in action.’ I think they would love the ropes.”
 —Anna Hindell, teacher, 32 

“Why do we have to sacrifice anything? Either we believe in what we are doing or we don’t. There are a lot of young people who are not active, sit at a computer all day and don’t move. They really need us.”
—Anonymous teacher

“The way the teacher brings energy into a room makes a class come to life. If a teacher is demeaning, dogmatic, and flat, the class energy will suffer. If a teacher is bright, enthusiastic, and warm, the very same class will have an entirely different energy.”
—Aretha Blevins, Intermediate Junior I, 34

“Meet the students where they are, bringing awareness of their alignment to them. Develop their ability to focus. The young have huge challenges these days and yoga can be a comfort, refuge, and structure.”
—Betty Eiler, Introductory II, 76

“Simplify and state what is most important and not to be disturbed, then focus on the rhythm and flow of each pose, like Mary Dunn was so good at doing. The mood and intent has to be set at the beginning of class and carried through.”
—Cynthia Worby Nero, Intermediate Junior III, 54 

“What brings people in the door is not necessarily what keeps them practicing over time. We have to teach to the person first. If you want to slow a horse down, you have to first run along side it, grab it by the reins, and slowly bring it under control and into the direction you want it to go. Guruji had a dynamic practice when he was young—naturally. You can’t force maturity.”
—David Sirgany, Intermediate Junior I, 49

“Keep our language simple and clear and use sequences that are simple and clear. As they get more used to the method, then you add more. Keep an enthusiastic attitude and keep them moving.”
—Elisa Aueron, Introductory II, 54

‘I loved the way yoga allowed me to use my body, to do things (like stand on my head) I never dreamed I could do.’

“We should be upfront about the meditative aspect and appeal to those who have the capacity for this practice. Iyengar Yoga is not for everyone. Guruji has put a lot of effort into maintaining the purity of yoga and I do not think it is appropriate to compromise it.”
—Janet Macleod, Intermediate Junior III, 62

“Attention has to be nurtured. You can’t ask a young person to focus on ‘meditation in action’ beyond their ability/awareness any more than you can ask anyone else.”
—Janet Langley, Intermediate Junior I, 47 

“The young people in my classes are as attentive to alignment as my older students. I teach according to Iyengar principles and keep the class moving. I also use the wall ropes, the wall and chairs frequently. I introduce concepts such as ‘meditation in action’ after a student has studied with me for a while. I don’t expect them to understand that early on.”
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Go from the gross to the specific, the Annamaya kosha to the Anandamaya kosha. Don’t be so concerned with too much alignment in the beginning; pick basic actions, basic principles.”
—Leslie Dillingham Freyberg, Intermediate Junior I, 61

“Rather than ‘stop and go’ teaching, try ‘stop, go, go, go.’ I enjoy the classes that develop a rhythm, not classes when I am sitting around for half the class watching the teacher.”
—Laura Golub-Matthews, Introductory II, 32 

“Use language that resonates with them. It is not changing the method, it is speaking about the method in language that appeals to them.”
—Lisa Jo Landsberg, Intermediate Junior II, 53 

“Alignment can be taught without slowing down the pace of the class. If teachers insist on making students ‘come watch’ a demonstration of every asana as if  teaching it for the first time, the class may be too slow for younger students who are ready to move. Meditation in action comes through being absorbed in the practice and younger students need to be given the opportunity to do a full practice. They have to first experience the joy of practice.”
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Watch any of the videos of B.K.S. teaching in his heyday. He knew how to do it. Sometimes perfect alignment has to be sacrificed for some other end. And meditation in action isn’t synonymous with stasis.”
—David McDonald, student, 60 

“We can’t. That’s our yoga. Some people like it, some people don’t. I’m not sure it has anything to do with age.”
—Anonymous teacher

“While observing beginning classes at R.I.M.Y.I., I noticed they kept the pacing brisk, and while there were demonstrations, the demos were simple so that class could keep moving.”
—Nina Pileggi, Intermediate Junior II, 48 

“Young people are corrected constantly by teachers and parents. More of that authority stuff probably won’t appeal to them.”
—Pamela Eyden, Introductory II, 62 

“We need to make sure they understand that many preconceptions about yoga being a ‘feel good’ workout don’t fit with what a true spiritual practice is. Younger students like the music some yoga teachers play, the ‘fun’ atmosphere, etc., but if I talk with them about being able to bring a subtle internal awareness to their practice, I can see a shift in what they think yoga is. Then, the music becomes a distraction!”
—Peggy Berg, Introductory II, 62

When you were young, what attracted you to yoga? To Iyengar Yoga? What didn’t you like?
Those who found yoga when they were young said they wanted to stretch or calm down; some athletes and dancers came to heal injuries. Two were inspired to do yoga by the Beatles. People said they liked the intelligence and depth of the Iyengar method, its potential for healing, and the integration of the spiritual. Dislikes included rigidity, a too-close attention to detail, and “perfectionism” from teachers. “I still am young,” one person wrote. “I still love it.” 

“The way it made me feel. The fact that I could do things (like stand on my head) that I had never dreamed I could do. I was never very good at gym or many sports at school. I loved the way yoga allowed me to use my body. Young people can get very stressed; growing up is a difficult process. Many young people are very self conscious about their bodies and don’t like it when a teacher draws attention to them.”
—Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56 

“I was introduced to Iyengar Yoga at 14 by my mother, an ardent practitioner and teacher. As a young person, I felt the benefits of doing yoga, but may have been turned off by the attention to detail and structure that I now see as the strength of the practice.”
—Hillary Burgess, student, 26

“When I was younger I was more into the physicality of the practice and I definitely wanted to do things I thought were ‘hard.’ I also really enjoyed the instructions I received in class. I found that I was able to do more. I really enjoy learning. I think a practitioner of Iyengar Yoga has to want to learn.”
—Aaron Fleming, Introductory II, 36

‘I am able to see better, understand more, and enjoy my Pranayama practice more than when I was younger.’

“As a young person it is very comforting to pay attention to alignment and attempt some form of meditation.” 
—Kate Morse Harris, student, 30 

“I was a competitive gymnast and found yoga in college. I love the focus and challenge needed. The benefits followed.”
—Anna Hindell, teacher, 32

“I stayed because of the instructor’s encouragement and the process of learning the poses. I was the student in the corner reading a book. I was never the athlete.”
—Anonymous teacher

‘I experience the Asanas more with my heart and less with my brain.’

“When I took my first Iyengar Yoga class in 1977, I was attracted to the vigorous actions and sequences. I could do a lot more poses, more vigorously, and more safely, than I could in other methods.”
—Victoria Austin, Intermediate Junior III, 57

“I’ve taken classes on and off since I was 14, and have been the youngest, or one of the youngest, in the class. Perhaps having classes that target young people so the environment has a social peer aspect would make it more comfortable and appealing.”
—Hillary Burgess, student, 26

“Even though much of it was strange and alien to me, I felt right at home in yoga.”
—Ute Zahn, student, 46

“I was seeking a discipline where action of the body and mind were both required.”
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I was not attracted to yoga when I was young because it was marketed as similar to dance/aerobics classes. I did not want to wear the clothes; I did not like the celebrities like Madonna who advertised it.”
—Anonymous student, 50

“I love the precision and accuracy of Iyengar Yoga; to me, it is taught as a science versus an exercise, which is what I love.”
—Catherine S. Marquette, teacher, 34

“I didn’t start young, but I still wanted vigor. What I didn’t like was getting hurt, which I did, occasionally.”
—David McDonald, student, 60 

“The stress relief as I was at a crossroads in my life. I liked the idea that Iyengar Yoga was taught as a discipline, not as a ‘do-whatever-feels-good’ American idea of yoga.”
—Nina Pileggi, Intermediate Junior II, 48 

“The beauty of the poses, the quietness, the idea of working on something challenging that didn’t involve kicking a ball around.”
—Pamela Eyden, Introductory II, 62

“I came to yoga to try and slow my mind down. At first I did not like the bright lights and some of the attention.”
—Paul Cheek, Intermediate Junior I, 49

“I was 32 when I started (which now appears ‘young’!). I liked the precision and how light I felt during and after the practice. I liked the ways the practice quieted my mind—but I did not notice nor label that benefit until later. I didn’t like how confused I felt by the use of props (because I was in my head rather than in my body, as are many beginners). I did like the benefits the props gave me. It was the feeling of awkwardness that I found uncomfortable, not the use of the props themselves.”
—Jan Barrett, Introductory II, 59

“Watching my teachers practice amazes me. Because I’m completely addicted, I love watching online videos of B.K.S. Iyengar practicing—they’re completely inspiring. That, along with reading what Mr. Iyengar had written, attracted me to yoga. Such physical, mental, and spiritual evolution really moved me and made me want to discover what it was about. Pranayama definitely threw me off when I began studying. I was unsure of what it was, or why I was doing it. It was difficult to grasp the importance of it when I felt so lost.”
—Naomi Lazny, student, 18

“I wanted a deeper understanding of yoga. I was not looking for a ‘workout.’ I did not like it when I felt like an outsider to the community and I did not like the arrogance of some teachers.”
—Robyn Harrison, Introductory II, 53

“I loved it all.”
—Sophia Penelope Anastos, student, 55

“I have loved yoga since I was 15 and my beloved aunt taught me my first backbends. I was hooked! Then she sent me Yoga: A Gem for Women; between Geeta and my aunt, I was inspired. My first yoga class was a beginning level; to be honest, it was a little slow and boring. So I asked the senior teacher if I could take his class, which he allowed, and then I was hooked. The challenge was what I needed.”
—Monica Rose, Introductory II, 34

“I started with Richard Hittleman’s TV program. Wanting to know I was executing asanas correctly got me to my first classes. I found Light on Yoga. Driving across country for a weekend workshop with Mr. Iyengar, meeting him, and recognizing him as my Guru, cinched it. Being an army brat and accustomed to discipline in my life made it easy to love the method. There has been nothing I dislike about the Iyengar method, just the horrendous Iyengar Yoga politics that have gotten in the way of movement forward for so many folks.”
—Jyoti Hansa, Intermediate Junior III, 76 

What are your own experiences with study, teaching or practice which relate to age—any age? 
Older students fell into two categories: those practicing a long time, and those who began at a later age, from the late 40s even into the 70s. Many were grateful for the safe environment created by teachers and the props. Some wrote about reaching “plateaus” and slowing down, but also about a practice that began as mostly physical but deepened and became more meaningful with the inclusion of Pranayama, yoga philosophy and the lessons of aging and injury. Typical comments: “Yoga is ageless” and “I feel better than I did when I was 18.”

Guruji’s vitality as he has aged is an inspiration and proof of yoga’s effects, people wrote. Maturity in practice is not necessarily tied to chronological age, according to others. Here and in answer to other questions, some wrote about teaching children, although the survey dealt mainly with drawing young adults. Still, many believed that beginning with children is key.

‘Iyengar Yoga is so creative and dynamic, it evolves wherever you need to go.’

“I am able to see better, understand more on a deeper level, and enjoy my Pranayama practice more than when I was younger. I have learned now that yoga is not just about asana but has a much deeper and very meaningful level which I had not even touched as a younger practitioner.”

—Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“I am younger now than I was when I started my practice.”
—Joanna Zweig, Introductory I, 73 

“I mainly teach people over 65. I work in a rec. center while attending teacher training. I am preparing for my first assessment, which helps my clarity in teaching more than I would have thought four years ago. When I teach I am able to block out any personal issues and get to it. I really enjoy working with the senior population; they not only are good students, but they teach me a ton as well.”
—Angie Capell, teacher, 33

“My practice has slowed down, but I stay in poses longer, which is a good thing. Not only can I do many poses I could not do 10 years ago, but my understanding has deepened, which allows my practice to bring compelling new dimensions to my entire life.”
—Julie Lawrence, Intermediate Junior III, 60-plus

“As students mature in age and practice they begin to appreciate the intelligence and nuances of our practice, appreciating the care we take with the organic as well as the physical body. In later life stages still, the steady, measured pace, and safe, knowledgeable teaching practices mean a lot to them. Also, of course, the use of props in our practice is formidable! We should market these better. Other styles of practitioner seem to think we use them as crutches—these should be used as a selling point.”
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I teach the ‘7 and under crowd’ and I incorporate circus skills and imagination play, letting the children have some leeway to make up their own poses. I teach chair yoga to the over-80 crowd and they like the results of feeling challenged.”
—Annie Hoffman, Introductory II, 56

“I’ve been teaching children for eight years, at first with little success. They run around, tell you they are tired, don’t want to do the pose, want a snack. I teach in schools where many of the children have emotional disorders and are on meds. I have to focus on one point of the pose, like how to cross the shins when sitting. I need to be clear, and make it warm and fun. Language needs to be age-appropriate. Five-year-olds don’t know the word ‘interlock,’ but they understand how to put the hands together. Yoga at an early age can become a tool for life. I started as a teenager with braces, and yoga has gotten me through college, grad school, marriage, and kids!”
—Michelle Hill, Introductory I, 42

“Apart from the fact that I am getting a little creakier in places, I feel age in itself is largely irrelevant (but that might change as I age).”
—Ute Zahn, student, 46

“Nighttime study and teaching gets more difficult with age. The certification process is difficult with parenting.”
—Lynn Brandli, Introductory II, 43

“When a student is young, you have to see the character: do they want to be ‘pierced’ or not? Older people are more careful and critical. A lot of them have shopped around or have an injury or different motivation for coming to study. I try to find out. It is about making a connection as a teacher with any student. I’m careful not to slow down the class for a student who is less able, but also adjust to the speed of the young.”
—Lucienne Vidah, Intermediate Junior I, 48

How can the guidelines which Guruji and the Iyengars have given for teachers be applied to younger students? 
Iyengar Yoga is for all ages; guidelines should not be altered for the young, most wrote; teachers should teach the students in front of them. Others felt younger students should be offered less-detailed, more action-oriented classes, including jumpings. Teach the young with an equal measure of discipline and love, several recommended; others pointed to Yoga for Children by Swati and Rajiv Chanchani as a guide, feeling that stories and analogies work well with younger students.

“The beauty of Iyengar Yoga is that it evolves. It’s so creative and dynamic a form of yoga, it evolves wherever you need to go. People take the teaching hierarchy as a negative, something that cramps their style, not realizing Mr. Iyengar’s brilliance in creating a way to keep his teachings flowing. Our duty as his teachers is not to fight with it or become egotistical about it. We need to do our best to understand and impart his wisdom on this subject, not as rules but intrinsic principles for transformation.”
—Anna Delury, Intermediate Senior II, 51

“When Pune was young, we did a ton of jumpings!”
—Bobby Clennell, Intermediate Senior I, 68

“Students should be encouraged to move on to more difficult asanas if they show the ability to do so, even if it means that they have to switch teachers. Younger teachers have to be encouraged to practice more levels than the one they are certified to teach. If they are going for Junior Intermediate I, they should be working on the poses from Junior Intermediate II and III, which will give them more insights in how to teach the poses they are certified to teach. They will become more interesting and more confident teachers.”
—Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“Follow the guidelines, and be sensitive to the needs of each person. We will find a way to inspire younger people if we are open to their needs. Not all young people are the same; we need to see who they are and be flexible to change.”
—Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“Lighten up or our wonderful method will die an unnecessary death!”
— George Purvis, Intermediate Senior III, 61

“Guidelines can easily be tailored to students of different ages and physical goals. After all, look at how active a practice Guruji had when he was young!”
—Gary Reitze, Intermediate Junior II, 63

“I don’t see any difference essentially.”
—David Sirgany, Intermediate Junior I, 49

“The teaching syllabus for Introductory I and II provide more than enough challenge for most students of asana.”
—Gregory White, Intermediate Junior I, 48

‘I used to be more dedicated to feeling bad. Now I see there’s a choice.’

“Use stories and analogies to exemplify the guidelines and engage younger students.”
—Janet LeFrancois, Intermediate Junior I, 57

“Don’t look at age as the primary consideration. We need to teach to the students in front of us no matter what age, and use our knowledge to move their lives in a positive way.”
—Janet Macleod, Intermediate Junior III, 62

“Children told how to dance end up dancing in a restricted way. Teachers must lead students to follow where safety advises, and be playful in other situations.”
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Gotta keep the joy in it!”
—Leslie Freyberg, Intermediate Junior I, 61

How has your practice changed over the years? 
Nearly a third said their practices were slower and more organic and that they worked more from the inside out. Others said their practice had become more refined, intense, consistent; some now include more meditation and Pranayama. A few practiced fewer asanas but held them longer; some said they were less ego-driven.

“ I was a beast, now I’m a wimp!”
—George Purvis, Intermediate Senior III, 61

“I don’t do as many jumpings. I don’t practice things I need a spotter for unless I have a spotter. I try to practice similar to the way Guruji does.”
—Donna Hood Pointer, Intermediate Senior III, 74

“After menopause I have to listen to myself more. I practice with less ambition and more for depth of understanding. I have a less athletic approach to the asanas now, a more organic approach.”
—Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“It’s become more methodical, more self-teaching, introspective. I’m still becoming more flexible, and am finding a point of stillness more in the poses.”
—Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

“I have much more refinement. I have to address all my limitations and I am much more drawn to the meditative aspect.”
—Annette Murphy, Intermediate Junior II, 50

“I have learned the importance of surrender. Surrender of the ego, surrender of the always cogitating self. Patricia [Walden] used to say to me, ‘Chris, you’re doing it too much with your brain.’ At that time, I was a graduate student in literature, and my life was very much about thought and intellect. Over the past 25 years, I have been able to let go of some of that, which I think has helped my practice. I experience the asanas more with my heart and less with my brain.”
—Christopher Beach, Intermediate Junior II, 51

“My practice is more consistent and longer. It has become much more exploratory.”
—Becky Lloyd, Intermediate Junior II, 44

“As I am not very flexible by nature, the first 10 years was finding that. The middle 15 years was exploring the more complicated poses; some were surprisingly available, some really not. The last few years is to moderate. Humor and an open mind is required!”
—Bobbi Goldin, Intermediate Junior III, 73

“When I started my practice, it was all about strength, flexibility, and being able to do more physically. Now it’s all about the subtle actions: alignment, cultivating intelligence, Pranayama, meditation, and spiritual awareness.”
—Gary Reitze, Intermediate Junior II, 63

“It continues to have an ever-increasing hold on my interest and absorption. It is the only thing I can think of, except perhaps the love for my wife and family, whose trajectory is up through the passage of time rather than diminishing.”
—Louis Cortese, student, 61

“My practice has become more integrated; I have developed a value for service and recognize the importance of yoga beyond the formal practice as the state of the world seems to be deteriorating.”
—Janet Macleod, Intermediate Junior III, 62

How has your mind state changed? 
People were calmer, happier, and more even-spirited. Some wrote about greater penetration in their practice, and the way it has integrated body, mind, and spirit.

“When I am disciplined in my yoga I am complete, calm, together… mind, body, and spirit!”
—Tessa Manning, student, 27

“I used to be more dedicated to feeling bad. Now I see there’s a choice.”
—Aaron Fleming, Introductory II, 36

“My mind state has changed from studying the sutras and the Gita. I’m applying the philosophical more and more.”
— Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

“From depression before, I started to believe that I have a great life—which I do.”
—Anonymous teacher

“I’m more able to penetrate, more quiet, more involved, and integrated.” 
—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I am no longer in suffering—most of the time anyway. It is a tremendous gift.”
—Annette Murphy, Intermediate Junior II, 50

“More optimistic, outgoing, hopeful, calmer, and I have resources to draw upon to bring myself to more positive states of mind.”
—Anne-Marie Schultz, Introductory II, 44

“Our practice is always opening doors of understanding. My mind state is ever changing and evolving as my practice matures.”
—Aretha Blevins, Intermediate Junior I, 34