Drawing Young People to Iyengar Yoga - Your Responses to the IYNAUS Survey

Read the second part of this article

It is vital for the future of Iyengar Yoga that young people—teachers, practitioners, and students—embrace our method. Only in this way can we insure that the teachings of Guruji and the Iyengars continue to reach a wide audience. Early this year a survey was sent to IYNAUS members as a first step to prompt our U.S. yoga community to think and talk about this issue so that we can all be creative in coming up with ideas and solutions.

Three hundred and eighteen respondents completed the survey; 54 percent were Certified Teachers, 24 percent students, and 22 percent people who teach but are not yet certified. Certified Teachers ranged in level from Introductory I (16 percent) and Introductory II (50 percent, the largest group), to Intermediate Junior (27 percent) and higher (nearly 7 percent). Respondents ranged from late teens to the 70s. Some preferred not to give their name; they are identified as anonymous.
Responses were overwhelmingly positive, with people crediting Iyengar Yoga for transforming their lives—healing their bodies, 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.
Some responses have been condensed and edited for length; ellipses do not always appear when part of a response has been deleted; we have made every effort to respect the intent of the respondent. We appreciate all responses; if your response was not selected for publication, it is likely because others had a similar theme. Additional responses will be published in the Fall issue of Yoga Samachar and online at iynaus.org. 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 old were you when you began practicing Iyengar Yoga?
Respondents began Iyengar Yoga at various ages—mostly in their 20s and 30s, with sizeable numbers beginning in their 40s, and a few in their 50s and 60s. One respondent began after 70, one at 14.

How many years have you been practicing Iyengar Yoga?
Respondents reported years, and in many cases, decades of practice. Approximately half have been practicing Iyengar Yoga from 11 to 20 years, 30 percent from one to 10 years, and 20 percent from 21 to more than 40 years.

Has your mind state changed over the years? Has yoga made you feel calmer, more equable, more attuned to the spiritual nature of the practice?
More than 99 percent said yes; only three disagreed; two of these went on to explain they had experienced the change right away, or came to Iyengar Yoga from a practice of some other yoga.

“Yoga helped me become a more peaceful, mindful, and cheerful person. But it has also, and most importantly, helped me live and love more wholeheartedly.” —Carrie Owerko, Intermediate Senior I, 48

“Yoga helped me be more confident. When I started at 30, the world was overwhelming.” —Bobby Clennell, Intermediate Senior I, 68

“Yoga practice has made me able to deal with the inevitable ups and downs in life without too much difficulty. Although life still presents the usual things—births, deaths, illnesses, divorces, marriages, job changes and losses, house moves, continent moves, menopause—I have been able to bounce back from each experience. The practice is like a thread which simply has to be picked up again.” —Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“I came into Iyengar Yoga due to a serious accident, and after working with the physical body I became more interested in going deeper. In 1981 I asked Guruji how, and he suggested I read several texts which would help me understand. It took many years to really get into some of those texts, but now I am really able to connect aspects of the texts with my Asana practice, and I am very grateful to Guruji.” —Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“Of course my mind state has changed! I am 30-plus years older. How can I tell if it is only yoga that has made me calmer? Many things have influenced me.” —Anonymous teacher

“I was a general contractor for the last 30 years. Iyengar Yoga helped me keep my body straight after much physical labor and keep my mind fairly calm dealing with my clients. This has taken years, but as a retired contractor and fulltime teacher, my level of tension and my attention to the spiritual aspects of life are evolving more and more.” —Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

 ‘I’m more attuned to the spiritual nature of life.
Practice is life off the mat now. Asana is just a small part of the whole.’

“I’m more attuned to the spiritual nature of life. Practice is life off the mat now. Asana is just a small part of the whole.” —Annie Hoffman, Introductory II, 56

“Yoga helped pull me out of a depression in my early 20s. I attribute my practice to helping me be a more stable and patient person, mom, friend.” —Aretha Blevins, Intermediate Junior I, 34

“Yoga has given me skills and tools to practice freedom, whatever my physical or physiological state.” —Victoria Austin, Intermediate Junior III, 57

“When I was suffering from depression several years ago, my practice helped tremendously.” —Chris Beach, Intermediate Junior II, 51

“I had a lot of self-esteem issues. During the first session of classes I gained physical strength as well as emotional stability.” —Becky Lloyd, Intermediate Junior II, 44

“Yoga has made me calmer while I am practicing yoga; not always while I am dealing with stuff in the world. It does help to know I have my practice to go to.” —Ute Zahn, student, 46

“Iyengar Yoga has brought a sense of stillness, an ability to appreciate the moment, and a sense of the vastness of consciousness in life.”
—Charles Tidd, Introductory II, 60

“Yoga is a vehicle—a path to the deepest kosha. It is a continuous process, which aims to close the distance between my ‘self’ and that which I perceive and encounter through my mind and body. At any level of appreciation, yoga does this without the practitioner necessarily understanding its rich purpose.” —Carol W. Nichols, Introductory I, 60

“I would have to write a book to describe the positive changes. The practice of Iyengar Yoga has allowed me a huge transition from a chaotic, scattered lifestyle to a spiritually-focused calmness that is my true nature.” —Gary Reitze, Intermediate Junior II, 63

“Iyengar Yoga gave me the grace to make it through the late teen years and the transitions in college and travels abroad. In the last seven-and-a-half years it has enhanced my life through three pregnancies and the challenges of mothering. Now my children are a part of my yoga practice.” —Desiree Federman, teacher, 33

“Being very hyperactive, I tended to constantly be on the go. Yoga helped me become more focused and attentive to the present moment. In my Asana practice I have also learned to be less competitive and more attuned to my body’s need for balance.” —Diana Jacaman, Introductory II, 56

‘Yoga has given me skills and tools to practice freedom, whatever my state.’

“As an alcoholic, I needed significant emotional and spiritual growth and balance to recover.” —Jim Gleason, Introductory II, 68

“I am happier, from a cellular level, to use Guruji’s description of satya. I have greater discernment, am able to make decisions sooner and more assuredly, not going back and forth so many times.” —Jan LeFrancois, Intermediate Junior I, 57

“Doing Iyengar Yoga, I was able to focus and take care of my body with all its qualities and imperfections. In my first Iyengar class I was encouraged not to abandon any vulnerable area in my body, but instead to nurture and promote its health. This different approach to practice had an immediate effect on my state of mind. I felt calmer, more focused and engaged. Reading the Sutras brought the spiritual nature of the practice in for me.” — Janet Langley, Intermediate Junior I, 47

“I have always been a hard worker and something of a perfectionist. Yoga helped me let go of the ‘results.’ I still work hard, but I let the results evolve. I am a calmer, happier person for that.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I came to the practice from another style because I wanted to heal my chronic back pain; I stayed because my back healed and so did my heart. This practice put my heels into the ground, my tailbone underneath me, and gave me a sense of stability I had never previously experienced. It has lit me from within.” — Jennifer Roy, student, 28

“I always say, ‘God gave us the right tools; Iyengar Yoga teaches us how to use them.’ As a devout Christian, [I have found that] much of what is taught in Iyengar Yoga reiterates much of what Christianity teaches. What I do not agree with I set aside and take what applies to my life. Yoga has enhanced my own spiritual belief.” —Mary Frances Chan, Introductory II, 73

“What began as a physical endeavor and an interest in ‘mysticism’ has developed into a practice where I experience greater depth of being, clarity, and sensitivity.”—Michael Moore, Introductory II, 40

“I’m not calmer or more equable, but totally like myself: quick to engage, totally tuned in to the outside world and made happy by it. In that sense, I’m more attuned to the spiritual nature of the practice.” —Anonymous teacher

“Sometimes, unfortunately, it has been hard, because I have never really had a teacher who was also giving and willing to be a mentor. Lately it seems to be all about money.” —Anonymous student

“After a long dance career, Iyengar Yoga was the one physical activity I could manage that didn’t hurt. My body has begun to ‘open’ again through the careful work in yoga. More importantly, my entire approach to living has shifted. I don’t feel that I need to control things as much. I feel I can trust that others are doing what they need to do for themselves. If I can help them to come to yoga, I am pleased, but I don’t feel I am ‘responsible’ for the whole world anymore!” —Peggy Berg, Introductory II, 62

“Yoga is probably the best thing that has happened to me so far in my life. I feel calmer, more focused, accepting of my body, and happy. Yoga is transformative.” —Naomi Lazny, student, 18

“I am always amazed at how little awareness I have of yoga’s effects while I am regularly practicing. It is only when I am forced to hold off on my practice for some reason that I realize how important it is to my state of mind. That realization has made my practice more constant.” —Rogelio Zuniga, student, 38

“Without yoga I would certainly be a very different person. I have found a level of peace in my life I never knew before. I have been able to see the beauty of who I am without the makeup I previously used. Without the hair dye. Without the high heels. Without the … dare I say it—girdle! I am a much, much happier person. Yoga and meditation made all the difference!” —Gayna Uransky, Intermediate Junior III, 64

What attracted you to Iyengar Yoga? What aspects of this type of yoga did not appeal to you?
Response was overwhelmingly positive to this, the most controversial of our questions. Two-thirds of respondents said they liked everything about Iyengar Yoga—“No aspect did not appeal to me,” one wrote—praising its “precision” and “intelligence” and writing glowingly about “knowledgeable” teachers marked by “authority and compassion.” Iyengar Yoga is “transformative,” many respondents said, citing recoveries from severe injuries; others wrote about the way Iyengar Yoga bridges the physical to embrace the spiritual. Of the third with reservations, some cited teachers who were “harsh,” “rigid,” or “judgmental.”

‘I came to Iyengar Yoga after 12 years in another method.
It was like going to a “master class”—after all these years I didn’t even know my own body!’

“I came to Iyengar Yoga through my teacher, Mary Palmer. I had broken my back in a horseback-riding accident and she said she would use that to get Mr. Iyengar to come to the United States. That was the beginning. After my very first class I knew that he would be my teacher. I loved his insightfulness and his ability to actually instruct us in our poses. I was surprised by his mercurial temper and was a bit afraid of him, but at the same time fascinated by him. I stayed because I could see that he was throwing me a lifeline when the doctors had been very negative about my condition. I had glimpses of him as a very compassionate man, especially when he took me right out of a chair backbend because he said with that much pain, I couldn’t do. I hadn’t said anything about the pain, but he was watching me and immediately saw what was happening and came to my rescue. How could I not want to be in the presence of someone like that?” —Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“The Iyengar method offers a full range of methods to practice including fast-moving or flowing as well as ‘slow’ or holding poses. There is something to learn in all the approaches which complement each other. There is something to learn in moving quickly that is not found in a slow approach and vice versa. These distinctions can enhance each other.”—Dean Lerner, Advanced Junior I, 60

“Iyengar Yoga helped me transition from my 20s to my 30s. The Sixties had been pretty wild, plus I had a lot to cope with. I gave birth to my two children in my 20s. Iyengar Yoga gave me strength and a way of feeling good that didn’t involve drugs.” —Bobby Clennell, Intermediate Senior I, 68

“I was drawn to the discipline, precision, vision and inspiration of Guruji’s practice. I was a bit wary of what appeared to be abusive behaviors from some of the teachers. Since I had come from a dance and theater arts background, I was used to abuse so it was no big deal. I was more concerned that some of the teachers I encountered seemed really unhappy, unfulfilled even." —Carrie Owerko, Intermediate Senior I, 48

“It was the first type of yoga that explained what and why I was doing the Asanas. I loved the alignment. It just made complete sense. No aspect did not appeal to me: I was a convert from the first class.”—Juliana Fair, Intermediate Senior I, 57

“I was attracted to Iyengar Yoga by the transformation which I saw had taken place in my friend, from a large, rather depressed lady into a svelte, alert, cheerful person who no longer wore black everyday. She helped me join her teacher’s class and I was hooked at the age of 22. I was a young mother of two who had already started to suffer from stress, which was showing up in stomach pains. I began to feel better immediately. I loved every aspect of the yoga: I loved the way the practice completely engaged my mind and made me feel strong, healthy, energetic. Guruji came to Oxford and I was there, Guruji came to London and I was there. Every time he taught or demonstrated in England, I struggled to find time and money to get there. I was so keen there was absolutely no stopping me!”
—Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“I was attracted by the sense it made with the integrity of the body. It helped me more psychologically than physically at first.” —Felicity Green, Advanced Junior I, 77

“It is sensible, offering practice from the level of athleticism to recuperation, with sophisticated Pranayama from the very beginning. The approach feels profoundly complete, from the physical to the psychological and spiritual. Although I studied many of the texts when I was in college and in my 20s, I find the current usage of Sanskrit creates needless obscurity.” —Anonymous Teacher

“My first experience was when I was in dance school in Amsterdam. We went to the Iyengar Center to ‘get a good stretch.’ I liked the acrobatics of it, not the simple poses. I thought some of the inversions were scary, but I was actually interested in that emotion."
—Lucienne Vidah, Intermediate Junior I, 48

“At my first Iyengar class the teacher came up to me and said, ‘You have scoliosis.’ I had not thought about my scoliosis in years. She said, ‘Forget everything you have learned in yoga. You first need to learn to balance on your two feet.’ After that class I got the ‘yoga flu’; everything was flowing in my body, toxins releasing. I have been hooked ever since.” —Tessa Manning, student, 27

“I started yoga after two foot surgeries ended my ‘identity’ as a competitive runner. For the first two years I struggled. I was angry in poses such as Virabhadrasana I. Savasana could have been the hardest of all. [Still] I knew immediately that yoga was more than Asana and might help me quiet my mind and allow me to be more present. At times I found it boring or slow, but that also kept me interested. The rest of my life was varied, fast-paced, insane. I needed to focus and center and be specific.” —Catherine S. Marquette, teacher, 34

“I like the authority the teachers have as well as their compassion. I also like very much the way the teachers correct each individual.”
—Floriana Tullio, student, 36

“Teachers of Iyengar Yoga have been the most down-to-earth and loving yoga teachers I have studied under.” —Kate Morse Harris, student, 30

“My very first yoga class was with Mary Dunn. I had no idea what Iyengar Yoga was, but I was totally attracted to how she presented the philosophy. I related on a life level, and I was delighted by the challenge.” — Leslie Manes, Intermediate Junior I, 68

“My teacher was warm and caring and had a real focus on the spiritual aspect of the practice.” —Anonymous teacher

“The precision and lack of pretense.” —Achyut Joshi, student, 32

“The precision of the Iyengar method, and how deeply my teacher seemed to understand the subject. I was intrigued at the vast scope of what was taught in yoga class: the body, mind, emotions, breath, the philosophy, the spiritual aspects.” —Alicia Rowe, Introductory II, 39

“I came to Iyengar Yoga after 12 years in another method. It was like going to a ‘master class’—after all these years I didn’t even know my own body! It was a revelation; each class blew my mind. I became hooked, and although I was teaching the other method, I started regularly studying only Iyengar Yoga.” —Barbara Boris, Introductory I, 52

“I tried a couple of different schools, but they didn’t feel right for me. When I walked into my first Iyengar class, I knew I would be doing this for the rest of my life. What attracted me was the orderly progression of Asanas, as well as what and how I was taught. Compared to the other ‘types’ of yoga, the teacher’s ego was pretty much kept out of the class. This made it feel safe both physically and emotionally. I also soon got a sense of the vast scope of the subject, and settling into the knowledge that a lifetime of learning lay ahead was both humbling and exciting.” —Ute Zahn, student, 46

“I don’t like the hierarchical, top-down nature of the system.” —Claudia Kuhns, Introductory Junior I, 61

“The only thing that did not appeal to me then was that the teachers were all younger than me, and did not fully understand the older body. As the teachers have matured, that aspect of teaching has improved.” —Dena Glazer, Introductory II, 77

‘Iyengar Yoga teachers have been the most down-to-earth and loving yoga teachers I have studied under.’

“Instructions on how to properly get into and out of poses, and how to stay in poses. What actions should be happening. And the teacher
said things that made sense, not terms like ‘Reach for the stars.’ Nothing was unappealing to me about Iyengar Yoga.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I was dragged to an Iyengar class by a friend who believed that with my groin injury, I would benefit. At first I found the intense commitment of ‘brain activity’ in the Asana very difficult. Such focus while doing Asana felt cerebral in a way that was uncomfortable. I had to let go of the comfort of ignorance—the belief that brain and body were somehow separate.” —Janet Langley, Intermediate Junior I, 47

“The simplicity of the practice attracted me. I may be in the minority, but I love props. The more props, the better. The precise use of props attracted me, the attention to detail, and the lack of sentimentality surrounding the practice. I don’t feel as though I’m told what to feel, but rather given time and space to have the experience for myself. On a physical level, the instruction is always very precise, but beyond that I often feel I have been given generous space to simply observe.” —Jennifer Roy, student, 28

“The geographic scarcity of teachers in certain areas results in long commutes or infrequent access to classes.” —Karen Taylor, student, 31

“Having been a professional dancer, I was seeking a form of exercise that would give my body the same satisfactions that dance classes had. The unexpected bonus was that through the effort and precision, I received a profound feeling of absence of mental and emotional tension. I could not remember a time when I had felt so free of such tensions.” —Leslie Dillingham Freyberg, Intermediate Junior I, 61

“It made more sense than some of the others I tried, and it was more accessible for someone starting out at age 40.” —David McDonald, student, 60

“I started practicing out of books. One day, I nearly injured myself when I blacked-out while attempting a standing back bend, falling head-first on the floor. I decided to get some instruction. My brother was taking Iyengar classes so I went to his teacher, who remains my primary teacher today. The only complaint I had at the time was that I wanted to learn how to ‘meditate.’ I thought something was missing. It took me many years to understand how the practice of Asana and Pranayama is meant to culture the mind and lead toward meditation.” —Michael Moore, Introductory II, 40

“With a lifetime of accumulated injuries from my dance career, I was concerned I was going to need both knees and hips replaced. I was immediately attracted to Iyengar Yoga because I found I could engage in the physical practice with great intensity, but without further damage—this was amazing! When I began to feel my ability to move increase again, I was relieved beyond belief. I also was amazed that there were so many things about the body I didn’t know. No one in dance ever suggested moving my skin one way or the other! I became intellectually curious too, and that powered further investigation. Gradual immersion in the practice began to teach other, more subtle lessons about living. Many people think yoga shouldn’t be so ‘picky,’ so much about props, so much to think about. For me, those were the things that appealed to me and made me feel safe.” —Peggy Berg, Introductory II, 62

“The attention to detail and the results… It seemed very genuine and grounded. The only aspect that does not appeal to me (then and now) is the heavy emphasis on Hindu-centered prayers. I respect it but do not want to feel ostracized if I do not participate. I do not like being told that I ‘must’ begin my classes with the invocation to Patanjali. I don’t, and as a studio owner, I do not feel that this is a way to attract students.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I first began taking Iyengar Yoga classes because my mother was a longtime practitioner. I was drawn to the advanced arm balances and inversions, as well as the wisdom and physical abilities of my teachers. I was a little turned off by Pranayama—a week of classes each month devoted to breathing exercises and restorative poses didn’t seem as challenging and exciting as the backbends, twists, and standing poses.” —Naomi Lazny, student, 18

“The intelligence and incredible depth of our system is what attracted me. I was lucky to study with teachers that were compassionate and interesting. At 22 years old, I thought the people practicing seemed old and they dressed funny. Obviously that was my immature state of mind; I was often the youngest person in my class.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher, 38

“The precision that obviously got right into the stiffness that I had. And I was happy to be hearing the philosophy behind yoga. I am an anthropologist by training and love to know the roots of things. The only drawback to Iyengar Yoga is hard work and dedication. Laziness is not accepted... ha!” —Jennie Williford, Intermediate Junior I, 37

“I needed the structure. I hated the structure.” —Suzy Pennington, Introductory II, 58

“I liked being able to take an intro level course starting at the very beginning with everyone else. I did not like going to yoga classes with all kinds of levels and little instruction. I also liked the discipline.” —Virginia Burdette, student, 54

“My first Iyengar teacher, Ida Unger, was my biggest draw. From my first class I knew this experience of Iyengar Yoga would enhance and change my life and it has—every single day. The teacher-in-training program is so demanding and I have proudly graduated through the three-year process. I had a severe injury and lost my mom this past year. As a result, I have not completed the required six-month assistant duty and may have to wait another year before I can go for the first-phase testing. This is a huge turn-off.” —Wendy Alter, teacher, 51

“Attraction: the grounding, down-to-earth kind of working on poses and getting better at it. On the negative side: it brought out a ‘shadow side’ in me: jealousy (of other people who could do poses better than I), eagerness that went beyond a healthy state, anxiety and nervousness around assessment situations.” —Renata Cardinal, Introductory II, 64

‘I was attracted by the precision of the poses; building a pose from the “foundation” is what brought me into the system.’

“Teachers are often full of dogma, lack joy, could be called mean and rigid.” —Anonymous student

“While acknowledging Iyengar Yoga’s “intelligent, methodical, physically-safe, knowledgeable teachers with apparently high levels of integrity,” one respondent wrote “many teachers can be rude and abrasive to the point of being abusive” and of a “cult-like mentality (our way is the only right way)” that was “rigid, elitist, sophist” and represented “too many burning hoops to jump through as a teacher.” —Anonymous student

“I like the way the mind is so engaged in the physical actions and Guruji’s poetic images illuminating the Asanas with the philosophy, but not the occasional harshness and perfectionist interpretation of the work.” While attracted by “teachers who gave instructions that were easy to follow” and who made “it feel safe,” the respondent was put off by “teachers (who) were angry, not friendly while teaching. Teachers were mean and bossy.” —Anonymous student

“I love Iyengar’s wisdom—it is very detailed and intelligent. My body opened up immensely when I started working with the props. I basically only study with Iyengar teachers now. I feel they hold a high standard and are more knowledgeable. I like all the Iyengar publications. I honor and respect B.K.S. Iyengar’s teachings, but I do not like the mental rigidity and politics. I think many Iyengar teachers are unnecessarily harsh and judgmental. Instead of just correcting my alignment, they have made a judgmental comment about me when they don’t even know me. For instance, a teacher screaming at me across the room: ‘That is an improper use of props!’ when I sat too far forward on a blanket. Why not just ask me to sit farther back? Once I leaned too far forward in Prasarita Padottanasana. A teacher told me, ‘You are a typical teacher—overly aggressive.’ Again, why the judgment? Can’t he just tell me to press my legs farther back? These things turn people off and they rarely ever happen in other systems of yoga. If you are a young person, are you going to go to a yoga class where a teacher might yell at you? I don’t think so!”
—Anonymous teacher

“I was attracted by the precision of the poses; building a pose from the ‘foundation’ is what brought me into the system. What didn’t appeal to me was the rough attitude of many teachers, still even today. Many teachers try to emulate Guruji’s rough, no-nonsense approach, which turns many people off.” —Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

‘I may be in the minority, but I love props. The more props, the better.’

“I can get turned off by the rigidity and lack of personal expression.” —Anna Hindell, teacher, 32

“My first teacher could be demeaning at times, which was hard to receive and to witness. The instruction was good, and I found friends in my classes that I bonded with. Later I found a teacher that was kind, stable, and inspiring. —Aretha Blevins, Intermediate Junior I, 34

“Competition, authoritarianism (and) superiority do not appeal to me in yoga. Unfortunately, I do not feel compelled to become a Certified Iyengar Teacher because of these characteristics, which seem to become highlighted as teachers develop themselves.” —Carla Helena Anselm, teacher, 39

“Iyengar Yoga helped me with severe lower back pain immediately, so I kept returning. At the time (1988) I did not like that it seemed so dry, technical, and unspiritual. There was no integration of yoga philosophy, there were no Oms, no meditation in the beginning or end of class (not a problem today!), and I didn’t like the elitism, condescension, and arrogance. I am very happy much of this has been worked out as the teaching of the style has evolved.” —Joni Yecalsik, Intermediate Junior I, 53

“The clarity of instruction is what spoke to me, right away. The precision. That we can approach the practice of movement of our bodies with a sharp intellectual mind. I do, at times, have trouble with the teaching style. It can be very aggressive.” —Anonymous student

How can we compete with other methods of yoga in attracting young practitioners?
Eleven percent said we shouldn’t compete, but should let the students find us. The majority disagreed. We should give a new generation of students what they value and need, including more Vinyasa—“Keep them moving”—and an approach that is “joyful,” “lighthearted,” and “fun.” We should welcome students from other disciplines, become more a part of the overall yoga community, and better communicate the strengths of Iyengar Yoga. Other suggestions: competitive pricing, student discounts, free classes, and other incentives. There was a call for younger teachers. A few respondents commented that assessment was “scary” or too expensive, sometimes because of a lack of teacher training in their area.

“We teachers should vary our approaches to asana—and understand the different needs and abilities of young versus older students, developing approaches to challenge and teach to all ages. Look at the children’s classes in Pune—lots of action, work, laughter, challenge, and alignment. Some talk, but that’s not predominant in an atmosphere that’s challenging yet encouraging to the kids. For younger students, we should do lots of poses with two or three main points taught throughout the class so they experience, learn, and remember them. Move more, talk less—this works well for children of all ages actually.” —Dean Lerner, Advanced Junior I, 60

“A much greater presence at yoga conventions. If we want to attract young people, we have to show young people practicing. We also need to have articles appear in popular yoga magazines. Nowadays young people go for the sleek presentations, the fancy yoga booths at conventions. We have to show more of our versatility, especially in our advertising. We also have to move young people faster in the beginning classes without holding them for a long period of time while we give endless points. Students should be allowed to experience the poses in the first few weeks without over correcting them.” —Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“Lighten up, be less strict, use fewer instructions. Do more and stop less, show less. Think about how young people use technology and social media. Their lifestyles support short attention spans. We should tailor beginning classes to fit those expectations. In the beginning classes at Pune, they don’t give very many instructions, not much attention to detail and ‘alignment.’ I think our problem is partly that after being drilled on that in teacher training, it is hard not to focus this way in beginning classes. It is a big turn-off to many young people.” —Sue Salaniuk, Intermediate Junior III, 64

“Competition is a waste of money and time. What we’re doing is a service. To water it down and try to get into the mud with everyone else is not validating what we do. We have high standards and should acknowledge them. Yoga is not a competition. If we follow the Yamas and Niyamas and the teachings of Guruji, and teach those students who are interested in learning, they will learn and may be helped with those problems that bring them to yoga. Those who ‘taste’ the sweetness and goodness of yoga and feel a difference, may bring others. One or two stones make a ripple in the water. A few interested students will bring others, rather than the many who come for a quick taste, because they see an ad or free classes offered. I have learned this directly from my teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, who has never advertised his classes. There is no competition with this man or his method, if taught correctly.” —Marian Garfinkel, Ph. D., Intermediate Senior III

“Because I was young when I started I don’t feel it’s a problem. I have students of all ages and I teach differently to different groups. With young people, you have to keep them moving, you have to keep their attention. This is the methodology used in the kids’ and teens’ classes at R.I.M.Y.I. You can’t keep them standing in Tadasana for an hour, throwing out arcane ideas. It’s not unlike the question, ‘How do you keep kids in school?’ Don’t be boring! Kids today really need yoga. A lot of them are so out of shape. They’re gaming all day and they have thumb injuries at 16. Odd things are happening with young people physically. I think they’re forgetting how to be young. 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

‘Speed things up and keep them moving. They don’t care about quite so many details.’

“In Pune, when there are ‘young’ students (in their 20s), when the rest of the class is winding down, the young group, under the supervision of the teacher, continues on through to the final version of the pose. They shouldn’t be held back.” —Bobby Clennell, Intermediate Senior I, 68

“Remember that the details which we have worked so hard to learn from the Iyengars are for experienced practitioners. Beginners to yoga want and need to move, to feel their whole body, maybe to work so that they sweat a bit.” —Cathy Rogers Evans, Intermediate Senior III, 56

“Focusing on competition and ‘otherness’ can point us in the direction of separateness. To market Iyengar Yoga to young people, we must be our best selves. Even young people tire of the harshness, competition, politics, and pettiness of many workplace interactions. A yoga class and community are an opportunity to have a little place of peace and sanctity amid the stress of everyday. If we provide a place to play and explore other mind states, other ways of behaving and responding to adversity, then young people will come to Iyengar Yoga—and stay in the community.” —Carrie Owerko, Intermediate Senior I, 48

“Bring more compassion, understanding, and joy into the teachings. Less hard discipline. The discipline needs to come from within the student.” —Betty Eiler, Introductory II, 76

“Smile more, be lighter.”—Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

“We will become extinct if we don’t modernize.”—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“A good way to attract more young people would be to offer more classes for children. That way, there is a chance to ‘hook ‘em young!’” —Mimi Visser, teacher, 42

“One of the problems is that it is not ‘hip’ enough, and when the young peek into a class they see students of the age of their parents and grandparents. We also tend to be so serious and stern; there seems to be an unspoken law of how one has to be in class. The outer discipline overtakes the inner and creates an unattractive wall. We must not forget that it is fine to come to yoga for arbitrary reasons; what a great opportunity to introduce someone to Iyengar Yoga! Young people also like community; a space to gather, to sit around, read, or drink something.” —Lucienne Vidah, Intermediate Junior I, 48

“One thing this generation values is ‘living well.’ They prioritize this over fame, wealth, and career. Here is a link to the best report I know of their generation. Perhaps tailor Iyengar Yoga to this profile.” See: http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected... —Allison Bailey, student, 49

“People want to be with their peers. A teenage girl doesn’t want to be in class with a 60-year-old woman. When I start teaching I would segment my classes: Yoga for People Over 50, Yoga for Teens, Yoga for Kids, Yoga for Bodybuilders. Men have specific needs and they don’t want to be with flexible dancers. People are so competitive in their early career that they don’t think the way other practitioners think. They’re still looking at people on the other mats. If you want to keep them, you want to put them with groups of similar people.” —Christine Nounou, teacher, 59

“I think that what we ‘market’ to young people — that investing in yourself through a long-standing tradition with safe and effective practice—will lead you where you want to be in terms of a yoga practice/lifestyle.”—Ruth Fisk, Introductory II, 53

“Stop being the yoga of no. Stop making it so hard to feel welcome in a class. A new person comes to a Level II class and they are told they are not welcome and they have to go to a Level I.”—Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Above all, do not change the practice to make it more hip or attractive. Be true to the revelation we have received: ‘Alignment is enlightenment.’”—Charles Tidd, Introductory II, 60

“To compete we must be more friendly and compassionate. We need to teach classes that are more fluid, free. Classes where young (and old) people feel like they are moving, but at the same time are in a safe environment.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“A national publicity campaign, to be used by all studios, showing photos or silhouettes of different body types to help people to understand that they don’t have to wear spandex and compete with glamorous stars to do yoga and attain fitness.” —Anonymous student

“Speed things up and keep them moving. They don’t care about quite so many details. I don’t mean it should be ‘dumbed down.’ I mean it should be more streamlined and flow a bit better.—Suzy Shapiro, Introductory II, 63

‘Don’t be so strict in looking for the most perfect pose.
Keep it light and keep them moving. Smile.’

“Students need to have mental sophistication to appreciate Iyengar Yoga. I look at it like opera. Most folks relate more easily to pop music, and that’s the way it is.” — Janet MacLeod, Intermediate Junior III, 62

“When current senior teachers were young, we practiced everything. Nothing was forbidden because of our level of experience. There was a sense of adventure. Our Guruji tried out ideas in class. One year feet were wide, the next narrow (different purposes, different results). Over time the study of Iyengar Yoga has included so many people, so far from the source, that a bureaucratic system has taken over. Our Guruji is playful and inquisitive in his practice, yet young teachers are not offered that. Over the years younger teachers, trained in this more hierarchical organization, learn and teach accordingly. That scary thrill of each class with Guruji has become a system of sequences, right and wrong ways to teach. Because of the scale and number of teachers, this may be safer. A price is paid, like that of children who are no longer allowed to disappear in private adventure or seclusion, but must be supervised every minute.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“As Guruji has written, ‘mollycoddle’ beginners. Don’t be so strict in looking for the most perfect pose. Keep it light and keep them moving. Smile.” —Craig Kurtz, Intermediate Junior III, 56

“There is no place for competition in yoga. If we want to attract young people we have to be open, accepting, and cooperative with the other forms of yoga out there. There needs to be more dialogue and friendliness between Iyengar teachers and teachers of different backgrounds, as opposed to keeping our method separate and cut off from other types. This is a more inviting approach, attracting people of all ages to the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, and ultimately, yoga in its purity.”—Maureen Casperson, teacher, 38

“Put less teaching and more vigor into the practice. Teach it as B.K.S. used to, with fire. Iyengar Yoga has redefined itself as old people’s yoga: too much talking, too many props, not enough sweat.” — David McDonald, student, 60

“I see our beginning teachers (teaching to beginning students) do way too much talking, not enough doing. Younger people want to move. We need to be sure that while we teach well and thoughtfully, the pacing is not painfully slow.” — Nina Pileggi, Intermediate Junior II, 48

“A sense of humor goes a long way.” —Nancy Preston, Introductory II, 52

Should we “market” Iyengar Yoga to young people?
Nearly 90 percent said “yes.”

If you feel that we should market Iyengar Yoga to young people, how do you think we can do so?
Answers echoed those to our question about how we could compete with other styles of yoga in drawing young people, suggesting a heightened profile in mainsteam yoga magazines, social media, and online; workshops and demonstrations, including multi-style yoga conferences; and supplying information to high schools and colleges. We should encourage younger teachers who can act as ambassadors to young students; classes for children and teens will lead them into the practice. Reduced fees were suggested and—again—a fast pace: classes that move, move, move!

“More presence in yoga magazines using younger models. Right now we are seen as exclusive dinosaurs. Many younger people don’t even know that Guruji is alive and still teaching and practicing.” —Joan White, Advanced Junior I, 67

“Speed up the tempo. More jumpings, more kinetic Vinyasa. It’s not like this has never been a big part of the method!” —George Purvis, Intermediate Senior III, 61

“Provide ways for people from other methods to try Iyengar Yoga. Get Senior Teachers to teach workshops at mixed-method studios. Run ads in yoga magazines about the Certification Mark. Online marketing is really the best way to reach a young market. Young people are wowed by ‘fancy’ yoga demonstrations. Why not make viral several fun demonstration videos? Look to other methods to see how they are marketing to young people. It is possible to do this without compromising the Iyengar method and ethics.” — Aaron Fleming, Introductory II, 36

“All of the other types of yoga are being marketed; to continue to be a presence we must be on the same playing field. A greater presence in yoga magazines would help, perhaps having ‘celebrity’ students— i.e. Martha Stewart, Donna Karan—as part of the marketing.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

‘Market it as smart, solid, intelligent yoga. A practice that transforms all of you.’

“As I peruse the yoga blogosphere and other media, people who don’t seem to be very familiar with Iyengar Yoga publish disparaging and negative things about the method. And there isn’t much to counter it. The IYNAUS website isn’t all that appealing to the eye. And it doesn’t seem to be a very active voice for Iyengar in the US. Wherever there are inaccuracies published, they need to be countered.” —Anonymous student

“Develop more children’s classes. Partner with schools or after-school programs; the institutes provide particularly good platforms for this. Offer classes and workshops to the ‘coming-of-age’ group of 10-13 year-olds, as well as older teenagers.” —Victoria Austin, Intermediate Junior III, 57

“Take a look at the myriad places that are daily filled with young people (meaning the 20- and 30- somethings) and see what they do. Lighten up. Move more. Get rid of some of the holier-than-thou attitude. Come down off the high hill of perfection. Just do it.” —David McDonald, student, 60

“Start engaging kids at the middle school level, do true outreach into public schools, especially in NYC; you would reach minority populations and children from a socioeconomic realm that truly need the coping mechanism yoga and activity provide—at a time when gym budgets and the likes are being cut. It would also lay the groundwork for the next generation. They are limber at that age, and it would be something they could achieve and would feel good about being ‘successful,’ building much-needed self esteem.” —Anonymous student

“Teach Asana with a lot of movement! Link the actions from one pose to another doing several on one side and then the other side. Take the arms up and down from Tadasana to Urdhva Hastasana and Gomukasana. Roll from Paschimottanasana to Halasana. Inversions appeal to so many young people; tell them how great staying up in the inversions is for their brains!” —Becky Lloyd, Intermediate Junior II, 44

“Class cost is the main reason young people do not study Iyengar Yoga. Also, earlier morning classes might be helpful—Eddy Stern’s classes at 6:30a.m. are ‘young.’” —Anonymous student

“The hype may get them in the door, but if the class is not a fast-moving one that challenges them physically, they most likely will not come back. Most Iyengar classes are taught for older people.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Explain the health and wellness benefits and how they can use yoga to help them get through school. I have a high school student who is attracted by the positive results she gets when dealing with A.D.H.D. and anxiety. It helps her study more effectively.” —Claudia Kuhns, Intermediate Junior I, 61

“Affordability. There are yoga centers that give classes for $99 a month.” —Lisa Beckwith Wolf, Introductory II, 45

“Go to publications that serve the demographic. Participate in yoga/music festivals like Wanderlust. When there is a huge gathering of yogis as in Central Park, participate. More integration into the larger yoga community, and stop being stuck-up about other yoga styles. Support younger teachers coming up through the system and use them as ambassadors to the greater yoga community.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Iyengar Yoga should be in every school’s physical education program. Children use rock climbing walls, they do competitive sports, but they need yoga. We have taught high school students, at-risk teenagers and football players! All have responded positively. The association could market to schools. Schools are very used to certification demands. They would understand the evidence presented, which verified safe and effective training.”—Carol W. Nichols, Introductory I, 60

“A social media presence. Ask younger people how you should market to them. Get more young people involved in helping do things at the institutes.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“The classes for kids in Pune are all action, all the time! Guruji teaches and advises constant motion for kids, so what is your problem with that?” —Eleanore Wilson Williams, Introductory II, 73

“Iyengar Yoga is suited for everyone. It’s about correct movement, awareness, learning about your body. Then you start seeing the way you interact with others, because of the respect and awareness you gained from yoga.” —Joanne Boccassini, student, 51

“By not coming across as dry and rigid. Softening and juicing things up. Allowing for the tradition to evolve without the grip.” —Carla Helena Anselm, student, 39

“Demonstrations at town fairs and markets. I used to demonstrate gymnastics at local grounds for my school of gymnastics. It is entertaining, exposure at the least, and youthful yogis would attract young non-practitioners.” —Kate Morse Harris, student, 30

“Younger teachers who can relate to the younger students; provide classes in locations where young people gather.” — Anonymous student

“Facebook page, Twitter, etc. It’s the best way to reach these kids.” —Trisha Brabender, student, 44

“Offer yoga in places where young people already congregate: colleges, centers where young folks practice sports. It’s important to go to them.” —Janet MacLeod, Intermediate Junior III, 62

‘Don’t underestimate youth. They are fully capable of understanding and appreciating the Iyengar method.’

“It has to have a fresh, interesting appeal. We will never win over the population that is always looking for the ‘next greatest new method,’ but if we position ourselves in a ‘hip’ light, while keeping the methodology, we may get more people to try our style.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Market it as smart, solid, intelligent yoga. A practice that transforms all of you.” —Anonymous student

“In marketing-speak there are four phases of customer-building: awareness, trial, re-use, adoption. 1. Building awareness: What can we do to make Iyengar Yoga as recognized as Bikram, for example, but without sullying our ‘brand’? 2. Inducing trial: How do we use ethical marketing to get people into their first class? Can we segment our community not by class level but by demographic groups, such as students? What innovative ways can capture the younger community, such as holding classes at universities, giving age discounts, creating a Facebook page. 3. Encouraging re-use: How we treat newcomers in the class can have a huge impact on their return. Are we doing all we can to make people feel comfortable? Are we encouraging them or screaming about their alignment? (which they may read as embarrassing them). If they come from another yoga lineage, are we respectful of their experience? 4. Ensuring long-term adoption: Are our pricing policies and scheduling flexible enough for folks who may not be able to be consistent in their attendance? Are we making the non-teaching aspects of yoga ‘user-friendly’?” —Christine Nounou, teacher, 59

“The mission statement for our IYNAUS regional conferences advocated giving Intermediate Junior III teachers an opportunity to teach and gain exposure. This came from discussions in which Patricia Walden and some other teachers expressed the view that our community is made up of older students and teachers. That may be true, but part of the reason for that impression is that our younger teachers have not been in the spotlight. To maintain the longevity of the Iyengar method, we must attract younger students. We considered ways to bring younger teachers into the mainstream, via the regional conferences. In the lead-up to the New England Regional Conference, we experienced obstacles. Some longterm teachers were not moving forward on the certification path and still held Introductory certificates. There were also Intermediate Junior I and II teachers with longevity who were active in the community. We decided to expand our spotlight to include them by having them teach. I support the idea of projecting a youthful image of Iyengar Yoga, alongside that of more mature practitioners and teachers. Both are valuable. We want to broaden our base of practitioners, and promoting younger teachers will bring newcomers into our classes.” —Linda Di Carlo, Intermediate Junior III, 60-plus

How is Iyengar Yoga suitable for—or not so suited to—young practitioners and others who may like a lot of movement and less instruction?
Young people need Iyengar Yoga, several respondents wrote. Others suggested ways to make the method more appealing to the young. The children’s classes at R.I.M.Y.I. were given as an inspiration. Though an emphasis on alignment may put them off, it was pointed out that younger students have a special need for correct alignment.

“Iyengar Yoga is definitely suitable for young practitioners. I was young when I started and loved it. Some people like instructions. If someone wants a lot of movement, it’s probably just not a good fit. We have to find young people who like instructions and not concentrate on convincing people they don’t have to be doing jumpings for the entire class. People who only like Vinyasa are probably not our target audience.” —Aaron Fleming, Introductory II, 36

“Iyengar Yoga can be used as a tool in the Vinyasa or power yogi’s toolbox—to tune-up the legs in warrior poses as an example.” —Jay Averell, Introductory II, 58

“I wish Iyengar was mandatory from elementary school up! If I had been taught how to stand and sit and move, I could have saved myself years of pain and the emotional aspects that come along with a tight, closed chest.” —Alexis Pierce, student, 30

“Get Iyengar Yoga introduced in the high school, in extracurricular activities and with credit for PE time.” —Allan Nett, Intermediate Junior III, 64

“This is where you learn to be safe in a pose, getting in and out, developing strength and endurance. Teachers can move the class along a little faster than they usually do.” —Amy Duncan, student, 59

“Iyengar could easily be taught with more movement. We could train up younger ones to teach more safe yet fun Vinyasa-style classes in the Iyengar spirit. I’ve been to R.I.M.Y.I. plenty of times and attended such classes. Ultimately, people who love yoga can appreciate our style and learn to love our nuanced methods of instruction, but it has to be presented with a light heart and a less rigid, dry style, which is a rut that many of our Senior Teachers seem to have gotten stuck in.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“Emphasize that alignment can actually help them do more, better. Focus more on philosophy and the emotional effects of yoga practice. Emphasize the practice aspects.” —Anne-Marie Schultz, Introductory II, 44

“Emphasize movement and variety, not instruction. Guruji said, ‘To teach young people, keep them moving.’” —Victoria Austin, Intermediate Junior III, 57

“My son is 14 and recently had a few days of yoga in his 9th grade P.E. class. He said it made him feel so good he laughed.” —Anonymous student

‘Get Iyengar Yoga introduced in the high school, in extracurricular activities and with credit for PE time.’

“We all know Iyengar is suitable for this population. Almost more than anyone, they need this type of practice. What could help distinguish Iyengar from the more flowing styles is emphasizing the well-roundedness of the practice: the integration of standing poses, backbends, forward folds, inversions, restoratives. And discussing the importance of different types of yoga based on time of day, time of year, etc.” —Catherine S. Marquette, teacher, 34

“We meet students where they are. If they’re spacing out, as the Nintendo generation can do, find ways to grab their attention. We are trained to do that. Younger students may need a more concrete explanation of what the benefits are. They have a hard time slowing down and focusing. Many young people have been told they suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder and they become complacent, refusing to strive for greater focus and contentment, taking medication instead, often in an erratic manner. This A.D.D. complacency could change if we offered a strategy targeted toward students who want to gain greater mental focus while optimizing physical and mental health. Our communities could offer special trainings for teachers who wanted to work with young people. We already have great resources, with Rajiv and Swati Chanchani.” —Chris O’Brien, student, 48

“Instruction has to be simplified, pared-down so it is meaningful and accessible. Remember B.K.S. taught a fiery Vinyasa style for many years. A combination of Vinyasa and static work could be the way to go.” —Cynthia Worby Nero, Intermediate Junior III, 54

“I have been in Iyengar Yoga classes that are incredibly challenging and full of movement and I have been in Iyengar Yoga classes where I am cold and bored. It’s up to the teacher to keep it interesting.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher

“I teach yoga at a private secondary school, so my ‘young people’ are 15 to 17. I’ve learned they want challenge. It’s important to focus on building strength and awareness and increasing awareness and stamina. Teenagers keep their focus better if you regularly introduce poses that are a little beyond them. They want to try exciting poses like arm balances and inversions. Even if they can’t do them well at first, having them test their abilities keeps young people motivated. Teenagers need to move. They complain about Surya Namaskar, but it does them good to begin with a few rounds. Teenagers want to talk. Even the more introspective kids are still just beginning their spiritual journey. They need to be encouraged to explore. During a class, I ask them questions: Where are you feeling the sensation? How was it different this time? Does this pose remind you of any others you’ve done? What do you want out of this class? Young people today live in a world that is anything but subtle. Although they desperately need the subtlety and thoughtfulness that Iyengar Yoga emphasizes, they need help preparing to appreciate them.” —Anonymous teacher

“Iyengar Yoga is very clear and direct. Playfulness needs to be allowed. Some personality and laughter are healthy too. —Carla Helena Anselm, student, 39

“It’s suitable for all practitioners! Some of my teaching is in a gym, so I run across this all the time. I stay as dynamic as possible (verbally) and make sure there are strong poses with directions that will allow them to go deeper, yet give alternate directions for those without the ability to go that far. Students who don’t want my type of teaching simply leave. Not everybody will be happy with Iyengar Yoga.” —Anonymous Certified Teacher.