Pauline Schloesser, Ph.D., Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, IAYT Yoga Therapist
I love to take a class with my teacher. She is dynamic, wise, so experienced, helpful, and inspiring. And yet, my own knowledge and capabilities in yoga only started to soar when I learned to practice by myself.
This started when I wanted to take more advanced classes. She required a home practice and mastery of basic asanas and inversions. You won’t get this mastery if you just do yoga in class once or twice a week. At best you’ll be athletic and performative as a student and will not reach a meditative state in your asanas.
In Iyengar yoga, they don’t want us coming to class every day. They call this “consumeristic yoga” and don’t want to be identified with it. The Iyengars want you to learn and practice on your own, to get the taste of the nectar of the Self, which cannot be done in a group setting. They want us to get educated and empowered and become less dependent on them as teachers. The purpose of taking a class is to learn how to practice. They want us to be students of yoga, not consumers of yoga.
In my earlier yoga days, my body remembered positions, actions, and instructions. I didn’t have to have consult books or videos back then. I could practice much of what I learned in class from body memory, even if I didn’t practice the postures in the same order as they were presented in class. I had yoga books, but I didn’t really crack them. Then, when I wanted to become a teacher, I had to learn the names of the postures, and how to write sequences, and books were invaluable. You do not and should not have to go through teacher training to start learning the names of the asanas.
You may be thinking, “why do I need to learn the names of the postures as long as I know how to do them?”
Here are some answers:
- The names of the asanas give clues as to how they should be practiced, and many asanas with similar names relate to one another in a category or grouping. Understanding categories and groupings of asanas advances our knowledge of how to practice, and how to substitute one asana for another with a similar effect on the body/mind.
- It’s nearly impossible to create a sequence of asanas for practice without referring to them. What if we want to keep a journal of our asana practices? We must call them something. We may as well learn their proper names.
- Learning the names of asanas in Sanskrit and English is good for our brains. When we know the names of asanas, we can learn to capture a sequence taught in class easily after class. How would it feel to have that sequence available for your home practice and actually understand it? Imagine the health of the brain as it develops this enhanced capacity for somatic and intellectual learning!
- If we learn the names of the asanas, we become initiated into a worldwide community. For example, we can understand any Iyengar Yoga teacher anywhere in the world. This is a common language spoken all over the globe by practitioners and students of Iyengar yoga. If we travel, we can feel comfortable dropping into an Iyengar yoga class. If we want to take a streaming class or video with a foreign teacher, we can feel confident in doing so, because we will understand the asanas by name, and it will only be the technique that might differ.
- It’s embarrassing to have to look around the room to others when the teacher calls out the name of the asana and says to get prepared for it. We should know what to do.
- Once we learn the name of an asana, we can tack on a wealth of information: various ways of doing it; “relatives” of the asana in other categories; benefits of the asana; conditions that the asana can treat; and when to avoid that particular asana.
- Each asana has a name that relates to a life form or a feature of life. It is said that we have each already been 84 million classes of life species in previous incarnations. Yoga tradition says that these life forms are within us and can be accessed through asana, creating harmony between humans and other life forms.
I hope I have persuaded you to take on the study of sequences, asanas and especially their names. If you haven’t signed up for the Spring Virtual Retreat, you can do so here. It will show up as one day, March 13, but the retreat itself takes place from March 13-20th.
If you have signed up for the Spring Virtual Retreat on March 13th, you’ll be receiving emails from Alcove Yoga on March 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th. These emails will each contain a Sequence, a link to a Practice Survey, and a link to a Sequence Quiz. (Everything is optional!).
And, as a special bonus, anyone who signs up for the retreat, will get access to a one-hour pranayama video.
Still have Questions? Here’s how it works. Once you buy the Spring Virtual Retreat, you’ll get your first email, on Sunday March 13th.
- Introductory Email with general suggestions for the week and 2 simple recipes you can make and eat for 2 meals each day for easily digestible and tasty nutrition
- 4 Additional Emails each with Two Written Asana Sequences. One is for a longer practice, another for a shorter practice, with suggestions for modifications. Postures are given with plate references to Light on Yoga, and page references to Arogya Yoga.
- Community Accountability Portal (through Google Forms) to check in and comment on your practice.
- Link to Optional Sequence Quiz to solidify your learning of Asana names in Sanskrit and English
- Bonus: one hour pranayama video you can stream