I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for the basics done right. Who doesn’t love a simple roast chicken that’s perfectly seasoned and cooked? Or a three-minute, verse-chorus-verse rock song with a catchy hook and fuzzy guitar riff? There is a lot to be said for sticking to the fundamentals and executing them well.
Of course, as anyone who’s tried roasting a chicken at home or playing “You Really Got Me” in the garage can attest, the fundamentals are never quite so easy as they seem. When there’s only a handful of elements at play, getting every one of them exactly right is the key to success. This is a lesson I was reminded of recently at Iyengar Yoga Source.
Iyengar Yoga Source is named for the practice it teaches, which is in turn named for the man who pioneered it, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar. Known as the “father of modern yoga,” Iyengar is credited with popularizing the practice around the world and introducing the use of props, such as blankets, ropes and blocks. Throughout his looong practice (he began in the ‘30s and continued until his death in 2014), Iyengar systemized more than 200 poses, ranging from the simple to the human pretzel-like. Despite the complexity of his moves, the fundamentals always remained the focus. Iyengar yoga emphasizes precision and perfect alignment of the body in the performance of asanas (postures).
Linda DiCarlo is the proprietor of Iyengar Yoga Source and her small studio on the West Side offers the full range of Iyengar’s teachings, outfitted with rope walls for suspension poses and other mysterious looking apparatus for what I can only imagine are some body bends that would make Mr. Fantastic envious. As I entered, her intermediate students were just embarking on their final asana of the night, an inversion pose that immediately caused me to inquire, “I’m not going to have to do that, right?”
Thankfully, I was there for the beginner’s class, which doesn’t require anything quite so topsy-turvy. What I quickly learned, however, is that even the simplest poses are deceptively complex. We began with the most elemental of the standing poses, tadasana, or mountain pose. Standing ramrod straight with feet together and arms slightly out to the sides, we attempted to elongate our backs and cores to their fullest extent and feel the stretch through our arms out to the tips of our fingers. It’s such a basic stance but when you truly focus on each part of the body and its alignment, the deep stretch in each limb, it’s amazing just how vigorous standing in place can be. Don’t believe me? Go try it. I’ll wait here. Make sure you really stretch those arms… Impressive, right?
We moved on to warrior pose and a couple of variations of it. In each instance, Linda would start by demonstrating the posture and then instructing us to do it. She would then demonstrate it a second time, pointing out areas for improvement and illustrating subtle nuances of body alignment. As we performed the posture again, she walked around giving each student individual attention, making subtle tweaks and adjusting our alignment. With warrior pose, for example, the key was keeping the torso and hips straight ahead while the arms and legs stretched out to the side.
Over the course of 90 minutes we performed about a dozen asanas, none of them particularly complex. Each posture was simple enough to allow for intense focus on perfect alignment and full extension, which is where the true challenge was found.
Devotees of Iyengar yoga extol its many virtues, including injury prevention and making yoga more accessible to all ability levels, but for me its appeal rests on a more basic idea: the challenge and satisfaction of doing a simple thing well.
Iyengar Yoga Source
1155 Westminster Street, 2nd floor