I have always believed that my first Yogic experience was when I worked as an assistant teacher at the New York State Summer School for the Arts. The director, Randy Williams, and I always conversed about Buddhism, the Tao te Ching, and meditation. At times, he would instruct me to sit still with my eyes closed and focus on the fluctuation of my breath. If I have not introduced myself well enough before, then let me start from the beginning. Hello, I am an anxiety-ridden young adult who suffers from asthma and, sometimes, an extreme lack of attention. I do not normally sit still unless I am working on something tedious, zoning out, or cuddling up with my cats. My idea of meditation is the conscious state of floating midway between sleep and alertness. I try very hard to keep my thoughts in the positive because I am a believer of certain energies attracting other energies that link to people and events.
My limited knowledge of Buddhism and the Tao attracts me to the philosophical aspects of Yoga. While searching for a venue to visit for this midterm project, I kept this in mind. I finally stumbled across the Brookline Yoga Studio and thought, ‘Great! Something close by that sounds stereotypical, let’s check it out.’ When I clicked on the website (brooklineyogastudio.com), I didn’t find a lean young woman flexing in a pretzel-like pose. I found a small Iyengar Yoga class that welcomed beginners and quoted The Four Agreements: a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. Upon extensive research, I found that this was the venue to visit.
Manju Vachher, the manager and teacher of Brookline Yoga Studio, has a Ph.D. in clinical and forensic psychology. She has studied with Patricia Walden since 1999 and assisted teaching classes with her since 2003. She began Brookline Yoga Studio in 2007. The studio serves residents of Boston who would like to learn more of this practice and theory through asana, pranayama, and meditaion. Anyone can attend this Yoga class. Manju takes annual trips to Pune, India to study yoga at the Iyengar Institute under the guidance of Yogacharya Sri B.K.S. Iyengar and his children Geeta Iyengar, and Prashant Iyengar.
That sounded interesting, so I searched Yogacharya Sri B.K.S. Iyengar. This man is 91 years old, began Iyengar Yoga, and has taught eminent celebrities such as J. Krishnamurti, the author of This Light in Oneself. He continues to practice and teach Iyengar Yoga with his children. One of his students wrote on his website (bksiyengar.com), “B.K.S. has been teaching us how the performance of an asana needs disciplines enacted by yama and niyama, how the body needs to be guided in asana, the role of the breath (pranayama), how the complete involvement of the senses of perception (pratyahara), and total concentration (dharana and dhyana) help to attain Samadhi.” Samadhi is the highest level of concentrated meditation.
Iyengar Yoga, in the words of Manju Vachher, is the “tradition of yoga [that] focuses on the correct alignment to allow the body to move skillfully without causing injury or pain and progress safely from beginner postures to advance postures at one’s own pace as one gains flexibility, strength and sensitivity in body and mind. Iyengar method uses props to work with a range of motion safely and effectively to allow the body in correct alignment.” B.K.S. Iyengar expresses that Iyengar Yoga can be practiced by anyone and that Iyengar focuses on the specific postures of asanas. Iyengar Yoga is not only about the perfection of asanas, however, it is about maintaining equanimity and balancing the mind. He presents that, “the practice of yoga helps anyone attain good health, mental peace, emotional equanimity and intellectual clarity.” What won me over was the quotation on his website that stated simply, “Yoga helps endure what cannot be cured and cure what need not be endured.”
I also read about Sage Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras. He defined yoga as chitta vritti nirodha. B.K.S Iyengar explains this by stating, “Chitta is the consciousness, which includes the mind, the intellect, and the ego. Yoga is the method of silencing the vibrations of the chitta.”
After my long research, I decided I needed to visit this studio. I emailed Manju Vachher, registering for the 7:15 am class on Wednesday October 6. I received a very quick response, asking of my experience in Yoga and if I had any physical issues or concerns that would affect my practice. I wrote down the address and started thinking of questions to ask her. When Tuesday night arrived, I was incredibly nervous. The class is capped at 8 or 10, meaning that I would have a great deal of attention from the teacher. I can’t even touch my toes, how am I supposed to correctly position my body in new asanas? I woke up at 5:30, showered, and went on my 30-minute walk to the studio.
The directions I wrote down led me to a very quiet residential area. As soon as I reached this neighborhood, I thought of how easy it would be for me to spot the Yoga studio. After another 10 minutes, I figured out that the address actually pointed to a house and not a stereotypical “Yoga Studio”. I hesitantly rang the doorbell and Manju greeted me with her beautiful dog and directed me to a path that guided me to the backyard. When I entered the space, I instantly smelled burning incense.
The studio is a small, calming and welcoming space with heated bamboo flooring, cathedral ceilings, lots of natural light, a rope wall, bathroom, and Iyengar props. One other woman was in the space practicing downward dog on the ropes. I later learned that she is a sophomore at Boston University seeking a way to calm her mind and de-stress her body. I put the $9 student fee in the moneybox and entered the quiet space.
Manju immediately came to assist me and explained what the class was like. She showed me where all of the props were, and how to get myself prepared for class. She told me how to locate my sacrum so I can properly put on the belt to get into the first asana, Supta Baddha Konasana. As I got into position, another student, who looked much older, entered and got into position. The first asana was very relaxing. I just lay there silently as I waited for class to begin.
Manju began the class by talking to us about internal and external experience, starting from the intention of leaving for class to laying here now. She explained that the external experience starts as an environment, as our room, as getting ourselves to this space. Now the external only exists as our skin in this room and everything beyond that. Our internal experience is constantly fluctuating, but right now, it is everything beneath our skin and how we are responding to our environment and how we are laying on our bolsters. We got up in a seated position and chanted three ohms.
Manju carefully guided us through many asanas. Each position was a practice for the next. Her instruction was incredibly specific so that we could be aware of our own bodies. She would call attention to particular parts of our bodies, telling us, “bring your knees up” or “tuck your tailbone in”. We used blocks, our mats, belts, and blankets to make each asana more comfortable. Manju assisted each of us specifically to maintain the correct position to the best of our ability.
By the time we laid in Savasana, I was very focused on myself. Manju made my awareness ebb inward by telling us , “be with yourselves for a while” and continuing with a focus of our breath. I cannot fully describe it, but I felt as though nothing else on my body existed, I was just my breathing. After about 10 minutes, we sat up and ended with a “Namaste”.
After class, I spoke to Manju Vachher for a little while. I felt as though all of the questions I had thought to ask melted away. I had no longer had any questions. We started talking about the practice and how peaceful it made me feel. She informed me that she was drawn to Iyengar Yoga because of this aspect. The rest of my day was incredibly tranquil and lovely.
The second time I visited the studio, I went to the same Wednesday morning session. I was more serene while walking to class. When I arrived, I decided that I should practice my downward dog since I was so early. After a few minutes, Manju came to my side to assist me. I was having a great deal of trouble getting my heels to touch the floor. Manju immediately made me cease. She then informed me that I had hamstring issues. I had an “Aha!” moment right then. No wonder I couldn’t touch my toes! Now that the problem is addressed, Manju can help me slowly build flexibility in that area.
I laid in the starting asana, and we began class as usual, practicing different asanas for the hour. By the end of class, Manju carefully assisted me into a shoulder stand. We ended in Savasana and meditation.
Manju Vachher’s instruction is wonderful. Everyone is focused on the self during practice; therefore, embarrassment does not take place in the studio. Everyone is in a state of tranquility and focus. Manju is very experienced in Iyengar and is incredibly flexible, but this is not daunting. She advised us that she had a bit of knee surgery and needs the aid of a block in order to sit on her feet. My experiences here have been wonderful. I plan to continue attending class here on Wednesdays to further my understanding of Iyengar as well as maintain my serene disposition.
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