Richard Schachtel, a yoga teacher since 1974, first met Iyengar on a tour in Chicago. Six years later Schachtel took his first training with Iyengar. The person who was sitting behind him in that class was Anna Forest.
“Most of the people in this course are still teaching yoga around the world,” he said.
In the course of his 39 years of Iyengar yoga studies and teachings, Schachtel has made 19 yoga study-training trips to India, to work with Iyenger and his daughter, in addition to attending some of his conventions held in the United States.
Here are five of Iyengar’s teachings that Schachtel was most influenced by:
Yoga & Creativity:
“You know, yoga practice is extremely creative.”
Along, the way, you learn that we are all different, every day. “Our bodies, our energy, our confidence, our emotional self,” he said and you have to change your practice, every time according to you inner signals.
“Iyengar was brilliant in a sense of …. he never taught the same class, in the same way his whole career.”
There is a lot of structure in the practice. For example, one of the main foundations of the Iyengar practice are the standing poses. In a way, through his creativity and innovation he made yoga more “alive,” he said. For Schachtel, Iyengar was teaching quality yoga, where the dialogue wasn’t as important, “you have to be in the moment,” he said.
Making yoga accessible:
“He made yoga accessible to everybody,” Schachtel said. He didn’t just encourage props, “he invented a lot of them.”
Everytime Schachtel would go back to India, he would notice that a new prop was created; “there was always something different.” It wasn’t a “stuck system”; there was always innovation and development. Just like life moves forward, his practice exemplified that.
Props provide stability, where you can connect your mind to your body. “Props make yoga fascinating,” and they are not to be used just when you feel stiff or you are injured, he said. “With props you can take one pose and make it 300 hundred poses.”
In his training, Iyengar had props available but people weren’t encouraged to use them however they wished. “He was very directive,” Schachtel said. He would give very specific instructions of how to use them and then he would work on modifications with each person. As Iyengar practitioners, “we don’t always use props,” Schachtel continued, but it is important to learn how to use them.
A strong commitment to teaching yoga:
Iyengar officially retired from teaching about 20 years ago, “but someone like Iyengar of course would never stop teaching,” he said. When he taught, he often was demonstrating the postures and showing people what to do while using language to explain many of the intricate adjustments.
“I spent many decades just sitting and watching him practice,” Schachtel said.
In the last part of his life, sometimes he would interrupt his personal practice to teach his granddaughter, Abhijata Sridhar, who he trained for many years. He was an adventurist and a visionary, who constantly strived to improve the practice.
“He was humble enough to say: I have come up with some new information than what I taught before. I was wrong. How many teachers do that?” Schachtel asked rhetorically.
He was an inspiration, he added.
Being “flexible” as a yoga teacher:
“He had a viewpoint based on experience, it wasn’t on rigidity.”
Back in the day, yoga was not understood, so he was involved in the community as much as possible and his lectures became tailored to his audiences and his teachings were individualized to his practitioners. In addition, he gave a lot of public demonstrations and lectures to educate people about yoga, and its benefits. “He taught that the physical and spiritual” are not different, they are the same.” He connected the philosophy to the practice “with sophistication,” Schachtel said.
Individualizing the yoga practice:
“We don’t stay young forever,” and hopefully with more experience we get wiser, Schachtel said. And so Iyengar learned different ways of working with people.
The Iyengar practice has the sequence called “the jumping,” but as you get older jumping becomes less interesting. For some people as they age, holding a posture longer is what matters most. Iyengar knew how to adjust the practice according to people’s age. He was able to work with people from all walks of life.
Over the years, Iyengar was so excited to see more and more people becoming interested in yoga, especially in the Western world. His goal was to promote the benefits of yoga as a way of living, not just as an hourly practice, Schachtel said. His vision and commitment served as an example itself for many of his followers, like Schatchel. As someone who dedicated his whole life to the learnings and teachings of yoga he has achieved what most people just dream of, but it was a vision, hard work and his love for people and yoga that gained him a level of respect and visibility he hadn’t imagined.
[Photo credit: Richard Schachtel]
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