The weekend was a huge success. Randy Just is a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from Dallas. He’s well-known for his direct style of teaching and his teacher training classes have produced a good number of the Iyengar teachers in Texas. He came to Memphis at the request of my teacher, Leah, because she was so impressed with the his teacher training in New Orleans last year. He style is abrupt but he tempers instructions with a dry wit that keeps everyone smiling.
I have not had many male teachers in my yoga career. Male yoga teachers are a rarity in this area even though Iyengar yoga was essentially designed by a man. I think yoga in general is considered a feminine form of exercise because it lacks the grit of staunch physical exertion that you get from pumping iron. It’s truly for everyone but the challenges to men are often very different from what women face. Maybe it’s a flexibility issue or perhaps it’s a cultural perspective, but the South only has a handful of men that show a genuine interest in Iyengar yoga. In an effort to counter that, Evergreen Yoga Center offers a men-only class on Monday nights.
However, the workshop with Randy wasn’t geared toward male participation. Everyone that attended found insight and benefit in their own way. The only other male teacher I’ve learned from directly is Manuso Manos – and both workshop experiences added depth to my understanding of yoga. I feel like the two men have a similar teaching style, which made me wonder about the fundamental difference between male and female teachers. (Then Leah told me that Randy worked with Manuso for many years, so the connection became clear.)
It was a refreshing experience for those of us ensconced in an X-chromosome world. Randy has a no-nonsense approach to asana and his style challenged all of us to look deeper and push ourselves harder than before. He insists that students give everything to the poses and if they resist he will matter-of-factly state, “Yes you can.” Sometimes he will even adjust a student to physically push them past their own resistance.
On Sunday, Randy demonstrated parivrrta trikonasana with one of his regular students. He let her go into the pose which looked pretty great to me. Then he maneuvered her shoulders with one adjustment and this encouragement gave her access to a significantly deeper twist. After he let go she was able to hold the adjustment perfectly – and trust me, that’s not easy. That’s just one example of how his knowledge of yoga paired with astute observation gives students keys to the next level of their practice.
The weekend focused a lot on revolution. Literally and figuratively. As a teacher-in-training, I’m not expected to teach twists except at the most basic level, like bharadvajasana in a chair. So my knowledge of twists and revolved poses is limited and my experience is even less. As someone that came to yoga with lower back pain and a penchant for overachieving, twists were a delicate process for me to master. They require gentle, persistent practice and a patience to accept what is possible that particular day. Too much effort can result in injury and not enough effort diminishes the beneficial effects. This weekend armed me with the confidence I need to bring twists into my daily practice.
There was a teacher training on Saturday to the benefit of local teachers considering assessment. That’s basically a test given to potential teachers to assess their skills, knowledge, and observation – it’s a requirement for teaching in the Iyengar tradition. Just like any certification, it’s a tall task to take on. There’s anatomy and Sanskrit to learn. It’s also a type of measure for your own personal practice because the teachers assessing you can tell just by looking if you have a well-honed yoga practice of your own. It’s particularly important to me that my teaching style is informed by my personal experience practicing yoga. Randy’s advice and encouragement reinforced this perspective.
I went into the weekend feeling tired and a bit scattered. Stress and daily life had me in a death grip of exhaustion. This workshop brought that reality to the surface and gave me a chance to deal with it head on. I have a long way to go in my personal practice but Randy Just showed me how to push my own limits and try more challenging things. I’m certainly going to add parivrrta prasarita padottanasana to my home practice. It feels good and it looks cool as hell. Hopefully I’ll see Randy again with a few notches of improvement in my yoga belt.