I’ve been ruminating all week on how yoga in the East differs from yoga in the West. Many teachers have told me that most Westerners wouldn’t actually enjoy taking yoga in India. As much as I am benefiting from these teachings, I can understand why. Life here is difficult. Yoga here is difficult. And living your life is living your yoga, because even the most mundane things, like drinking water, are not easy.
The Iyengar family takes teaching yoga very seriously, and they train their teachers to be tough. They are on time, so you should be on time. They work hard, so you should work hard. Much is expected of you in return for the privilege of being here. I happen to think that’s completely reasonable.
So if I had to boil this difference down to one word, that word right now would be vanity. There’s no room for vanity in Iyengar yoga, and it makes me wonder where our vanity comes from. Is it purely a Western thing?. The standard-issue Iyengar shorts, while practical, are not flattering. It doesn’t matter how you look in your clothes… it’s all about how you look in the pose!
I love my studios back home, with their calming colored walls, eco-friendly bamboo floors, and relaxing yoga music. They go to great lengths to create ‘the yoga experience.’ But what’s funny is how vastly different that experience is from the reality that happens over here where yoga comes from. The Iyengar yoga center in Pune is quite the opposite. This is considered an institution of learning, and if anything it more resembles a boxing gym in downtown Philly than what one might think of as a refuge from the busy world. I love that! It’s taken some getting used to, I’ll admit, because the floors are made of stone, the mats are nearly worn through, and the paint is peeling off most of the walls. The lighting is imperfect, the props are tired and worn, and air temperature is what it is. They have fans but not A/C and I doubt they have/need heat. Yet people pilgrimage from all over the world to be here, and it’s obvious why: they don’t come for the paint. They come for the yoga.
Perhaps nowhere else in the world can you find this class of teachers. The yoga taught in Pune is pure, raw, and strict. You will demand more of yourself than you thought possible or you will leave with your tail between your legs. I know because of where my tail is right now. But I’m not leaving. I’m tempted, believe me, but I came too far not to get the most out of being here. It takes time to adjust to the lifestyle in India. I still have two weeks left to go. One thing seems certain: they will either be two of the most challenging weeks of my life, or two of the most rewarding. Quite possibly, they will be both.