Recently, Namaste owner Linda Makowski spoke with Iyengar yoga instructor Chris Briney about his history with yoga and teaching philosophies.
We are so excited to have you return to Namaste Yoga and share a “Spring Detox with Iyengar Yoga.” Can you give us a brief description of Iyengar Yoga?
Thank you! I too am excited to return to Namaste Yoga! I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before to you, Linda, but Namaste Yoga held a very important place in my life at a very pivotal time for me, personally. This was in late 2000, early 2001. It was a time when I was struggling deeply within myself. Quite honestly, there were many times during that period where, well, I wasn’t quite sure I’d “make it,” if you know what I mean. I had had what I perceived at the time as several significant losses and failures in my life. I was barely able to keep myself functioning at times, and emotionally I just felt I was coming apart. Practicing at Namaste was often the only aspect of my life that made me feel like I was doing something to slow down, or rebuild the inner collapse. There were some times when I would be absolutely melting down in my car in the parking lot and then barely be able to pull myself together to come in for class. Sometimes, I just drove home.
During that time, I took some classes with you, Linda. One class in particular stands out to me. I was really upset inside and you seemed to sense it. You said something in class, but then even sought me out after and took me aside. Your message, essentially was to be gentler with myself. At least, that’s how I remember it. It wasn’t so much you said, but the kindness with which you said it, and the fact that you took the time to go out of your way to reach out to me. Feeling so alone, scared, and hopeless at that time--so withdrawn within myself--that connection, that feeling of being cared about really had an impact on me. It’s hard to put into words, but it was a turning point of sorts. At that time, I could not have known, nor even foreseen, that within a year I would be teaching yoga full-time, much less that 15 years later I would be doing the same. Namaste Yoga was quite pivotal in that transformation as well.
So, yes: Thank you for having me back, and especially for keeping your arms open to me and for giving me an opportunity to celebrate and honor where I’ve come from, so to speak.
Now, to answer your question (by the way, I hope brevity is in the eye of the beholder): B.K.S. Iyengar himself said, “There is no such thing as Iyengar Yoga. That is a label my students have created. This is Patanjali’s Yoga.”
The method of practicing Patanjali’s yoga--also known as Ashtanga Yoga, or the Eight Limbs of Yoga Sadhana as taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali--that has been developed by B.K.S. Iyengar and his family (including not only his children, Geeta and Prashant, but also the senior certified teachers that have studied at his feet for decades now) was itself born out of adversity. I won’t go into the story, but Iyengar had plenty of adversity and “darkness” to contend with in his early life. Thus, consistent with Patanjali’s teaching, Iyengar Yoga, in my view, is a highly refined and comprehensive methodology for the practice (or sadhana) of what Patanjali terms “Kriya Yoga,” or “Ashtanga Yoga.”
At this point, let me give another definition. This one is from the Oxford Dictionary, “Iyengar Yoga: A type of ashtanga yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, etc. as aids to achieving the correct posture.” It’s a good (brief) definition, but I feel it leaves out an important element: it doesn’t tell you what the correct posture creates access to, if you will. It makes getting the correct posture sound like the goal, rather than the gateway. It leaves out the idea that the so-called correct posture (which, by the way, we could have a huge discussion about just how we define or determine such a thing; this is a lifelong study in itself) is a means to fulfill the purpose of yoga practice or sadhana. And what is this purpose?
In Yoga Sutra II.2, Patanjali gives the purpose or aim of Kriya Yoga (and thus of Ashtanga Yoga). He says, “The practice of yoga reduces afflictions and leads to samadhi.”
Iyengar Yoga then (in brief) is a method for practicing yoga “that focuses on correct alignment, using props as aids to achieving the correct posture,” (Oxford Dictionary quote) as a means for “reducing the afflictions and leading one toward samadhi,” which is a state of profound meditation where the consciousness is completely disturbance (or affliction) free.
How long did it take you to complete your current level of Iyengar training?
I have been a student of Iyengar Yoga since 2002. In 2005, I decided to pursue Iyengar certification. So it’s taken a decade to complete this current level of certification (Intermediate Junior, Level I). That said, I am still in the process of training, as this year I plan to participate in the assessment and testing process to further my certification to Intermediate Junior, Level II). I think it could go on my whole life, as there are eleven higher levels of certification remaining, if I’m not mistaken.
What are the essential differences between Iyengar Yoga and other styles/types of yoga?
In my view, no essential differences between Iyengar Yoga and other styles/types of yoga that contain the elements of Kriya Yoga and involve the practice of all eight limbs that Patanjali delineates. At the risk of sounding too simplistic, in my view there are many paths to the Ultimate and any yoga worth the name has hewn such a path with this end (i.e. the reduction of afflictions and the realization of Samadhi) in mind.
That being said, I must admit I have had very little experience with other “styles”of yoga since 2002. In fact, I have only take two Isha Yoga programs with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, both experiences for which I am profoundly grateful. To be honest, I don’t see any essential differences between the two methodologies, though superficially, in terms of what you physically do, and how you do it, Iyengar Yoga and Isha Yoga appear dramatically different. But in my experience, they appear to have very much the same goal, and their respective methodologies reflect tremendous mastery and insight (a real tribute to the amazing yogis at their source), as well as a dazzling level of realization of the subject, its possibilities, and its potential.
We hear about detoxing in the springtime. How will this specific class approach a Spring Detox?
Yes, according to Ayurveda, spring is “Kapha” season, which is wetter, heavier, slower, as things thaw out. Especially after the cold, dry (“Vata”) winter, it is important to ensure that the wetness, and heaviness don’t combine with toxins, or “ama” in the physiology. We need to take care that we don’t end up like the mucky pond, as it thaws out, which is a breeding ground for all sorts of things. Interestingly enough, I recently found out the English word “cough” was derived from the word “Kapha.” Thus a Spring Detox is an important process of clearing out the “muck.”
With this in mind, of course we’ll be doing postures that stimulate certain systems of the body like the musculoskeletal, because muscular activity certainly helps the body consume unwanted storage of substances in the body. However, we need also address the digestive system, because one of the chief causes for the accumulation of toxins in the system is poor digestion. Finally, we also need to work with the nervous and endocrine systems which play key roles in the effective functioning of the other systems, especially as related to our biorhythms.
Yet, in this context of detox I feel something else needs to be addressed: To put it bluntly, no matter how much you detoxify the physical body, you will never succeed in immortalizing it. In other words, the body is going to toxify, decay, and perish at some point. Also, once a year “Spring Cleaning” is not enough. This is especially true given the highly toxified environment we live in, in the “Motor City,” in an Industrialized nation, in “Western Civilization,” with all its it’s smart gadgets and wifi signals endlessly flying every which way; and on a planet where, last I checked a major radioactive disaster named Fukushima continues to leak into the ocean (and thus across the globe). No, in our modern age, I would say it is pretty much impossible to get, or at least stay, completely detoxed.
At the same time, this is why every day must be Spring. I feel that the most important aspect of detoxification involves the consciousness. I think the yoga tradition is clear, and certainly Guruji Iyengar has clearly stated that steady, uninterrupted practice is required if we wish to minimize our afflictions and move toward the Ultimate. And not only steady and uninterrupted practice, but wholehearted and devoted practice. Only this can root out the toxins in consciousness that belong to and foster the afflictions. In other words, I feel it is very good to detoxify our bodies thoroughly and zealously (daily practice of asanas contributes immensely to this process), but if the mind is still riddled with delusion, self-centeredness, hatred, greed, and fear, that what health have we truly gained? Personally, this is the area of detox I find most compelling.
What can I expect in this experience with you?
Not to be cheeky but I’ve heard it said that expectation can be the precursor to resentment.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. Actually, I’ll tell you what I’m committed to and you can create your own expectations from that:
I am committed to fostering a deep connection to Patanjali’s yoga system, namely by creating opportunities to practice the three components of Kriya Yoga (which include all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga)--tapas, svadhyaya, and Isvara Pranidhana. I am committed to drawing from my fourteen years’ experience studying Iyengar’s Yoga methodology to share the best methods I know for practicing such yoga, and thus reducing the afflictions and cultivating samadhi. Guruji has said that we are beginners for at least twenty years in yoga, and from a man who spent nearly eighty in deep practice, it sounds quite true. So I am aware of what a lofty commitment this seems for a “beginner” to set. Still, I can’t think of any better reason to spend three hours on a spring Saturday afternoon at work on something.
Ah, so here’s something you can expect: fuel, guidance, and fierce inspiration for your personal practice of yoga . . . whatever your style/type.