B.K.S. Iyengar + Yehudi Menuhin
Yoga + Violin
This is it. I'm diving in! This is my first post on the topic of my dissertation (or document as they like to call it at OU) research.
Yoga has taken the world by storm. It is reportedly a several billion-dollar industry.
Yoga pants, yoga mats, yoga classes, instagram accounts, workshops, festivals, books, websites, video subscriptions, food, diet, philosophy. Everyone seems to be doing it. In fact, I know more people who DO yoga than who DON’T do yoga these days.
And that is incredible.
I started practicing yoga when I was 19. I was at a summer music festival in Hawaii (poor me) and yoga was an optional morning activity before rehearsals. I figured why not? And that was it. I was hooked. Just like most people trying yoga. The initial benefits were immediate. I felt so focused in rehearsals, my body felt strong and long, I felt happy and positive. I didn't want to stop.
And I haven't really since. I've tried all sorts of yoga - Bikram, Vinyasa Flow, Kundalini, Power Yoga, Ashtanga, Yen, Sculpt, and finally Iyengar. I practice at home, on my own. I travel with a yoga mat. I read books on the subject. And now I am writing my Dissertation on it.
I was first introduced to Iyengar yoga a few years ago. I had been shoving my body half heartedly into sun salutations and asanas without really understanding what I was doing or how it was supposed to feel. The goal was pretzel shapes no matter how I got there.
I signed up for a ‘Strength and Alignment’ class (secret code for an Iyengar class) and my whole concept of yoga changed. Gone was the mood lighting and mindless sun salutations. My muscles spasmed and quivered for a full 90mins just doing basic poses, and using props. Here I was thinking of myself as a pretty advanced yoga student and come to find out that when done properly there is absolutely no easy yoga pose and your entire body is working ALL OF THE TIME. Goodbye ego – talk about a humbling experience! Just standing up straight can make your body fatigue! Whoa!
We did Ustrasana.
I used to HATE this pose. I mean avoid it like the plague, whine like a baby on the inside or do something else in class when given the option. My neck would crunch, my legs would go a little numb, it was hard to breathe and just felt genuinely terrible. Everything was wrong with it. But then we worked on it in class and OMG I got it! When done correctly it feels AMAZING! You really do feel tremendous joy. Your heart opens up. You feel warm, your arms and chest expand. You come out of the pose and want to smile and just love everyone.
And that was it. I was hooked.
Many yoga lovers are turned off by Iyengar yoga; there is no music, there is no 'this is your practice', there are tons of props, you don’t heat the room, , you have to listen to every instruction from the teacher, you hold poses forever, it is not workout yoga, you feel like you're going to die in trikonasana (triangle pose), you never thought standing on your own two feet could be so difficult. If you can make it to the end of class = you will feel AMAZING. At least I do.
Iyengar teachers are a quirky bunch. They tend to be a bit older. Seasoned. No nonsense but not mean. They know exactly how each pose should look and feel. They have spent years in training (because there is no 200 hour training course or retreat for Iyengar teachers) and most importantly they use yoga therapeutically to cure or ease what ails you.
So what does this have to do with violin again?
Just as I go ‘all in’ with Iyengar yoga, imagine my surprise when I open his seminal book "Light on Yoga" and find a forward written by Yehudi Menuhin.
WHAT?! What business does this classical violinist have writing a forward in one of the most famous books on yoga of all time? And on behalf of the man credited with bringing yoga to the West!?
Turns out it was Menuhin who brought Iyengar to our attention. Yep - we Westerners have a forward thinking classical violinist to thank for our current obsession with Yoga.
Menuhin actually said the following;
"I consider B.K.S. Iyengar to be my first real violin teacher. He is the first to teach me how to use my body"
Talk about a revolution in pedagogy and performance!
That is a profound statement for a world famous once child-prodigy violinist to make about a previously unknown yoga teacher. It really got me thinking/curious/obsessed about this whole yoga thing. I loved it before but this seemed like a perfect opportunity to dive in intellectually too.
So there you have it.
My journey + the discovery of Menuhin’s involvement = mild/intense obsession with the impact this friendship had -in this case- specifically on the classical music world.
You can read my dissertation here.