Instructor Marlene Miller shows off an inverted Iyengar Yoga pose. (Don Denton photograph)

Energizing with Iyengar Yoga

Inverted postures in yoga class offer a new perspective

  • Sep. 5, 2018 11:50 a.m.

Getting back into the groove of life after a blissful four-day getaway with my partner has proven to be more difficult than anticipated. My body feels out of alignment from long days wearing heels, and my muscles are lethargic from lack of use. I have to dig very deep within myself to muster up the energy to participate in an hour and a half Iyengar Yoga class with the Peninsula Yoga Centre Society (PenYoga).

Walking into class, I’m not sure what to expect; I have practiced several different forms of yoga, but I have yet to try Iyengar Yoga. The class is held at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney, where I am welcomed into the yoga studio by Marlene Miller.

Marlene is a petite and impossibly well-postured woman with kind eyes and a warm smile. She has been practising Iyengar Yoga since 1975 and is a teacher trainer with the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria, an active member and Assessor of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada, and a founding member of PenYoga.

The studio is bright and airy. I have my yoga mat tucked under my arm but quickly notice a set of shelves at the far end of the room containing all of the necessary equipment. I place my own yoga mat in one of the available storage cubbies and Marlene helps me gather the bits and pieces I will need for the class.

After unrolling a mat and two yoga blankets on the ground, I join the other class members by lying flat on my back with my legs pressed against the wall. Iyengar Yoga has an emphasis on alignment (asana) and controlling breath (pranayama). The practice does not follow a consistent sequence of movements in every class — diversity in class structure prevents overusing and over-stretching muscles, effectively reducing the number of injuries practitioners may experience. Props, including blocks, ropes, belts, foam pads and stools, are used to assist students to achieve poses.

As I settle into the position on the floor, the muscles in my legs begin to uncoil and the tension rolls through my body and out the top of my head. I quickly lull into a state of relaxation that is quite foreign to me. A short time later, I am delicately drawn back to the present by the gentle chiming of bells. Following the lead of my fellow classmates, I roll over and pull myself into a cross-legged position for the Invocation to Patanjali — a beautiful Sanskrit chant that traditionally initiates the beginning of every Iyengar Yoga class.

Marlene guides us through a series of postures with such expertise and direction that I become confident performing positions that are new to me. When I begin to struggle to achieve a posture, Marlene provides a block or bolster to help me work through the challenge in order to reach proper alignment. Each pose forces me to engage my muscles while stretching them out.

Between positions, I take note of the people around me. There is a vast array of ages and abilities in the room. Marlene knows all of the students, their limits and any health or physical ailments they have — and she customizes positions through the use of props and encouragement for each student.

Instructor Marlene Miller shows off an inverted pose at a class for Iyengar Yoga. Don Denton photograph

Today’s class has a strong focus on inverted postures which include the headstand, handstand, forearm stand and shoulder stand. Talk about a new perspective on life! These postures have a variety of benefits to the body including improving circulation, energy and immunity. Inverted postures provide the brain with more oxygen and blood, enhancing cognitive function such as concentration, memory and processing abilities. They also help to relieve sinus congestion, which I learned when the woman practising next to me was inverted and a week of sinus pressure finally released for her.

Marlene begins to wrap up the class and I am truly shocked that an hour and a half of slow movements has flown by this quickly. After saying my goodbyes, I step back out into the world. I feel a state of renewal that is borderline cliché to the glorious spring afternoon. The knots and pain in my body have disappeared and while I am fatigued from working my muscles, I feel a current of energy pulse through my mind and I feel a few inches taller in my step.

-Story by Chelsea Forman

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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