+44 (0)121 608 2229
Iyengar Yoga Certified Teacher

IMG_1377-min

Posted on August 26, 2017 by Jayne Orton

It’s never too late

My first faltering steps in yoga at the age of 67

I met Yogacharya BKS Iyengar Ji once, many years ago. He suggested I take up yoga, but I ignored his advice. I will come back to our meeting later. It has taken decades for me to see what he was saying. It is said that you will meet the teacher when you are ready. Help is always there, right in front of your nose, but you will pass it by if you are not ready. My short story will hopefully provide motivation to others, regardless of their age, circumstances and disabilities.

I was born in Kenya, East Africa. My first 7 years were spent in jungles, being at one with nature, and having very little contact with other humans including my parents. This was the start of my ‘awareness of life’. Unfortunately, whenever I raised any questions about life with grown-ups or priests, they simply brushed my concerns aside with a joke or a laugh. It was frustrating, and I began losing trust in the so-called priests. At nine years old I was sent to India to study in the Himalayan Mountains, but spent four years playing truant from school. I roamed the jungles, valleys and mountains. I would spend time with individual holy people, and my favourite place was the cremation grounds.

A few years after moving to England at the age of 13, I ran off to London. Luckily I was accepted at a university. Again I spent much of the time searching for answers and attending lectures given by Noble Laureates. I was also a keen sportsman and became the university’s sports president. Unfortunately I suffered many injuries, but being very strong-willed I never paid any attention to my body and never worried about pain. After university I took up jobs in non-governmental bodies in order to help people. This took me to Africa, Europe, and finally to India. I was becoming more and more frustrated. While my friends were chasing status, marriages and homes, I was searching for answers to life and becoming more isolated. In the late 1970s and early 80s I ended up in India. The hippy era was coming to an end.

I was working in Mumbai, and frequented Pune many times. The fashionable society I was living with were into many things, but I could see that it was all a game; they were concerned with who they know rather than the essence of learning. I used to be dragged from one teacher or holy man to another. I met Iyengar Ji on a number of occasions in the company of my hosts. I still feel his kind, penetrating eyes as he looked at me and suggested that I take up yoga and that it will help me. Because I was with my hosts, I felt it was inappropriate to raise my issues in case I was perceived as taking advantage of the situation. I kept quiet. I looked at my hosts who were all overweight and full of themselves, and in my ignorance and arrogance I equated the great teacher with them. I was already feeling frustrated with the extreme poverty I saw in India, and I told Iyengar Ji I do not believe in circus acts. The great teacher smiled and accepted my reply. My isolation and my frustration made me blind to the fact that the answers I was looking for were staring me in the face at that very moment.

I rejected Iyengar Ji’s recommendation to do yoga, and continued with my business back in Britain. I continued to search for spiritual guidance through my intellect and ego. In 2008 my business collapsed, and you could say my life collapsed. I lost everything, including my finances. I became suicidal, confused, and could not understand what was happening to me. My body was giving up on me. This could have been my greatest period of reflection, but no. Instead, I managed to get a full-time job as a senior clinical psychotherapist. I was working 18 hours a day, and I was totally at the mercy of my ignorance and arrogance. I took pride in my work helping others, and disregarded my own needs.

In 2011 I collapsed at work from over-work and was diagnosed with septicaemia. I had no idea what that meant. I was isolated, lost and helpless, and did not know how long I would survive. Although I worked in a medical setting, I had to depend on doctors who spoke to me in a language I did not understand. For somebody who has not been to the doctor’s for most of my life, from 2011 I was having 2-3 appointments with the doctor and hospitals every week. The use of my legs became so bad that amputation became a real possibility. I became diabetic, with high blood pressure and arthritic joints; I had difficulty walking (I used two walking sticks) and was in considerable pain.

 

From my own clinical practice, I had known that when some clients go so low that death stares at them, they seem to develop such extraordinary insights and courage that they become well. These were the thoughts which started to take root. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I could be helped. But at that moment I knew I had no way of accessing help, so I made myself walk and be in nature. I started taking care of my body, doing gardening, and clearing clutter in my house. I did not want others to clear my mess after I am gone. I spent every moment in deep self-reflection. It helped me to slowly start looking at my predicament.

I was a born a Sikh and I had always dreamt about learning to read the Guru Granth Sahib in Gurumukhi, but because of the busy-ness of my life, I never had time to do it. However, I received a rare opportunity when elderly monks agreed to teach me to read the Holy Book. Just like with Iyengar Ji decades earlier, I raised my issues that I don’t even look like a Sikh, and how in my 60’s am I suddenly going to change? The most senior monk asked me one question: Was I going to learn through the heart or through my assumptions? He told me that if it is through the heart, then he will accept me. I started learning, and slowly I was accepted to read Guru Granth Sahib in the monastery.

But I had to face my next challenge. My body. How do you sit on the floor, cross-legged, for a minimum of two hours? I have never sat on the floor in my life. I cannot sit on the floor for two minutes, let alone two hours. The pain in my legs, hips, chest, shoulders, and neck was unbearable. The sitting was impossible; I had to move my legs this way and that way. It was a real drama. The pain began with my legs, and then some other part of my body would start crying out for attention. It was like dealing with a mental hospital inside me. Finally my body was going to take revenge on me! I toyed with physical exercises and physiotherapy. They were helpful, but did not have the results I was looking for.

I was clear that I needed a step-by-step approach in order to slowly start freeing my body. What do I do? Where do I go? I was under a great deal of stress. I felt lucky to have been given a role of praying at the temple, but my body was in pain. Drugs were not an option; they would just send me to sleep. Will I now lose my dream because I have neglected my body?

One day I was passing the Iyengar Institute in Birmingham, which is just 100 metres from my home. It has been there for 13 years and I pass it many times a day, but it never occurred to me that this is where I could get help. I rang the bell and Andrew, the teacher, came to greet me. I explained to him my problems. We made a connection – I would describe it as a deep, spiritual connection – and he explained to me how Iyengar yoga works. It is a step-by-step approach, using props so that you push your body to your limits without overdoing the stretching. I thought I’d give it a try.

As I turned to leave the building, I saw the portrait of Iyengar Ji, and said to Andrew, ‘I met Iyengar Ji 30 years ago, but I rejected his suggestion to do yoga’. It was both an embarrassing moment for me, but also, at the same time, I knew I was in the right place and that I was open to learning. As I hobbled home, in a great deal of pain, my mind went into overdrive and I almost decided not to pursue this route. Fortunately, competing with my pride and embarrassment was the burning desire to take care of my body so that I could carry on with the prayers. This tug-of-war kept me awake all night, and in the morning I went to the class.

 

I arrived full of doubt and conflicting thoughts. I was shown the mat and I commented to Andrew that I have never sat on the floor so I don’t know how to sit. He told me I needed foam blocks. I sat on eight of them, stacked 4-high, so that I could bend my knees a little bit. As a 67-year-old Indian, I felt embarrassed. I felt that I am going to be judged, and that some people may think I am a drama queen. Andrew was firm, very instructive, and explained to me why I need what I need. Also, I could see some other students having the same sort of problems I was having.

I attended three classes that week, and each time I felt my body opening up. I knew I was in the right place. Very soon I could walk home without using the walking sticks. A few weeks’ later I underwent a routine medical check. My blood pressure had returned to almost normal and my diabetes had come down considerably. Two months later I amazed my physiotherapist by touching my toes – my arthritis had subsided. I was astonished at the difference yoga had made to me in such a short time. With improving health came other challenges. Being intellectually oriented, my mind wouldn’t rest. I have read many books on enlightenment, and the madness of the mind makes me believe that I am already enlightened. I read all of Iyengar Ji’s books and, as usual, the ego kicked in. I began discussing the books and intellectualising them, and my focus shifted from the practical to the theoretical, to the point where I was already imagining being a teacher of yoga. I was astonished at how quickly my mind hijacked the whole process, and suddenly, in my arrogance, I had forgotten the pain, isolation and lonely nights thinking of death.

I had to get back to the practicalities of the beginner’s Asanas. I progressed in them slowly and steadily, and began realising the subtleties of the poses. There is much more depth than I realised; a depth which will probably take many years to fully appreciate. It has been a very humbling experience. I can now sit with crossed legs on three foam blocks. My posture, my walking, and my general health have improved beyond all recognition. And when I go to prayers now, I can bend my legs in such a way that I can sit for 20 minutes.

The more I focus on the poses and reside in the moment, without showing how hard I am working, the more I am realising that all I have in any moment is where I am in my body, and all I have to focus on is now. Be in the present and be in contact with the body. This is going to be a constant challenge as I experiment with and experience the sensations of each asana, and work methodically, step by step, fully internalising the experience. I have become aware of how my mind has a tendency to take short cuts rather than exercise discipline, because after the first few classes I was already asking the teachers when I will be joining the advanced yoga class.

The biggest challenge I face is to avoid intellectualising and discussing yoga. It is simply about being in a pose. For example, doing Tadasana, there are so many things to be corrected; it is not just about standing upright. Also, I have to be aware when I am walking: aware of the position of my feet, my legs, my spine, my shoulders, my neck, and my head. That has made a vast improvement to my health, and every day I keep on discovering things which need correcting.

I am on a long journey, but that is not an issue. I feel – for the first time in my life – that I am being guided to take one step at a time, and am able to gratefully accept the guidance I am receiving. I have taken the first steps on this journey and I can see that I have a real possibility of being congruent, peaceful and contented.

In my clinical psychotherapy work, I have observed and witnessed that some people actually die in ignorance and a great deal of pain, both of mind and body. I consider myself very lucky that I am receiving a priceless gift which creates the possibility that the last moments of my life will be in conscious awareness. I am appreciative of my teachers, Andrew, Jayne and Clare, and their constant encouragement, precision, and commitment to making sure that I keep my intellectualism in check as they guide me through the step-by-step process towards my health and well-being. The fellow students are a great inspiration also, as we motivate each other on the journey of true wellness.

So, not only is yoga helping me to get my body in shape, it is also having a profound effect on my mind. I have noticed that I am taking very slow steps to quieten my mind, and I am thankful to Iyengar Ji for his meticulous research of the ancestral knowledge, for the example he set with his life and his practice, and for making yoga practical and accessible to modern society. A true Guru Ji.

Jasvinder Singh

Senior clinical psychotherapist & business counsellor

Posted on August 5, 2017 by Jayne Orton

We’re football crazy…..

Birmingham City Football Club does Iyengar Yoga!!!

Having been a lifelong football fan particularly of my hometown team  Birmingham City Football Club I was overwhelmed and honoured in 2005 to have the opportunity to teach them!

A little background. …

Everyone now talks of ‘Yoga for Sport’ and there are so many teacher training courses how to teach yoga to sports persons etc.  However the history of this explosion of interest goes back  in the UK I believe to around 2003 when Irish footballer Roy Keane  the then Captain of Manchester United Football team walked into a church hall somewhere  in the Cheshire area to attend a yoga class. He was so impressed with the teachings and the fact that the average man or woman , particularly  those much older and stiffer  than he , could do all these yogasanas – whereas him being a young top athlete could not!  This got him thinking, attending regularly and then hooked ! Shortly after that Man United had Iyengar yoga at their training ground and many of the huge football stars most notably Ryan Giggs took to yoga – the rest  – as they say is history.  Giggs put his longevity in Premier League football down entirely to Yoga. He retired aged 40 years which is unheard of in the game and most of those years were  injury free.

So back to Birmingham FC    – at the time Steve Bruce (ex Man United player) was our First Team Manager and it was he that gave me the opportunity to bring Iyengar Yoga to my  beloved Birmingham City FC!

The first ‘project’ I was given was to try and help a well known BCFC player who also played for the England National team. This player had been devastated with repeated hamstring tears  and disc problems and was  recommended   and did infact have  back surgery.  However since the surgery the player had not been able to train or play for BCFC and was in need of  great help.  So the club decided to give him one last shot at recovery and this is where Iyengar Yoga came in!     I applied everything I had learnt from BKS Iyengar and taught the player 3 times a week for at least 10 weeks and he practised himself too.  I took advice from Iyengar himself.   Iyengar never wavered in his support.  The player and club were delighted with the results and he came back into the first team shortly thereafter and continued  for years after with Iyengar Yoga only recently retiring  and now managing a football club in the North.  Shortly thereafter I was entrusted with teaching the whole of the first team on a weekly basis and have done so every Monday morning since. Because of the nature of football the squad is always changing so I usually don’t have the same students for more than a couple of seasons. However many many players continue with the practice after they left the club  either on their own or  even being taught yoga at a new club.  If there is an player with specific injury issues then I work with them one to one and many have visited the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Birmingham for medical classes.

My main project with the first team  however is ‘injury prevention’.    Guruji Iyengar gave me great advice to teach them as you would ‘normal students’ and as in Light on Yoga but to substitute poses like paschittmottanasana and uttanasana for single leg hamstring extensions such as Supta padangustasana and utthita hasta padangusthasana  .  This has worked very well and the players say they can’t do without their yoga classes!   Guruji gave the advice to not overwork the players and also to understand the need to rest and recover after games.  Many think that because they are young fit sportsmen with the world at their feet ( literally!) that you can ‘work them hard’- but because of his experience Guruji knew the balance required for these players between body, mind, spirit.   As a teacher of yoga to these players one also has to deal with psychological dejection for instance if they lose games  – or to use footballing terminology ‘ if their head goes down’.   So one has to consider the whole human being – just as we do when teaching in regular classes. To me this is the fascination of teaching Iyengar Yoga, how the practice is uplifting on so many levels.  Inner strength focus, courage, determination is required particularly in  big, crucial games and local derbys with our ‘friends’ across the city in Aston( AVFC!). !!

As I said earlier  – now Yoga for Sport ‘ is everywhere!  I like to think that along with Roy Keane & Ryan Giggs –  BCFC played a big part in that .  The pioneer of course was BKS Iyengar who taught the Indian Cricket Team and notably Sachin Tendulkar for many years including many other sports men and women.  His book ‘Yoga for Sport’ is an amazing detailed reference  book and I use it every Monday morning at the training ground!

 

Jayne Orton

IYIOB

 

 

Join our mailing list
Sign up to our emailing list to get our regular updates...