by Sandra Bark
The third pose in Iyengar’s LIGHT ON YOGA is Uttihita Trikonasana Three: a triangle. In the accompanying plates, Iyengar’s hand is on the ground. He bends directly from the hip. He is more than a metaphor for a shape; more than a man pretending to be a triangle. He is a triangle.
Here’s the rub: I am not Iyengar.
It took a while to figure that out. When I started practicing, I was all effort, no ease; all vigor, no technique. I thought that yoga was about the ability to contort oneself into intricate shapes. Without props. Props? What for? Straps? No thanks. Blankets? Maybe, if you think I might get a chill during final rest. Blocks? I hadn’t played with blocks since I was a baby!
As I have advanced my practice, what I am learning is how to temper the desire to just get there with the realization that going there the right way is more important than pretending that I have achieved a pose. What I am working towards is connecting with the feeling of doing a pose instead of focusing on an image of how it “should” be done.
When we face Amity Street, setting up for triangle, I think of Iyengar’s hand on the floor and I want to get there. But if I insist on getting my palm to the ground, my chest dips forward, my hips swing back, and my lower back insists that I hit ESC. When I slide a purple block under my hand to “bring the floor up to me” (a popular Mala-ism), I can absorb in the hip and extend in the side. Then my pose becomes more than a simile: I am not a woman pretending to be like Iyengar being a triangle. I am a triangle.
I used to think that it was just about me and my mat. Now, I understand that straps can be boundaries, like when we bind our arms to set up for forearm stand. That they can be bridges, connecting hands that don’t quite make it in cow-faced pose. That blankets offer more than warmth: they support our hips. That blocks aren’t just toys, but encouragements towards a new found ease.
So I’d like to offer some props to the props. Thank you for helping us be triangles, be trees, be warriors, be heroes.