I have been very impressed with the tenor of recent discussions. A lot of really smart (a compliment, as far as I'm concerned), thoughtful responses, with much additional information to put in the mix. Very cool.
I'm struck by the variety of experience out there. Not that it should surprise me, but there are a lot of interesting back stories that I'm just getting a glimpse of: college majors, past career tracks, enthusiasms, impressive reading lists. It got me to thinking (don't it always) about what leads up to one's yoga "career" and what it was about yoga that was so compelling that we stayed. Some of it is obvious (stress-relief, fitness, improved health), but--of course--yoga moves in deep and subtle ways and there must have been something more personal that each of us responded to. Before there was yoga, there was something else and I want to know what it was...
So, I'll go first. My first yoga class was in the fall of 1989, in Philadelphia with Joan White, a long-time Iyengar instructor. It was also my first semester of grad school in Art History at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, and my first Big City experience as an adult. I was quite overwhelmed by Ivy Leaguers and the City of Brotherly Love and I'd heard yoga was good for stress, so I thought I'd try it out.
Of course, it was good for stress, but what caught my attention was Joan's rigor and her attention to detail. I liked the soothing pace of the class, but I also liked the right-way/wrong-way dichotomy. That I was there to learn "how" to do a pose and--even though it could be modified--there was a correct version and an incorrect version. Some of this came from Joan's adjustments, but some of it came from the fact that if you're out of alignment, you can't hold Tree Pose. Basic enough.
As a fish-out-of-water Midwesterner, I found this fairly strict presentation of the discipline very appealing. Here was something clear-cut, secure and regular. I could go to class, expect a straightforward sequence, and would feel better when I was finished. None of the "do I belong here" or "can I keep up" voices from the rest of my life at that time.
I guess that's why the basic Iyengar approach continues to resonate with me, altho I've found it a bit inflexible at times. I like the logic and structure. I know one thing will lead to the next and, as this progression unfolds, I will move deeper into the practice and into calm. I can rely on it. It's not that the rest of my life is super-chaotic, but my yoga practice feels like my protected, quiet center.
Before there was yoga there was a lot of nervous, unfocused energy. First Art History and then Costume Design. High-pressure deadlines out of my control, unpredictable personalities, excitement, drama, over-thinking (can you imagine?!?). Sequins. And that is still my tendency, but I have a remedy for the worst of it. And, when I moved back to Wisconsin, I replaced the really crazy life of show biz with that of a yoga teacher (and mother--but that's a bit more of the out-of-control drama).
So, for me, yoga offers Structure. A Voice that reminds me not to over-analyze and helps me focus the energy and settle down. Nothing fancy, not too much dogma, just asana and pranayama and the calm that follows. Common-sense yoga, if you will.