Iyengar yoga at Artjuna

I’m a planner. I plan the shit out of my days. I’ve got this great page-per-day diary and I probably write about it more often than I write about my husband, that’s how big a role it plays in my life. In it I chart out my day’s schedule, and every little task on the agenda, from workouts and meetings to downtime. Yep, I even plan downtime.

It is, as a result of all this meticulous minute-to-minute planning, sometimes difficult for anything unexpected to elbow its way into my days. I’ve recently started to bring awareness to this convention in an attempt to stop the push-and-pull that is the inevitable result of a meticulously planned day (if one thing moves, so do about three other things); it is a habit that makes me unbelievably efficient, I can say without a smidgen of bigheadedness, but it also means that there isn’t a lot of room for funny little oddities to creep in, and where’s the fun in that? It’s sort of a fifty-fifty thing: it is possible that leaving my days more open and fluid will allow something bigger, better, and more fun to appear. Sure. Of course, even. But what if it doesn’t? What if I just…waste the day? That’s sort of the thing that I’ve been trying to sidestep: this idea that a day that isn’t chocka with productivity, it is a waste of time. Instead, I’ve been to let the day go where it wants to go with zero expectation, either of magic or the mundane. (Only some days, mind, some days are still for the diary and me.)

This sort of in-the-moment presence is normal (even expected) on holiday, when you’re watching the waves wash in and out, or when you’re perched atop a mountain somewhere with no network coverage. Living in cities it is a little harder to come upon. I always endeavour, as most of us do after a long, clarity-inducing getaway, to hang on to that clearheaded feeling. But then suddenly, a month (or thereabouts) later, I find myself back in the vortex of aloof efficiency that is my fallback. It’s lovely, I’m learning, to have the big goalposts, but it is lovelier still to let that shit go and have a little faith in life’s flow.

You know what helps? Inversions help.
The shapes you make with your body shapes the way you think, and the way you feel. When you turn your body upside down, you are (literally) turning your world upside down. You see things with a fresh perspective. You see things in a way you did not before. Deliberately flipping upside down runs contrary to the way we move instinctively, at least as adults (flipping upside down formed a large portion of my days as a toddler), but the benefits of upending ourselves are many. Yoga pushes us to recognize and then release habitual patterns, particularly when they hold us back, and inverting is a great way to bust out of ruts.

Inversions don’t have to be advanced, or Instagram-ready; any asana in which your head is below your heart is categorised as an inversion. This means handstands and headstands, as well as forearm and shoulder stands of course, but also downward dog, standing forward folds and legs up against the wall. Practicing challenging inversions often seems to become the goal, but forget about getting into the pose, it’s the process that might reveal more than you’d expected. My first attempt at a headstand was half-hearted at best, and indignant at worst. On the prodding of my instructor I reluctantly positioned my elbows where they needed to go and started the slow step-step-step of legs toward my head until I was a stoic, inverted v. I wouldn’t, couldn’t lift my legs off the floor though, no matter how much I was reassured that he wouldn’t let me fall. It wasn’t just that I was annoyed at the prospect of being utterly shit at it (although there was a little of that), but it was also peppered with a mortal fear that I would snap my neck. It seems silly now, but I was just so unaccustomed to being in that upside down and utterly vulnerable position that in that moment I’d have been happy to just… not. Not ever. Lucky for me, these inversion implosions are, apparently, commonplace, which is also why most yoga instructors will just ignore your feeble mewls of protest and send you up anyway, most likely against a wall for support while you sort your shit out.

The shapes you make with your body shapes the way you think, and the way you feel. When you turn your body upside down, you are (literally) turning your world upside down.

Iyengar yoga puts a special emphasis on inversions, in part due to their physical benefits of slowing the heart rate, helping lymph drainage and improved core and cognitive function (body and brain, can’t beat it, really), but also for the upending of your energy. Here the emphasis isn’t, like most other physical activity, actually on movement at all. It is on staying still. You just stand, whether on your hands, on your shoulders, on your head, or in a forward fold, your head tucked into your knees. You’re very still, and you are also therefore very present. I did my first Iyengar class with a great teacher named Ian at Artjuna in Goa. Tucked away in Anjuna, you’ll find twice-daily classes led by Ian round the back of a sprawling complex, which also houses a vegetarian café and a krav maga training area (although that class I did not try). I’d never tried Iyangar before, so spent the twenty minutes before everybody landed up (I am also chronically, irritatingly early) blinking at the stacks of bolsters and rugs on either side of the room wondering if I should settle in for a snooze instead. As it happens, while Iyengar is slower paced than most vinyasa or ashtanga classes, it is anything but a snooze.

Named for its creator, BKS Iyengar, this is a methodical arm of yoga, where instructors guide you on proper alignment and posture through the use of props like bolsters, ropes, blocks, and chairs. These supported postures also make this a great practice for beginners, for the elderly, for athletes with injuries, and for everybody in between. Ian is a bit of a riot in his own right, and walks around tweaking and adjusting until you’re aligned just-so. Those props help you get into poses, and stay in them. I have the most obscenely tight hamstrings on the planet (thanks dad), and find supta virasana agonizing most days, but was, with a little help from my bolster buds, able to actually stay in the position long enough to feel my hips open up a little. In deeper postures the first chunk of time you spend in them is just about letting things go: getting your head to shut up, and getting your body to let go, even just incrementally. And then, just as you’re starting to drop into it (or just as your muscles are screaming to come out of it), it’s time for the next one. I loved the class. We used the wall-mounted ropes to go super-deep in cobra, and to create a little additional traction in downward dog. Headstand was suddenly a super-fun hanging inversion, and, our heads free of any pressure, we stayed there like little Goan bats, for a long time. I felt open, expanded, and incredibly light.

After class, stop at Artjuna’s café. This vegetarian eatery serves coffee and cake alongside an all-day breakfast menu and smoothies and juice. The honey, ginger, and lemon shot is great before tucking into a hummus or tahini bowl (or eggs, or even a slice of gluten-free cake). Renewed and enjoying the sensation of dropped-down shoulders and less-tight hips, I headed back to my rented car and made no plans for the rest of the day. (Really.)

Iyengar yoga with Ian at Artjuna runs through the season, with classes at 9am and 4.30pm.
Rs 500 per class, or 2000 for five classes. For more information, call 0832 2274794.