It feels as though I have gotten a snow cone off the tip of
an iceberg in terms of the knowledge and experience that come with this guy, Francois, my friend Jane's teacher, who traveled to California from his base in Rochetser, New York to give a two-day workshop at the Healdsburg Yoga Studio. He
has such a long history of practice and closeness to the source, and remains an
ardent seeker. Francois strikes me as a healer first and foremost. He wants
people to treat their bodies with kindness and he knows how to teach them that.
He is not interested in asana for its own sake.
The theme of the weekend was sitting and standing, with a subtitle that could have been "regressing to progress". There was a slideshow to contrast modern-people/bad posture with people-who-live-close-to-the-earth/good posture, hence “regress to progress”. Go back to folk ways of natural tadasana spine upon which to build the refinement of asana.
It was a luxury to have only 13 people in the workshop because he treated the sessions more like classes with no fixed agenda, and he improvised quite a bit. Someone requested we work on pincha so we did. He changed his plan for seated poses when he found out we were a room full of bad knees. Coming back to the simplicity and universality of tadasana was the common thread.
He loves to talk. And he's a bit of a clown, sometimes in a sophisticated way and sometimes in a way that almost makes me understand why the French like Jerry Lewis. He was like a little kid describing the Allard workshop he had recently attended, and gleefully referred back to it many times over the weekend when anatomy would come up.
One analogy he made will stay with me. He said that asana is a way of damming up prana in the body, and releasing the dam allows the benefits of prana to be felt.
He says the muscles need equal parts toning, stretching and
relaxation. He seems to think minimal toning is optimal.
There was a lot of philosophy that happened along: Patanjali as a renunciate vs. BKS as a moderate....folks who have fled confining religions but glom onto the yamas and niyamas in their most rigid form because they are familiar territory....tofu vs. tantra.
The nuts and bolts of the asana instruction were strict but forgiving, and the exacting detail was a feast for me. He offered modifications for one woman with scoliosis, another with a knee that wouldn't bend past 90 degrees, and for the restoratives he enjoyed facilitating comfort with a blanket here, a bolster there, etc, etc.
He fixed my godawful revolved triangle so that I don't hate it anymore.
As I told Jane, I really do sit up nights worrying what is going to happen when BKS dies. I know there are many great Iyengar teachers around, but without the ability to witness first hand the tremendous humanity beneath Iyengar’s seemingly harsh exterior, my worry is that practitioners will drift away from the structure, throwing out the baby with the bath water. After meeting Francois, I have to say I will worry less, because Francois (and I hope there are others) has that same combination of insistence on form and structure along with an underlying humanity that is his true and most profound nature. When Francois talks about BKS he does so with such love and reverence, but without placing BKS on any kind of pedestal, and really, when you love someone that much as a human being it is more meaningful than the kind of blind worship gurus are offered by students yearning for more than any fellow human can give.
Francois is an independent thinker who loves his teacher at least partly for his lifelong ability to evolve through independent thought. That is a big part of what I don't want to be lost to Iyengar Yoga after BKS dies. I feel so lucky to have been exposed to Francois and gotten some reassurance that the torch will stay lit.