fresh wisdom: an interview with deidra demens

How would you describe Iyengar Yoga?

When I started the Iyengar teacher training, I felt like I needed a foundation as a teacher. I had that as a student, because that’s what I was practicing. So many schools of yoga say different things about the different poses. I expected to go into the Iyengar teacher training and they would tell me, this is how you do it. We asked them, In Urdhva Hastasana, should the fingers be spread wide or should they be together? They said, Both. There are times when you spread the fingers wide, there are times when you bring them together. They told us that you are going to have to do both again and again and again and again until you understand what’s happening when you do it this way versus when you do it that way. When you teach class, you’re going to know when to tell the students to spread the fingers wide and when to tell them to bring them together.

What I learned in the teacher training is that it was all about experience. That’s where the props come in. That’s where the different ways to do the poses come in. There’s no one way. When you practice asana, you’re finding yourself. You’re finding yourself in the classic shape, and then you change that up a little bit. It’s finding yourself in this pose but then there’s kind of looking back to, what does that tell you about who you are as a person, or where you are right now in your life, or where you want to be, what this whole thing is to you?

It is structured. It can be strict. I can see how Iyengar Yoga is whole. I don’t know enough about other styles of yoga to see how their method is working to help people that are brand new or open-level or experienced practitioners or teachers or recovering from injury or pregnancy. I really appreciate how Iyengar Yoga strives to make yoga available to everyone.

It’s so interesting how because of the structure, you can find yourself. I am interested in seeing people and finding how yoga can help them wherever they are. In Iyengar yoga, you are taught to see people.

Who are your teachers?

My mentor is Lara Warren and my other mentor is James Murphy, but I also study a lot with Nikki Costello. They’ve all been really amazing. It’s crazy how helpful and supportive these teachers have been to me as a teacher, as a student, and as a person. All the time it seems like they are going out of their way to help me. I’m learning so much from them. They’ve been really inspiring in that way.

What are your classes like?

On a structural level, my beginner classes are Level 1 classes. In Iyengar Yoga we have a syllabus for each level, and Level 1, you’re learning the foundational poses. So lateral standing poses, you’re learning to create space in the sides and to lift the chest. We spend a lot of time opening the shoulders, opening the chest. And then there are some beginning stages of forward bending, backbending, twisting, that come up. Then shoulderstand. Shoulderstand is a big deal. The Level 2 classes, lateral poses still come up. All of the standing poses come up at every level. Not all Iyengar teachers follow the sequences, but generally I do. The first week of the month is standing poses, second week forward bends and twists, third week backbends and inversions, last week restorative. So I tend to follow that sequence.

In the Level 2 class, you’re introducing now some of the more challenging standing poses, the rotated poses—Parivrtta Trikonasana, Parivrtta Parsvokonasana, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana—more seated forward bends, more backbends, more seated twists. You’re also learning some of the variations to Shoulderstand. You learn Shoulderstand in Level 1; in Level 2, you learn Eka Pada Sarvangasana, Parsva Sarvangasana. We also do beginning stages of dropping back in Shoulderstand.

I’m right now working toward the next level of certification, which will add more variations of shoulderstands. Practicing Headstand in the middle of the room. This is what will happen in my classes if I’m teaching a Level 3 class.

Do you have any thoughts on change as a process in practice and how to work with change or develop skills in practice for working with change?

Mr. Iyengar used to say that habit is disease. It’s interesting. He talks a lot about how our practice has to change. As a woman, especially, our practice has to change. Not only if you’re menstruating, but if you’re pregnant, pre- and post-menopause or practice changes. We are never the same. Our lives are always changing. What’s beautiful is that yoga is there to support that. If you’re sick, there are postures and sequences for cold and flu season. There are sequences for insomnia. Mr. Iyengar has sequences for mental and emotional stability. Because we are changing, our practice has to change. The toughest part with that is acceptance of change. Mr. Iyengar, I was watching an interview and he was talking about how he couldn’t do jump-backs anymore. He had to accept that. The way he talked about it was, I didn’t need that anymore. There are different things that I need. I guess you can force yourself. But if we’re being true to ourselves, we are working in practice in a way that’s best for us, what we need right now.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really want to make clear the respect that I have for my teachers and the thanks that I give to them for all their support, their help and encouragement. When someone else believes in you, it helps you see your own potential. I believe that they believe in me. And I want to give special thanks to Barbara and Kristin—they have been so supportive. The Iyengar program at the Shala came together quite magically, and I really appreciate all the work Barbara and Kristin did to make it happen, and for bringing me in and believing in me.

deidra demens was introduced to yoga in 2004. while studying at the theatre school at depaul university in chicago illinois, deidra explored various styles of yoga, movement and breathing exercises as creative ways of expression. deidra enrolled in the teacher training at the iyengar yoga institute of new york and became certified at intro i/ ii level in november 2017. deidra continues to study with her primary teachers lara warren (her mentor) and james murphy; she is grateful for their support and inspiration. deidra’s approach to teaching is focused and fun, her classes are energetic and engaging. through demonstration and detailed alignment deidra seeks to both challenge and inspire her students. she teaches at 10:30am on Mondays and Fridays at our Union Square location.