Yoga Rockford: Self-assessment

Jennie Williford of Pranayama Yoga Studio demonstrates an Iyengar Yoga pose. Photo provided

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

The eight “limbs” of yoga make up a path of self-transformation and spiritual freedom. For me, the practice and teaching of yoga has generated a life-altering sense of purpose, strength and self-awareness. But, the path of yoga is a journey I could not possibly take on my own. In fact, the ancient tradition of yoga acknowledges the need for guidance on the path by emphasizing the importance of the relationship between guru (teacher) and sisya (student).

The Iyengar Yoga method attempts to keep this traditional relationship alive. Iyengar students and teachers are guided from afar by gurus BKS Iyengar and his daughter (Geeta) and son (Prashant); and, more closely, by senior teachers here in the United States. Over decades, through trial and error, self-awareness, and devoted practice, BKS Iyengar has developed a method of teaching that ignites the fire of self-discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya) in the student. This method is now institutionalized in the process of certification of an Iyengar yoga teacher. Iyengar Yoga certification is a rigorous process designed to train teachers to share the holistic practice of yoga in a clear and effective manner.

Embarking on the journey through the levels of Iyengar Yoga certification is a personal choice and a lifetime endeavor. Becoming certified, even at the introductory level, means you have dedicated years to the study and practice of yoga as taught by Mr. Iyengar. It requires being recommended by two senior teachers you study with regularly; and it involves passing two exams.

Beyond certification at the introductory level, teachers proceed to advanced levels as they feel ready. At each level, students must be recommended by two senior teachers and must pass an exam that consists of a written test on anatomy, philosophy and sequencing of different poses, a demonstrated practice of the poses specific to the level,l and a 40-minute class taught to volunteer students. In conformance with centuries of tradition, each exam is observed and evaluated by three advanced-level teachers.

I started yoga in 1998, began teaching in 2003, and embarked on my own journey through Iyengar Yoga certification in 2005. I had done other types of yoga, and even took a teacher training through a Yoga Alliance-registered organization, but I wanted something more. I had felt the transformative effects of yoga, but lacked the ability to share it effectively with my students. After experiencing workshops and classes with certified Iyengar teachers, I realized I had to take the plunge.

Like yoga itself, the Iyengar method of certification is more a path of self-assessment than a series of achievements. In the end, there is no external reward for achieving a new level. It is the internal growth of my own self as student, teacher, and person that I receive. For me, preparation for each exam is a time of objective self-reflection that allows me a view of my practice and teaching through others’ eyes. I know that when I practice alone, my bad habits may encourage me to move only in the “easy” spaces. I need an objective eye to push me beyond familiar limits. “Peer teaching,” with comments and corrections from fellow teachers of all levels, requires detachment from ego and allows me to see the effectiveness of my words and actions. Preparing for assessment challenges me to build personal strength and remain open to change inside and outside the classroom.

This past year, I prepared for the third exam in the process of assessment, and passed into the Intermediate Junior I level. I spent the summer timing and taping my teaching to observe my instructions and movements. I studied the actions that link movements within and between poses, and focused my practice on the syllabus for this level.

The weekend of the exam is a perfect culmination to the intense preparation.

I am happiest in the practice room among friends and colleagues, fellow travelers on this path of yoga. I am honored to have the privilege to be seen and evaluated by teachers I respect and adore. And, as always, I learn and grow and re-devote myself to this lineage of great yogis, and I invite you to join me on this amazing path!

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010 issue

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