Monday, December 1, 2014

Letter Home by Hong Gwi-Seok (Peggy)

Dear Beloved Community of Iyengar Yoga Detroit,

By the time the winter session begins, I will be back in town. Hooray! I'm looking forward to settling into our new yoga home, seeing familiar faces, employing my full yoga vocabulary, and working with my stellar students. 

I am having a incredible experience here in Korea. I'm living in the city of Bucheon, part of metropolitan Seoul, which is nearly 20 million people. I'm teaching several classes a week. A beginner class at a local community center for employees of a YWCA afterschool academy, and 3 classes in Seoul's historic Insa-dong neighborhood, a few blocks away from my paternal grandfather's traditional herbal medicine shop. 50+ years ago, my grandfather and family lived and ran the center, which is now a museum. So it feels particularly meaningful that I am here now, humbly offering my own healing art.The Iyengar Yoga community here is small, but hungry. Although Seoul is huge, and yoga is quite popular, there are very few Iyengar teachers. Like the USA, the mainstream regards yoga as strictly fitness, but those who have experienced Iyengar Yoga truly appreciate it. The Korean temperament and culture are well suited for Iyengar Yoga because Koreans love rigor and long for depth.

I use a lot of Korean in my beginner classes but more advanced classes require me to speak English. All my students know at least a little bit of English, and some are quite fluent. It has been a good challenge to be concise and do dramatic demonstrations!

I am running a twice monthly study group in addition to the asana/pranayama classes, and the participants are making much progress, as we discuss the sutras, and examine the asanas more deeply. I certainly hope to stay in touch with the Iyengar community here, even when I am back in the States.

My 10-week language intensive is about to end. Monday-Friday, 4 hours/day we met for Korean language study. In addition, I typically spend another 2-5 hours/day studying on my own. I have learned a lot, and I can get by in Korean with some ease, but I still have a long way to go, if I want to read Korean books and discuss philosophy etc.

it's been wonderful to spend time with my extended family here. Last weekend we had a memorial ceremony for my maternal grandparents and shared a delicious meal. I got to hear lots of great stories and spend time with several generations of family. Especially nice since I will be missing my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, when I will be at a meditation retreat, eating 2 tiny meals/day and sitting for hours.

In my final month here, I plan to visit a few intentional communities, and scope out where I may live when I come back for another extended stay. I'm tentatively thinking I will try to spend a full year here in 2017. I feel a sense of belonging and responsibility here that feels important to honor. There are some amazing communities outside the major cities that are organic farming, alternative schooling, and creating sustainable economies. Maybe one is interested in Iyengar Yoga?

Meanwhile, I have begun thinking ahead to 2015 when I am Stateside. I am eager to reconnect with you all and compare notes on inner and outer developments of the past several months.

Love and namaste,
Hong Gwi-Seok (Peggy)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Does Personal Practice Mean?

Sometimes I will hear my students say, “I practice with Peggy.” Using the term broadly to describe the doing of asanas in any context, this makes sense. However, I actually use the word “practice” differently, to distinguish it from “study.”

To me, practice means personal practice. That is, what I do on my own, away from my teachers. BKS Iyengar says we are not really doing yoga until we’re doing it on our own.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my teachers and mentors and value them tremendously. One of the reasons I moved from Milwaukee to Detroit in 2013 was to have access to a weekly senior teacher, the illustrious Laurie Blakeney of Ann Arbor. But no teacher, no matter how good, whether Laurie, my mentor Lois Steinberg, or Guruji BKS Iyengar himself, can replace my personal practice.

Why? My personal practice is where I tend to my particular needs that day. I don’t have to take anyone else’s needs or agenda into consideration. If I’m premenstrual and have low back pain, I can address this. If I’m cold and stiff, I can act accordingly. If I’ve had a poor night’s sleep or I’m feeling agitated, I can practice to alleviate these conditions.

Home or personal practice is where I sensitize myself and listen closely to my body and mind. Sometimes I have a plan or goal in mind as I approach my mat. I might be working on a syllabus for my next assessment, preparing for a class or workshop, or thinking about a student with an injury or ailment. But most times I ask myself what I am needing, and one pose leads to another as the practice unfolds.

Home practice is both artistry and discipline. As an artist, I take full creative responsibility for my sequence and how I execute those asanas. As a disciplinarian, I go through my sequence and create rigor of mind and attention myself without relying on anyone else. I have to “bring it” each and every time.

Does this mean my personal practice is always as good or better than a class I attend? Not necessarily. I go to class not to practice, but to study. When I study, I’m gaining insights and ideas to bring back to my practice. I get feedback, corrections, adjustments, and refinements.  My study informs my personal practice.

Some schools of yoga encourage daily class. But in the Iyengar tradition, we encourage daily practice, and classes to supplement practice, maybe 1-3 times a week. The personal practice should be at the heart of yoga, not reliance on a teacher. When I go for month-long intensive study at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, we have the privilege of attending 6 classes/week. However, class does not replace practice, which we do daily in the hall each morning for 2-3 hours, alongside Guruji himself, who at 95 years old, still sets the standard for a sustained, intense, conscious, creative, sensitive personal practice.

Yes, please come and study with me. I have so much I want to share with my students. But also practice on your own! This will empower you like no teacher can.

To encourage personal practice, IYD hosts open practice sessions for members. Join me at any of these times, use our props and rope wall, get your asana moving! We will practice side by side, doing our own sequences without instruction.
Tuesdays 12-2pm
Wednesdays 8-10am
Thursdays 10am-12pm (teachers and apprentices, others welcome)
Saturdays 7-9am
Let me know if you would like to practice at any of these times.

Come to my workshop: