Master Teacher: Brooke Myers
Informed by a deep sense of duty and a strong social conscience, Iyengar teacher
Brooke Myers’ outreach efforts have included teaching in a psychiatric hospital and a drug
rehabilitation center. She co-taught the HIV/AIDS class at the Iyengar Institute in NYC for many years as well as special classes for knee and back problems, depression, and menopause. As she says, “I’m still looking for ways to use yoga to bridge the gulf between all kinds of people. It should be possible—one of the meanings of yoga is union.”
Myers, an Intermediate Junior III teacher, began studying yoga 1973 and has taught since 1987. She trained many times in India with the Iyengars. Her primary teachers are
Geeta Iyengar and the late Mary Dunn. Her previous career was in radical experimental dance and theater. Along with her political causes, she is active in animal rescue.
A student of Myers for over 15 years Brina Gehry said, “Brooke thrives on the interaction with her students, punctuating her lessons with questions, always giving room for dialogue. Recently a student complained of back pain and Brooke showed how a pose could be soothing to the back, then went on to teach how it could be not only soothing, but transformative.
Brooke is a kind and gentle soul who nurtures each student’s growth, but she does not miss a thing; from an aggressive pushing forward of the kidneys in Tadasana to a dropped collarbone in Sirsasana. Her gentle demeanor belies a ferocious dedication to the physical, mental and spiritual rigor that is the hallmark of Iyengar Yoga.”
Kathleen Kraft: What does your practice look like day to day?
Brooke Myers: My practice has changed the last few years, with more emphasis on pranayama and a simpler approach to asanas. I am 69 and have limitations to work with as well as things I need to "fix.” I still go to Light on Yoga, but with additions from physical therapy and other modalities for strength. I practice pranayama for a half hour in the morning except when I walk my dog along the East River for an hour and a half, in which case I do pranayama after asana, which I now do in the afternoon.
My practice from Light on Yoga is: standing poses Monday, the poses which follow on Tuesday, forward bends Wednesday, twists Thursday, and back arches Friday. Saturday and Sunday is whatever I seem to need or simply want to do. Inversions every day. Or, I don't practice and don't feel terrible about it as I used to. My practice is shorter now--I try to hold fewer poses longer because I feel there is more to do for the world in these times: causes and people which must be attended to.
KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?
BM: Iyengar said the relationship should be like that of father and son, full and complex but there should be distance. I must see their limitations and take them beyond those limitations. And I must be able to see myself; that I might not have explained something well enough for them to understand it. And then I have to let them go sometimes.
KK: When would you let a student go?
BM: I have to be completely committed to the student's progress, so if they progress beyond what I can give them I have to let them go even if the student becomes quite connected to me; coming regularly to class over many years, seeking mentoring from me and so forth. Sutra I:12 comes to mind: Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness. The teaching relationship is like that; I think I may have pushed people away at times when I felt they needed something more that I wasn't as good at. Then other times I have felt I've failed to connect with a student who did need help.
Also, teaching people who want to become teachers is a big responsibility and I’ve found my own ego can get in the way. No matter the situation, a teacher has to really SEE the student. "Treat serious students seriously and casual students casually." I think that is close to what BKS Iyengar advised.
KK: Which sutra is guiding you and why?
BM: Atha Yoganusasanam 1:1. Every day I have to practice it even if I don't get to asana/pranayama. There are 8 limbs so every day is the study of yoga beginning with Ahimsa, ending at Samadhi. Samadhi might be complete comprehension of NOW. There are those who go for self-realization—renunciates, sadhus, monks and nuns—but if we proceed with the 8 limbs, I hope there can be a glimpse of that realm. Asana and pranayama are easy compared to the yamas and niyamas, and I am a terrible meditator. In other words, I am still searching for ways to even begin to still my mind.
KK: Who has been a major influence on your life, your work?
BM: The greatest influence on my teaching and practice is BKS Iyengar and his daughter Geeta. I spent time at the Institute in India over the years, but their teachings were brilliantly conveyed and interpreted to me by Mary Dunn. I knew her primarily as my teacher but her life and her way of facing her death in 2008 were inspiring to me. She had been our teacher, then she created the Institute and made us her colleagues, and then she got sick. She faced her death in a way that made me feel that she saw it as one more thing she had to teach us. She was always detached in the way I spoke of in the student/teacher question, but the year that she was sick she was always present and available for teaching questions and continued to care about the Institute in order to spread Mr. Iyengar's teaching. She kept a blog the whole time and in the last post she said she was ready for the next journey (those are my words, hers were more poetic and stirring). So maybe she was showing her students, us, the way to die, the way to Samadhi.
The other person is my mother who died when I was 21 but introduced me to Autobiography of a Yogi, Teilhard du Chardin, St. John of the Cross and other mystics while being a suburban mom in the 60's. I didn't read these texts until many years later, but when I did I realized how she had read them to give her guidance in how to live. She had had a very turbulent family life as a young person and was always searching for peace. She died way too young but she faced death with grace and courage. I was given the blessing of Iyengar's life and work, and I think I was able to recognize that because of her spiritual search.
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