Exploration and Service
Caren Rabbino, a long-time Iyengar Yoga student and volunteer on the New York Institute’s board of directors, shared some thoughts on her yoga journey.
IYNAUS: When did you start doing yoga?
CR: I started with Hatha yoga twenty years ago. I’ve practiced vinyasa, kundalini, astanga and anusara styles as well. For the last ten years, I’ve worked exclusively in the Iyengar Yoga tradition.
IYNAUS: What are some of the gifts and challenges presented by your practice?
CR: My balance is excellent and I have good flexibility; but one side of my body is considerably stronger than the other. It takes some work to counteract the effects of using crutches as well as spending a good part of the day sitting in front of the computer.
IYNAUS: Did you have any big “ah ha” moments as you developed an Iyengar Yoga practice?
CR: I had a longstanding practice before I was exposed to the Iyengar Yoga method. In a small neighborhood studio, I encountered a teacher, Tzahi Moskovitz, who “intervened” in a way that was unprecedented. His attention to alignment required more time than say, a vinyasa practice, and that really helped me to understand the direction of a pose. By slowing down and using the props to gain stability, I found I could go farther into twists, stretches and extensions.
I credit Tzahi with encouraging me to try new things, things that I never thought were possible. With more practice, I became more confident. Eventually, I started focusing on what I can do, rather than what I can’t. Yoga has improved my strength, flexibility and balance but, most importantly, I dwell less on my physical limits.
IYNAUS: When did you start giving back to the Iyengar Yoga community by volunteering?
CR: Tzahi introduced me to James Murphy and the “Specific Needs” class at the NYC Institute. Eager to prove that I was capable of advanced poses, I demonstrated a Sirsasana II. James said, “OK, but that’s not what you’ll be doing at the age of 90. Why don’t you learn Sirsasana I so that you can sustain the practice for the rest of your life?” Yoga in my 90’s? It wasn’t something I had ever considered and yet it made complete sense.
I am grateful for the generosity of the teachers who participate in the Specific Needs class. They are genuinely committed to the health and well being of every student. As they do in every class, the teachers convey a central principle of yoga: how to maintain equanimity in stressful situations. This is the sort of long-term and sustainable practice that enables full quality of life for a person with more and less obvious challenges.
In 2012-13, James and I worked with a doctor from the rehabilitation unit of NYU Langone Medical Center. The doctor identified a number of recent amputees who were good candidates for an introduction to the Iyengar Yoga method. James and members of the NY Institute faculties worked with these students in consecutive 8-week workshops.
The following year, we developed some interdisciplinary programming—with a neuroscientist from Cornell University; the Rubin Museum; and Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine program—surrounding Matt Sanford’s guest teacher workshop entitled WAKING MIND AND BODY: What Our Bodies Can Teach Us About Accepting Change.
I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Iyengar Association of Greater New York in 2014.
IYNAUS: What would you tell others considering volunteering?
CR: Service is a central tenet of the Iyengar Yoga method. The teachers make it a part of their practice. I think it’s what we mean by “taking yoga off the mat.” It’s putting into practice in the world the part of ourselves we access in the poses.
Volunteering for the association is a way of acknowledging the gift of great teachers and reciprocating the personal benefit of the Iyengar Yoga practice.