I attended the May 2013 IYNAUS convention with anticipation. I was excited to spend time with the friends I had made at previous Iyengar Yoga gatherings and was looking forward to taking classes from Birjoo Mehta. Birjoo had been highly recommended by Nuvana Zarthoshtimanesh , as he was one of her primary teachers in Mumbai. Each year Nuvana traveled to India to see family, and she would return with interesting asana variations and unique explanations of how to understand yoga philosophy that she would attribute to Birjoo.
The convention had many highlights, but for me the backward extension classes with Birjoo gave me the most illumination. Backward extensions have long been a challenge for me, and practicing these poses has always required me to work up my courage to go deeper.
Birjoo used the idea of the lungs as “air bags”, like in a car. He had us fill the lungs with an inhalation. He instructed us to observe that in the pause after the inhalation, the lungs had “aerostatic pressure”, like air bags pressing into the occupants of a car. We were to then use this aerostatic pressure to push into the anterior shoulder blades to initiate, deepen and even to come out of backward extension poses.
In the maintenance stage of the poses we then refined with a two part breath. We were to exhale from the upper abdomen (lower front ribs) and then inhale from the lower abdomen and draw the abdominal organs towards the ribcage. Using the breath in this way offered a feeling of support and stability in the poses.
Another concept was a detailed explanation of how the dorsal spine opens in backward extensions. Birjoo described the action this way: the front dorsal spine opens and the back dorsal spine remains connected. He illustrated the idea with a stack of yoga blocks. I found this idea especially useful in Ustrasana.
Birjoo also had us pay more attention to the head while entering backward extension asanas. This attention to the head was especially profound for me in Urdhva Dhanurasana. We were to come to the crown of the head as is usually taught. Then with each inhalation we implemented the airbag concept and then lifted the body and head a little (the heels could lift) and moved the head further back, away from the hands, towards the feet. After putting the head down, we repeated the actions 2-3 times and finally we used the airbag concept to lift all the way up into the full pose. My pose had a lightness and steadiness that I had never attained before and when we released the pose I was quietly laughing with joy for an Urdhva Dhanurasa that was filled with lightness instead of dread.
I hope to study with Birjoo again, as his teaching truly offered me illumination.
Any misunderstandings of Birjoo’s teaching are my own.