A True Assessment

By November 13, 2012

By Peggy Hong

As I entered the final weeks before my Intermediate Junior 1 assessment, panic coursed through my body. Had I been practicing enough? Were my twists as stuck as they’d always been? What can I do about these tight shoulders? Did I really understand these asanas that I would be demonstrating and teaching? Did I know anything at all about Patanjali’s yoga sutras? As time sped toward my assessment date, I felt more and more like a big….fake.

I left no stone unturned in my last desperate weeks. I went to my massage therapist, who worked on my back, commenting on how “locked up” my muscles were. No kidding. I went to my acupuncturist, who urged me to eat a cool, bitter foods diet to quiet my system which was so fired up I had broken out in eczema. I went to my kinesiologist, who worked to calm my red-alert state. I sent an email out to all my students and friends asking for good thoughts. “Light a candle,” I urged them, letting them know my demonstrated teaching would be at 4pm Saturday.

After weeks, months, and actually years of preparation, it was time to go to my assessment. In that morning’s practice, a sense of calm finally swept over me.

During my last-minute cramming, I had forgotten that each assessment is a rite of passage, and as a rite of passage, I was entering a place of mystery and surprise. A rite of passage marks a transition from one stage to another, and there is no right  or wrong way to make this passage. We can control part of the process, but much remains unknown. Each person’s rite of passage is different, and suited to each initiate. Each rite of passage is perfect. This weekend would be exactly what I needed.

Furthermore, I realized, the assessment marked a deep inward change and a growing sense of responsibility and leadership. Was I ready to embrace this?

We grow because we have teachers, nurturers, and supporters. We stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before us. I stood at this threshold because I had teachers who freely shared their wisdom with me, students who trusted me, and a tradition stemming from BKS Iyengar, Guruji.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude for having a karma which included being a yoga practitioner. In IYENGAR: HIS LIFE AND WORK, Guruji writes about being denied yoga training as a youngster and being told by his teacher, Krishnamacharya, that he would only learn yoga if it was in his karma. When Krishnamacharya’s star pupil left, the young Iyengar was “called up,” and required as a participant in yoga demonstrations.

As I took the four-hour drive past plowed corn fields on my way to the assessment venue, I pondered the mysterious unfolding of karma, and how, along with other forces not always apparent to us, we co-create our destiny. I thought about my circuitous path to yoga beginning with dance, and the former dancer who was my first yoga teacher. When she switched from a vinyasa style to the Iyengar method, her students switched with her. When she moved away, several of her students stepped forward and began teacher training.

The final weeks before assessment battered my body. My shoulders were still tight. Twists were still difficult. But this was no time to complain. My body, the only one I have, which has safely brought me this far, would carry me through this assessment. This was a time to thank my body for its wonders despite its messy imperfections.

I began to realize that assessment was an opportunity, as a friend and colleague reminded me, to demonstrate my love of yoga, an opportunity to shine: not shine in an egotistic self-aggrandizement, but as a devotion to my teachers and to the practice. As we stood in Tadasana to begin our demonstrated practice, I silently dedicated the practice to my teachers, BKS, Geeta, and Prashant Iyengar. I determined to do my best as an offering to the Iyengar family for all they had done for humankind, and for me.

As we finished our demonstrated practice in a long, quiet Paschimottanasana, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what yoga has provided for me personally. Where would I be without yoga?

The practice provided me with a reprieve from the intensity of mothering three young children, carried me through the stress of graduate school, and served as an oasis as I cared for each of my dying parents. Many of my most meaningful friendships have grown out of yoga. Yoga provides a channel for me to contribute to my community, teaching students how to alleviate pain and stress, stay calm, and banish fear. To top it all off, the practice of yoga provides me today with a modest living, the first time I’ve been able to support myself doing something I completely adore. Where would I be without yoga?

“Why are you being assessed?” friends and students ask. “You’re already certified. Do you get a raise? A promotion?”

They’re puzzled to discover no such reward awaits. Why do we get assessed? I realized this past weekend that I chose to be assessed to demonstrate my dedication to growing in the practice. I did it for the Iyengars. Not that they know me from their many thousands of students, but inwardly, I offer my best effort so that I can serve as an ever clearer and effective channel for their teaching. What I have gained through yoga, I hope to pass on in some small way.

Driving home late Saturday after I completed my assessment, I let the tears just flow. I cried for all those years of practice leading to this weekend, all I had sacrificed to take this path. I cried for all my mistakes, my backsliding, all those times I have acted more from fear than love. I cried for the progress I have made despite my shortcomings, despite my laziness. I cried out of gratitude for anyone who has taught me anything, ever. I cried because, at least for now, it was over. I had done my best, and it either would be, or would not be, good enough to pass. After all I had put myself through, the verdict seemed rather anti-climactic.

A true assessment is an act of devotion, a rite of passage, a demonstration, and even a celebration, of all we have learned. A true assessment is a giving back, an act of service, for all we have been so generously given.

(PS I got an email the next day with the subject line, “Congratulations!”)

PEGGY HONG is an Intermediate Junior II teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a friend of the San Francisco Institute. She teaches yoga at Riverwest Yogashala, a nonprofit center dedicated to providing Iyengar yoga to diverse communities, and at Alverno College. She is especially grateful to her main mentors over the years, Chris Saudek and Lois Steinberg. This essay was written in 2007 after her Intermediate Junior I assessment.