Noëlle Perez-Christiaens, our principal teacher, passed away on August 8, 2019. She was 93 years old. We are saddened by this loss, yet grateful for her life’s work that has helped so many become pain-free.
Noëlle created Aplomb, whose offshoots include Balance and Spinefulness in the United States. Noëlle became interested in yoga in the 1950’s. She learned everything she could in France, then traveled to India where she experienced the shock of meeting BKS Iyengar. It changed her life. After a rigorous three-month private apprenticeship with the master, his message became her mission.
In 1959 Iyengar told her: “Walk behind Indian women and observe them closely, copy them. When your shadow matches theirs, you will have made progress.”* This insight transformed her teaching. People who are naturally at ease, in balance with gravity, became her teachers. “Aplomb” was born.
By the 1980’s her approach to postures had changed radically. She wrote some 20 books about what yoga had taught her until then. She began to sound the alarm about the danger of a yoga that is transposed onto our Western constitutions without discretion. She developed ways to prevent injury while doing yoga.
She went to Africa, then Portugal to find people who were used to carrying loads on their heads. A key discovery emerged: people who carry things on their heads have a pronounced low lumber arch and the major joints are aligned for proper balance. Few modern Westerns live in this kind of equilibrium. She had to help people to rediscover it.
Noëlle continued to observe people “in balance” all over the world. She found her soul mate and life partner, Miguel, while observing stevedores in Portugal. In Paris, she created the Institut Superieur d’Aplomb (ISA), which exists to this day. She received her doctorate in ethnophysiology in 2008.
Noëlle’s gift to us was that she turned traditional thinking on its head. Instead of examining people with back pain to see what they were doing wrong, she researched populations without back pain to learn what they were doing right.
Noëlle considered Aplomb as yoga, with the posture of every day actions as asana. “The student digests, not by memorizing postures and directions, but by discovering the law of balance, the mysteries of the human skeleton, the trap of tension and the capacity to go always further into relaxation.” She would say: “If you do not believe in God, at least surrender to Gravity. It begins with the same letter!”
Noëlle died in simplicity, without possessions. All she had she donated to the ISA Ethnographic Museum in Pieve di Cento (Bo), Italy.
Thank you / merci Noëlle for your insistent pursuit of lightness and ease.
The International Federation of ISA has been formed to continue Noëlle’s work. Five senior teachers form the board: Georgia Leconte, Nicole Blouet-LeCoz, Anne Brown de Colstoun, Stefano Lenzi and Danielle Bouvier.
*Sparks of Divinity: The Teachings of BKS Iyengar (2012), p.218, Rodmell Press