Iyengar Yoga is the most widely practiced form of Yoga, and is focused on achieving precision and alignment of poses (asanas). Iyengar Yoga is based on the teaching of the late B.K.S. Iyengar (14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014), known as the most influential yoga teacher in the world.
What can I expect to do during an Iyengar Yoga Class?
An Iyengar class will start with a few moments of silence to quieten the mind and body to prepare for the yoga. This is followed by some preliminary postures to mobilise, stretch, open and activate the body. Standing postures are then often practiced in which one learns the fundamentals of how to adjust and align the body correctly. These are mastered before more advanced postures are introduced and thus standing poses form the foundation of Iyengar Yoga and are studied continuously.
The practice could then focus on special postures including back bends, forward bends, twists, inverted postures or recuperative postures which prepare the student for the practice of Pranayama (breath control). The class will end with recuperative and re-energising postures. Students will often say they walk away from an Iyengar Yoga class feeling straighter and full of energy despite having worked quite hard.
Do I have to be young, fit and flexible?
Iyengar Yoga can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age, shape, flexibility or level of experience. This is because Iyengar Yoga involves the use of props (such as blocks, bricks, belts bolsters and chairs) to enable every student to attain the correct alignment and desired action in each yoga pose and therefore achieve their full potential. In this way a student can work to his or her maximum ability within a general mixed class. Iyengar yoga is not competitive and students are not judged against each other. The teacher is trained to select the correct prop(s) and to supervise the individual student. Below are three examples of the use of props.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
BKS Iyengar doing the classic pose (picture to the left), and to the right is an example of the pose where a block and the wall are used. For students with stiff hamstrings placing the hand onto a block relieves the hamstring stretch of the standing leg. For students with stiff hips or problems with balance, the pose is done facing the wall, the top hand is pressed into the wall, this helps students to turn the top leg hip over the standing leg and for the chest to lift and rotate further whilst staying in the pose without the fear of losing balance. This enables the student to learn the desired action in the pose and be able to hold for longer, to strengthen and creating a “memory” of this action.
Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)
The classic pose of this abdominal asana is pictured to the left as performed by BKS Iyengar. The pose to the right utilizes a yoga belt to get the lift in the legs and the trunk. The placement of the belt behind under the armpit area and in the dorsal teaches the student the work required to lift the chest in the pose and to maintain this lift as the feet are raised. A blanket is used for comfort as the student learns to balance on their seat bones!
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
In this inverted more complex beginners pose, props are used to help beginners start their journey in this inversion. BKS Iyengar is photographed on the far left in the classic pose. The example in the centre picture shows the use of a support under the shoulders to lift them and thus reduce pressure on the neck. A strap is placed around the upper arms to keep the elbows and shoulders in place and enable the student to learn how to gain a lift in the chest and in turn get the alignment in the pose. The third example (far right) utilizes a bolster and yoga chair, here the back is supported, and arches further, enabling the student to gain an even deeper opening of the chest. These props enable students to stay in the pose for longer; over time one can work toward staying in the poses for longer durations and this has numerous benefits!
Does Iyengar Yoga have a philosophical basis?
Iyengar Yoga is firmly based in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived about 1700 years ago. The Yoga Sutras guide the yoga practitioner towards peace of mind and harmony and ultimately to self-realisation (Samadhi).
Is Iyengar Yoga safe?
The Iyengar teacher training is one of the most vigorous training programmes involving several years of study and practice and sets the highest standards to ensure every Iyengar Yoga teacher, worldwide, adheres to its core principles, and safety of students is given priority in every aspect of the training.
What are the effects of Iyengar Yoga practice?
The physical effects of practicing Iyengar Yoga can be felt quite quickly, a feeling of becoming sturdier with improved posture. The focus of achieving alignment and precision in poses (as guided by the teacher during the classes) enable students to remain focused on these actions and hence the practice of Iyengar Yoga is likened to a meditation in action. This is when students begin to experience the effect yoga has on their psychological wellbeing. An inward journey begins and over time this enables practitioners/students to better connect with their bodies, bringing a sense of calm, with physical and mental stability.
Can Iyengar yoga alleviate medical conditions?
BKS Iyengar achieved significant success in the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions. Numerous studies have been published in medical journals demonstrating the benefits of Iyengar Yoga to treat various conditions. Intermediate Junior and Senior Iyengar teachers are qualified to give help in cases where they have competence. Note: only teachers who hold Intermediate Junior and Senior qualifications and who have the necessary experience can give help with serious conditions. If you would like further information on this, please visit the Iyengar UK Website https://iyengaryoga.org.uk and use the Find a Teacher facility to find a therapy class.
“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.” – BKS Iyengar