Iyengar yoga is a style of yogic practice developed by B. K. S Iyengar. It is the ultimate yoga practice which focuses on detail, correct posture, precision and body alignment through the poses (asanas) with the use of props that assist the student. Systematic process for cultivation of strength, flexibility and body awareness.
B. K. S. Iyengar developed a system of exercise that can help in improving one’s health. At first he had poor health as a child, developed a practice and trained continually, improving his own health. After that he started gradually teaching other students and grew this yoga style using Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as a base.
- Most popular yoga style
- Training structure
- Teaching method
- Use of props
- Combination of Hatha and Forrest Yoga
- Body alignment
- Proprioception, Kinesthesia
- Light on Yoga
- Quality over quantity
- Suitable for beginners or injured people
- Stress relief
- Inversion poses
- Iyengar license
- Iyengar Yoga benefits
Most popular yoga style
It is said that Iyengar yoga is among the most popular, most frequently trained styles of yoga because of its adaptability. It can be practiced by anyone, including both sexes, different religions, all levels of practitioners and body types. Its adaptability enables to spread this style to many people around the world. Suitable for beginners, elderly people and people with limited physical performance or inability to recover quickly. It is mostly preferred by people with chronic pain.
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This yoga style offers gradual progress, taken with full caution and lots of energy focused on one’s body sensations. Everything is done slowly, progressively and safely with teacher’s assistance and guidance. Primary postures are there to open up and activate the whole body. To bring awareness, observe our thoughts ad focus attention on our body. At first we correct primary postures, learn how to stand. Standing postures are foundation, then students slowly progress towards backbends, forward bends and finally inversions and balancing asana. After some time, training yogis are practicing breath control, slowly incorporating it with the asanas.
Only licensed Iyengar yoga teacher is allowed to teach Iyengar yoga, because of its complexity and anatomy knowledge required to guide students through poses that can improve flexibility or strength, while being completely safe at the same time. It doesn’t matter when you will start attending this practice, the teacher will adapt and will first teach you alignment in basic standing poses. Improvement in flexibility or strength or transitioning into harder, more advanced poses come with time, gradually.
Use of props
Yoga style like Iyengar is famous for its use of props. Students use blocks, bolsters, chairs, straps and blankets to assist them while holding or transitioning in certain asanas. This can provide students with safety and enable them to gradually progress. Asistance is crucial, especially for those who are not flexible, or have chronic pain. Assistance is a must for people with physical injury or acute pain, students must be open about how they feel and speak up if in need of any assistance or guidance.
Combination of Hatha and Forrest Yoga
Iyengar yoga style has incorporated elements of hatha and forrest yoga. It is combination of anusara hatha yoga and forrest yoga, which is holding positions for longer time while completely engaging the core muscles. Anusara on the other side is a branch of hatha yoga that besides spiritual teachings, holds principles of body alignment.
The main purpose of this style or set of exercises is alignment. The teacher is there to guide students in correct postures, while maintaining breath control and balance. Alignment of the body, learning how to stand, sit, walk or hold specific asana is crucial part of this training. That is the beauty of this yoga style.
Kinesthesia or proprioception is most important point of focus in iyengar yoga. It is what we call body awareness. Kinesthetics are unconscious or conscious perceptions of a moving body.
Proprioception is a sense of connective tissue positioning and bodily movement. In Iyengar yoga we try to maximize the awareness of our body, completely engaging this sense to understand deeper connections on anatomical level, as to where our ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones bind to each other, their origio and insertio, their main function and connection.
Increasing this awareness can help us improve our posture, become stronger and more balanced on a physical level in our everyday life, while providing us with more functional body which comes from improved muscle flexibility and strength. Balancing poses can improve function of our vestibular system, especially those that we do with closed eyes or in complete darkness.
Light on Yoga
Iyengar’s most popular bestselling book “Light on Yoga” translated in to 23 languages, written in 1966, is known to be the encyclopedia of yoga. This book is providing us with knowledge of yoga philosophy and practice. The author shows the ancient healing discipline while providing illustrations and practical guide for all the asanas and breathing techniques. Describes more than 200 asanas in which there are around 600 photos of Iyengar’s demonstration.
Quality over quantity
Quality of movement over quantity is preferred. In this yogic style students are actively engaged into learning what feels good, what is alignment in the body while growing their body awareness. Students practice through repetitions of poses that are held for longer duration of time in which teachers assist them into correct posture or provide guidelines. The main goal is to feel and understand the body, not to get into as many poses as we can, this is slow paced training with great deal of concentration. Students are learning and correcting postures through trial and error.
Suitable for beginners or injured people
Beauty of this Iyengar yoga practice is its adaptability. Certified Iyengar yoga teacher must know how to start slowly and gradually with beginners and to fix every pain that happens along the way of doing or transitioning to the postures. This is where the use of props like chairs, pillows or blocks comes in place, since this style requires comfort and steadiness, not pain. So injured people, older people or those who are not flexible, can all join the ride.
Iyengar is known for holding poses for a longer time which is known to significantly improve flexibility. But just as flexibility improves, our sleep does. Main reason for this is stress management. Most of the time we think we are stressed mentally, but stress manifests physically in our body. When stressed, we tend to breathe shallow, short breaths, we tend to hold a lot of tension in our muscles and slouch forward. What this yogic practice can therefore do is enable your mind to shift to presence, release muscle tension on a physical level through deactivating overactive motor neurons and release of endorphins.
Main Iyengar asana is Trikonasana. Known as extended triangle pose, it is performed on both sides left and right. It is a standing posture done with our feet apart, straight legs while turning one foot to the outside and back foot 45 degrees on the inside. Front foot heel aligns with back foot arch, keeping the heels in line with the hips at first, then gradually progressing. Arms spread out to the sides, spine twist, palms facing down with maximal trunk extension. Usually performed with a block under one arm for beginners.
Starting with standing poses, slowly progressing through backbends and forward bends to more advanced balancing poses to inversions. This style incorporates poses like Sirsasana – inverted headstand pose and Sarvangasana – also inverted asana used for throat chakra balancing and digestion in hatha yoga.
Bonus: Iyengar yoga does not require its students to adopt a certain belief or be part of certain religion, ideology or develop specific perception. This allows for a bigger audience. Instead of ideology, it is a teaching of concentration structured to connect mind, body and soul through bodily alignment. Helps in emotional balance.
In order for one to teach Iyengar yoga, he/she has to undergo three years of yoga training under supervision of Iyengar yoga master or teacher, to earn a certificate. There are intermediate and senior levels which of course, require a lot more time. Western practitioners have to practice yoga for eight straight years before earning a license. Best place for Westerners to earn certification is RIMY (established 1975) an institute in Pune, Maharashta, India.
Introspection, known as contemplation on philosophy of being and observance of one’s thoughts, feelings and motives is part of Iyengar yoga. Studying ourselves is part of every yoga style. It slowly makes us understand below the surface, listen deeper and control our breath. This therefore affects our perception of reality, improves self-esteem and confidence.
Iyengar Yoga benefits
- relieves muscle tension, eliminates stress
- improves posture through muscle assessment
- increases flexibility, strength and balance
- improves body awareness and kinesthetics
- improves cognition – memory and focus
- breath control, body mind connection
- decreases chronic pain
Iyengar yoga emphasizes body awareness, movement precision and posture corectness. It is yoga style which develops strength, mobility, flexibility and balance. Iyengar yoga is very customizable, with the use of props, which is one of its main characteristics. Created by B. K. S Iyengar, it is one of the most popular styles, for both beginners and advanced practitioners.