Although it might not be as fashionable as other forms, Iyengar yoga originates from the same eight limbs as Ashtanga and is one of the most highly regarded strands of the ancient practice.
It can be particularly beneficial for people who are new to yoga, are not naturally flexible, carrying an injury or who want to develop a deeper understanding of the poses.
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What Is Iyengar Yoga?
Iyengar Yoga is named after B. K. S. Iyengar and was developed in the 1960s in India. It is considered to be one of the purest forms of yoga because of its heritage.
It is based on the Yoga Sutras of Pananjali, an Indian sage, thought to be the author of the Yoga Sutras, a classical yoga text.
Until his death in 2014, at the age of 95, Iyengar still regularly practised yoga and was greatly respected all over the world.
At 90, he reportedly said that he still did three hours of asana a day and an hour of pranayama.
Since his death, his family have carried on with his life’s work and his daughter Geeta is a respected teacher in her own right.
Iyengar believed; “Yoga is a friend to those who embrace it sincerely and totally.”
There’s a very clear progression of poses from beginner to advanced. This is reflected in the teacher training with takes a minimum of six years for each of the five levels. A newly qualified teacher is not allowed to teach intermediate or advanced poses even if she is working on them herself.
An example of this might be that the teacher can do splits (hanumanasana) successfully but doesn’t have enough experience to teach the advanced hip opener.
The focus of the classes is on precision and alignment and each pose is taught the same way by all teachers - which might make it easier for a student to class hop.
Students will rely on props during the class including blocks, bolsters, straps and blankets. The idea being that all students will be able to participate in all poses, no matter what their ability - by using said props.
It is a much more ‘hands on’ approach to yoga and the teacher will actively adjust students if their alignment isn’t correct or if the teacher believes that the student can go deeper into the pose.
Although it is a slower form of yoga, it can still be incredibly intense, as a lot of effort goes into getting the alignment just so - and you will hold the poses for a long time.
Three Central Components Form The Basis For Iyengar Yoga:
Iyengar yoga teachers believe that alignment is the first stage of practice so getting the pose just so is the most important part. Additional areas of practice such as chanting or extensive breath work don’t come into play until you’re more experienced.
Poses will be taught in a specific sequence, but might be adapted by the teacher according to who’s in the class.
You will spend quite a long time in each pose with the aim being to move deeper into it the longer you hold it. In some sessions you might only practice six or seven poses. This can be a bit of a shock to the system if you’ve only done Ashtanga or Bikram yoga before.
What To Expect From An Iyengar Yoga Session
It is an ideal discipline for people who haven’t practised yoga before because you’ll learn how to do each asana correctly and safely. Also, because of the teacher’s extensive training, you’ll know that you’re in good hands.
Although on the outside, it might not appear to be as spiritual, it is deeply rooted in yoga philosophy and devotees believe that the spiritual aspects of yoga comes with time and awareness.
Iyengar yoga classes tend to appear stricter than other types of yoga. There’s been a tradition of emulating the ‘Indian Way’ which can come across as formal and unforgiving on a physical level but that is changing with a new wave of teachers.
Whereas, many teachers might play some music during a class, that’s a no-no in an Iyengar class. Some people find find it strange to practice in silence, but the belief is that the yoga is enough and things such as music are just distractions that aren’t needed.
Fans say although Iyengar yoga is very precise, it is also supportive.
The class will always begin with the invocation to Pantanjali being chanted before any physical asanas begin. It is a way of acknowledging and paying respects to the ancient roots of Iyengar Yoga. Beginners, who might not know the invocation, might just do three oms.
Throughout the class, the teacher will refer to the poses or asana by their traditional Sanskrit names which can take a while to get used to.
The teacher will generally demonstrate the pose first before the class and will spend time adjusting and refining the students once it’s their turn.
Many students like to buy their own equipment and will turn up to class with a big bag full of props - and sometimes even a suitcase! However some teachers will supply props.
Some poses might involve a chair, a strap, various blocks and blankets - so preparing the props for the poses can be rather time consuming.
Standing poses form the basis for the majority of the classes and are practised regularly.
There doesn’t tend to be so much counter posing in an Iyengar class. Rather, sessions are arranged into backbends or forward bends, or restorative poses and the sequences might change throughout the month.
Teachers don’t allow water to be sipped during the class as water activates the digestive system which takes energy away from the body. They advise drinking half an hour before a class instead. Some teachers won’t even allow a water bottle in the room.
Effects And Benefits Of Iyengar Yoga
Yoga is known as a complete exercise and is as good for body as it is the mind. It can be practiced from everybody including very young children to the elderly and gains popularity year on year.
Many people join a yoga class to improve physical strength but are then surprised by how much it impacts their life in other positive ways.
Some of the specific benefits of Iyenga yoga include:
- Iyengar yoga is suitable for all ability levels and poses can be adapted very easily
- You’ll learn how to do the postures safely and accurately
- Your natural flexibility doesn’t need to hinder your chances of doing a pose or not
- You might find your posture improves because of the focus on correct alignment
- Because you hold the poses for a long time, you will become stronger and more flexible
- You’ll leave feeling refreshed and energised
- Because of the minor adjustments that the teacher will carry out to improve alignment, the small muscles that are often ignored become stronger