Iyengar Yoga 101
There are many different forms of yoga, some ancient, some modern, and often a combination of the two.
The Principles of Iyengar
Iyengar yoga is a form of Hatha yoga. This school of yoga was founded by B. K. S. Iyengar in the 1970s in India. It uses Hatha poses, but with an emphasis on detail, precision and perfect alignment in the performance of asanas (poses) and breath work. In this way, the student will develop strength, mobility and stability through all of the poses they work on.
Who Was Iyengar?
Before his death in 2014 at the age of 95, Iyengar was said to have perfected approximately 200 Hatha yoga poses. This is a small number of the many that are available in Hatha, but if you enjoy seeking perfection in all you do, this could be the right yoga for you.
Iyengar taught yoga for more than 70 years and was the author of 40 books, including Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika. It is considered to be a definitive work on the power of yoga and its philosophy.
His impact on popularizing yoga in the West led Time magazine to name Iyengar as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004. He was awarded three of the four top honors for civilians in India in 1991, for positively affecting so many lives through yoga. Iyengar taught many celebrities around the world yoga, including the world-renowned violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, helping to make it more fashionable in the West.
Yoga for Healing
Iyengar did not just teach yoga as a physical exercise, but as a treatment and even cure for illness as part of a holistic practice, known in India as Ayurvedic medicine. He also taught about the spirituality of yoga, thus caring for his students in terms of body, mind and spirit.
Yoga is not just about what you do when you are on your mat, but about the eight limbs of yoga, which include physical work, breath work, and meditation. He illustrated the asanas he perfected in this works. He also went into great detail about breath work, cleanliness, times of the day to practice, what to eat and when, and so on. If you enjoy discipline and routine, you will also enjoy Iyengar.
A Detailed Yoga Program for Life
As with all Hatha yoga, there are different levels. Beginners start out with easy poses and then work their way up to more challenging ones. The proper technique is emphasized with each pose and the instructions given for each.
As with Hatha, there are also a number of breathing techniques to learn depending on what effects you wish to achieve in the body, such as boosting energy or getting rid of toxins from the body.
For those who wish to study on their own rather than attend class all the time, his book Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika gives as an appendix a 300-week yoga course mapped out for the “intense practitioner,” nearly six years of guided yoga lessons.
You can also learn different poses for different health benefits. Some will relieve back pain and give you a solid set of core muscles. Others will help you lose weight, improve digestion, or lift depression.
Iyengar sought to be the definitive yoga teacher to heal body, mind and spirit through Hatha. If you like to exercise in a very structured way, look for an Iyengar studio near you or follow his guides to perfect your poses and breath work.