Here’s What You Need To Know About Iyengar Yoga Before Joining a Class

Iyengar yoga School Nepal - Yoga in Himalayas

Here’s What You Need To Know About Iyengar Yoga Before Joining a Class

Iyengar yoga School Nepal - Yoga in Himalayas

You may or may not have heard about Iyengar yoga. It is not as popular as, say Hatha Yoga or Power Yoga. But, it is the most accessible form of yoga, in that anyone can practice it. In most of the other yoga styles, the way of practicing is such that not all can perform it. In many cases, certain practices are even prohibited for certain people based on their physical capabilities. But the advantage of Iyengar yoga is that anyone can do it. In fact, that was one of the driving motivations behind the creation of this style of yoga by BKS Iyengar. Drawing from personal experience, he realized how contemporary yoga did not consider differences in the physical characteristics of different people. As a result, it often excluded many eager students from being able to practice yoga. Iyengar took the lead in changing that.

Iyengar did not consciously create the style. He only wanted to teach the yoga that was already being taught but with assistance customized for each student. But it became popular as a style after he started teaching celebrities like philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and many more. Another contributing factor to the popularity of his style was the publication of his book, Light on Yoga. It spread the word of his style not just to more celebrities but also to the common people. They started flocking to him for lessons and thus, Iyengar Yoga established a firm standing in the world of yoga. Before we go into detail about the what and the how of Iyengar Yoga, we will explain the why. It will help you understand what inspired Iyengar to start teaching yoga in this revolutionary manner.

Origin Story of Iyengar Yoga

BKS Iyengar was born at a time the Spanish influenza pandemic was raging. It left him with poor immunity and an ill-developed body. He often contracted serious diseases and suffered from malnourishment. It was as a sickly teenager like this that he first joined the yoga classes of his brother-in-law, the famous yogi, and Father of Modern Yoga, T Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was a strict teacher. He did not even have faith in Iyengar’s abilities. But soon, he started teaching him seriously. His rigorous and strict education instilled discipline in Iyengar. It is also interesting to note that Krishnamacharya taught Ashtanga Vinyasa. This style, by nature, demands strict following of each pose and each pose sequence. This also influenced Iyengar’s style to require a person to strictly follow the alignment for a pose from the start, even if with help.

The above had a positive influence on Iyengar. But there was also a negative one. Krishnamacharya’s obsession with getting a pose right from the get-go once left Iyengar with an injury. Iyengar was being unable to achieve a forward fold fully. Krishnamacharya stood on his back to force him and this caused a torn hamstring. Krishnamacharya would also often starve him until he could achieve a pose. This made Iyengar realize how wrong it was to force students into poses they were not yet ready for. However, the main impetus came when Iyengar met with a scooter accident. It left him unable to perform yoga unassisted as before. When he found out that in ancient times, yogis often eased into a difficult asana using rocks, tree stumps, and other objects as support, he decided to emulate that with props.

How Iyengar Yoga is Practised

Iyengar Yoga is based on Krishnamacharya’s Ashtanga vinyasa style. This implies that there will be a given sequence of Iyengar yoga asanas with an opening, peak, and closing pose. However, unlike vinyasa flow yoga, you will not be sailing through asanas via vinyasas. The reigning principle of Iyengar yoga is to hold a pose for a long time so that you get comfortable in it. Once you do, you will go deeper into the pose. Thus, Iyengar yoga takes you to the correct alignment for a pose with gradual changes instead of instantly. Accuracy of posture is a big deal in Iyengar yoga. Many styles of yoga will ease you into the correct posture through transitional variations. But Iyengar yoga will take you to it through the actual progression of the asana only. Misalignments are actively corrected and poses are held longer than in other styles.

The other salient feature of Iyengar yoga is the use of props. Most of these are common household objects like chairs, blanket rolls, blocks, straps, etc. The purpose of this is to provide support to a student to prevent injuries. The teacher considers the personal requirements of a student and accordingly, recommends what props to use and how. These props help to encourage correct alignment from the start without hurting oneself. This is in contrast to the other popular method of doing increasingly accurate variants of an asana to achieve the correct alignment. 

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

All forms of yoga benefit the body in a holistic manner. But each form also has one or more defining benefits for which people choose it. For Iyengar yoga, these are:

  • Iyengar yoga greatly emphasizes correct alignment. It helps to correct structural and postural issues in the body.
  • Long periods of holding an asana encourage good posture habits and improve breathing and lung capacity.
  • It also helps in pain management and stress relief in the same manner as physiotherapy.
  • It greatly increases body flexibility and resilience and tones the muscles. 
  • Iyengar yoga was developed to help those with physical limitations, temporary or permanent, to overcome them. 
  • As with any static yoga style, Iyengar yoga enhances core body strength and tenacity.
  • Another advantage of the static style is the relief of mental stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.
  • Some of the long-term physiological benefits are improved cardiovascular, digestive, and musculoskeletal functions.

If you are a beginner and are not confident that you will ace the traditional styles like Hatha or Ashtanga vinyasa, starting with yoga the Iyengar style is a good idea. It will build both your body and your confidence and make you ready for more difficult or demanding styles.