Iyengar yoga is named after Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar. Initially he called the type of yoga that he taught “Patanjali Yoga” in reference to the Sage Patanjali, who is credited with the writing of the Yoga Sutras. Over time, the students of B.K.S. Iyengar began calling his way of practicing and teaching “Iyengar Yoga”. There are several things that stand out in making an Iyengar yoga class special and recognizable. Most notably, the focus on inversions, the sequencing of the class and, timings within the poses. These things are benchmarks of an Iyengar yoga class.
Iyengar yoga is a practice for the body and mind. The physical practice (asana) is the part of the practice that is commonly taught first (and is what most people identify as ‘yoga’) as it provides the body with stability and mobility, making one more capable to focus their attention inward. With ongoing practice the asanas affect the more subtle aspects of a human body and provide the ability to develop greater patience and introspection. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras illuminate this in Sutra 2.46, saying “Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit”.*
The nervous system is a direct link between body and mind. Taking your time to become precise with the physical practice allows the Nervous system to become stable and strong, creating a fortitude within. Again, in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes in Sutras 2.47 and 2.48 that “Perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.” And “From then on, the sadhaka (student) is undisturbed by dualities”.*
This precision of the Asana practice is also where the therapeutic elements of the practice come into play. How to stand correctly on the feet can address ankle and knee problems. How to properly lift through the legs can address low back issues, and the like. The Iyengar method looks into these specifics in depth and considers them foundational to a strong practice.
This concludes the subject of asana in this method, but the practice extends well beyond mere physicality. Observance of ones behavior towards oneself and others (called the ‘yamas’ and ‘niyamas’) is part of the Yoga Sutras that is well worth the study. Also, after asana is well understood, one would be advised to begin with the study of Pranayama (control of the breath).
Taking public classes in this method, over time should introduce a variety of practice to the students. Every class will likely be different with emphasis on different types of asanas (poses). A restorative practice is also likely to be taught from time to time. This is done to give the student a well rounded experience, as well as an informed and balanced practice. Eventually what is learned in public classes should equip the student to practice on their own at home as well.
To learn more about the Iyengar tradition, click HERE.
* Please note that the quotations from the Yoga Sturas of Patanjali come from B.K.S Iyengars Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.