Iyengar yoga is basically a form of Hatha Yoga – a system of Indian philosophy that has been around for at least two and a half thousand years. It is named after B.K.S. Iyengar who developed a rigorous and detailed approach to the practice and teaching of yoga right up until his death in 2014 at the age of 95.
He devoted his life to the practice, study and teaching of yoga, and also published a number of influential books, several of which are considered classics – especially ‘Light On Yoga’ first published in 1966.
This book is a systematic guide to two hundred different yoga positions (known as Asanas) with inspiring and educational photos of Iyengar doing all the poses himself. It also gives a good introduction to the whole eightfold (or ‘eight-limbed’) philosophy of yoga, in which the physical postures that are the best known aspect of yoga, are just one of the eight aspects of the whole subject. The other ‘limbs’ are concerned with ethics, personal conduct, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, and the various stages of meditation leading to eventual enlightenment (Samadhi).
B.K.S. Iyengar’s system of yoga is characterised by an experiential and scientific approach to asana practice. This does not mean, as is popularly misunderstood, that Iyengar yoga focuses wholly on the ‘physical’ side of the whole philosophy, but that through the focused and disciplined practice of the asanas, the body and mind are prepared in order to progress toward the higher goals of yoga.
“.. Yoga is more than physical. It is cellular, mental, intellectual and spiritual – it involves man in his entire being.”
Iyengar yoga has three particular characteristics that distinguish it from other schools of yoga;
1) correct anatomical alignment so that the body can develop harmoniously and safely. This is dependent on the specific abilities and needs of each individual student.
2) sequencing postures in such a way that there is a powerful cumulative effect.
3) the holding of postures for relatively long periods to allow the effects of the pose to penetrate deeper into the practitioner.
Iyengar Yoga is also famous for it’s use of yoga props (such as blocks, blankets, belts, etc). These are used creatively to allow students with various strengths and weaknesses, and differing flexibilities the chance to obtain the maximum health benefits from the asanas. They can also help students better understand the correct actions required in the asanas.
Although sometimes perceived as focusing on the ‘physical’, Iyengar yoga uses Asanas and Pranayama as tools for accessing and mastering all the eight limbs of yoga. Iyengar yoga is now one of the most widely taught systems in the world. All teachers qualified to teach Iyengar yoga have been through the most rigorous system of teaching training that exists in the 21st century yoga paradigm, guaranteeing minimum standards of safety and understanding.