Quick Guide to Iyengar Yoga

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What is Iyengar Yoga?

When you first hear the term “Iyengar Yoga,” you’ll have two immediate questions. One: “Wow, is it even possible to place that many vowels in a row?” Two: “What is Iyengar Yoga, exactly?”

The answer to your first question is: “We know, right?!”

As for your second question, let’s see if our quick walkthrough helps.

Where does the name Iyengar Yoga come from?

Unsurprisingly, Iyengar Yoga takes its name from its founder, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar. (Phew, as if “Iyengar” alone wasn’t bad enough.) Following Wikipedia’s example, we’ll refer to him as B.K.S. Iyengar from now on. Here he is:

Image credit: Mutt Lunker

As a young child, Iyengar was undernourished and suffered from malaria, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis. As Iyengar later recalled in his 1966 book Light on Yoga, “My arms were thin, my legs were spindly, and my stomach protruded in an ungainly manner. My head used to hang down, and I had to lift it with great effort.”

All of that changed 1934, when Iyengar’s brother-in-law, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, invited 15-year-old Iyengar to practice yoga in Mysore to help his condition. There, Iyengar practiced asana poses and quickly started to recover.

His experience put Iyengar on a lifelong path of yoga practice that eventually saw him perfect his own school of yoga and make the Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. His yoga school came to be known as Iyengar Yoga.

How is Iyengar Yoga different?

Iyengar Yoga is classified as a form of Hatha Yoga. In turn, Hatha Yoga is a branch of yoga that focuses on physical techniques and poses. (“Hatha” actually translates to “force.”)

Unlike the more laid back forms of yoga that focus on the meditative aspects of yoga, Iyengar Yoga has at its core an emphasis on precise execution and alignment when performing the many asanas, as well as on controlling your breathing.

Iyengar Yoga stresses the importance of technique (how precise the poses and breathing exercises are), sequence (the order in which these are performed), and timing (how long you spend on each). To this end, B.K.S. Iyengar pulled together more than 200 classical poses and 14 different types of breathing (pranayama).

Image credit: Matthew Greenfield

Finally, Iyengar Yoga is the first school of yoga to lean on the use of “props” in the form of benches, blocks, straps, sandbags, and cushions. These ensure that poses are executed correctly and also help avoid unnecessary strain or injury.

Who is Iyengar Yoga for?

Your first instinct might be to dismiss Iyengar Yoga as being far too advanced for beginners. All those precise poses, breathing techniques, and specific sequences?! This must be exclusively for the pros!

But you’d be wrong.

In fact, Iyengar Yoga is explicitly designed to be accessible to all age groups and experience levels. Remember those 200 poses? They range from basic to advanced, specifically so that you can match them to the individual’s needs and experience. The whole idea is that students gradually move from the starting poses to the more complex ones.

Also, while many other forms of yoga are all about approximately matching your teacher’s poses and copying their actions, Iyengar Yoga relies on the teacher actively helping the students to make sure they’re performing the asanas and breathing techniques correctly. So you’ll never be left wondering whether you’re doing things quite right.

The use of “props” in Iyengar Yoga to assist students ensures that even complete beginners can experience the more advanced poses---ones that would otherwise take many years of practice. Most importantly, these physical aids are used to allow the elderly, tired, ill, or even injured students to reap the benefits of yoga without using their muscles too much.

Image credit: Quadell

After all, if a sickly teenager could use Iyengar Yoga’s 1934 precursor to gain strength and health, why shouldn’t we all be able to follow suit?

What are the benefits of Iyengar Yoga?

As with most other yogas, Iyengar Yoga aims to improve your health and wellbeing by bringing together your mind, body, and spirit. It can do wonders to relieve stress and help you relax.

The use of props is a clear benefit if you need a bit of help getting the pose just right or simply holding a pose for an extended period of time.

What sets Iyengar Yoga apart is the clear, predictable progression from basic to more advanced poses as you get better technically and improve your strength. Iyengar teachers are supposed to proactively correct errors and make sure you execute the poses with precision. You’re never in the dark about just what to do.

Before they’re ever allowed to teach a class, Iyengar instructors must go through at least 2 years of extensive training to gain just the basic introductory certificate. To reach the higher levels, they’re looking at around a decade of training. You’ll be in safe hands with a certified Iyengar instructor.

Where can I find Iyengar Yoga classes?

That’ll depend a bit on where you live. For starters, you can use our general guide to finding events.

It’s best to look for official Iyengar Yoga assosiations, if any are present in your country. In the UK, for instance, there’s the Iyengar Yoga Association (UK), which helps people learn more about the discipline and find certified teachers and classes. If you’re in the US, check out the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUSUS).

And, of course, you can always take a look at B.K.S. Iyengar family’s official website, which also has a helpful list of certified Iyengar teachers all over the world.

Last but not least, check out event listing sites. At Billetto, we tend to have a great mix of yoga classes. While Iyengar Yoga might not always make an appearance, there are sure to be plenty of alternatives for you to consider.

Hope the above helped you answer the original “What is Iyengar Yoga?” question and learn more about the discipline and ways to experience it.

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