Last updated on December 7th, 2023.
As people around the world continue to embrace the concepts of self-care and self-help, many of them are turning to yoga to improve their mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. Of the various forms of yoga that are practiced, one of the most popular is known as Iyengar yoga. While the name may be unfamiliar, its form and practice are most certainly recognizable.
Iyengar yoga relies on thoughtfully composed sequences of poses, each held purposefully, to achieve a state of mental and physical bliss. Iyengar yoga emphasizes proper body alignment, and the use of props is not only acceptable but even encouraged, to allow all comers to reap its benefits.
Named after B.K.S. Iyengar, its developer and global champion, Iyengar yoga is one of the most inclusive forms of yoga around and can be practiced by people of all skill and experience levels. Here is everything you need to know about the branch of yoga that is credited with popularizing this ancient practice in the Western world.
Who Is B.K.S Iyengar?
Born in 1918, B.K.S. Iyengar is the father of the form of yoga that bears his name. He was sickly as a child but embraced yoga as a teen growing up in India as a way to strengthen his mind and body. His yogic talents were soon evident as he was sent off at the age of 18 by his guru to help spread the word about yoga’s amazing benefits.
B.K.S. Iyengar advocated proper body alignment as the means by which yoga’s healing properties could be unlocked and harnessed. He was one of the earliest practitioners of group lessons and over the course of his long life (he lived to be 95), B.K.S. Iyengar authored 14 books on yoga, including Light on Yoga, which is widely considered an essential textbook on the philosophy of yoga.
What Is Iyengar Yoga?
Iyengar yoga is considered to be a major branch of Hatha yoga, which is derived directly from the Eight Limbs of yoga that were first articulated many centuries ago. The fundamental teaching of Iyengar yoga is that only through proper body positioning when performing asanas (poses) and exercising good pranayama (breathing techniques) can one unlock yoga’s mental, spiritual, and physical benefits.
Unlike other popular forms of yoga Iyengar yoga does not adhere to a rigid sequence of poses that is repeated every session, nor does it transition from one pose to the next at a brisk pace. Instead, it focuses on the here and now of the pose that is being performed. These are the fundamental principles of Iyengar yoga:
- Positioning – if there is one overriding them in Iyengar yoga, it is the importance of proper alignment. The use of props to assist yogis in achieving proper body positioning is encouraged because it is only when the body is in harmony with itself that all the benefits of Iyengar yoga can be reaped.
- Sequencing – this is another important element of Iyengar yoga. Poses are thoughtfully sequenced in a way that they naturally transition from one to another. However, unlike other forms of yoga, poses are held for a longer duration to deepen the connection between mind and body while also improving vigor and agility.
- Adaptability – an appealing aspect of Iyengar yoga is that it can be practiced by people of all skill levels. In fact, CIYTs (Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers) are well-versed in creating unique sequences for individuals depending on their abilities or limitations.
Iyengar may not be as trendy as some other forms of yoga or as appealing to certain demographics, but when it comes to improving mental and physical well-being, it is the complete package.
What Is Iyengar Yoga Good For?
Iyengar yoga is popular among beginner and advanced practitioners alike because its range of benefits encompasses both the mental and physical, and it is adaptable to varying skill levels. Here is a sampling of what Iyengar yoga is good for:
- Building strength through extended holds of various positions
- Improving flexibility, agility, and posture
- Strengthening the body’s natural immune system
- Cleansing toxins from the body
- Pain relief and recovery from injury
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Improving focus and concentration
Above all else, perhaps the greatest benefit that Iyengar yoga offers to its diverse base of practitioners is the fact that it is arguably the most inclusive form of yoga around. No matter the experience level, athletic ability, or physical limitation, under the guidance of an experienced CIYT and with the aid of the right props, just about anybody can practice Iyengar yoga.
Is Iyengar Yoga Suitable for Beginners?
Iyengar yoga is not only suitable for beginners, but it is an ideal place for people to begin their yoga journey. One of the hallmarks of this form of yoga is its scalability. In other words, to start, beginners can work their way through less challenging poses and gradually take on more advanced positions as their skill level improves.
No matter what the pose, the objective is always going to be to achieve proper body alignment, and to this end, beginners can benefit from the use of various props like cushions, pads, blankets, chairs, and even straps.
What Is the Difference Between Hatha and Iyengar Yoga?
There are strong similarities between the Hatha and Iyengar schools of yoga. They are both slower-paced than other more rigorous forms and they are very welcoming to practitioners of all skill and experience levels.
But there is one fundamental difference in their approach. Iyengar yoga emphasizes achieving proper body alignment when performing various poses and is far more methodical and deliberate in the way that it is practiced compared to Hatha (or any other form of yoga for that matter)
Is Iyengar Yoga Difficult?
Despite the deliberate pace at which sessions take place, Iyengar yoga can be a difficult form of yoga to practice because no matter what the pose, the focus will always be on the details. Iyengar yoga can be as challenging as the poses that are used to build a sequence, particularly when the peak pose is a particularly arduous one to perform.
And best of all, because Iyengar yoga does not rely on a set sequence of poses, it is adaptable to skill level and can be made more difficult as a practitioner becomes more advanced.
How Can I Learn More About Iyengar Yoga?
Learning yoga these days has never been more accessible thanks to a growing number of studios and increasing online resources. However, the best way to get introduced to Iyengar yoga is by taking a class that is taught by a CIYT because each person’s skill level and physical abilities will determine the best starting point as far as building a sequence of poses and utilizing props if necessary.
After all, the most important aspect of Iyengar yoga is achieving proper body alignment for each movement, and for beginners, in particular, proper guidance is essential.
Yoga can be viewed as a diverse collection of self-care practices, each offering a unique set of benefits to its practitioners. In the case of Iyengar yoga, its methodical pace and emphasis on proper body alignment regardless of the pose make it ideal for comers of all sskilllevels who want to experience traditional yoga in its most approachable and inclusive form.