What is Iyengar Yoga and why practice it?

Image: BKS Iyengar

Why practice Iyengar Yoga?

‘Light on Yoga’ was written by BKS Iyengar in the 1960’s. This book was the beginning of modern yoga. It is now recognised as a solid reference for all yoga practitioners. This book marked the beginning of what is now referred to as ‘Iyengar Yoga’. Although it must be noted the term itself was not coined by Mr BKS Iyengar, but came into use to differentiate what was being taught and practised from other forms of yoga.

So, what is it that defines ‘Iyengar Yoga’? It is the unique and innovative approach created, and continuously refined over decades of research, by Mr Iyengar. This approach emphasises precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and the use of props. This means people of any age and level of health can enjoy the benefits that a sustained practice brings.

What are these benefits?  Increased strength and flexibility and as Mr Iyengar says in ‘Light on Yoga’ to ‘keep the body free from disease’. However, the other benefits are greater and more far-reaching. Through the alignment of the body in yoga asanas (postures) the physical body becomes balanced and stabilised, then the mind becomes balanced and stabilised. Through the cultivation of observation and reflection we create awareness so we can learn about ourselves. The practice of yoga asanas through breath awareness (pranayama) trains the mind. It is an active form of meditation with a direct relationship with everyday life. It provides the practitioner with the skills to navigate the physical, mental and emotional challenges of everyday life with strength, vitality, thoughtfulness and equanimity.

Iyengar Yoga brings mental focus. As the practice is both challenging and rewarding.  It teaches that the body is a vehicle of self-exploration. We learn who we are, how we think and what motivates us. Iyengar Yoga aims to develop clear and continuous attention to bring consciousness to each and every part of the body in order to explore the effect of the mind. When we focus the mind on a point, such as the big toe in a standing pose, we develop greater capacity for self-observation.

All Iyengar teachers must undergo vigorous and challenging training to become certified teachers. The assessment process is unique in the yoga world.  The 300+ hour training program to become a teacher is just the beginning; one has to pass the assessment to become a qualified teacher. These assessments are on-going as Iyengar teachers are certified to a level, with each level corresponding to the series of sequences BKS Iyengar developed. They develop a culture of continuous study and development in the teaching community. During these assessments the teacher practices and teaches in front of a panel of senior teachers and is analysed and critiqued. Therefore the teachers are developed to the highest level in their understanding of how best to progress their students’ practice, help with injuries and a variety of physical conditions, and adjust and assist the student’s posture, sequence classes to create interest and develop knowledge.