by Nancy Preston
What is Iyengar Yoga?
Here is the answer from Apple Dictionary:
A type of Hatha Yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, etc. as aids to achieving the correct postures. Named after the Indian yoga teacher B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014), who devised the method.
This is not a bad definition.
I am a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. This process takes years of practice, study, and training in the Iyengar Yoga method. A candidate works under the guidance of 2 senior teachers at the first levels until prepared for certification. The candidate must be approved to enter the certification process in which knowledge, personal practice and teaching skills are tested and evaluated by a panel of certified assessors. The assessors are also senior level certified teachers. Sound scary? Yes, I was scared and intimidated until a trusted teacher told me to just make a plan and do it–that I could do it. It was from the right person at the right time, so I faced my fear, made a plan and did get certified. I am certified at the Introductory Level ll. There are a total of 14 levels of certification in the Iyengar system.
Back to the question: What is Iyengar Yoga?
Let me start: Iyengar Yoga is a method of Hatha Yoga. (I’ll return to the Iyengar part later.)
Hatha Yoga is the practice of asanas or postures.
There are 4 paths or Margas of yoga.
They are Raga, Jnana, Karma and Bhakti.
Raga Yoga is the “royal” yoga of will and mind.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge.
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action and duty.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion.
They all lead to Self-realization.
Iyengar Yoga is also Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga is Sanskrit for “8 limbs.” Not to be confused with Ashtanga Yoga method developed by Pattabhi Jois. Did you know Pattabhi Jois studied yoga with BKS Iyengar under the same yoga master, Krishnamacharya? Are you confused yet? This is interesting. Stay with me.
The 8 limbs are discussed in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Simply, the 8 limbs are:
Yama – the Do Nots, ethical standards, the great vows
Niyama – the Do’s, self-discipline, personal practices
Asana – yoga postures
Pranayama – culturing of the breath, breath extension
Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses from outside world, drawing inward
Dharana – single pointed focus, concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – Self-realization, supreme consciousness
Iyengar Yoga is Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Iyengar Yoga is also a venue to Raja Yoga, one of the 4 Margas. All Margas lead to Self-realization.
Back to the question.
What is Iyengar Yoga?
Humor me as we delve into the Yamas and Niyamas. BKS Iyengar took these 2 limbs of yoga and showed us how they can be observed and understood with direct application in asana practice. Think about it. On the mat in class or during your own practice. Yes.
Here are some ways to integrate the Yamas:
Ahimsa (do not harm) – practice without hurting yourself
Satya (truthfulness) – are you honestly listening to your body and breath or are you pushing beyond because of the ego?
Asteya (do not steal) – are you working equally the left and right leg and arm, etc. or is one part doing more thus stealing from the other side?
Brahmacharya (restraint or continence, it literally means walking towards Brahma the creator) – when a posture feels good, do you indulge and practice that one more and neglect other postures or are you using your energy wisely?
Aparigraha (do not hoard, do not covet) – accept your asana where it is now, not longing for it to be what someone else can do
Does it make more sense? Now try it with the Niyamas:
Saucha (purity or cleanliness) – this could be coming to practice clean
Santosha (contentment) – accepting where you are in your body and mind today in practice
Tapas (effort, burning zeal) – with Ahimsa in mind, give your best honest effort
Svadyaya (self-study and study of sacred texts) – observing your practice not only physically, but your mind and emotions and reactions, begin to recognize your patterns
Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the divine) – having done your best, offer your efforts up to the universe
Now, What is Iyengar Yoga?
For me, the Yamas and Niyamas are Iyengar Yoga. Yoga practice that is also internal, respects your body conditions, subsides the ego, emphasizes alignment and thus incorporates the use of props.
It is misunderstood that Iyengar Yoga is only physical. However, the physical is a path that leads to Self-realization eventually. One cannot speak of Iyengar Yoga without speaking of the system that BKS Iyengar has created. It is is a step-by-step method of learning and teaching the asanas with emphasis on specific sequencing, inversions and pranayama. And then there are the props and adaptations, making yoga accessible to all – even those with limited access to the physical body.
This is possible because it is not just physical.
BUT if you really want to know what Iyengar Yoga is, come to class!