Yoga Traditions in India:Iyengar Yoga


iyIyengar yoga is one of the most popular forms of yoga which is also a form of hatha yoga which pays a lot of attention to the details, alignment, and precision in performing the asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control). The Iyengar yoga comprises of more than 200 yoga poses along with 14 different types of pranayama varying from basic to advanced. This allows the students to move gradually from a simple asana to a complex one and develop their body and mind at a decently paced approach.

Iyengar yoga often emphasizes on using props such as blocks, belts, and blankets which help in performing the asanas. The props enable the students to perform the asanas more conveniently, correctly and without getting injured or strained. This is what makes Iyengar yoga accessible to people of any age group.

The man behind this innovative yoga form is Bellur Krishnamachar Sundaraja Iyengar or B.K.S Iyengar is known as one of the first yoga teachers in the world. Born to a poor family in Bellur, Kolar district, Karnataka, B.K.S Iyengar had a very rough life. When he was 5-years old his family moved to Bangalore and just after a few years, while he was 9-years old, he lost his father to appendicitis.

During his childhood, Iyengar stayed ill for a very long time. He struggled with diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and malnutrition. His life started to take a positive turn when in 1934 his brother-in-law asked him to come to Mysore. After moving to Mysore he started practicing yoga and gradually his health started to improve. In 1937, at the age of 18, Iyengar moved to Pune to teach yoga.

After moving to Pune, he spent hours practicing and experimenting various yogic techniques. Iyengar had many celebrity clients, one of them being the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. It was in the year 1952 that Iyengar got his big break after training with Yehudi. In 1954, Menuhin invited Iyengar to Switzerland and there was no stopping for Iyengar from there. Post this visit, he started visiting western countries on a regular basis. This single visit to Switzerland made him an international yoga guru from just an Indian yoga teacher.

Other incidents which proved to be a life-changing experience for Iyengar was when he visited the United States for the very first time in the Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1956 and when his first book Lights on Yoga got published in 1966 and turned out to be a best seller.

In 1975, he established the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune. He officially retired as a yoga teacher in the year 1984 but stayed connected with the Iyengar yoga by giving special classes, lectures and writing books.

What to expect in an Iyengar yoga class?

An Iyengar yoga class starts with Sukhasana (sitting with legs crossed) and slowly getting into the right posture for getting started with the asanas. The asanas practiced may vary from class to class and may change from week to week and will include standing, seated, twists, forward, backbends, restorative and inversion postures. Different asanas affect your body, mind and soul differently and in an Iyengar yoga class, you will experience each one of these. The teacher will demonstrate the asanas to you and then you will be guided and instructed through the formations in a manner as simple as possible. The teacher may help you with acquiring the right pose either by instructing you or may use their hands or may suggest you use a prop.

The props were developed by B.K.S Iyengar to make the asanas less tiring and more enjoyable. The use of props makes this particular type of yoga more accessible to people regardless of their age, gender, expertise level, flexibility or injury, etc. Working with props ensures that the body is both in action but is still at ease and is not stressed too much.

Standing poses also make a major part of an Iyengar yoga class as these help in building stamina, strength and flexibility, as well as help in building the foundation for all the other poses. Standing poses are also very crucial as they help with the better positioning of the legs, arms, feet and head while performing any other poses.

As the classes move forward the asanas keep getting more advanced based on your practice. The class always ends with Shavasana to keep the body at rest. Even at this point, special emphasis is paid to attain complete relaxation of the body and the mind.