Iyengar Yoga Origins
Iyengar yoga represents a yoga practice which was named, and also developed, by B.K.S. Iyengar. This is actually a form of Hatha yoga, with additional emphasis on detail, alignment and precision in performance of breath control (pranayama) and postures (asanas). Through the practiced asanas, the development of mobility, stability and strength is achieved. The good combination between asanas and pranayama is achieved, which is the most important part of iyengar yoga practice.
The founder and practitioner of this yoga discipline, after whom the iyengar yoga has got its name, B.K.S. Iyengar, made a systematization of over 200 classical yoga poses in combination with 14 different pranayama types (with present variations), ranging for the simple, basic ones to the more advanced ones. This tactics ensures that the students experience a progress gradually, by moving from the basic poses to the more complex, developing their body, mind and spirit, step-by-step.
Characterist of Iyengar Yoga
The characteristic of this type of yoga is the use of various props, such as blocks, blankets and belts, as an aid in performing the postures, or asanas, correctly. These props enable the students to perform these asanas correctly, with a minimal risk of strain or injury, making the postures accessible to young and old. This type of yoga is firmly based on yoga’s eight limbs, presented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
Actually, it represents a type of Hatha yoga, but it focuses on the structural alignment of the body, in the physical way, by developing the asanas. By practicing the asana system, it is easier to unite the body, spirit and mind into the one well-being, benefiting the health, in both physical and psychical way. Such discipline represents a powerful tool in the process of the stress management, especially in the modern days, when people are occupied with their everyday job and stressful life that they are living. This way, iyengar yoga can help an individual to promote the complete spiritual and physical well-being.
It is often interpreted that iyengar yoga differs from other yoga styles in three important parts of each yoga form – sequence, timing and technique. The sequence means that the sequences, in which the breathing exercises and asanas are practiced, are represented in different concept than the other yoga styles. If the desired result wants to be achieved, then the specific sequence must be followed and such practice is important. The proper combination of specific breathing techniques and poses can ensure the needed positive effect. As for the timing, this important element defines the time spent in each pranayama, or pose. The technique definitely represents the most important feature of any yoga style, especially iyengar yoga, where the precision of the body alignment and the pranayama performance is one of the most important characteristics of optimal yoga practice.
The great attention to detail, as well as the precise focus on body alignment, represent the characteristics of iyengar yoga practice. It has pioneered the use of the props, such as benches, blocks, straps, cushions and sand bags in yoga purpose, functioning as the aid. The props allow the beginners to experience the asanas more easily and more fully than in the situation without the props. The props actually bring the practice closer to the beginners, which in the other situation would be impossible without the years of hard and serious practice. The use of props also allows the elderly people, injured, ill or tired students to enjoy the iyengar yoga benefits, to enjoy the asanas’ benefits completely, with the fully supported methods which require the less muscular effort.
Iyengar yoga is, in fact, very precise and highly verbal classes encourage students to learn the proper techniques, unlike the experimental approach where an individual independently finds the way to the asanas practice. The errors and misalignments are actively corrected during the practice and teachers work with their students in order to perform the practices correctly, according to the teachings. The rigorous training is a must for the iyegar teachers and it lasts at least two years, for the introductory certificate. It is optional to complete the subsequent intermediate levels, as well as the senior levels of certification, which takes at least a decade or even more of training.
Benefits of Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga practitioners speak of many health benefits which this yoga discipline brings to the practitioners. This yoga style targets various diseases, ailments and even disorders with the practice. The chronic pain, high blood pressure, immunodeficiency, depression, menopause and insomnia have specific yoga programs, which are associated with them. Also, Iyengar himself worked with the people who had the myocardial infarctions. The design of the asanas is adjusted and based on a person’s recovery stage, so each practitioner has different approach, when it comes to asanas and yoga practice.
The founder and the main practitioner of iyengar yoga style is certainly Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar. The founder of this yoga style is considered as one of the foremost yoga teachers in the present world. He is the author of many books related to philosophy and yoga practice, of which the most famous are Light on Yoga, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Light on Pranayama. These classes are not present only in India, but are offered all around the world. He was one of the earliest students of famous Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred as the father of modern yoga. He popularized yoga practiced first in India, and then throughout the world. Iyengar was awarded with the Padma Shri in 1991, Padma Bhushan in 2002 and Padma Vibhushan in 2014. Time magazine named Iyengar as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
His yoga practice started back in 1934, when he was 15 and his brother-in-law asked him to come to Mysore to improve his health through the yoga practice. There, young Iyengar learned asana practice, which significantly improve his health. The association with his brother-in-law is considered as one of the turning points in Iyengar’s career, as he said that over a two year period, his brother-in-law had teached him only ten or fifteen days, but even though it didn’t last for so long, it had influenced him and made him what he became later. In 1937, his brother-in-law sent Iyengar to Pune, when he was 18, to spread the yoga teachings to the people.
The encouragement of his brother-in-law brought him to Pune in 1937, in order to teach the yoga practice to the people. He spent hours and hours each day, experimenting and learning with various techniques. 1952 was a turning point for Iyengar, as he befriended the violinist Yehudi Menuhin who gave him the break which transformed him, from an obscure Indian teacher into the international guru. As Iyengar became the teacher of many celebrities, as well as the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, he was asked to meet Menuhin in Bombay, who was also interested in yoga. Menuhin felt so tired and that because of his practice, he could only spare five minutes. Iyengar told him to practice a relaxing asana, which made Menuhin to fall asleep. After an hour or so, Menuhin woke refreshed, spending another two hours with Iyengar. He also believed that yoga has improved his performing skills, so he invited Iyengar to Switzerland in 1954. From this point on, Iyengar visited the western world regularly, teaching the yoga system to various schools which spread all over the world. Nowadays, there are hundreds of yoga centres which practice iyengar yoga style.
Popularity of the Iyengar yoga
Yoga became popular in the western world thanks to the Iyengar’s writings and teaching. His book, Light on Yoga, was published in 1966 and it became an international best-seller, which was translated into 17 world languages. Light on Yoga was then followed by titles on pranayama and various yoga philosophy aspects. In total, Iyengar was the author of 14 books about yoga.
In 1975, he opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in the city of Pune, in memory of his late wife. He retired in teaching in 1984, but continued his activities in the Iyengar Yoga world, teaching special yoga classes and writing his books. His daughter and son are also successful yoga teachers which gained an international acclaim as well as Iyengar did.
He has also visited the U.S.A., promoting his latest book, Light on Life, with a special aspect of workshop at the Yoga Journal converence which was held in Estes Park, Colorado. In his honour, 3rd October 2005 was declared as the B.K.S. Iyengar Day, by the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. An interesting fact is that the word Iyengar is present in Oxfor Dictionaries as the noun, which is defined as a type of astanga yoga, named after the deviser, B.K.S. Iyengar. Thanks to Iyengar, world has recognized the power and tranquillity which yoga practice brings, as well as the health, physical and spiritual benefits which everyday yoga practices bring to an individual. Thanks to him, there are thousands of yoga students who have recognized the importance of such practice, essential for their lives.