Yoga emerged from an ancient philosophy which began in India around 5,000 years ago as a means to transcend suffering by physical cleansing and mental enlightenment. It has evolved over time to provide a channel for self-transformation and personal development. With continued regular practice, yoga can allow us to let go of the chattering of the mind in order to get closer to inner peace, so that we can live in harmony with ourselves and our environment.
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word “Yuj”, meaning to yoke, join or unite. This refers to the union of body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a happy, balanced and purposeful life, uniting the inner self with the divine.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is defined as “stilling the fluctuations of the mind” – yogah citta vrtti nirodhah (YS 1.2). We begin to do this by the practice of hatha yoga (the branch of yoga that concentrates on physical health and mental well-being).
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika Chapter 1, verses 64-66
Besides its specific use of props* (straps, blocks, chairs, bolsters, etc), Iyengar yoga has three main characteristics which distinguish it from other styles of yoga: technique (great emphasis is placed on precision and correct alignment of the body in the poses); sequencing (the order in which poses are practised varies according to the desired effect of the practice) and timing (holding poses for longer periods of time allows for greater benefits).
* Props are used for various reasons in Iyengar yoga:
- for people with less flexibility, a prop helps to open the body and allow the student to obtain improved alignment in their pose
- for more advanced students, a prop can prompt the body in achieving more subtle actions with greater awareness; they also act as a probe for deeper exploration
- for people with injuries, props give the body space and allow modifications of poses where the classical pose is not achievable
what to expect in a class
Iyengar yoga classes include a variety of poses (called asanas in Sanskrit) such as standing poses, seated poses, twists, forward bends, backward extensions and inversions. Some classes may be restorative (restful) and may include pranayama (breathing techniques). It is a dynamic practice (meaning no two classes are the same) so each week will have a different focus. The class usually starts with a short period of quiet time in preparation.
The teacher will demonstrate each pose, drawing students’ attention to specific teaching points which will enable them to perform the pose with increased awareness and understanding.
Iyengar yoga teachers are hands on and may make adjustments to students where necessary, in order to align the body correctly. The focus on accurate body alignment is what makes Iyengar yoga distinctive. Students with injuries will be shown how to work safely within their limitations.
Classes finish with several minutes of Savasana (corpse pose), where the body is encouraged into deep rest, assimilating and absorbing the preceding practice, while the mind remains alert but drawn towards the peace within.
about BKS Iyengar
Rooted in the tradition of Hatha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga is the name given to the method of yoga practice that was developed by Yogacharya Sri BKS Iyengar. Born in Bellur, India in 1918, he studied, practised and taught yoga continuously from his teenage years until his death in August 2014. He was considered to be one of the world’s foremost yoga teachers and in 2004 he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was largely responsible for introducing yoga to the western world, travelling to the UK, France and Switzerland at the request of Yehudi Menuhin in 1954, where his many yoga demonstrations soon earned him a worldwide reputation. The word Iyengar was recently entered into the Oxford English dictionary, acknowledging the significance of his contribution to yoga as we know it. His many books on yoga (including Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama and Light on Life) have inspired many thousands of students.
You can listen to BKS Iyengar chant the invocation to Patanjali here