|What is Yoga?
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj”
meaning to yoke, join or unite. This implies integrating all aspects
of an individual; body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a
happy, balanced and spiritual life.
In the West we generally
practice Hatha Yoga, meaning ‘determined effort’. Practice of yoga has
enabled the body to be healthy and free from stress and illness. Thus,
to a certain extent, yoga in the West is closely related to the idea
of living a good and healthy life. It stands in contrast to the
acquisitiveness and high pace of modern life and can provide the
student with a framework for making sense of their life.
As Mira, Shyam and Silva Mehta have so succinctly summarised: “From
the psychological viewpoint, yoga sharpens the intellect and aids
concentration. It steadies the emotions and encourages a caring
concern for others. Above all, it gives hope. The practice of
breathing techniques calms the mind, its philosophy sets life in
perspective. In the realm of the spiritual, yoga brings awareness and
the ability to be still. Through meditation, inner peace is
experienced. Thus yoga is a practical philosophy involving every
aspect of a person’s being. It teaches the evolution of the individual
by the development of self-discipline and self-awareness. Anyone,
irrespective of age, health, circumstance of life and religion, can
practise yoga.” (Yoga: The Iyengar Way, p8).
B. K. S. Iyengar
|Sources: Yoga: The Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta
(Publisher Dorling Kindersley, 1990). Light on Yoga by: BKS Iyengar
(Publisher HarperCollins, 1991).
|The Iyengar method of Yoga is initially learnt through the in-depth study
of asanas (posture) and Pranayama (breath control). Mr. Iyengar has
systematised over 200 classical yoga asanas and 14 different types of Pranayama from the simple to the incredibly difficult. These have been
structured and categorised so as to allow a beginner to progress
surely and safely from basic postures to the most advanced as they
gain flexibility, strength and sensitivity of the mind, body and
|In practice, Iyengar Yoga focuses particularly on correct body alignment
to allow the body to develop in an anatomically correct way, so that the
student suffers no injury or pain when practising correctly. As all bodies
are different and people have different weaknesses and strengths, Mr.
Iyengar has also developed the use of props to help the body into the
correct positions required. Props are objects like wooden blocks, chairs,
blankets and belts that help adjust or support the different postures so
that the asana is safe and effective.
An added benefit is that although
the therapeutic aspects of asanas and Pranayama have been known for
centuries, Mr. Iyengar unrelenting emphasis on correct anatomical
alignment and methods of working have refined the therapeutic aspects of
Yoga. Thus practice of Iyengar Yoga will often result in eliminating aches
and pains as well as improving posture etc.
|Pranayama is started once a firm foundation in asana has been
established, as physically the student requires the alignment,
flexibility, lung capacity and training necessary to sit and breathe
correctly while practicing. Pranayama gives numerous physical benefits
including toning the circulation, digestive and nervous, plus respiratory
systems, activating the internal organs and creating a feeling of energy
What distinguishes Iyengar Yoga from other styles of yoga?
|The Iyengar method of Yoga may be said to define
itself as different from other styles of Yoga by 3 key elements,
namely technique, sequence and timing:
Technique means that in
practice one learns ever-finer adjustments in the alignment of how to
perform asanas and Pranayama.
Sequence refers to the sequences, in which asana and Pranayama are
practiced, e.g., by varying the order of the postures, the mental and
emotional effects of the practice can be intensified.
Timing refers to the length of time spent in asanas or Pranayama.
Postures cannot be done swiftly or without awareness. It takes time to
move into a posture and become stable. When this has been achieved,
the next step is to remain stable for some time to intensify the depth
of the posture and so extract its benefit. Otherwise the potential
effects and benefits remain small compared to what is possible.
In summary, one can begin to see how Iyengar Yoga is far from
merely “stretching and deep breathing”. With practice and
understanding, one realises that asana is as different from stretching
or gymnastics, as Pranayama is different from merely deep breathing.
What can I expect
in an Iyengar Yoga Class?
|You will be introduced to the basic asanas which will
include standing poses, sitting poses and recuperative poses. All the
asanas have Sanskrit names, which the teacher will use – don’t worry,
you are not expected to pick it all up straight away.
will show you how to use yoga props, such as belts and blocks, to help
you achieve the postures to the best of your ability.
As all the asanas have different effects on the body, beginners
start by building up strength and stamina, to improve muscular tone,
flexibility and alignment. Practising the postures reduces tiredness
and soothes the nerves. It also trains and disciplines the mind so
concentration is improved. Yoga is therefore a great help if you
suffer from stress!
Yoga should always be practised on an empty stomach, so leave 3-4
hours after a main meal or 2 hours after a light snack. Wear clothes
that do not restrict your movement in any way. Most people wear shorts
or leggings and a T-shirt. Yoga is always practised in bare feet.
If you are menstruating, there are certain poses that are not
suitable, so please consult the teacher before the class begins. The
teacher may give you some alternative postures to perform during the
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