History Of Iyengar Yoga
B.K.S. Iyengar was born in 1918 in Bellur, India. His family was a poor family of the Iyengar kind—a division of the Brahmin caste. His village encountered a flu epidemic around the time of his birth, and his father died when he was nine years old. Inyengar was a sickly child that encountered many illnesses and malnutrition. When he was fifteen, he moved in with his brother-in-law, the great yogi Sri T. Krishnamacharya (whose other prominent disciple besides Iyengar was Pattahabi Jois) in Mysore, India. When Iyengar started his asana practice, his started overcoming his health problems. The more he practiced, the more his health greatly improved.
At the age of eighteen, Iyengar moved to Pune, Maharashtra with his limited knowledge of English. Although he didn’t receive all the training Krishnamacharya had to offer, Iyengar was able to develop what he had learned from his Guru into his own style of yoga.
He spent a significant amount of time experimenting with many styles and philosophies of yoga. Eventually, his classes attracted more students and he, himself, garnered a follwong. While in Pune, his brothers introduced him to his wife, with whom he had six children.
In 1952, Iyengar traveled abroad. He brought many of his teaching over to the Western world, primarily in Europe. In 1966, he authored the book “Light on Yoga” was published and translated into at least seventeen languages. This book helped yoga’s popularity explode throughout the world. To this day, Iyengar has authored fourteen different books.
In 1975, Iyengar started the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (in Pune) in honor of his wife who had since died. Iyengar is still alive today, and although he has retired from teaching, he still passes his knowledge through his books, lectures, and through his disciples. Iyengar yoga is taught around the world.
Philosophy Of Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga seeks to integrate all eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are highly influential to Iyengar yoga. Iyengar himself said, “I just try to get the physical body in line with the mental body, the mental body in line with the intellectual body, and the intellectual body with the spiritual body so they are balanced. It’s just pure traditional yoga, from our ancestors, from our gurus, from Patanjali.” The philosophy behind Iyengar yoga is not overly complicated, and that helps in the practice.
Iyengar believes a basic human need also fuels yoga: love. He says “Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body. This love must radiate from you to others. Practitioners of the asanas alone often forget that yoga is for cultivating the head and the heart.
Practice Of Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga is a form of Hatha yoga, so although it addresses mental connections, it is very physically based. It brings the union of mind, body, and soul through asana. For this reason, it is used greatly as a method of stress relief.
Intense focus on structural alignment, especially through the use of props is a characteristic that helps define Iyengar yoga and separates it from other styles of Hatha yoga. Before Iyengar, props like blocks, straps, and blankets were hardly used in yoga. However, Iyengar found that props help students to achieve ideal alignment. Props also help the students to attain the “perfect” incarnation of each pose without actually pushing their bodies to a point of muscle or joint compression.
Props are especially beneficial to elderly students or those recovering from illness or injury because with the use of props, the student can enter a supported version of the pose that still yields all of the intended benefits. Now, props are found in many yoga studios (not just Iyengar studios), gyms, and other places where yoga is practiced.
Iyengar yoga is not a flowing style; it hardly involves Vinyasa flow. On the contrary, students hold asanas for long periods of time. Much of this time is spent attempting “perfect alignment. Instead of flowing between the poses, there are often periods of child’s pose and savasana. Because the style is not highly movement based, it lacks the cardiovascular element that many popular styles such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa flow entail. There are other benefits of holding asanas besides the journey to proper alignment: building both strength and flexibility.
Another benefit of a style that lacks Vinyasa flow is that there is less cause for intimidation. People who might be scared to try a more movement-based yoga style, perhaps because they don’t feel as if they possess the strength and/or flexibility to accommodate such, should feel more comfortable practicing Iyengar’s method. Iyengar codified around 200 different asanas and fourteen kinds of pranayama. Therefore, there is a huge range of level approach, beginners and advanced yogis alike should be able to find Iyengar yoga fulfilling.
Even though alignment is key in Iyengar yoga, pranayama still plays an important role in the practice. Pranayama not only important to the physical systems such as the circulatory and respiratory systems, but it is also vital to the practitioner’s connection to his or her mind. Controlling the breath helps bring focus whether it occurs during an asana or on its own.
Meditation is present in Iyengar yoga, however not in a super-traditional sense. Iyengar believes that through pranayama and asana combined, the practitioner can find a form of moving meditation. Iyengar believes that meditation is not something that can be learned because it is a state of mind. Thus meditation comes when the student has developed a practice suitable for such.
Overall, Iyengar yoga is an experience that is well suited for any level of practitioner. Iyengar has had a huge influence all over the world, and at 93 years old, he is still a direct connection to his guru Krishnamacharya and younger generations of yogis alike.
By Alex Zaglin