What is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar Yoga is characterized by precision and alignment, timing in and sequencing of postures, and the use of props.


Internationally acknowledged as a master of yoga, Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar (fondly known as Guruji) began teaching 70 years ago. Through his intellectual and spiritual practices Guruji masterminded the techniques which can be used by all practitioners of yoga. "Research based experience" and "experience based research" helped him to evolve this technique which is now known as Iyengar Yoga, a yoga practice meant for all and is a way of life. The use of props, designed by Guruji, such as wooden blocks, belts and ropes helps the practitioner to achieve perfection in any asana. Regular practice of Iyengar Yoga integrates the body, mind and emotions.


The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIYMI) in Pune, India was founded by Mr. Iyengar in 1975 and is at the forefront of modern yoga. Here, Guruji and his daughter Geeta taught and refined the constantly evolving method that is one of the world's most widely-practiced yogas. His son and granddaughter Prashantaji and Abhijata Iyengar respectively, continue to teach and honor Guruji’s teachings. Teachers from around the world come to RIMYI to practice and hone the skills they will take back to their own Iyengar communities.


The precision in an asana is not merely meant for the alignment of the part but for the proper functioning of an individual. If the body is aligned with precision, then the breath is aligned with that same precision; if the breath is balanced, then the mind, emotions and senses get balanced.


Iyengar Yoga practioners are known for their ability to stay for a prolonged duration of time in different poses. For a beginner, it does mean developing a will-power and is essential in early stages of practice. However, one has to evolve beyond the realms of merely external force or will. Not staying for staying's sake but performing an asana where one intrinsically wants to stay in the pose. As our practice evolves, we can stay longer, but we find the effort required to maintain it lessens.


As Iyengar Yoga practioners, we are aware that is not just the asanas, but how you perform them, how long you perform them and also the sequence in which they are performed which determine the effect of these asanas. The sequence in which they are performed is determined by: purpose of practice, weather, time of day, health of the practioner, and the level of practice. With over 200 asanas, there can be any number of permutations and combinations. However, there are certain rules of thumb. For example, Salamba Saranvangasana (shoulderstand) is never practiced before Salamba Sirsasana (headbalance). Also, practice generally ends with Savasana (corpse pose) or other relaxation asanas.


Props have been a fruit of Guruji's innovative genius. It is because of the prop that people of all ages and health status can perform asanas with ease and attain benefits of the practice of yoga.


One final aspect of Iyengar Yoga is the concept of hierarchy in practice. While a beginner might be taught Utthitha Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) in their first class, Guruji also practices Trikonasana after 70 years. While the beginner's trikonasana is performed mainly on the muscular-skeletal level and is guided by his/her teacher, Guruji's trikonasana is performed in a state of meditation and is guided by his citi.

(excerpted from an article by Prashant Iyengar for the publication Yoga Rahasya)