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What is Iyengar Yoga?

what is iyengar yoga

Ever wondered ‘what is Iyengar yoga?’ Well, you’re in the right place!

There are so many different types of yoga that it can often be difficult choosing the right style for you. 

However, don’t panic! We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about Iyengar yoga: what it is, the benefits of Iyengar yoga, and everything in between.

In this article, we will explore:

So, keep reading if you want to find out what Iyengar yoga is good for!

Just before we dive in, if you’re interested in yoga and are considering the possibility of a career in this field, there’s no better place to become qualified than with OriGym. Take a look at our full course prospectus and find the course that’s right for you!

Iyengar Yoga- What Is It?

Based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga, as detailed by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, Iyengar places emphasis on the performance of asanas, or postures.

 

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It also emphasises the importance of detail, precision, and alignment whilst performing these postures, as well as combining this with breath control, or pranayama. 

As one of the world’s most traditional and widely practiced styles, one of the benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it uses props, allowing students to safely and progressively perform postures at their own pace.

Ever wondered ‘is Iyengar yoga good for you?’ Well, the answer is definitely yes!

This is because although the practice focuses on asanas, it also promotes mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Therefore, the idea of practicing Iyengar is that as it helps you to develop balance in the body; balance in the mind will also follow.

How is Iyengar Different from Other Types of Yoga?

You may now know what Iyengar yoga is, but how is Iyengar different from other styles of yoga? Let’s explore the four main differences:

Pace and Timing

If you’ve ever wondered what Iyengar yoga is like compared to other styles, one of the main differences is that it moves at a much slower pace.

During classes, asanas are held for a relatively long period of time, and focus on quality of movement rather than quantity.

This cautious, mindful approach allows time for the muscles to relax and lengthen, and helps to prevent injury, which is one reason why Iyengar yoga is the best for beginners.

Precision in Movements

 

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In most yoga styles, practitioners are encouraged to independently find their way to the asanas, using more of an experimental approach.

One of the main differences between Iyengar and other styles of yoga, is that Iyengar classes are much more precise. 

This means that the teacher will actively correct any misalignments, and explain how to correctly perform each posture accurately and precisely.

Not only is this focus on precision designed to ensure that students are performing the asanas correctly, but it is also to encourage proper functioning of the human being on a deeper level.

Founder B.K.S Iyengar believed that if the body is aligned with precision, then the breath will also be aligned precisely. If the breath is balanced, then the mind, emotions, and senses will be balanced too.

Varied Sequences

In contrast to other styles, one of the benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it has over 200 poses and 14 breathing techniques!

Although most sessions are performed in a similar manner, leading up to the peak pose, teachers have many different asanas to choose from, and can collate these into any sequence they like.

This means that no two classes will ever be the same, unlike styles such as Bikram or Ashtanga yoga, which have set sequences.

Therefore, who and what Iyengar yoga is good for is people who like variety in their practice.

Use of Props

What Iyengar yoga is most known for, in comparison with other types of yoga, is its use of props.

Although props are used in other styles, Iyengar yoga makes most use out of them in order to help students hold poses in alignment when they’re either:

  • Beginners
  • Have a chronic condition
  • Are Injured
  • Are inflexible

Studios that hold Iyengar yoga classes stock a wide variety of props, including blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and bolsters.

History of Iyengar Yoga and Who is B.K.S Iyengar?

If you really want to know what Iyengar yoga is, it’s important to explore its origins.

The practice is named after its founder, B.K.S Iyengar, who was born in Bellur, India, in 1918.

Iyengar began practicing yoga under the guru T. Krishnamacharya, who is referred to as the father of modern yoga. He practiced alongside Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga yoga. 

Although we’ve covered how Iyengar is different from other yoga styles, Iyengar and Ashtanga do share similarities, including many of the same asanas. 

Iyengar is credited for bringing yoga to the western world in the 1970s, making yoga accessible and relevant to people everywhere. He taught for over 75 years, in all 5 continents!

If you’re wondering who B.K.S Iyengar is because the name sounds familiar, then you may have heard of his book, Light on Yoga.

Released in 1966, the book has been one of the original source books for yoga students everywhere. It describes the principles of Iyengar yoga, as well as detailing over 200 different asanas.

Iyengar became a solid institution in the yoga world with the founding of the mamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune during 1975, which was named in memory of Iyengar’s wife.

This was followed by the founding of the first of many institutes abroad, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale, London, in 1983.

What is Iyengar Yoga Good For? 7 Benefits

Now that you have some context, let’s take a look at Iyengar yoga poses and  benefits!

#1 Practicing Iyengar Yoga Builds Strength

The first of many benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it helps to build muscle strength.

From exploring how Iyengar is different to other styles of yoga, we know that students are encouraged to hold poses for much longer.

Holding these asanas for over a minute at a time creates a mind to muscle connection, which allows students to engage muscles to a greater extent as they practice.

 

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This means that the muscles being used to hold these poses are forced to contract for longer, in order to overcome the bodyweight resistance being placed upon them.

In turn, this encourages the muscles to build up strength. The more often you perform Iyengar, and the more often your muscles are exposed to this resistance, the stronger they’ll become.

As you build up strength, the more advanced asanas you’ll be able to perform, which will challenge your muscles to a greater extent. 

Therefore, what Iyengar yoga is good for is helping you to progressively build strength!

#2 Iyengar Yoga Increases Mental Wellbeing 

Why Iyengar yoga is the best form of self-care is because it increases the production of a mood-boosting chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA, in the brain.

The release of this chemical encourages lower levels of anxiety and better overall wellbeing.

As we know, Iyengar emphasises a focus on precise alignment of the body whilst performing asanas.

This focus on alignment allows you to be fully present in the practice, and disengages your brain from other thoughts- particularly negative ones.

It also puts a focus on pranayama, or the breath. Without realising, many of us hold our breath in times of stress, so emphasising the importance of deep breathing really helps to relax and de-stress the body.

One of the benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it therefore acts as a type of meditation. The more you practice it, the calmer your mind will be, both on and off the mat!

#3 Iyengar Yoga Improves Posture

There are many health benefits of Iyengar yoga, and one of them is that it can really help to improve your posture.

This is because, as we know, holding poses helps to strengthen muscles within the body that are responsible for good posture, including those in the legs, back, and core.

When asanas are performed with the correct alignment, the smaller muscles that are often ignored will also become stronger, meaning that you’ll find yourself sitting and standing straighter more often!

#4 Iyengar Can Relieve Pain

We know that Iyengar yoga benefits posture, which means that it can also help to relieve much of the pain that comes from having bad posture.

This is because focusing on correct alignment whilst performing asanas can help to overcome back and neck pain caused by slouching, hunching, and muscle weakness.

For instance, what Iyengar yoga is good for is relieving lower back pain, if practiced regularly.

This is because it can help to improve flexibility of the hamstrings, which are the group of 3 muscles at the back of the thighs.

Tight hamstrings restrict the movement of the pelvis in relation to the legs, which places undue strain upon your lumbar spine, or lower back. Iyengar yoga helps to release this tension, therefore easing acute back pain.

#5 Iyengar Yoga Benefits Flexibility

Not only does it help the hamstrings, but Iyengar yoga benefits overall muscle flexibility too!

Iyengar is a slow, yet demanding practice which guides the practitioner into holding stretches for long periods.

This practice lengthens muscles and, over time, increases range of motion, helping them to become more flexible.

Increased flexibility lowers your chance of injury, and improves your performance of the asanas, allowing you to progress onto more advanced ones quickly!

This is highlighted in a 2013 study, where low to moderately active females practiced one 90-minute session of Iyengar yoga a week, for 6 weeks.

At the end of the study, researchers found that participants saw a significant increase in both spine and hamstring flexibility. 

 

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#6 Practicing Iyengar Yoga Offers Protection from Disease

Disease most often occurs when normal processes don’t happen in the way that they should, impacting our bodily functions.

One of the health benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it helps to improve these functions, including within the following systems:

  • Circulatory 
  • Lymph
  • Nervous 
  • Digestive

When these systems are in their best condition possible, this means that your body is working at its best capacity. Your organs will be nourished, toxins eliminated, and the risk of disease therefore decreases.

For instance, Iyengar yoga practice helps to lower blood pressure to a normal level.

This is because it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation ‘rest and digest’ response, as opposed to our ‘fight or flight’ response during stressful times.

As a result, this slows our heart rate and decreases blood pressure, which in the long term helps to maintain heart health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

#7 Iyengar Increases Energy Levels

Due to the release of endorphins during practice, as well as increased blood flow to the brain, another of the health benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it helps to increase energy levels.

In comparison to more rigorous exercise, which can agitate the body, practicing gentle yoga poses helps to improve circulation and flow of oxygen, without over-tiring the body.

Iyengar therefore encourages relaxation of the whole body, which can improve sleep, reduce insomnia, and increase our levels of energy.

In a 2013 study analysing the effects of Iyengar yoga on patients with chronic respiratory disease, it was found that there was a marked decrease in levels of fatigue.

Participants also noted an improvement in breathing capacity, mobility, energy and sleep. Other effects included an ‘overall feeling of wellbeing’ and ‘an excellent amount of energy.’

What to Expect in an Iyengar Yoga Class

After learning some Iyengar poses and benefits, you may be wondering ‘what is Iyengar yoga like?’ Keep reading to find out!

Iyengar Yoga Teachers

Firstly, all Iyengar teachers have to have trained for a minimum of 3 years, meaning that they are all experts in their field!

They should therefore be able to offer a clear demonstration and explanation of each posture, as well as individual correction and adjustment of alignment when necessary.

To be an instructor, you also have to hold a current Iyengar Yoga Certification Mark. Only Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) are permitted to describe their method of instruction as Iyengar.

Sequences in an Iyengar Yoga Class

One of the most important points to note is that you can expect all Iyengar classes to include a unique sequence developed by the CIYT.

 

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This sequence will always move through a safe, methodical progression of yoga postures, and is designed to warm the body up towards a peak pose.

For instance, if the CIYT chooses eagle pose as the peak pose, the sequence is likely to include one-legged balancing postures to prepare your body.

What is Iyengar Yoga Like in Terms of Class Structure?

Ever wondered what Iyengar yoga is like to practice in a class? Well, we’re here to tell you exactly what to expect!

  • Beginning- Most classes begin with a few quiet moments of reflection, to help prepare the mind for Iyengar yoga.
  • Preliminary Postures- These are then performed as a warm up, to mobilise the body and quieten the mind, encouraging a focused state of mind.
  • Standing Postures- These postures form the foundation of more advanced postures, so it is important for students to understand proper alignment of the basic postures first.
  • Special Postures- The practice may then move on to some more advanced asanas, including backward and forward bends, inverted postures, recuperative poses, or even more standing postures.
  • End- The class will end with some more recuperative and re-energising postures, and the CIYT may also choose to incorporate some elements of pranayama too.

FAQs

Is Iyengar Yoga Good for Beginners?

From our description, you may be wondering, ‘is Iyengar yoga hard?’ it can be, but it really doesn’t have to be!

Iyengar yoga benefits everybody, whether you are a beginner or a more advanced student.

Iyengar yoga for beginners is generally focused on standing postures. This ensures that students are able to learn the fundamentals of adjusting and aligning the body correctly, before moving on to more advanced poses.

Beginners can also work at their own pace using props, to allow for safe progression and ensure that they can always practice with correct technique.

Although it may not offer as intense a cardiovascular experience as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, another of the benefits of Iyengar yoga is that it is suitable for intermediate or advanced students too.

For the more experienced students, what Iyengar yoga is good for is developing strength and increasing flexibility, as well as encouraging focus and connection to the breath.

CIYTs will gradually introduce pranayama, breath control, for advanced students once they have a firm foundation of asana practice behind them.

As a general rule of thumb, students begin practicing pranayama after approximately 2 years of regular asana practice, though some basic observation of breath control may be introduced at the end of a beginner's class.

Is Iyengar Yoga Spiritual?

Many people often assume that yoga in general is a spiritual and religious practice, and so cannot be practiced by people of other religions.

However, this is a misrepresentation; people from many religious backgrounds actually practice Iyengar!

Although it is not necessarily a religious practice, it is based in the Hindu tradition. This means that some references may be made to the sources of Hindu ideas or names of postures, in order to clarify details of specific asanas.

Also, as with any form of yoga, the connection that Iyengar can help you to form with the body and mind does improve spiritual wellbeing. 

This is because in the practice, the body is seen as the temple of the soul, and as an instrument with which to express our mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Iyengar yoga is often criticised for being too focused on the physical body, in contrast to forms that focus more on meditation and pranayama, and are thus seen as more ‘spiritual’.

However, B.K.S Iyengar himself believed that the best way to access the spirit was through paying proper attention to the body, through practicing asanas.

He thought of these asanas as a way to access and form connections between the different layers of the human being, including the physical, mental, and spiritual layers.

Therefore, we would say that the answer to this question is that yes, Iyengar yoga is spiritual, but you don’t have to be religious to practice it.

Is Iyengar Yoga Hatha Yoga?

In a way, Iyengar yoga is Hatha yoga; this is because Iyengar stems from Hatha!

Hatha is one of the earliest forms of yoga practice to reach the west, and involves a focus on physical postures, as well as awareness of the breath.

B.K.S Iyengar is considered one of hatha yoga’s greatest proponents, and innovated on this form to create his own style, which is what Iyengar yoga is today.

 

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Wondering exactly how Iyengar is different from Hatha?

The main reason that Iyengar Yoga is not Hatha yoga, is because Iyengar makes use of props. These props make postures accessible to everyone, which may not always be possible in traditional Hatha yoga classes.

Before You Go!

We hope that we’ve successfully provided the answer to the question ‘what is Iyengar yoga like?’ and that you’ve discovered everything you needed to know about the practice.

Iyengar yoga health benefits are plentiful, all of which can be made accessible to anyone through the use of props, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned yoga pro!

So, why not give Iyengar yoga a go today?

If you’re a yoga fanatic looking to turn your passion into a lucrative career, then get qualified to teach with OriGym’s CIMSPA accredited Level 3 Yoga Diploma and start teaching in a matter of weeks.

Written by Rebecca Felton

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Graduating from the University of Liverpool with a first-class degree in English, Rebecca’s combined passions for fitness and writing are what brought her to OriGym. Rebecca is a keen gym-goer and specifically enjoys lifting weights. Outside of fitness and writing, Rebecca enjoys cooking, reading, and watching the football.

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