What can I expect to do during an Iyengar yoga class?
Iyengar yoga is characterised by precision and alignment in the execution of the postures (asanas), sequencing of the asanas towards a desired result,timing in the length of time the asanas are held for maximum benefit, and the use of props if required to help a student gain the maximum benefit from each asana. Iyengar yoga concentrates on postural alignment and body awareness. This is not just for the alignment of one body part with another, but also for the proper functioning of the human being. If the body is aligned with precision then the breath is aligned with the same precision. If the breath is balanced then the mind, emotions and senses become balanced.
The teaching of yoga postures in an Iyengar yoga class is essentially similar wherever you go; each teacher will teach the postures which he/she has selected for the class for a specific reason, but the manner of teaching postures is the same worldwide. This means a student can go to any teacher and fit into the class immediately.
In general the class will start with a few moments of quiet to prepare for the yoga. This is followed by some preliminary postures to mobilise the body, open and activate the body and to quieten the brain to encourage a focused, concentrated state of mind. Standing postures are then often practiced in which one learns the fundamentals of how to adjust and align the body correctly. This has to be learnt before more advanced postures can be successfully mastered. Standing poses therefore form the foundation of even the most advanced postures and have to be studied continuously.
The practice could then focus on special postures including back bends, more standing postures, forward bends, inverted postures or recuperative postures which prepare the student for the practice of pranayama or breath control. Pranayama is normally taught in a class designed specifically for this practice and students usually begin pranayama after about two years regular asana practice, although observation of normal breathing patterns and some basic pranayamas may be introduced during the relaxation/recuperative period at the end of each asana class. The class will end with recuperative and re-energising postures.
Often classes are arranged to teach types of postures, such as backbends or forward bends standings, forward extensions, back bends, recuperative poses in a sequential programme throughout the month. The high standard of training of teachers ensures a good record of safety for the students. Students will often say they walk away from an Iyengar yoga class feeling straighter and full of energy, despite having worked quite hard.
With regular guided practice, effects can include a general feeling of physical health and psychological and mental well-being. This is not to say that ill-health will not arise; it may. If it does it is likely that yoga will help one to face it and may manage it. The focus of Iyengar yoga on postural alignment can alleviate postural/structural problems. It can also release emotional tensions. The yoga is demanding in effort and in attention to detail within the posture, which increases concentration and focus helping to relieve the mind and body of stress. It can help to develop a deeper knowledge of your Self, which can contribute to greater self-confidence.
Iyengar yoga is firmly based in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived about 1700 years ago. The one-line statements of the Yoga Sutras guide the yoga practitioner towards peace of mind and harmony and ultimately to bliss (Samadhi). The philosophy is explained in several of Mr. Iyengar’s books. The simplest is perhaps in the introduction of Mr. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga. However, other descriptions can be found,with different emphasis, in his other books such as Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, his translation of the Yoga Sutras, Tree of Yoga, Light on Ashtanga Yoga and the latest publication Light on Life (please see the Merchandise page)
Some writers and practitioners have split yoga into raja yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga and hatha yoga. They consider each to be separate schools of practice. Mr. Iyengar followed the teaching of Patanjali in that he considered raja, jnana, bhakti and hatha to be constituent parts of the whole practise of yoga, not to be practised individually. The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras begins with a definition of Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, which has three tiers, tapas (self-discipline), svadhayaya (self-study), Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God). Kriya Yoga includes the three great paths of yoga: karma marga (the path of action), jnana marga (the path of knowledge), bhakti marga (the path of devotion). Those of us who practice Iyengar Yoga practice Kriya Yoga. Mr. Iyengar described his yoga as Patanjali Yoga, however it is commonly known as Iyengar Yoga, giving credit to his teaching and example.
Iyengar yoga is for anyone irrespective of age, gender, health, religion and circumstances in life. Iyengar yoga is not competitive. You will not be judged against other people. A distinctive feature of Iyengar yoga is the use of equipment, called props, to enable a student to develop strength, flexibility and control in a posture in order to achieve their full potential. In this way a student works to his or her maximum ability within a general mixed class. The teacher is trained to select the correct prop and to supervise the individual student.
Mr. Iyengar achieved remarkable success in the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions, ranging from skeleto-muscular through to emotional. He has passed much of this knowledge on to his Intermediate Junior and Senior teachers. They are qualified to give help in cases where they have competence. Note: only teachers who hold Intermediate Junior and Senior qualifications and who have the necessary experience can give help with serious conditions. If you would like further information on this, please contact IY (UK) or your local Member Group, or use the teacher search on our homepage to find a therapy class (tick the ‘therapy’ box).
No. People from many religious traditions can and do practise Iyengar yoga. Teachers will not promote a religious view point, however, yoga is based in the Hindu tradition and some references may be made to the source of ideas or names of postures in order to clarify background detail.
Before being accepted on an Introductory teaching training course a student must have completed a minimum of three years’ regular study with an approved Iyengar yoga teacher. A letter of recommendation from the student’s regular teacher is also required.