What Is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar Yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, a yoga teacher and author of Light on Yoga.

His book, published in 1966, focuses on yoga as a form of exercise and explores the asanas in detail, providing insight into various benefits that can be achieved by practicing this style of yoga.

Let’s take a closer look at these benefits, the poses that make up Iyengar Yoga, how to practice it, and much more!

Iyengar Yoga Definition

Iyengar Yoga is a style of yoga with a definite emphasis on form and proper alignment.

Due to the emphasis placed on performing the poses with specific alignment, Iyengar Yoga encourages heavy use of yoga props, including blocks, straps, blankets, and cushions.

As a result, Iyengar Yoga is a style that’s accessible to a wider selection of students, including elderly yogis, people with mobility issues or disabilities, or someone recovering from an injury.

Iyengar Yoga does not shy away from modifying poses to suit each practitioner, which means it’s suitable for most students, regardless of age, size, or experience level. As well as making it more accessible, yoga props and structural alignment makes Iyengar Yoga a safer choice for many students, reducing the risk of potential injury.

Furthermore, Iyengar Yoga is practiced at a slower pace, making it even more appealing to those who struggle to keep up with Vinyasa or Sun Power Yoga. With asanas held longer, practitioners benefit from increased physical endurance, as well as mental focus and patience.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

  • Accessibility. Thanks to its gentle pace, heavy use of yoga props, and readily available pose modifications, Iyengar Yoga is suitable for a wide range of practitioners. That’s not to say it cannot be physically challenging: a more accurate statement would be that the challenge can be adjusted to each student.
  • Endurance. In Iyengar Yoga practice, once the pose is established, it is performed a little longer than other active yoga styles. As a result, practitioners have a chance to build up their physical and mental endurance.
  • Strength. Focusing on alignment puts the practitioner in a favorable position. They can perform the pose more efficiently, which allows them to get stronger in the process.
  • Stability. Staying in the pose for a little while encourages muscles and ligaments to stabilize and find balance. This type of practice is more sustainable long-term, as the strength and endurance found through Iyengar Yoga results in better balance and joint stability.
  • Safety. Iyengar Yoga popularized the use of yoga props as we know them. Instead of forcing students into an asana they are not ready for, Iyengar Yoga encourages using props to maintain technical alignment. As a result, practitioners are less likely to sustain an injury by pulling a muscle, dislocating a joint, or losing balance and falling. This is especially valuable to people who suffer greater consequences from everyday actions (e.g., bruise easily or get fractures).

Iyengar Yoga Poses

Many asanas in Iyengar practice overlap with other long-standing yoga styles. However, in Iyengar, they often come with different options to suit practitioners with different backgrounds.

Iyengar Yoga poses include:

Extended Triangle Pose

Variations include resting the bottom hand on a yoga block or chair and practicing with the back against the wall to encourage rotation without losing balance.

Bound Angle Pose

Variations include elevating the seat by sitting on a folded blanket to relieve tension in the hips and propping the knees with blocks or blankets to support their weight.

Staff Pose

Variations include elevating the seat by sitting on a folded blanket or bolster to relieve tension in the hips and maintain posture.

Seated Forward Bend

Variations include elevating the seat by sitting on a folded blanket or bolster to relieve tension in the hips and wrapping a strap around the feet when the practitioner cannot reach them otherwise.

Hero Pose

Variations include placing a block or a folded blanket between the ankles to elevate the seat and relieve pressure on the knees.

Shoulder Stand

Variations include placing a folded blanket (or blankets) around the shoulder blades to protect the neck.

Plow Pose

Variations include placing a folded blanket (or blankets) around the shoulder blades to protect the neck and resting the feet on a stack of yoga blocks or bolster.

How to Practice Iyengar Yoga

If you have access to a yoga studio that has Iyengar Yoga classes on its schedule, it’s a great place to start. Iyengar Yoga teachers are trained extensively in anatomy in order to be able to evaluate the situation and offer modifications where necessary. Still, if it’s your first-time doing Iyengar Yoga, it’s best to let the teacher know before the start of the session so that they can keep an eye on you.

It’s also important to inform the teachers of any ailments or special circumstances that may impact your practice. These include pregnancy, chronic illnesses, injuries or injury rehabilitation, and temporary circumstances like headache or fatigue.

When you practice Iyengar Yoga, embrace the props. In some forms of yoga, props may be viewed as a “concession”, a step down from a “full” pose. However, in Iyengar, props are seen as an enhancement to the practice. It ensures that the practitioner gets the most out of their practice regardless of the skill level. The props are also used to reduce the risk of injury, which results in a safer practice overall.

If you’re planning to practice at home, make sure your practice space is clear of debris. It can also be beneficial to have some wall space available for supporting certain poses. If you don’t have much experience with Iyengar Yoga specifically or yoga overall, it’s best to start small and build endurance as you progress. You would be surprised how effective a 30-minute Iyengar practice can be for the entire body!

In Iyengar Yoga, breath or pranayama plays a very important role. Therefore, dedicate some of your practice to breathwork and maintain awareness of your breath throughout the session.

Start Iyengar Yoga at Home

If you can’t make it to a studio that offers Iyengar Yoga classes, or you would rather try Iyengar Yoga at home, check out these follow-along videos.

Related: Iyengar Yoga Sequence for Beginners (20-Minute Routine)

Iyengar Yoga for Beginners – Morning Practice

30 minutes of practice of Iyengar Yoga for beginners to intermediates

Intermediate Iyengar – Yoga without Props – with Pauline

Iyengar Yoga FAQs

What Equipment Do You Need to Practice Iyengar Yoga?

Just like with other forms of yoga, it is possible to practice Iyengar Yoga when you only have the basics: your yoga mat and determination. However, props are heavily encouraged in Iyengar Yoga because they make the practice safer, more accessible, and more versatile. If you’re planning to practice Iyengar Yoga, it would be beneficial to have a pair of yoga blocks, a yoga strap, and a blanket to enhance the practice. If you have access to a bolster or cushions, they can also come in handy. Please remember that these items do not have to break the bank. You can use cushions and blankets already available at your home, and a yoga strap can be replaced with a long towel or a belt.

Is Iyengar Yoga Safe to Practice?

The key thing to remember is that every form of physical activity comes with a risk of injury. There are no exceptions. After all, you can pull a muscle or roll your ankle simply walking down the stairs! However, in Iyengar Yoga, there is a lot of focus on safe practice, which is another reason yoga props are encouraged. While it’s not 100% risk-proof, Iyengar Yoga is safer than the more dynamic and demanding styles of yoga.

Is Iyengar Yoga a Purely Physical Practice?

B.K.S. Iyengar developed this style of practice to encourage people to do yoga as a form of exercise. As such, it may seem that Iyengar Yoga does not include other crucial components of the yoga discipline. However, according to the founder of Iyengar Yoga, “The mastery of asanas and pranayama helps the practitioner detach the mind from the control of the body, which automatically leads toward concentration and meditation.” In other words, the combination of physical practice and breathwork are seen as tools that help the practitioner reach the state of Dharana (concentration) and dhyana (contemplation).

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Iyengar Yoga for the first time if you have any type of injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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