About Iyengar Yoga



What is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar yoga is a Hatha Yoga method developed by the late Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, which works on musculo-skeletal alignment in all postures to harmonise the movement of the body and instil clarity and peace of mind.  It also focuses on the correct sequencing of postures to bring about and enhance specific benefits and effects. It is practised by millions of people throughout the world and is favoured by famous sports personalities such as Ryan Giggs, Justin Langer, Freddie Flintoff and actress Annette Bening. It is a safe and progressive method with teachers undergoing rigorous training and ongoing personal development to ensure student safety and integrity of teaching.  Only teachers who bear the Iyengar Yoga Certification mark are permitted to teach under the Iyengar name as this is a sign they have passed the minimum of 5 years training to teach.

What happens in a typical Iyengar yoga class?

Iyengar Yoga concentrates on postural alignment & body awareness coupled with specific sequencing of yoga postures (asanas). In general the class will start with a few moments of quiet to prepare for the yoga. This is followed by some stretches to mobilise the body. In a beginners class, standing postures are then practised in which one learns the fundamentals of how to adjust & align the body correctly, which has to be learnt before more advanced postures can be successfully mastered. The practice could then focus on specific postures for that day such as back bends, more standing postures, forward bends, inverted postures, recuperative postures or breathing exercises called pranayama. The class will end with recuperative & re-energising postures. Students will often say they walk away from an Iyengar Yoga class taller, straighter & full of energy in spite of having worked quite hard. They also say that they can sleep better and feel more at peace with themselves.

Beginners Class

“It is through your body that you realise you are a spark of divinity.”
~ BKS Iyengar

What are the main benefits of practising yoga?

Regular practice develops all round physical, mental & spiritual well being. It is extremely beneficial for the prevention of injury & ill health as well as improving existing conditions. The practice of yoga will help to:

  • Mobilise joints & strengthen muscle weakness
  • Aid in balance & coordination
  • Increase flexibility & movement
  • Improve posture & correct misalignments
  • Improve circulatory disorders & hormonal imbalances
  • Increase performance in sports & improve recovery time
  • Assist in mental health problems such as stress, depression & anxiety & all the related health problems
  • Develop self-awareness and assist with self-development. Ultimately it is believed that yoga can help one to align body, mind and spirit and move towards and more peaceful and cohesive existence.

“Postures diluted by misalignment & sloppiness lose their strength, shape, form & benefits.”
~ BKS Iyengar

Who is Yoga For (i.e. Am I too old/young/stiff/unfit)?

Iyengar Yoga is for anyone irrespective of age, gender, health, religion & 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 & control in a posture to achieve their full potential. In this way a student works to his or her maximum ability at whatever level of practice they have attained. The teacher is trained to select the correct prop & supervise students individually with correction, encouragement & support. Classes are taught according to the needs & level of practice of the student. No-one should be forced into performing a posture they are not ready for & it is the teacher’s skill & experience that will guide the student towards the best level of practice for them.

“Anyone can practice yoga, & its validity today is for everyone”
~ Sir Yehudi Menuhin

What is the difference between Iyengar & Hatha Yoga or other types of yoga?

There is a misconception that Iyengar Yoga is different from Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is simply a term that has been in use for centuries to apply to the physical practice of yoga asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises). So therefore, whatever “style” of yoga is practised, if you are practising a physical aspect of yoga, be it Sivananda, Iyengar, Astanga, Power Yoga, you are practising Hatha Yoga. Each school of yoga will have it’s own style and direction. Some schools combine lots of different methods from different teachers. Iyengar yoga teachers concentrate on developing their learning based on the teachings of BKS Iyengar with the focus already described above so a well-practised teacher will have an in-depth knowledge of the subject.

“The primary aim of yoga is to restore the mind to simplicity and peace, and free it from confusion and distress. This sense of calm comes from the practice of yogic asanas and pranayama. Unlike other forms of exercise which strain muscles and bones, yoga gently rejuvenates the body. By restoring the body, yoga frees the mind from the negative feelings caused by the fast pace of modern life. The practice of yoga fills up the reservoirs of hope and optimism within you. It helps you overcome all obstacles on the path to perfect health and spiritual contentment. It is a rebirth.”

How can you train to be an Iyengar teacher?

To become an Iyengar Yoga Teacher takes many years of training under the Iyengar Yoga Association system. The high standard of training of teachers results in an excellent record of safety, knowledge & skill for the students & enjoyment of classes. Iyengar Yoga teachers are governed in this country by the Iyengar Yoga Association (UK), which has direct links with the main Iyengar Yoga Association in Pune, India. Only teachers who qualify under this system can use the Iyengar trademark name & certification mark, a mark of excellence & understanding in yoga teaching. For further details on this system & on Iyengar Teacher Training, please visit www.iyengaryoga.org.uk.

Who was BKS Iyengar?

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, (aka Yogacharya BKS Iyengar) (Born December 14, 1918 in Bellur, Karnataka, India) was the founder of Iyengar Yoga. He is considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world & practised rigourously and taught thousands of dedicated students for more than 70 years. He wrote many books on yogic practice & philosophy, & is best known for his books Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, & Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He also wrote several definitive yoga texts. Iyengar yoga centers are located throughout the world, & millions of students now practice Iyengar Yoga or use methods influenced by his teachings. He died in Pune, India on 20th August 2014 surrounded by his family and his son Prashant and daughter.

BKS Iyengar was born into a poor family. He had a difficult childhood. His home village of Belur, Karnataka, India, was in the grips of the influenza pandemic at the time of his birth, leaving him sickly & weak. Iyengar’s father died when he was 9 years old, & he continued to suffer from a variety of maladies in childhood, including malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, & general malnutrition.

At the age of 15 BKS Iyengar went to live with his brother-in-law, the well-known yogi , Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in Mysore. There, he began to learn asana practice, which steadily improved his health. Soon he overcame his childhood weaknesses.

With the encouragement of Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar moved to Pune to teach yoga in 1937. There his practice developed as he spent many hours each day learning & experimenting in various techniques. As his methods improved, the number of students at his classes increased & his fame spread. In Pune, his brothers introduced him to Ramamani, & they were wed in a traditional arranged marriage in 1943. In 1952, BKS Iyengar met & befriended the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin arranged for Iyengar to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris & elsewhere. This was the first time that many Westerners had been exposed to yoga, & the practice slowly became well known.

In 1966, “Light on Yoga,” was published. It gradually became an international best-seller & was translated into 17 languages. It succeeded in making yoga well known throughout the globe. This was later followed by titles on pranayama & various aspects of yoga philosophy. BKS Iyengar has authored 14 books.

In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his late wife. He officially retired from teaching in 1984, but continued to be active in the world of Iyengar Yoga, teaching special classes & writing books. He lived a simple life and worked tirelessly to spread the knowledge of yoga throughout the world, with most of his profits going to the development of the Bellur Project, a fund set up to help the impoverished villagers of his place of birth. Iyengar’s daughter Geeta & son Prashant have gained international acclaim as teachers and his grand-daughter, Abjhita will also continue his teachings. BKS Iyengar, affectionately known by his students as “Guruji” was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. For more detailed information, visit the official Iyengar website at www.bksiyengar.com

Book of Tributes to Guruji

“Spirituality is not some external goal….. but part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal. For the yogi, spirit is not separate from body.”
~ BKS Iyengar

What is Yoga?

The word Yoga is from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning to yoke, join or unite. This refers to the union of body with mind and mind with soul – to achieve a happy, balanced and useful life, uniting the inner self with the divine.

In India, Yoga is one of the six branches of classical philosophy and the origins of yoga are believed to come from the oral traditions of Yogis, where knowledge of Yoga was handed down from Guru (spiritual teacher) to Sisya (spiritual student) all the way back to the originators of Yoga, “the Rishis,” who first began investigation into the nature of reality and man’s inner world. Legend has it that knowledge of Yoga was first passed by Lord Shiva to his wife Parvati and from there into the lives of men.

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (196 aphorisms written around 2nd Century BCE), the ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach “Kaivalya” (emancipation or ultimate freedom). This is to connect with one’s innermost being or “soul” (the Purusa). Then one becomes free of chains of cause and effect (Karma) which tie us to the world and exists in peace and tranquillity.

Yoga is therefore a spiritual quest, a journey that leads to health, happiness, tranquillity and knowledge. Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies have similar goals and Buddhism was said to be a major influence on the Yoga Sutras.

The many philosophies and methodologies of Yoga were brought together and presented by the sage Patanjali in his set of 196 aphorisms called “The Yoga Sutras,” written some 2200 years ago but which are still relevant to this day. There are 8 disciplines to yoga as presented by Patanjali (thus Astanga yoga – 8 limbed yoga) which he says if practised and refined will reveal our true self- the ultimate goal of Yoga:

  • Yama – Universal ethics: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint and non-acquisitiveness.
  • Niyama – Principles of self conduct: purity, contentment, intense dedication or austerity, study of self and scriptures and self-surrender.
  • Asana – practice of the postures.
  • Pranayama – Breath control.
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal and control of the senses.
  • Dharana – concentration.
  • Dhyana – meditation.
  • Samadhi – a state of higher consciousness where the sense of self (ego) dissolves in the object of meditation and the individual self exists in its own pure nature.

These Sutras were and are still considered a most profound and enlightening study of the human psyche.

BKS Iyengar was one amongst several contemporary authors, who, through his own practice and experience translated his version of the Sutras from their original Sanskrit into “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”.

“PataƱjali fills each sutra with his experiential intelligence, stretching it like a thread (sutra), and weaving it into a garland of pearls of wisdom to flavour and savour by those who love and live in yoga….”
~ BKS Iyengar