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What Is Iyengar Yoga: Improve Body Alignment With Long Poses & Props

My Yoga Teacher

Posted on Jun 30, 2021

What Is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar yoga is the practice of pranayama and asanas that's combined to emphasize body alignment, planned sequencing and timing, and the use of props like blocks, straps, bolsters, and benches to support the body.

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All types of yoga work through physical postures, meditation, and pranayama to bring balance to the body, mind, and spirit. And Iyengar yoga is no different.

Iyengar yoga uses precise body alignment supported by various props to give practitioners confidence and courage. It's a methodical yoga practice that is accessible and beneficial to just about anyone, regardless of age, fitness level, or health issues.

Iyengar, unlike Vinyasa, focuses on poses that are held for an extended time instead of flowing through each pose quickly. In fact, there's no flow to Iyengar yoga. Instead, practitioners hold each pose for a length of time, focusing on perfecting alignment.

Origins of Iyengar Yoga

The term "Iyengar yoga" is what students of B.K.S. Iyengar began calling his style of yoga in the 1970s to differentiate it from the other styles of yoga.

Iyengar was born in India in December 1918 and learned yoga from his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya to improve his health. Iyengar started teaching yoga himself in 1936 but it wasn't until 1975 that the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute was founded in Pune, India. This was the precursor to the founding of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in 1982, in London.

Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers must complete rigorous training to earn the right to describe their instruction as Iyengar Yoga.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga, like all styles of yoga, offers several benefits. Here are a few of the predominant benefits you can expect:

Improved Alignment

Iyengar yoga prioritizes proper alignment over moving deeper into a pose. This emphasis on alignment helps practitioners relieve pain, adjusts the spine, and improves muscle and joint health.

Increased Body Awareness

This style of yoga is particularly beneficial with it comes to increasing body awareness, or proprioception. Thanks to the focus on precise alignment and breathing, practitioners are able to better understand how their bodies take up and move in space in a more accurate way.

Overall Healing

Iyengar yoga goes beyond postures. This practice extends into living in a yogic way, meaning living a life that's free from self-harm and harm to others. There's an expectation that practitioners will study and live yoga philosophy and the eight limbs of yoga.

What to Expect in an Iyengar Class

Iyengar yoga focuses on three things:

  • Alignment: Props are used to help practitioners get into poses while supporting their bodies and respecting their bodies' boundaries. The emphasis on alignment is intended to help practitioners achieve balance between the mind, body, and spirit without putting their bodies in stressful positions or putting themselves at risk.
  • Sequencing: While Iyengar classes don't have a set series that is followed for every class (like Ashtanga does), each class will follow a sequence chosen by the instructor to lead practitioners through a safe progression.
  • Timing: Iyengar prioritizes alignment and stability over flow. This means that the poses will be held for a longer amount of time than you may be used to if you've only ever practiced Vinyasa or power yoga.

Iyengar Yoga Poses: A Quick Sequence You Can Do at Home

This Iyengar yoga series comes from the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York:

  1. Start in Tadasana and warm up by moving between Tadasana and Urdhva Hastasana three times.
  2. From Tadasana, move into Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana, interlocking your fingers above your head. Repeat this movement, alternating the interlocking pattern of your fingers.
  3. Move into Vrksasana. Alternate sides and repeat.
  4. Move into Utthita Trikonasana. Alternate sides and repeat.
  5. Move into Utthita Parsvakonasana. Alternate sides and repeat.
  6. Move into Parsvottanasana. Alternate sides and repeat.
  7. Move into Prasarita Padottanasana. Repeat.
  8. Move into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Repeat.
  9. Move into Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. Stay here for five minutes.

Each of these poses should be held for up to a minute or longer. If you're pressed for time, prioritize repetitions over holding the poses for time.

Differences Between Iyengar and Vinyasa Yoga

Here are the key differences between Iyengar yoga and Vinyasa yoga:

  • In Iyengar, postures are held longer. Vinyasa yoga links breath to movement and practitioners flow through poses quickly. Poses in Iyengar are held for up to a minute before practitioners transition (instead of flowing) to the next posture.
  • Iyengar emphasizes alignment whereas Vinyasa practitioners are encouraged to be curious and explore the practice on their own.
  • Iyengar classes tend to set aside time to discuss yoga philosophy and cues tend to be given in Sanskrit. This isn't as common in a Vinyasa class.
  • In Iyengar, sequences are put together with the intent of preparing practitioners for each progressive pose.

Differences Between Iyengar and Ashtanga Yoga

Here are the key differences between Iyengar and Ashtanga:

  • Ashtanga connects movement with Ujjayi breath and is meant to increase the heart rate and make practitioners sweat.
  • Ashtanga uses a set series of poses that don't vary, no matter who is leading the class.
  • Ashtanga focuses on cleansing and purifying whereas Iyengar focuses on alignment.

Start Your Iyengar Yoga Practice With myYogaTeacher

Anyone can practice Iyengar. Thanks to the focus on alignment and the use of props, it's perfect for those of us who want to start practicing yoga but might have physical limitations. Of course, that doesn't mean Iyengar is easy. You'll probably still break a sweat and start feeling the burn in your muscles.

If you're interested in starting your Iyengar practice, we invite you to sign up for a free two-week trial of myYogaTeacher. With myYogaTeacher, you'll get access to 40+ live online classes every single day, each led by highly experienced Indian teachers.

Each Iyengar Yoga class follows a unique sequence that focuses on one or two parts of the body. You'll learn to pay close attention to anatomical details and alignment of each pose as well as how to modify each pose with props like belts, blocks, pillows, and more to cultivate strength, flexibility, stability, and awareness.

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