Iyengar Yoga - What is it?
Iyengar yoga is basically a form of Hatha Yoga – a system of Indian philosophy that has been around for at least two and a half thousand years. It is named after B.K.S.Iyengar who developed a rigorous and detailed approach to the practice and teaching of yoga.
He devoted his life to teaching and has also published a number of influential books, several of which are considered classics – especially ‘Light On Yoga’ first published in 1966.
This book is a systematic guide to two hundred different yoga positions (known as Asanas) with inspiring and educational photos of Iyengar doing all the poses himself. It also gives a good introduction to the whole ‘eight-limbed’ philosophy of yoga, in which the physical postures that are the best known aspect of yoga, are just one of the eight aspects of the whole subject. The other ‘limbs’ are concerned with ethics, personal conduct, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, and the various stages of meditation leading to eventual enlightenment (Samadhi).
B.K.S. Iyengar’s system of yoga is characterised by an intelligent and scientific approach to asana practice. This does not mean, as is popularly misunderstood, that Iyengar yoga focuses wholly on the ‘physical’ side of the whole subject, but that through the focussed and disciplined practice of the asanas, the body and mind are prepared in order to progress toward the higher goals of yoga.
".. Yoga is more than physical. It is cellular, mental, intellectual and spiritual – it involves man in his entire being."
-BKS Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga
Iyengar yoga is also characterised by the use of a range of yoga props. These are used to help us practice the poses safely and to get maximum health benefits from them. They can act as guides to alignment and can be very educational. The most basic of these is a ‘sticky’ mat which helps the feet grip, and can also be used as a cushion between a hard floor and bony parts of the body.
Other yoga props that are commonly used include wooden blocks, cotton belts, bolsters, foam blocks, blankets and chairs. At heliotrope we are equipped with a good range of such yoga props. Iyengar students work towards doing postures with no props, but their use is especially important for those who come to yoga with stiffness or injuries (quite a few of us!).