What is Iyengar Yoga: A Beginners Guide

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Are you interested in giving yoga a try but afraid of not being able to do the poses correctly?

Do you want to quiet your mind? Perhaps you are trying to build strength after an injury. Have no fear, Iyengar yoga is here.

This cautious, gentle form of yoga can help you get started down a lifelong path of yoga study. If you are an advanced yogi, Iyengar can help you refine your practice. The intense focus on good alignment and the use of props will make your yoga accessible no matter what your level of practice.

Read on to find out more about Iyengar Yoga. In this article you will discover the following:

What is Iyengar Yoga?

A form of Hatha (or gentle) yoga created by world renowned yoga instructor B.K.S. Iyengar, Iyengar yoga focuses on performing each asana (or posture) with attention to alignment and breath control. 

Because so much emphasis is placed on alignment and breath control, when you practice Iyengar you get to pay attention to all the small details of performing each posture.

Focusing on the nuances of each asana allows you to achieve proper form and focus on breath control. Paying attention to breathing helps you relieve stress and relax.

​Iyengar thought that paying attention to proper alignment and breath control regularly through the practice of this kind of yoga allows students and yogis to balance the body. When the body is balanced, the mind is too.

​Unlike some of the power yoga classes you see at many gyms these days, Iyenger yoga is not flow yoga. Instead of moving quickly through a series of poses or vinyasa, instructors often have you rest in child’s pose between poses.

​Just because there are periods of rest built in, doesn’t make Iyengar yoga easy. In fact, Iyengar challenges you as you hold each pose for an extended period so you can adjust your body to the correct alignment. Those rest periods bring welcome relief that compliments the intensity of building stamina through balance work.

​Instead of encouraging you to work beyond your level or keep up with more advanced students, Iyengar yoga focuses on the student working to the best of their ability. Teachers encourage beginner students to make use of props to help learn and practice the asanas properly.

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​In an Iyengar class, you might see fellow students using soft yoga blocks, cushions, belts, and other props. Check out some props for Iyengar Yoga here.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

Like most forms of yoga, Iyengar Yoga benefits your health and wellness. Key benefits of Iyengar Yoga include:

  • A better awareness of the body. Psychology Today recognizes the benefits of strong body awareness gained through slow movement. Body sense strengthens the immune system and promotes healing.

    Moving slowly with heightened awareness as you do in Iyenger Yoga, highlights any areas of pain or injury in your body. This awareness allows your body to send its healing resources to these sites.
  • Improved balance. Studies show there is some evidence that exercise like yoga done to improve balance may decrease fall risk in older adults. Plus better balance means better core strength.

    A strong core gives you better range of motion and more power. It helps prevent injury and increase functional fitness.
  • Decreased stress levels. Decreasing your body’s reaction to stress is one of the best things you can do for your health and well being.

    Harvard Medical Journal recognizes improved stress management as reducing the brain’s response to pain. Lower stress also reduces depression and anxiety.
  • Increased relaxation. Dartmouth research shows that relaxation helps decrease stress. Relaxing also gives the body the boost it needs to ward off common illnesses like the cold and flu. Plus increased relaxation promotes better sleep and rest, keeping you both mentally and physically sharp.
  • Improved mind body connection. A better mind body awareness allows you to pick up on the cues your body sends you. The University of Minnesota recognizes that our minds and thoughts can positively or negatively affect our bodies.

    Likewise, our physical habits like what we eat or how we sleep can affect our minds. Growing a better mind body connection can help manage a host of physical and mental conditions.
  • Increased strength and mobility. Perhaps one of the best ways to combat aging and injuries is to keep your body strong and agile. Studies show increasing strength and mobility helps maintain functionality as aging happens.

    Being strong and mobile as you age increases the likelihood of being able to continue to do the everyday activities you need to do without any help. This independence brings a greater sense of satisfaction and quality of life to older adults.

The History of Iyengar Yoga

Yoga Journal hails B.K.S. Iyengar as the father of modern yoga. He reframed yoga for the modern world with his approach to yoga.

​B.K.S Iyengar began studying yoga during the 1930s in India. At the time, there were only a few teachers that practiced asana based yoga. However, luck brought Iyengar to the right place at the right time and he found himself at the center of the yoga revival in India.

​Iyengar had been a sick, weak child. He found that with daily practice, he was cured of his weakness and any lingering childhood illnesses.

​Perhaps, this inspired Iyengar to see yoga in a therapeutic light. Recognizing yoga’s capacity to heal and strengthen, Iyengar taught himself about anatomy and proper alignment. His knowledge of these areas made his practice both exacting but very practical for anyone looking to better connect with their bodies.

​Iyengar’s methods and approach to teaching yoga stood out. In a time when many other yoga teachers emphasized yoga as a spiritual teaching, Iyengar believed in reaching spirituality through body awareness. This subtle change appealed to many other teachers and made him incredibly popular in the yoga world.

​Adding to his popularity, in 1966, Iyengar published a book Light on Yoga. The book changed the way yogis talked about yoga. It became an encyclopedia of asanas for people wanting to practice at home.

Iyengar Yoga FAQs

What makes Iyengar Yoga Different?

Iyengar Yoga has some key features that other forms of yoga may not have. Below are some key points that make Iyengar Yoga different than other practices:

  • ​Iyengar Yoga can be practiced by almost everyone.
  • Precise alignment and attention to detail are the most important part of this practice.
  • Instructors encourage the use of props to help get you into proper alignment.

Who should practice Iyengar Yoga?

There is no need to be intimidated by Iyenger yoga. It is meant for all from the newest beginning yoga student to seasoned yogis. This style of yoga is perfect for many people. You should consider trying Iyengar Yoga if you fit one of the following groups:

  • ​Beginner yoga students.
  • Those trying to recover and build strength after an injury
  • Elderly or disabled students looking to improve mobility.
  • More advanced yogis looking to focus on alignment.
  • Anyone looking for ways to achieve a quieter mind and better mind body balance

What kind of workout will I get with Iyengar Yoga?

Expect to get a gentle workout that will leave you feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Iyengar Yoga moves at a slow pace, allowing you to work out safely while still increasing balance, flexibility, and strength.

How many calories does Iyengar Yoga burn?

Calorie burns vary from person to person. However, an average person can burn about 175 calories per hour.

Does Iyengar Yoga make a good choice for cardio?

No. Iyengar yoga has many benefits but if you are looking to get a great cardio workout with yoga, try another kind of yoga like vinyasa or power yoga.

Do I have to be really flexible to do Iyengar Yoga?

No. Iyengar Yoga doesn’t require you to be very flexible. In fact, this is the perfect form of yoga to start with in order to increase your strength. You will gain flexibility through this practice and can modify any posture you can’t do through the use of props. The strong focus on alignment allows you to gain the flexibility, strength, and foundation for faster styles of yoga like vinyasa.

​Do I need to be in good shape for Iyengar Yoga?

No. You can be recovering from an injury or illness or a total beginner to exercise and yoga. Iyengar Yoga is for everyone, even those of us that aren’t elite yogis or athletes.

​I’m thinking about taking an Iyengar Yoga class. What should I wear?

Dress the way you would dress for any yoga class. You want to have bare feet. Make sure you can move comfortably in your clothing without it getting in your way. Avoid perfume or jewelry as both can be distracting.

Iyengar Yoga at Home

Part of what makes Iyengar Yoga so great is that you can practice it anywhere. After B.S,K. Iyengar’s book was published it became a handy guide for home yogis. Now, you can check out Iyengar Yoga from the comfort of your living room before trying a class. Check out these videos to give Iyengar a try.

1. ​10 Minute Iyengar Warm Up

2. Full 30 Minute Iyengar Yoga Workout

3. Iyengar Yoga for Posture and Alignment

4. Iyengar Yoga for Back and Knee Pain

In each video, the instructor gives very detailed instructions on how to perform each pose. Modifications and props are talked about in each work out to make sure you get the most out of your experience.

Conclusions: Should I try Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar Yoga’s benefits can benefit nearly everyone. Both beginners and advanced students should consider trying Iyengar Yoga.

If you are a beginner, you won’t be intimidated by the pace. The focus on detail allows for a slow pace and gives you a chance to learn new poses and ways of moving your body.

​If you are a more advanced student, you can really refine your technique and proper placement. You may find focusing on alignment allows you to reach a new level of practice.

​Whether or not you are a beginner or advanced student, you will still benefit from improving your balance and flexibility as you relax your mind by connecting it to your body.

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