An Exploration of Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga is a unique and challenging form of yoga that focuses on breath, timing, and technique to achieve unique therapeutic benefits…

This month, we’re stepping up the intensity a bit and exploring Iyengar yoga. The Iyengar style of yoga focuses strongly on posture and precision and as a result is one of the more challenging types of yoga. Iyengar yoga bases its principals on 200 different types of asanas or poses divided into six “legs”. Each leg focuses on a particular benefit. For example one leg improves your strength while another improves your mental focus. Master all six legs (which is more difficult than it sounds) and it will literally change your life!

Much of the precision of this style of yoga comes from first mastering the 14 breathing regulation techniques called “pranayama”. By concentrating on your breathing first, you improve and deepen your focus, which allows you to then work on perfection of the postures.

How Iyengar Yoga Is Unique

Iyengar differs from other types of yoga in three main ways:

Sequence – By practicing postures in a specific order, different mental and emotional effects can be derived.
Timing – By focusing on doing each asana correctly without regard to time, you will achieve more benefits over time.
Technique – Taking the time to focus on further refining the performance of the asanas will help you to experience the maximum benefits from each pose.

To practice the postures correctly, the inhalation and exhalation of each breath must occur at the right places within the posture. Mastering breathing regulation first is what allows this to happen more easily. When first starting out performing a posture in Iyengar Yoga, you are encouraged to use chairs, cushions, blankets, bands and other exercise props that will help you perfect the pose. As you become better at a posture, you can quit using the prop if you want.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar also differs from other types of yoga in that it focuses heavily on standing poses. If you need to improve your leg strength and muscle, this is a good form of yoga to practice. It also is a great way to improve balance. Head and shoulder stands, or the reverse of standing poses, are also part of Iyengar yoga. They stretch and loosen muscles not exercised by other asanas, along with promoting blood flow to the brain.

More blood flow increases awareness and clearer thinking. This also increases flow to the pituitary and pineal glands thereby improving the functions of the body controlled by these glands, namely the regulation of several physiological processes (such as stress, growth and reproduction) and the secretion of melatonin, respectively. Because of its unique health benefits, and the fact that it is a “slower” form of yoga, Iyengar is a great form of yoga for older people that may be suffering from various diseases – and it is often used therapeutically for injury recovery and rehabilitation. The asanas are believed to direct energy to specific parts of the body, thereby promoting healing.

Because Iyengar yoga is difficult to master, you should first practice it as part of an instructor-led class. If you are unable to find any Iyengar classes in your area, you may also learn from instructional DVDs or videos, though a hands-on class is always preferable especially when starting out.


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