“When awareness is linked to intelligence, honesty comes into being; when brain and body move in harmony, there is integrity.”
-Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar
Iyengar Yoga is a word created by the students of Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar, to describe the method, teachings, and system of yoga described in Iyenagr’s bestselling 1966 book Light on Yoga. It a form of classical, lineage based yoga rooted in the practical yet mystical methodology laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, that has an emphasis on systematic intelligence, precision, alignment, progressive penetration inwards towards the soul, and spiritual purpose. Iyengar Yoga is famous for its rigor, clarity, therapeutics and use of props, advanced technique, long held inversions, deep spirituality, and depth!
It’s hard to pin down an easy definition for such a vast subject, that is at once traditional and innovative, experiential, scientific, esoteric, and that encompasses the legacy and widespread impact of Iyengar Yoga. In a world of capitalism, weekend long ‘teacher trainings’ and colonized whitewashed fitness yoga, Iyengar Yoga offers us a practice with deep roots and profound potential.
The comprehensive, cohesive, transformative method of yoga developed and discovered by Yogacharya (which means respected master of yoga) BKS Iyengar (December 14, 1918- August 20, 2014) called “Guruji” in more recent years by his students, has changed our world. Through ardent practice, he systematised over 200 classical yoga poses (Asanas) and 14 different types of Pranayama (with variations of many of them) ranging from the basic to advanced. This helps ensure that students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit through a step-by-step approach.
He was largely responsible for bringing yoga to the West and popularizing yoga on a global level. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, even if it wasn’t Iyengar yoga, his inspiration was probably there, in the form of alignment cues, asanas, or props that are now often taken for granted. He travelled extensively; he demoed, taught and unveiled to world profound ways to practice yoga asana, pranayama, and philosophy. He wrote many wonderful books, and has a large, closely connected family. However, most of all, he was a tenacious and penetrating honest practitioner of true yoga, a mystic of our time, whose dedicated inner work shines light on our path, today.
He created innovative techniques and invented yoga props to make yoga accessible and even therapeutic and medicinal for a wide range of ailments, injuries and illnesses. He developed a systematic and progressive approach to yoga, geared to lead practitioners from the most basic and understandable action inward towards the most subtle and sublime, the soul. He was a fierce, brilliant, deeply compassionate teacher known for rigor, alignment, and inspiring his students to go beyond limitations of ego, and obstacles in the mind. He said of his system, “We can see death, but we cannot experience death. We can experience time, but we cannot see time. Similarly, those who call my system physical yoga do not know anything as they can see it but have no experience of it.”
Guruji penetrated the depths of sadhana (spiritual practice) with a fierce, intense fervor and brought forth experiential knowledge and ways to access the ancient wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Patanjali is an ancient sage from India, a master of yoga, Ayurveda, and literature, who penned down system of yoga: the eight limb system (ashtanga).
He was also incredibly innovative and radical, inventing a multitude of props and ways of working therapeutically to help people with a wide range of ailments access healing. His medical classes generated much of the knowledge now used in yoga therapy. He was also committed to making you accessible to all, and faced criticism for teaching people from different castes, all genders, Muslim students, and more, while also facing and building up his inner fire to cope with intense racism and discrimination.
The Iyengar method is an incredible opportunity for yoga students who thirst for the real deal, who want to dive deep, work sincerely and awaken the bigger potentials of Classical Yoga.
The living tradition of Iyengar Yoga is carried on through his family, and thousands of students and teachers all over the world. His daughter Geeta was a skilled, powerful, and deeply devoted teacher of Iyengar Yoga; legendary and inspiring. She was a pioneer for women’s yoga. She passed away December 2018. Both Guruji and Geetaji practiced with intensity and devotion until their death. His brilliant son Prashant, who teaches only in India, and granddaughter Abhijata, who teaches at RIMYI and worldswide, continue to share these incredible teachings, and if you should ever have a chance to study with them, don’t miss it! Along with the Iyengar family, there’s also a widespread, deeply devoted international community of rigorously trained and tested Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) and students, carrying the torch of this potent and precious yoga lineage into the future.
The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States offers the definition below. The IYNAUS website is a wonderful resource; consider joining which allows you to access considerable benefits, and supports community building amongst people who love Iyengar Yoga!
‘B.K.S Iyengar was taught yoga in his youth by his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya. B.K.S. Iyengar developed his innovative and inspired approach to yoga through intense practice and self-study. His seminal book, Light on Yoga, has been continuously in print since originally published in 1966. According to Mr. Iyengar, “The yoga I teach is purely Astanga yoga, known as the eight limbs of yoga. My pupils who follow me call it ‘Iyengar Yoga’ to distinguish it from the teachings of others.” Iyengar Yoga is differentiated from other methods by a world-wide, standardized system of instruction. Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) undergo rigorous training and evaluation to earn their certifications. Only CIYTs are permitted to describe their method of instruction as “Iyengar Yoga.” CIYTs are trained to provide clear demonstrations of each posture and are skilled in the use of simple props to maximize the opening and awareness of the body, providing support to the less flexible, and extra extension to the more advanced student.
Teaching is oriented towards gradual but steady progress, rather than quick and fleeting results. Each Iyengar Yoga class is a unique sequence developed by the CIYT to guide students through a safe and systematic progression. Through skilled instruction and practice, students learn to penetrate beyond the physical body to the inner kosas (layers) of mind, energy and spirit, gaining vitality, clarity and calm through the practice.
Iyengar Yoga is a powerful and sophisticated discipline which can be practiced in all stages of life. The benefits are far-reaching and will assist the practitioner in every aspect of daily living.’
I am profoundly grateful for the dedicated teaching and mentorship of the Iyengar yoga teachers who I’ve had the good fortune and immense privilege to study with, including Geetaji and Prashantiji, Abhijata Iyengar and Raya Uma Datta, Ramanand Patel, Faeq Biria, Patricia Walden, Rajiv and Swati Chanchani, Laura Allard, Hong Gwi Seok, and others. May I honor you through my practice, study, and teaching.