I is for Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar, born 1918, died 2014 at age 95.  He studied briefly with Krishnamacharya, then elsewhere, developing his own style of yoga over the years, and finally founding his own school. 

Iyengar yoga is based on the eight steps of Raja Yoga.  (As with all yoga masters, Iyengar credits Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as the ultimate foundation of his yoga.)  Asanas are but one of eight limbs dedicated to the total development of the whole person.  Iyengar maintains the distinction between asana and pranayama in his yoga, paying limited attention to breath during performance of asanas, leaving the practice of pranayama to be a separate exercise.

Iyengar’s yoga, in his own words, “lays great emphasis on precision and alignment.”   In each asana, body parts are positioned with exactitude to achieve the asana’s objective.  Although people are recognized as individuals, the basic premise is that human bodies are sufficiently similar that a single ideal asana structure is appropriate as a goal for virtually every student.  Props (such as bolsters, blocks, benches, etc., even chairs) are frequently employed to assist students in working their way towards the ideal position.

Light on Yoga is Iyengar’s classic book.  Of 512 pages, 423 pages are devoted to asanas, the remainder to an introduction to yoga and to pranayama.  200 asanas are explained and illustrated in a fair degree of detail.  The asanas range in difficulty from simple to extremely challenging.

Iyengar produced several other books on yoga topics, such as the yoga sutras and pranayama.  He also wrote Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health, in many ways an update and expansion of Light on Yoga.  This book provides additional yoga perspective, illustrated instructions for approximately 60 poses, and considerable guidance for the use of yoga as a therapeutic tool.

Iyengar was a leader with the idea of standard yoga classes, which were possible because of strict rules on alignment for basically all bodies.  An Iyengar yoga session generally consists of a planned series of stationary asanas, which are sometimes repeated and/or held for a length of time.  There are exceptions to this, of course, such as a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) vinyasa.  Students are sometimes assisted individually by teachers as deemed appropriate by the teacher on the basis of the students’ performance and capabilities.

The Iyengar yoga website is   There are numerous other websites of organizations devoted to Iyengar Yoga, some of which are closer than others to teachings of the master himself. 

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