What is Yoga?
For complete beginners, yoga is simply a series of postures (asanas) which improve health and wellbeing in an holistic way. Regular practise of these postures will stretch and strengthen every muscle, use all your joints through their full range of movement, massage your internal organs and improve your circulation, hormonal system and breathing capacity.
As one progresses, breath control (pranayama) is gradually introduced. The physical benefits are enhanced by a sense of calm and contentment.
The word Yoga however means to unite. In practising yoga, one is on the journey to uniting body, mind, intellect and soul. There are in fact eight limbs of yoga. The first two of these, yama (conduct in relation to others) and niyama (personal discipline), are commandments for leading a good life and are, in essence, a pre-requisite for the practice of yoga. The second two limbs are asana (postures) and pranayama (breath control) as mentioned above. The next three limbs, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) are not taught, although are in some ways involved when practising asanas and pranayama. The final limb Samadhi being the ultimate goal, a state of total equilibrium.
Yogacharya BKS Iyengar
The Iyengar method of teaching yoga has been, and continues to be, developed by Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar himself for more than 65 years. Born in 1918, he celebrated his 90th birthday in 2008, but nevertheless anyone visiting his Institute in Pune, India, will observe him practising and becoming involved with the teaching of the classes, led by his son Prashant and daughter Geeta.
B.K.S. Iyengar has evolved precise posture (asana) and breathing (pranayama) techniques with a firm philosophical base in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He pioneered the use of supports called 'props' to assist with achieving the most effective posture for each individual. Although purpose made yoga props are available, many everyday things can be used - eg. a chair, blanket, wall, table or simply a book can all be used.
He has personally developed specific asana (posture) sequences to help with a wide range of health problems, whether physical, mental or emotional.
Mr Iyengar is responsible for many authoritative texts, 'Light on Yoga', 'Light on Pranayama', 'Light on Life', to list a few. (See suggested reading)
For more information, see: http://www.bksiyengar.com
The Iyengar system is methodical and progressive, renowned for precision and attention to detail, using props where necessary, to achieve properly aligned and extended poses. Alignment is not only essential to avoid injury but also to bring about improvement.
The practice of yoga is systematic and sequence is important. The Yoga asanas (postures) are introduced in a specific order to bring awareness of one's own body. Arms and legs, fingers and toes, elbows and knees, together with their movement, stability, flexibility and firmness. Moving from the muscular skeletal body inward to the organic body. Familiar actions learnt from the standing asanas are linked to the more challenging/advanced asanas. The length of time the asanas are held is gradually increased for maximum benefit, dependent on a student's capacity and understanding.
The asanas (postures) are categorised as follows
- Standing (uttistha sthiti)
- Sitting (upavistha sthiti)
- Forward extension (paschima pratana sthiti)
- Lateral extension (parivrtta sthiti)
- Inversions (viparita sthiti)
- Backward extension (purva pratana)
- Abdominal (udarakunchana)
- Supine (supta sthiti)
What to expect in an Iyengar Yoga class
In an Iyengar Yoga class your development will be progressive. Initially you will be taught the basic (foundation) poses. These poses continue to be taught and developed at every level. More intense poses are introduced to you as you personally progress. In a mixed ability class, there will always be an alternative pose, or preparatory stage, given. Classes for beginners focus on developing strength and stamina as well as improving muscle tone, flexibility and alignment of the joints. You will be encouraged to move into a pose with awareness and stability. As you progress, you will hold a pose for longer so that you can study the work in the pose and obtain increasing benefit.
A student can attend an Iyengar yoga class worldwide and be safely taught using essentially the same method and technique.
- good health and sense of wellbeing
- strength and stamina
- mobility and flexibility
- posture and sense of balance
- vitality and self-confidence
- ability to deal with stress
- improved concentration
- pain reduction, e.g. back pain