What Is Iyengar Yoga? History & Poses + Benefits Of An Iyengar Yoga Class

If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, chances are you’ve heard of Iyengar yoga. But what is Iyengar yoga, who is it suitable for, and what are its benefits? This is where I come in to break it down for you! Let’s explore all of this and more in this intro to Iyengar yoga and Iyengar yoga classes. 

The Iyengar style yoga is a specific yoga method from the same lineage as Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga. Iyengar yoga falls into the category of yoga as an exercise, similar to the aforementioned styles of yoga.

Like other yoga styles, Iyengar yoga helps cultivate a mind body spirit connection while building strength and flexibility. Still, Iyengar is a unique practice; in my experience, students either love it or hate it.

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What is Iyengar style yoga?

Woman practicing Iyengar yoga doing low-lunge yoga pose using a chair as a prop.

Iyengar yoga (pronounced eye-yen-gar) derives from the Hatha yoga lineage. It was developed by famous teacher and author B.K.S. Iyengar. The Iyengar method is based on the eight limbs of yoga stated in the ancient yogic text, the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. 

Iyengar yoga is known for its emphasis on correct alignment, structural alignment, and precise technique. Like Hatha yoga, Iyengar combines asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath) to build strength and stamina and increase flexibility. 

However, one key difference between Iyengar and classic Hatha yoga is that you typically hold the postures for longer in an Iyengar yoga class. These slower movements help you find the proper alignment, so as a result, you usually do fewer yoga poses than in a Hatha class.

Iyengar yoga poses – the basics and history 

According to B.K.S. Iyengar's book, Light on Yoga, there are over 200 Iyengar yoga poses. They are grouped into categories – standing, sitting, forward bending, back bending, twisting, inversions, and supine.

B.K.S. Iyengar learned yoga from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya at the Mysore Palace in India, the same place Ashtanga yoga founder Pattabhi Jois studied. It is believed he began teaching his style of yoga in the early 1950s, and the first Iyengar Yoga institute in Pune was founded in 1975.

Since then, Iyengar has opened institutes in London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Although it's not the most popular modern yoga style, there is a significant number of Iyengar yoga students worldwide and thousands of certified Iyengar yoga teachers.

7 benefits of practicing Iyengar yoga poses

7 benefits of practicing Iyengar yoga poses: 1. Standing poses help to build strength & stamina in the legs. 2. Seated poses help to improve flexibility in the spine 3. Forward folds improve posture and spinal mobility. 4. Back-bending postures improve spinal flexibility & open the heart. 5. Twisting poses help to aid digestion & improve circulation. 6. Inversions help to relieve stress and anxiety and boost energy levels. 7. Prone poses help cool down and relax the body.
  1. The standing poses help to build strength in the legs and core and improve stamina. 
  2. The sitting poses help to improve flexibility in the spine.
  3. The forward folds improve posture and spinal mobility while creating a calming effect.
  4. The back-bending postures improve spinal flexibility, open the heart, and create an energizing effect.
  5. The twisting poses help to aid digestion, improve circulation, and promote spinal health.
  6. The inversions help to relieve stress and anxiety, boost energy levels, and improve circulation.
  7. The prone poses help cool down and relax the body, stretch the hips and hamstrings, and promote tranquility.

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Iyengar yoga Vs Vinyasa 

As you may know, both Vinyasa and Iyengar both derive from the Hatha lineage of yoga this is important to remember, but there are many different types of yoga and they are all slightly different. 

Here are a few key differences between Iyengar yoga and Vinyasa yoga.

1. Pace of the class

First, the pace of Vinyasa yoga is much faster than Iyengar. In Vinyasa, you typically practice the yoga postures in a flow, linking them together by moving breath to movement. Thus, you very often take just one breath in each pose, or you may hold a posture for five breaths at other times.  

In Iyengar, the postures are practiced separately without transitions or flow. You also hold each asana for more than five breaths, usually up to one minute. Thus, Vinyasa focuses more on transitioning from one pose to the next. In contrast, Iyengar is more about finding the proper alignment. 

2. Props used in class

Another key difference between Vinyasa and Hatha styles of yoga is the use of props. Iyengar uses props like blocks and straps much more than in vinyasa yoga.

3. Teacher training of Iyengar instructors

Iyengar teachers must undergo a more extended and in-depth training program than vinyasa yoga teachers. While you can complete a 200-hour vinyasa online YTT in a few weeks (when studied as an intensive course), becoming a certified Iyengar yoga teacher takes many years. The thorough teacher training requirement is one of the things that is unique about Iyengar yoga.

Similarities Iyengar and Vinyasa

While there are several key differences between the two styles, there are certainly some similarities, which is to be expected as they originate from the same lineage. Vinyasa comes from the Ashtanga yoga style, founded by Pattabhi Jois, who studied at the same school as B.K.S. 

Here are a couple of similarities between Iyengar and Vinyasa.

1. Yoga poses

One similarity is that they share many of the same yoga postures. They also follow the same basic class structure of warm-up postures, standing poses, and cool-down.

2. Sun salutations

Moreover, like Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, Iyengar practice involves Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations). You'll find Sun Salutation A in an Iyengar class, the same variation practiced in Vinyasa yoga practice. However, sun Salutation A is different from the traditional Hatha yoga sequence sun salutation.

Can a beginner do Iyengar yoga? 

Because of its strong focus on finding the correct alignment, Iyengar is one of the best yoga styles for beginners.

The advantage of Iyengar yoga is that you have plenty of time to feel each posture and experience it in your body. The extended time also allows the Iyengar yoga teacher to go around and give adjustments to correct any wrong alignment so that you don't pick up a bad form.

However, it's important to note that although the pace of an Iyengar yoga class is slower than other styles, this doesn't mean the intensity is less. In fact, Iyengar yoga can be more challenging as you have to hold each pose for longer, working the muscles more. Thus, Iyengar is not classed as a restorative or easy style of yoga. 

Iyengar Yoga props

Woman practicing Iyengar yoga using rope props to hang horizontally out from the wall at a yoga studio.

In an Iyengar class, you'll work with blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters in all types of asanas, but more so in forward folds and backbends. Chairs, benches, and stalls can also be used in certain poses, such as Ustrasana (camel pose).  

3 purposes of using props in Iyengar can be to:

  1. Support the body
  2. Account for injuries or physical limitations
  3. Increase the benefits of Iyengar yoga by helping the practitioners find their depth in a pose and maintain it

Takeaway what is Iyengar yoga?

So, let's recap; what is Iyengar yoga? It is an accessible style of yoga for all levels, from beginners to advanced, centering around alignment, focus, and precision. If you struggle to keep up in vinyasa classes, want to improve your alignment, or try a new yoga style, why not give Iyengar a go? 

FAQ about Iyengar yoga

Is Iyengar Yoga for beginners?

Iyengar yoga is good for beginners because of the strict following of alignment principles and the incorporation of yoga props.

What is the Iyengar method of yoga?

In Iyengar yoga, emphasis is given to the execution of proper alignment, balance, stamina, strength, concentration, and flexibility, among other things.

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Gemma is a Certified Yoga Teacher of over 5 years. Aside from being a CYT 200, Gemma is also certified in Yin and Yoga Nidra. Gemma is passionate about sharing her expertise of yoga and wellness through words, guiding others along the path of personal and spiritual development. She is in LOVE with everything related to personal-growth and psychology. Aside from helping others find more peace and stillness, Gemma runs a kitten rescue project in Thailand, where she is currently residing. Gemma can be reached at gemmac@theyogatique.com, or you can connect with Gemma on LinkedIn.

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