Discovering the Practice of Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga is a distinct practice of yoga known for its power and sophistication.

If you have never heard of Iyengar yoga, but you are interested in learning more about the practice of yoga and its beautiful history, you are in the right place! Iyengar yoga is a distinct method of yoga practice known specifically for its power and sophistication. 

Iyengar Yoga, started by B.K.S Iyengar, is a very meticulous yoga style, emphasizing precision and alignment. 

What is Iyengar Yoga? 

Iyengar yoga is a purist style of yoga founded by and named after B.K.S Iyengar. The practice was founded in the 1960s, and is a very meticulous practice style, emphasizing precision and alignment. The practice focuses its attention on breath control, known as “pranayama” in the yoga world, and on posture, called “asana” by practicers. Iyengar yoga is best for building up strength and increasing flexibility. Iyengar yoga is a great practice to try to learn the details and subtleties of alignment and posture to apply to all yoga practices. Iyengar is accessible to practices of all ages and abilities. 

B.K.S Iyengar demonstrating the practice of Iyengar yoga at a conference held at the Barbican in 1984. Image courtesy of Yoga Matters.  

Who is B.K.S Iyengar? 

B.K.S Iyengar was born in Bellur, India, in December of 1918. Iyengar studied and practiced yoga for over 85 years. His yoga guru, or mentor, was T. Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the father of modern yoga. 

B.K.S Iyengar brought yoga from India to the west in the 1970s. He also wrote a book,  ‘Light on Yoga’ which has become the source book for generations of yoga students all over the globe. He taught yoga for over 75 years in all five continents, and he was responsible for making yoga accessible and relevant to people all around the world. He also invented many of the yoga tools and props that we use today and researched and explored the benefits of yoga as treatment for a range of medical conditions.


B.K.S Iyengar died at the age of 95 in August of 2014. He was extremely well loved and known at the time of his death. His incredibly long life may just be a testament to the power of yoga. 


Iyengar yoga can provide many benefits, from stronger, more toned muscles, to lowered anxiety. 


Benefits of Regular Iyengar Practice

There are many benefits that have and continue to be observed from regular Iyengar yoga practice. They range from the physical, with benefits like stronger, more toned muscles, to the mental and emotional, with benefits like lowered anxiety and better mood.

Increase Flexibility

Iyengar is great for those looking to increase their flexibility, because it is simultaneously slow and gentle while also being very demanding. Most stretches and poses are held for at least one minute, which pushes the body to become more flexible and loose. You can start to practice Iyengar yoga without being able to touch your toes, and if you keep it up, you will likely gain that skill in very little time. Iyengar also uses props that can help make it more accessible and guide the practitioner to new accomplishments. 

Toned Muscles

The long holding periods of poses practiced with Iyengar do more than just stretch your body. They also demand that the body hold itself for longer than what is traditionally comfortable, engaging and strengthening muscles. Many practitioners find that because Iyengar engages the whole body, it can help align the brain with the separate muscles and increase awareness of different muscles and their functions in the body. 

Lowered Anxiety

Once you get into asana, or pose, your task is to focus only on the alignment of your body and mind. This helps to shut out the typical anxieties of life, even if just during your practice, so that you can emerge feeling calmer and more at ease. Once you start to learn how to focus on specific things, like the alignment of your body and mind, you can use that skill in times of high stress or anger, proving the lasting power of yoga practice. 

Pain Relief

Studies have suggested that regular practice of Iyengar yoga can relieve pain, especially pain in the neck or back. This is because Iyengar forces the practitioner to align their body in ways that make slouching or hunching impossible, strengthening muscles to promote better posture in everyday life, and eliminating pain. It is also, most simply, a form of stretching, which is always good for pain caused by tight muscles. 

Key things to have in your yoga practice range from meditation journals to a friend. 

Key Things to Bring Your Practice to the Next Level

Signing up for a yoga class, or finding a video online is the first step. But there are items and products that can enhance your practice and bring you to the next level. These things range from items to incorporate in your daily life to continue the value of mind-body connection, to items to have on hand for your actual yoga practice. 

A Wellness Journal 

A wellness journal can take the mind-body alignment and connection that you find and  foster in your Iyengar practice, and bring it into your daily life. Try to get into the headspace of when you’re aligning your mind and body while getting in asana, and meditate on how you feel. Then jot down some thoughts or notes. Regular journaling will help strengthen and improve your mind and body connection for stronger practice. There are many wellness journals on the market, and it would also be totally fine to just pick a plan, lined journal. This one, however, is packed with tools and prompts that will make it super simple. Journaling, like yoga, is a practice that gets easier and more rewarding with time. Combine the two, and your mind and body will thank you. 

A Good Yoga Mat 

Yoga is centered around stretching your body and taking it to new physical feats. You will want to make sure you are comfortable and able to complete the poses without slipping or experiencing pain. This yoga mat, or one similar to it, is ideal. This is because it features texturing which helps prevent slipping, it is soft and cushioned to be light on your joints and prevent pain, and it is completely latex free. Remember to clean your yoga mat regularly to avoid smells and bacterial buildup. To clean it, simply wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe and let it air dry on each side. 

Good, Breathable Attire 

When practicing yoga, you want to avoid clothing that will get in your way, cause slipping, or really any form of discomfort. Breathable, soft clothing is usually advisable. Yoga pants come in a variety of styles and colors, so you should be sure to find a pair you like, whether you prefer the tighter fit of leggings, or the looser feel of sweats. 

A Good Water Bottle 

As with any form of exercise, you will want to be sure to stay hydrated while practicing yoga. This is especially important if you decide to try hot yoga, which is regular yoga that takes place in 80-100 degree rooms. There are obviously hundreds of thousands of water bottles on the market, but this one stands out because it is attractive, lightweight, and keeps your water cold for hours on end. 

This water bottle comes in a ton of different colors and patterns, so you will be sure to find one that suits your style. It also comes in different shapes and sizes to fit whatever your preference is. It keeps your water temperature controlled by utilizing a tight double walled vacuum insulation. You can also choose between a straw lid or screw top to sip how you please. 

A Friend!

Exercise and trying new things can be intimidating and scary. Bring a friend along with you to double the fun, and turn your yoga practice into a social activity. Having a yoga friend will help keep you motivated, and serve as a bonding experience with someone in your life. If you prefer to exercise alone, find another friend who does as well, maybe even a long distance friend, and compare notes! 

There are many benefits to incorporating Iyengar yoga into your routine. It is a very accessible, beginner friendly practice, that provides lots of room to grow, and can also be challenging and rewarding for the most advanced practitioners. You will likely notice an increase in strength, flexibility, stamina, and overall fitness, as well as better mental health, decreased anxiety, and more happiness. If you try Iyengar yoga and decide it’s not for you, there are tons of other practices out there that may suit you better, or maybe yoga just isn’t the exercise for you! Before committing to a class or gym membership, try an Iyengar yoga video for free on YouTube to make sure you like it! 

Macie Gelb

Macie Gelb is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying english writing, gender studies, and legal studies.
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