Starting Iyengar yoga
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Iyengar yoga?
I want to start classes
What can I expect to do during an Iyengar yoga class?
What are the effects of Iyengar yoga practice?
Does Iyengar yoga have a philosophical basis?
Do I have to be young and fit?
Can Iyengar yoga alleviate medical conditions?
Is a religious faith necessary?
How do I join a teacher training course?
How can I check a teacher’s qualification?
The Iyengar yoga system of teaching is methodical and progressive, emphasising detailed correctness and safety.
When necessary, props such as bricks, blankets, belts and bolsters are used. These allow students to progress in their practice of postures safely at their own pace, to suit their body. Beginners work in a basic way on simple postures according to their capabilities. As they develop they then move on to more refined ways of working as well as to more complex postures.
- Iyengar yoga is suitable for all types of people, abilities and levels of fitness
- You’ll learn through a carefully graded and systematic programme of Asana (posture), suited to your ability
- Teachers gradually introduce Pranayama (breath control) once students have a firm foundation of Asana practice
- Practice helps you to relax and energizes the body and mind, bringing vitality, flexibility, strength, concentration, self-confidence and mental calm
- Iyengar yoga can help you overcome and prevent many stresses, strains, aches and pains. It promotes a firm foundation for health and well-being
Finding a teacher or a class: To find your nearest class or teacher you can search here.
If you need help finding a teacher please contact us.
Equipment: Your teacher will answer any questions you may have about equipment and clothing required for the class. In general, teachers can provide a minimum amount of equipment for a new student. Often in class you will use a selection of props including a mat, four foam blocks, a blanket, a belt and two bricks. If you do need to buy equipment, have a look at our merchandise page for suppliers.
Clothing: Loose-fitting clothing is enough and you should be prepared to practice in bare feet.
Health: You should tell the teacher if you have medical conditions, such as post-operative conditions, hypertension, heart problems, high or low blood pressure, back, neck or knee problems, menstrual disorders etc. They will then be able to offer adaptations or alternative poses for you to do.
Before your class: You should not eat for at least two hours before an Iyengar yoga class, or four hours in the case of a heavy meal. If you are attending an online class, make sure you have allowed time to set up your camera so that the teacher can see you, and make sure there’s nothing nearby that could cause an accident.
Iyengar yoga is characterised by precision and alignment in the execution of the postures (asanas), sequencing of the asanas towards a desired result, timing in the length of time the asanas are held for maximum benefit, and the use of props if required to help a student gain the maximum benefit from each asana.
Iyengar yoga concentrates on postural alignment and body awareness. This is not just for the alignment of one body part with another, but also for the proper functioning of the human being. If the body is aligned with precision then the breath is aligned with the same precision. If the breath is balanced then the mind, emotions and senses become balanced.
The teaching of yoga postures in an Iyengar yoga class is essentially similar wherever you go; each teacher will teach the postures which he/she has selected for the class for a specific reason, but the manner of teaching postures is the same worldwide. This means a student can go to any teacher and fit into the class immediately.
In general the class will start with a few moments of quiet to prepare for the yoga. This is followed by some preliminary postures to mobilise the body, open and activate the body and to quieten the brain to encourage a focused, concentrated state of mind. Standing postures are then often practised in which one learns the fundamentals of how to adjust and align the body correctly. This has to be learnt before more advanced postures can be successfully mastered. Standing poses therefore form the foundation of even the most advanced postures and have to be studied continuously.
The practice could then focus on special postures including back bends, more standing postures, forward bends, inverted postures or recuperative postures which prepare the student for the practice of pranayama or breath control. Pranayama is normally taught in a class designed specifically for this practice and students usually begin pranayama after about two years regular asana practice, although observation of normal breathing patterns and some basic pranayamas may be introduced during the relaxation/recuperative period at the end of each asana class. The class will end with recuperative and re-energising postures.
Often classes are arranged to teach types of postures, such as backbends or forward bends standings, forward extensions, back bends, recuperative poses in a sequential programme throughout the month. The high standard of training of teachers ensures a good record of safety for the students. Students will often say they walk away from an Iyengar yoga class feeling straighter and full of energy, despite having worked quite hard.
With regular guided practice, effects can include a general feeling of physical health and psychological and mental well-being. This is not to say that ill-health will not arise; it may. If it does it is likely that yoga will help one to face it and may manage it. The focus of Iyengar yoga on postural alignment can alleviate postural/structural problems. It can also release emotional tensions. The yoga is demanding in effort and in attention to detail within the posture, which increases concentration and focus helping to relieve the mind and body of stress. It can help to develop a deeper knowledge of your Self, which can contribute to greater self-confidence.
‘In whatever position (or condition), one has to find balance’
~ BKS Iyengar
Iyengar yoga is firmly based in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived about 1700 years ago. The one-line statements of the Yoga Sutras guide the yoga practitioner towards peace of mind and harmony and ultimately to bliss (Samadhi). The philosophy is explained in several of Mr. Iyengar’s books. The simplest is perhaps in the introduction of Mr. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga. However, other descriptions can be found, with different emphasis, in his other books such as Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, his translation of the Yoga Sutras, Tree of Yoga, Light on Ashtanga Yoga and the latest publication Light on Life (see the Merchandise page to find book suppliers)
Some writers and practitioners have split yoga into raja yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga and hatha yoga. They consider each to be separate schools of practice. Mr. Iyengar followed the teaching of Patanjali in that he considered raja, jnana, bhakti and hatha to be constituent parts of the whole practice of yoga, not to be practiced individually. The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras begins with a definition of Kriya Yoga, the yoga of action, which has three tiers, tapas (self-discipline), svadhayaya (self-study), Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God). Kriya Yoga includes the three great paths of yoga: karma marga (the path of action), jnana marga (the path of knowledge), bhakti marga (the path of devotion). Those of us who practise Iyengar yoga practise Kriya Yoga. Mr. Iyengar described his yoga as Patanjali Yoga, however it is commonly known as Iyengar yoga, giving credit to his teaching and example.
Not at all! Iyengar yoga is for anyone irrespective of age, gender, health, religion and circumstances in life. Iyengar yoga is not competitive and you won’t be judged against other people. A distinctive feature of Iyengar yoga is the use of equipment, called props, which helps you develop strength, flexibility and control in a posture in order to achieve your full potential. In this way you will work to your maximum ability within a general mixed class. The teacher is trained to select the correct prop and to supervise individual students.
‘Yoga is for all. Nobody should be denied the opportunity to experience its benevolence’
~ BKS Iyengar
Much research has been done on the effectiveness of Iyengar yoga and various studies can be found here.
Mr. Iyengar achieved remarkable success in the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions, ranging from skeleto-muscular through to emotional. He has passed much of this knowledge on to his more experienced teachers. They are qualified to give help in cases where they have competence.
Only Yoga Therapy teachers who have the necessary experience can give help with serious conditions. To find a Yoga Therapy teacher, use the teacher search and tick the ‘therapy teacher’ box. If you need further information please contact IY(UK) or your local Member Group
No. People from many religious traditions can and do practice Iyengar yoga. Teachers will not promote a religious view point, however yoga is based in the Hindu tradition and some references may be made to the source of ideas or names of postures in order to clarify background detail.
Before being accepted to train as a teacher a student must have completed a minimum of three years’ regular study with an approved Iyengar yoga teacher. Training to be a teacher in the Iyengar yoga is done via a mentoring system in regular classes.
You’ll find more information here, or you can ask your regular Iyengar yoga teacher for advice.
If you want to make sure that your teacher is a fully qualified Iyengar teacher please check that they hold a current Iyengar Yoga Certification Mark. All the teachers on this website are fully qualified and are holders of the Certification Mark.
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