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Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by B. K. S. Iyengar, and described in his bestselling 1966 book Light on Yoga, is a form of yoga as exercise that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). Strength, mobility and stability are gained through the asanas.

Iyengar Yoga
FounderB. K. S. Iyengar
Derivative formsAnusara Yoga, Forrest Yoga
Practice emphases
Great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment often with the use of props
Related schools
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Iyengar systematised over 200 modern yoga poses and 14 different types of Pranayama (with variations of many of them) ranging from the basic to advanced. This helps ensure that students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit through a step-by-step approach.[1]

Iyengar Yoga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimising the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old.

Iyengar Yoga is firmly based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga as expounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.



BKS Iyengar Centre House: Iyengar with yoga teacher Malcolm Strutt in London, 1971. Photo by John Hills

Iyengar began teaching gradually, starting with individual pupils such as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who he met in 1952. Iyengar Yoga became an institution with the 1975 founding of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, named in memory of his wife. A further major step was the founding of the first of many institutes abroad, the Iyengar Yoga Institute (IYI) in Maida Vale, London, in 1983.[2] The old IYI building was replaced in 1994, and the new one was officially opened by Iyengar in person in 1997. Iyengar Yoga had however been taught in London before that, in Inner London Education Authority evening classes starting in 1968. From the start, Iyengar personally assessed the quality of the teaching every year.[3]


Legs constrained with belts and a foam block in a therapeutic Iyengar Yoga pose

Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha yoga in which there is a focus on the structural alignment of the physical body through the development of asanas. Through the practice of a system of asanas, it aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well-being. The discipline is considered by its practitioners to be a powerful tool to relieve the stresses of modern-day life, in turn helping to promote total physical and spiritual well-being.[4]

According to the Iyengar Yoga Institute, Iyengar yoga "emphasises precision and alignment",[5] and prioritises correct movement over quantity, i.e. moving a little in the right direction is preferred to moving more but in other directions. Postures are held for a relatively long period compared to other schools of yoga; this allows the muscles to relax and lengthen, and encourages awareness in the pose. Props including belts, blocks and blankets are freely used to assist students in correct working in the asanas.[5]

Differences from other stylesEdit

Iyengar differs from other styles of yoga by three key elements: technique, sequence and timing.

  • Technique refers to the precision of the body alignment and the performance of pranayama.
  • Sequence means the sequences in which asanas and breathing exercises are practiced. Following the specific sequence is important in achieving the desired result, because only the combination of certain poses and breathing techniques can ensure the expected positive effect.
  • Timing is the third key element which defines the time spent in each pose or pranayama.[1]

Unlike more experiential approaches where students are encouraged to independently "find their way" to the asanas by imitating the teacher, an Iyengar Yoga class is precise, with misalignments and errors actively explained and corrected.[5]

According to The New Yorker, Iyengar Yoga is characterized by great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment. Iyengar pioneered the use of "props" such as cushions, benches, blocks, straps and sand bags, which function as aids allowing beginners to experience asanas more easily and fully than might otherwise be possible without several years of practice. Props also allow elderly, injured, tired or ill students to enjoy the benefits of many asanas via fully "supported" methods requiring less muscular effort.[6]

Yoga Journal notes that in contrast to other styles, beginners in Iyengar Yoga are introduced early on to standing poses, executed with careful attention to detail. For example, in Trikonasana, the feet are often jumped apart to a wide stance, the forward foot is turned out, and the centre of the forward heel is exactly aligned with the centre of the arch of the other foot.[7]

The Guardian notes that the style prioritises correct movement over quantity, i.e. moving a little in the right direction is preferred to moving more but in a wrong direction. Postures are held for a relatively long period compared to other schools of yoga; this allows the muscles to relax and lengthen, and encourages awareness in the pose. Another major difference is that props are used freely whenever support can encourage correct movement.[8]

Standing PosturesEdit

In Iyengar method, the standing postures are considered invigorating due to their physical benefits such as relief from tension, aches and pains; stimulation of digestion; improvement in circulation; and strength in different body parts,[9] It is advised to perform the standing postures dynamically and with precision where body and feet are aligned with the walls and body centred before starting. The transition between standing postures is done through jumping in such a way that feet land at equal distance from the centre and are in line, and the arms go sideways simultaneously with the jumping action. This is said to improve agility and coordination. The standing postures include Tadasana (The Mountain Pose), Utthita Padangusthasana (extended hand to big toe pose), Vriksasana (tree pose), Trikonasana (triangle pose), Parsvakonasana (Extended side angle pose), Virabhadrasana I, II, &III (Warrior poses), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Parsvottanasana (Intense side stretch pose), Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide legged Forward Bend), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and Parighasana (Gate Pose). Since Iyengar yoga is focused on alignment and support in postures, it is considered useful to practice the standing postures with back against the wall for support and checking alignment. If practised at right angle from the wall, with foot pressed against it and trunk away from it, it is said to strengthen the back leg. Iyengar yoga suggests that fatigue can be alleviated by performing Virasana during or after the poses.[10]

Training and certificationEdit

Iyengar teachers have traditionally completed at least two years of yoga teacher training for the introductory certificate. They may complete subsequent intermediate levels and senior levels of certification, potentially entailing a decade or more of training. The system is being replaced from 2019, with a requirement for at least six years of practice before assessment.[11]

Invocation to PatanjaliEdit

A statue of Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, as Adi Shesa

Iyengar yoga (like Iyengar's Light on Yoga[12]) has the following invocation to Patanjali:[13]

Sanskrit IAST
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां। yogena cittasya padena vācāṁ
मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन॥ malaṁ śarīrasya ca vaidyakena
योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां। yo'pākarottaṁ pravaraṁ munīnāṁ
पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि॥ patañjaliṁ prāñjalirānato'smi
आबहु पुरुषाकारं। ābahu puruṣākāraṁ
शङ्खचक्रासि धारिणं॥ śaṅkha cakrāsi dhāriṇaṁ
सहस्र शीरसं श्वेतं। sahasra śīrasaṁ śvetaṁ
प्रनमामि पतञ्जलिम्॥ pranamāmi patañjalim

Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali,
who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind,
grammar for clarity and purity of speech
and medicine for perfection of health.
Let us prostrate before Patanjali,
an incarnation of Adi Shesa,
whose upper body has a human form,
whose arms hold a conch and a disc,
and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b What is Iyengar yoga
  2. ^ Goldberg 2016, p. 384.
  3. ^ Redfern, Helen (6 December 2017). "Stepping inside the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale". Yoga Matters. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  4. ^ B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga FAQ, 2006
  5. ^ a b c "Why Iyengar Yoga?". London: Iyengar Yoga Institute. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  6. ^ Goldberg, Michelle (23 August 2014). "Iyengar and the Invention of Yoga". The New Yorker.
  7. ^ Jones, Todd. "Illustrate Different Yoga Methods with Trikonasana". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  8. ^ Beirne, Geraldine (10 January 2014). "Yoga: a beginner's guide to the different styles". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Mehta, Silva; Mehta, Mira; Mehta, Shyam (1997). Yoga: The Iyengar Way (9 ed.). New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 194. ISBN 0-679-72287-4.
  10. ^ Mehta, Silva; Mehta, Mira; Mehta, Shyam (1997). Yoga: The Iyengar Way (9 ed.). New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 194. ISBN 0-679-72287-4.
  11. ^ "Teacher Training". Iyengar Yoga (UK). Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  12. ^ Iyengar, B. K. S. (1991) [1966]. Light on Yoga. London: Thorsons. p. 9 (Prayer). ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4. OCLC 51315708.
  13. ^ a b "Invocation to Patanjali". Iyengar Yoga (UK). Retrieved 4 April 2019.


External linksEdit