Iyengar yoga is one of the most popular forms of yoga in the United States. Created by Shri B.K.S. Iyengar, this type of yoga is particularly well-suited for people with back problems and for people who suffer from stress (two conditions that often go together). Iyengar yoga has been around for over 60 years, and since it is a form of yoga, it is based on practices that are thousands of years old. It is one of the most effective yoga forms for people who want to cope with mental and spiritual stress. Excellent posture, balance, and relaxation are major points of emphasis in Iyengar yoga. Although people with specific back problems or problems with stress gravitate toward this type of yoga, anyone can benefit from Iyengar yoga.
How Iyengar Yoga Benefits the Body
Iyengar yoga is based on principles of Ashtanga yoga, with an emphasis on improving stamina, flexibility, concentration, and balance. Meditation is closely intertwined with the asanas (poses). Yama, the first principle, emphasizes abstinence from violence, which helps the body resist cravings and materialistic desires. The second principle, Niyama, emphasizes cleansing the body and mind of stress caused by unfulfilled desires. The third principle is based on the asanas, which help the body improve strength and flexibility and combat physical malaise. The fourth principle, Pranayama, emphasizes deep, slow breathing. Pratyahara and Dhyana, the other principles incorporated into Iyenga yoga, emphasize quieting the mind and achieving unity with the divine. Proper alignment of the asanas is extremely important for Iyengar yoga, and many of the poses used are found in other types of yoga. There is, however, no regular progression of the asanas. Each pose is followed by the “child’s pose,” a very relaxing, calming pose. Iyengar yoga makes use of various props so that everyone can perform the poses as competently as possible. Since the child’s pose is used between other poses, Iyengar yoga does not provide as strong a cardiovascular workout as other yoga forms. Nonetheless, it provides an excellent strength and flexibility workout while teaching very effective breathing and meditation techniques.
Importance of Asanas in Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga is a particularly good form of yoga for beginners, because so much emphasis is placed on the best possible alignment of the body for all the asanas. Body alignment and symmetry are very important, as is intensity of execution of the asanas. The poses in Iyengar yoga are done with great attention to detail, and each yoga student tries to achieve the poses to the best of their ability. For those just learning the poses, Iyengar yoga makes use of props, like cushions, cylindrical pillows, blankets, belts, and soft blocks. That way, if a student has not yet achieved the strength or flexibility necessary for an asana, the props can be used as learning aids. Props also allow the yoga student to hold positions for longer periods than might be possible without them. Shri Iyengar’s system of more than 200 classic asanas includes poses that are simple even for beginners, as well as very advanced poses, and everything in between. The asanas are categorized so that beginners can adapt them to their ability level while progressing to increasing levels of difficulty as their ability increases. Emphasis on correct body alignment allows the body to develop symmetrically while minimizing risk of pain or injury. Each student is encouraged to use props and work the asanas in whatever range of motion is safest and most effective for them.
Breathing and Meditation in Iyengar Yoga
Pranayama, or yogic breathing, is part of the foundation of all types of yoga. With Iyengar yoga, breathing is used to maximize the physical benefits of the various asanas. In addition, Pranayama itself helps tone the circulatory and respiratory systems, while aiding proper function of the nervous and digestive systems. The result is a pervasive feeling of calm as well as increased energy. Pranayama brings the senses and the mind under control so that the student is ready to experience the meditative aspects of Iyengar yoga. The use of the child’s pose between other asanas is not only relaxing and refreshing for the body, but is conducive to meditation. No matter which sequence the yoga teacher uses for the asanas, the progression brings the student to a mental and physical level where the body and mind are open to meditation. Practiced regularly, Iyengar yoga is a wonderful, natural way to cope with physical, mental, and emotional stress without the use of drugs. Iyengar yoga appeals to a huge range of people, of all fitness levels. It is particularly well-suited to yoga students who have a meticulous approach to yoga and an interest in the body’s anatomy. Beginners who do not feel ready to participate in a “flow” practice of yoga (where each pose flows into the next) find Iyengar yoga to be educational and beneficial. Finally, advanced yogis who want to work on their bodily alignment find Iyengar to be very helpful in reaching their goals
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