B.K.S. Iyengar is the most important yoga teacher of the 20th century.

B.K.S Iyengar

Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away on August 20, 2014, at age 95, is the most important yoga teacher of the 20th century. During the 1960s and 70s, he introduced his innovative style of teaching to thousands of students in India, Europe, and the US. Since then, hundreds of certified Iyengar instructors and countless students, who practice this style of yoga or its relatives—alignment and Purna yoga—continue to receive the fruits of the practice he developed and the yoga philosophy he taught and lived by.

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To fully appreciate Iyengar yoga, it is important to be familiar with the eight limbs of yoga. The principles of ethical living as practiced in India thousands of years ago were written down about 400 CE by Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The core of the sutras is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice and represents a blueprint for achieving spiritual fulfillment. Each limb builds upon the one before it and all are interconnected. It may surprise you to learn that only one of the limbs involves the performance of yoga postures.

The simplest definitions are as follow:
1. Yama:Universal morality; five ethical guidelines of moral behavior towards others
2. Niyama: Personal observances; five ethical guidelines of moral behavior towards oneself
3. Asanas: Practice of yoga postures
4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of prana
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana: Concentration, cultivation of inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana: Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine

Iyengar yoga provides a practical, accessible, and experiential approach to these eight limbs. The limb of asana is explored by learning the poses, step by step, in a sequenced manner, which allows students of all ages and physical ability to progress safely from basic to more advanced poses as they gain flexibility and strength. This approach also encourages multi-point awareness while in the pose to deepen our concentration as we quiet the mind and move inward.

Iyengar yoga is acutely focused on alignment in order to receive the benefits of the pose on a physical level, and to allow the nervous system and the mind to become settled and calm. Props are often used to make the poses accessible. Sometimes, we hold the poses longer than students might be used to in a flow-style class. We move out of the pose as mindfully as we move into it.

Another intriguing aspect of Iyengar yoga is the diversity of practice: we don’t do the same sequences every day. New students begin with basic standing poses, and eventually learn forward bends, backbends, twists, simple inversions, and restorative poses. Even though we repeat some of the same poses in most classes, there is a lot of variety and purpose to the sequencing. This helps prevent injury and overuse, and strengthens the body in a systematic way. Instructors often explain the physical and emotional benefits of the asana we are practicing. In general, the first week of the month is devoted to standing poses; the next week to forward bends; then backbends and twists, and finally more restorative and rejuvenating poses. Each week can also include appropriate inversions, such as headstand and shoulder stand, and alternatives to make these important poses accessible for nearly anyone.

1. Correct alignment to position the body in an anatomically safe way to avoid injury and pain, while also settling the mind and nervous system.
2. Use of props to help students safely move into and hold a well-aligned position so they can achieve the most benefit from the pose—body, mind, and spirit. Props include blocks, chairs, blankets, bolsters, and straps to help students support themselves in the different postures and work in a range of motion that is safe and effective.
3. Holding an individual pose for several breaths to several minutes and then mindfully moving out of the pose, rather than “flowing” from pose to pose, to allow the effects of each asana to penetrate deeper.

In the Iyengar yoga tradition, students learn pranayama once a firm foundation in asana has been established. Proper physical alignment aids in learning correct breath control. Pranayama offers numerous physical and emotional benefits, including toning the circulatory, digestive, nervous, and respiratory systems, activating the internal organs, and enhancing both energy and calmness. This breath awareness also focuses the mind to aid in meditation.

“Teaching is a difficult art, but it is the best service you can do for humanity.”
—B.K.S. IyengarBecoming a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher requires years of practice and study, leading to a rigorous examination of skills. For teachers, the Certification demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the excellence, high standards, and time-tested lineage of Iyengar Yoga. This thorough understanding of asana means that instructors are able to teach appropriately to the students in the class, whether they are young adults or seniors, athletic or limited in movement.