Yoga is a philosophy, art and science, dating back over 2000 years, through which practitioners aspire to balance the body, mind and spirit, learning to live in harmony with themselves and their environment. In today's high pressure world, more people are turning to this ancient path to find a physically and mentally healthier way to live. The word yoga means “joining” or “yoking” and signifies the integration of all parts of the human being - harmony at every level. Many people are drawn to yoga for its physical exercises or postures (asana) which, with regular practice, can improve flexibility, strength and balance. However, the study of yoga also includes increased awareness of the way we breathe, relaxation, and meditation.
The world's most widely practised method of Yoga is that taught by Yogacharya Sri B.K.S. Iyengar. Born on December 14, 1918, in Bellur, India, he was one of the world's leading and most influential exponents of yoga, having studied and practised yoga continuously for over 80 years. Before his death, in his 96th year, Yogacharya Iyengar taught teachers all over the world, and wrote key works on the philosophy and practice of yoga, of which the best known is Light on Yoga, the essential reference guide to the yoga postures. His thorough understanding and mastery of yoga are surely unrivalled in modern times. Having taught in all five continents, he has won worldwide respect and recognition for his achievements and has made yoga accessible and relevant to people everywhere, no matter what their physical or mental ability. Yogacharya Iyengar continues to set the standard for his teachers and students, while his books on yoga have become classics. Until his death on 20th August 2014, our Guruji was based at the Ramamani Memorial Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India, where his daughter Smt. Geeta Iyengar and son Sri Prashant Iyengar are also directors.
Today there are students and teachers trained in the Iyengar way all over the world, with around a thousand Iyengar yoga teachers in the UK. Prospective teachers must have studied with an Iyengar yoga teacher for at least three years before they can start the two-year introductory Iyengar yoga teaching course, and have to pass rigorous assessments before qualifying. Teachers who wish to progress to teaching more advanced postures or offer specialised classes, such as those for pregnant women or for people with medical conditions, have to continue to train and pass further assessments. At a time when yoga is becoming increasingly fashionable and popular, Iyengar yoga practitioners believe it is even more important that students learn from properly trained and certified teachers.
Yoga is a comprehensive practical philosophy, an integrated practice discipline that engages and liberates body, mind and spirit. Most Iyengar yoga classes concentrate on the physical postures (asana) of yoga, and from that basis build awareness and control of the breathing (pranayama) and mental processes. Through yoga practice, we learn to relax while remaining alert and observant, to concentrate and to persevere without tension, and to develop steadiness alongside openness to change. Yoga asanas help us to develop strength and flexibility in balance, allowing improvements in co-ordination, endurance, postural alignment and stability.
Iyengar yoga is both careful and rigorous in its approach, characterised by a vigorous style that places great emphasis on safety and precision. The postures and sequences, developed for effectiveness, can be tailored to the individual needs of the students in a class, making this a method that is suitable for a wide range of people, no matter what their level of fitness or experience. Over time, yoga practice can bring greater self-awareness and clarity of mind, as well as enhancing health and promoting phyical and mental resilience.
A typical Iyengar Yoga class lasts for an hour or two (workshops may be longer), and focuses on physical postures, and perhaps breathing practices, ending with a period of quiet relaxation. As with other forms of exercise, one should aim to attend yoga classes with an empty stomach (leave a few hours after a meal, and don't eat or drink during the class), and always advise the teacher if you have a medical condition or injury (in some cases, a general yoga class may not be appropriate - take your teacher's advice on this). Wear comfortable clothing that won't restrict your movement (shorts, leggings, T-shirts, etc.) and expect to work in bare feet. Iyengar yoga teachers are well trained, knowledgeable and approachable, so do ask them if you have concerns or want to find out more.
There are now many excellent publications on Iyengar Yoga, so we'll mention just two to start you off, both books by BKS Iyengar: Light on Yoga and Light on Life.
Please visit the India-based website of Iyengar Yoga www.bksiyengar.com or the Iyengar Yoga (UK) page, to find out more about Iyengar Yoga in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.