What is Yoga? What is Iyengar Yoga?

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A yogi showing the postures suitable for meditation

What is Yoga?

“Yoga is an art to practice; A science to ponder over, a philosophy that shows us the right way of living.”   -BKS Iyengar (Yoga Rahasya Vol. 2 2015)

Yoga is an ancient art, science and philosophy of liberation originating in India. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit rot yuj which means to join or unite.   Modern yoga tends to be identified with the practice of physical postures (asanas) for health and wellness, though the traditional aims of yoga are geared toward harmonizing body, mind and spirit, addressing the full range of human potential and preparing one for profound meditation.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define yoga as: yogah cittavrtti nirodhah, “Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the consciousness” -Yoga Sutra I. 2, translation by BKS Iyengar

Yoga is a universal practice:

“Yoga has a lot to offer people, whatever their faith. It has no geographical boundary, gender, caste, or religion. As each of us is susceptible to physical problems as well as mental, emotional and intellectual problems, yoga can help us recover from these wants.” –BKS Iyengar

Yoga is about uncovering the light that is within each person so that it may shine forth.  It is a practical discipline that addresses the full spectrum of the human being: from the physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual – and leads one to a state of holistic health and oneness. Traditionally, a teacher or guru is essential in the practice of yoga to illuminate the path. The practices of yoga purify the body and mind and lead one progressively towards a state of contemplation, peace and freedom within the vicissitudes of life.

What is Iyengar Yoga?

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BKS Iyengar in Padmasana, Lotus pose

Iyengar Yoga is named after Yogacharya BKS Iyengar (1918-2014). BKS Iyengar practiced and taught Patanjali Yoga or Astanga yoga, which means eight limbed yoga. The eight limbs are:

  • yama (universal ethics)
  • niyama (personal disciplines)
  • asana (postures)
  • pranayama (breath regulation)
  • pratyahara (turning inward of the senses)
  • dharana (concentration)
  • dhyana (meditation) 
  • samadhi (absorption) 

BKS Iyengar specifically taught the practices of asana and pranayama, as a means to penetrate the other eight limbs.

BKS Iyengar aimed to share the practice and benefits of yoga with as many people as possible. In order to make the practices and benefits accessible to all, and to bring forth the therapeutic applications of yoga poses, BKS Iyengar used props such as walls, chairs, blocks, stools and belts. Iyengar Yoga is taught as a safe and progressive method that develops strength, flexibility, balance and hones the student’s attention and sensitivity. Iyengar Yoga emphasizes precision and alignment as a means for developing harmony, poise, intelligence, presence, stability and maturity – in the poses and in life.

Now that BKS Iyengar has passed, his teachings are carried on by his family, including Gita and Prashant Iyengar, as well as by internationally certified teachers. Iyengar teachers are held to rigorous standards and aim to teach in the tradition, method and spirit of BKS Iyengar and family.

See BKS Iyengar Yoga Official Website

Iyengar Yoga Association of the United States