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What Is Iyengar Yoga? A Personal Perspective

We recently added the phrase “An Iyengar Yoga School” to our website. As certified Iyengar Yoga teachers we have permission to use this phrase. We also have a page on our website “Why Iyengar Yoga?” You will find that most Iyengar Yoga studios have a similar page.


The name Iyengar is the name of a person - not a brand. BKS Iyengar taught yoga in India and around the world. He is credited, with some others, as having “brought yoga to the West”. He was active in his studio into his 90’s, and he died on August 20, 2014 (not so long ago) aged 95. He wrote several books, the most well-known being Light on Yoga, which we sometimes quote or look at in class. His style of teaching was unique and creative, but also quite systematic and scientific in its approach, and therefore very teachable. His family still runs the institute in Pune and it is still central to the dissemination of knowledge of Iyengar Yoga.


You will find most descriptions of Iyengar Yoga will refer to props, alignment, timings and sequencing. All of those things are applicable to Iyengar Yoga, it is true. But if I were to consider what Iyengar Yoga has meant to me over the last 25 or so years, my use of a wooden block, or a particularly long timing in trikonasana would not be the first thing to jump to mind. I’d like to have a look at what I see as some of the hallmarks of Iyengar Yoga in my own experience.


Self-Discipline

It is through Iyengar yoga that I learned to enjoy an empty stomach. All through my teens and into early adulthood I chronically over-ate. It wasn’t until I started yoga and it was suggested that a break before a meal was a good idea that I actually began to look at that.

In Iyengar Yoga, I’ve always been encouraged to be on my mat with regularity and reliability, but this has never come with the punitive overtones that the word “discipline” had for me as a child.


Learning

Yoga is an ongoing process. We can expect to be always finding new understanding of ourselves in our yoga practice. We use our bodies to do this, so that sometimes we will walk away from class feeling that we have, for instance, a whole new understanding of the back of our thigh, but what we’re really doing is honing our minds to a fullness of understanding in any one moment. This is not something that happens overnight, and it’s not something that can ever be considered to be “done”.


It is sometimes said that in a relationship, nothing is ever stagnant. The relationship is either going forward or going backward. I find this is true of my relationship with myself as much as my relationship with others and the world. I feel that my yoga process keeps my relationship with my mind and body moving in the direction of sharper, clearer, deeper, not the other way.


And why is this unique to Iyengar Yoga? Well, in theory it isn’t. Any true yoga practice will feel this way. But Iyengar Yoga manages to insist upon this positive process.


Authenticity

I had a new student to the studio last year. When she came, she told me she was, in fact, a yoga teacher, though not an Iyengar Yoga teacher. In class, it became clear that she was hypermobile and capable of “doing” poses in ways that most students simply can’t and never will. Her understanding of yoga seemed to be limited to an ability to put herself in impressive positions.


Iyengar Yoga teachers are not typically people whose bodies just naturally take on yoga poses easily. Most of us are here and wanting to teach because we’ve learnt so much ourselves and because it means so much to us in ways that have been life-changing.

Iyengar Yoga teaching is not a performance. It has always felt to me as both a student and teacher that Iyengar Yoga is a sharing of humanity with all its frailty and humiliation as well as its strength, grace and beauty.


Accessibility

And here’s where the props come in. I had a student say to me the other day that what she loves about our yoga classes at Penrith is that “it doesn’t feel like a failing to take a block”. To identify Iyengar Yoga by its use of props as though the props are the purpose of the style is to miss the point. The hallmark of Iyengar Yoga is that it is yoga for all. BKS Iyengar found ways to allow whatever students came to him to experience the benefits of yoga. As it happens, that meant he used props. Props were not his purpose. Accessibility was his purpose – to let no student walk away without having experienced something powerful that could enable change in their lives.


Intelligence

This seems a little superficial to me now, but for a long time I thought of my yoga as a thinking person’s form of exercise. I certainly have had students who’ve said to me that if there wasn’t the aspect of focussing the mind, yoga would mean nothing to them, and I agree.


It’s the process of nutting out where we’re at today, why this works, this doesn’t (or even that this works and this doesn’t, regardless of why) that makes yoga interesting. Iyengar Yoga does this so well. We are always curious, always looking, always interested.

And it is this focussing of the mind that then allows us to still the movement of the mind, which is what yoga is all about. (See the yoga sutras of Patanjali, Book I, Sutra II.)


Community

When I’m amongst a group of Iyengar Yoga students I feel I am in my tribe. I still have connections with yoga studios I went to in the 90’s. It’s true that I have made friends at yoga (and I even met my husband at Iyengar Yoga classes!) but a sense of community comes from connections with people who are not just friends. In several Iyengar Yoga studios in and around Sydney I have felt, over a period of a few decades now, that I am in a group of people who are finding something very special within them, among them and beyond them.

The studio here at Penrith has strong links to Springwood Yoga Studio and Blue Mountains Yoga Studio in Katoomba, and also to some of the inner city yoga studios.


So coming to class at an Iyengar Yoga studio in Australia, and indeed anywhere across the world, you will experience a consistency of style while still leaving space for the teachers to be creative, unique and genuine. By coming to class at Penrith Yoga Studio you are stepping into a global community of people who are aiming to live full, interesting lives that come from a quiet place within.