The first thing I did when I moved to London was check out the yoga scene. It didn’t disappoint. There are studios, retreats, workshops and classes in every style you can think of, some that I’ve practised and others that are new for me. I can’t wait to try them all. First stop, Iyengar yoga.
Iyengar is one of the most widely practised disciplines in the UK. It’s a founding style based on the teachings and innovations of BKS Iyengar.
This style of yoga is so popular in London that they even have National Iyengar Yoga Day with special events all over the country paying homage to the teacher credited as bringing yoga to the western world.
I went along to a taster class and film screening at The Bhavan, London to learn more about this yoga practice where alignment is master.
– BKS Iyengar is the author of one of the most renowned pieces of yoga literature, Light on Yoga, which over 50 years after initial publication is still used by teachers and students worldwide.
– The teachings of Iyengar closely follow the philosophy of Patanjali, considered the father of yoga and author of the Yogasutras. The Yogasutras were written over two thousand years ago and are one of the most important texts in the Hindu tradition and the foundation of classical yoga.
– Iyengar yoga was one of the first styles to use props for aligning the body during asanas (poses) and to compensate for injuries or unique compositions.
– In a typical Iyengar studio you can expect to find blocks, bricks, belts, ropes, bolsters and blankets to support you during practise.
Our hosts, experienced Iyenger yoga teachers Suzanne and Elaine, took us through a sequence that focused on building each movement correctly.
For me, taking the time to perfect each asana and concentrate on the flow of breath made me feel the practice more deeply. The Iyengar class was the perfect balance of effort and ease, with great attention paid to setting up the foundation postures.
Suzanne explains that this yogic intensity is created “not just from external practise and physical asanas, but working from within. Not a work out as such, but working inwards, a bringing together of the body, mind and soul.”
In our session, we spent the first few minutes focusing on the breath and bringing the attention inwards. The breath plays an important role in Iyengar yoga, in the asanas and also in the breathing technique known as Pranayama. ‘Prana’ means breath or life giving force. Pranayama is the fourth limb or petal of yoga after the asanas, as described by Patanjali; it can first be practised in depth after a student has developed a firm foundation in asana practice.
The benefits of yoga are endless; increased strength, flexibility, clarity of mind and fitness to name a few. Iyengar yoga is especially suitable for those recovering from injury or illness (as BKS Iyengar was himself when he introduced many of the props).
“The asanas provide different benefits, depending on our physical and mental needs. It’s important to ensure a balanced practice, selecting asanas that create both quietening and stimulating energy”, says Suzanne.
Although asking a yoga teacher which is their favourite pose is like asking a parent to pick a favourite child, Suzanne does recommend Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) as a good way to start practice. It works to extend the spine, legs and arms, while at the same time can also be quietening with the head below the heart.
She also mentions Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) for its energising and spine lengthening properties and for relieving backache.
“The daily practice of inversions is important as between them they provide huge benefits; both Sirsanasa (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) or alternatives” says Suzanne.
After the session we watched a documentary, A Leap of Faith, about BKS Iyengar’s life and struggles. Knowing his journey gave me a much greater appreciation for the subtle details of Iyengar and why teachers like Suzanne and Elaine are so dedicated.
Iyengar is a yoga style for everyone, whether you’ve had years of experience or if it’s your very first time stepping onto the mat.