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Why Should You Become an Iyengar Yoga Instructor?

by Cris Puscas

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A purist style of yoga, developed by and named after B.K.S Iyengar in the 1960s, Iyengar Yoga emphasizes precision and alignment.

The practice is all about details of breath control and posture.

Each class is a unique sequence and is designed in such a way that it gives the student a sense of confidence, courage, and optimism.

In this article, we take a look at why you should become an Iyengar Yoga Teacher. You’ll learn all you need to know about Iyengar Yoga, its history, what makes this style different, its benefits, what a class entails, and the styles that have derived from it.


But First, What is Iyengar Yoga?


using straps in Iyengar Yoga

Photo credit: Hatha Yoga School Rishikesh

Iyengar Yoga is a methodical and deeply researched yoga system developed more than 75 years ago by Yogacharya BKS Iyengar.

What is unique about Iyengar Yoga is that the practice of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing) is combined with an innovative approach emphasizing precision and alignment, planned sequencing, timing, and the use of props, such as bolsters, benches, bricks, straps, and sandbags.

This approach to yoga has allowed people of varying ages, levels of health, and fitness to enjoy the benefits that a sustained yoga practice can bring.

Mr. Iyengar described his yoga as “Patanjali Yoga” and says:

I have no right to brand my practices or teachings as Iyengar Yoga. My pupils, who follow me, call it Iyengar Yoga. The only thing I am doing is to bring out the in-depth, the hidden qualities of Yoga to the awareness of you all. What I do is pure, authentic traditional Yoga. It is wrong to differentiate traditional yoga Iyengar Yoga, as it is also not fair to brand Yoga, as Raja-yoga, Hatha-yoga, Laya-yoga, Kundalini-yoga, Taraka-yoga and so forth. There is no distinction between one Yoga and another. Yoga, like God is one.”

What Iyengar Yoga lacks compared to some other types is flow. While Vinyasa Yoga focuses on the fluid transition from one pose to another, Iyengar holds the poses for a longer time while the alignment is perfected. This absence of the Vinyasa flow is what brings the Iyengar method within reach for a broader population.

Thanks to its accessibility and safety, Iyengar Yoga continues to be one of the most popular styles practiced today.

»Read more: What is Vinyasa Yoga?

History of Iyengar Yoga


The term “Iyengar Yoga” was coined by students of Mr. Iyengar in the 1970s to distinguish his approach from other styles of yoga. However, Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga come from the same lineage.

B.K.S. Iyengar was born in December 1918 in India and started practicing yoga to improve his health. He was taught yoga by his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya. In 1936 he started teaching yoga.

The foundation of the Iyengar Yoga Institute was laid in 1975, when the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute was founded in Pune, India. Less than a decade later, in 1982, Iyengar Yoga Institute was founded in London. To ensure the quality of teaching, Mr. Iyengar would personally assess the teachers each year.

As American and European students began practicing yoga in the 1960s, Mr. Iyengar’s method rose to prominence. He is wildly credited for bringing yoga to the West and his influence on modern asana practice cannot be overstated.

His book, Light on Yoga, has been continuously published since 1966 and represents the seminal text for Iyengar Yoga students and teachers around the world.


Elements of Iyengar Yoga


Iyengar Yoga focuses on three aspects: alignment, sequencing, and timing.

Alignment means maintaining the pose (asana) while respecting the body’s boundaries. Various props are used to help students with an asana without putting them at risk.

An effective alignment will help achieve a balance between the body, breath, and mind.

Sequencing refers to the order of postures that are practiced so that a safe and structured progression is ensured.

Timing refers to how long the asana is held for. Unlike Vinyasa Yoga, in Iyengar, the poses are held for longer. When stability is achieved, it is possible to safely intensify the depth of the pose.


What to Expect from an Iyengar Yoga Class

practicing iyengar yoga using a chair

Photo credit: Hatha Yoga School Rishikesh

An Iyengar Yoga class should leave you physically challenged, spiritually calm, and mentally stimulated.

During an Iyengar Yoga class, the way postures are taught is the same worldwide. The specific asanas are selected by the teacher for a specific class to achieve a specific goal. But the “catalog” of poses is the same, no matter who teaches the class. This means you can easily fit in anywhere you join an Iyengar Yoga class.

An Iyengar studio will always stock a good number of props: blocks, straps, chairs, bolsters, and blankets.  

Classes usually begin with a few moments of quiet, followed by some warmup poses and stretches. More advanced asanas are gradually introduced depending on the level of the group and the teacher will normally adjust the posture of the students for optimal alignment.

The classes always end with Savasana (for quiet time and relaxation).


Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

showing asanas with props in iyengar yoga

Photo credit: Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa

No matter what yoga style you choose to practice, there are countless benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Iyengar Yoga, being one of the most traditional types of yoga, benefits and heals the whole body greatly.

Among the advantages of a constant Iyengar yoga practice is the ability to face the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of contemporary life with strength, vitality, mobility, thoughtfulness, and equanimity.

Iyengar works from the premise that sustained and constant practice helps not only to address health issues but also to prevent them.

The slow, gentle practice and the use of props enable anyone – from beginner to advanced – to benefit from the effect of holding the stretches in a correct position. And the more you practice, the more you’ll increase your flexibility.

Having to hold each pose, helps you build strength and tone the entire body.

Focusing on the alignment, Iyengar helps you strengthen the muscles responsible for the posture. Soon enough you’ll find yourself sitting and standing straighter. It will give you increased confidence and more energy.

As you hold the asana and consider your alignment, you also need to pay attention to your breath. Iyengar helps you breathe properly off the mat, too.

And you also need to ignore all your thoughts and be in the present moment. You can then view Iyengar as a type of meditation that will help you achieve a calmer mind.

Iyengar teaches you to love your body. Improving your physical and mental condition leads, in turn, to healthier lifestyle choices.


Yoga Styles Based on Iyengar Yoga

restorative yoga

Photo credit: Yoga Dunia Lembongan

Using props to help with proper alignment, Iyengar Yoga paved the way for gentle yoga styles that encourage students to take it slow, relax, and be in tune with their bodies.

All the styles derived from Iyengar are passive and only a handful of poses are practiced during each class.

Let’s take a look at them:

Restorative Yoga is mostly based on the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. A restorative yoga sequence typically consists of only five or six poses, supported by props. This will help you completely relax and rest. Each pose is held for 5-20 minutes so it may feel that you hardly move at all during such a class, but rest assured that it is truly helping your body.

»Read more: What is Restorative Yoga?

Anusara Yoga is a more joyful and inclusive style of yoga. It is based on the Tantric philosophy and emphasizes alignment and heart-centered movement. Anusara encourages moving the body as a celebration of your true nature. Classes often include chanting, philosophy, and quality of movement called “flowing with grace.”

Scaravelli Yoga is a method that encourages you to take your time. It is intended to be a journey within your limits. The style was created by Vanda Scaravelli, a student of B.K.S. Iyengar. She believed that when we force ourselves into a yoga pose or sequence when we try hard and strain, we do immeasurable harm. Instead, she advocated a style that is all about carefully and subtly working with the body to ease into postures.


Who Should Practice Iyengar Yoga

Anyone and everyone can and should practice Iyengar Yoga!

Iyengar Yoga is ideal for those who want to start practicing yoga and have reservations because of physical conditions, such as back problems. It is also recommended to the elderly.

That said, don’t get the idea that an Iyengar yoga class would be easy. Even though the style is adaptable to different levels, you’ll still break a sweat.

While beginners wouldn’t have problems taking a class, advanced practitioners who want to work on their alignment will benefit a lot from Iyengar Yoga, too.

If you have an interest in anatomy, you are meticulous and technical, Iyengar Yoga is certainly for you.


Why Should You Teach Iyengar Yoga

teaching an iyengar yoga class

Photo credit: Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa

To become a teacher of the Iyengar method it takes years of committed practice.

Iyengar Yoga Teachers undergo rigorous and in-depth training of three years before they can get certified (CIYTs). You must be mentored, tutored, and assessed by those teachers that came before you, if you want to take this leap.

After getting the certification, the training is ongoing according to the standards of various Iyengar Yoga Associations and is supervised personally by the Iyengars in Pune.

Each level of certification requires exams including demonstrations of teaching skills in mock class and written knowledge of sequencing, anatomy, and philosophy.

Expect the journey to be challenging, yet amazing and extremely rewarding.

HERO photo credit: Luna Alignment Yoga

If studying to teach Iyengar Yoga seems too complicated or takes too much time, try a style that you’d be able to start teaching after completing a 200-hours course and join a Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Course.

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