For people who are just getting familiar with yoga for the first time, they might assume that yoga is basically yoga. I confess to thinking this way long ago when I took my first yoga class (it was in Junior High in the late 1970s and I just loved it). But 30 years and dozens of articles on the topic later, I realize that while yoga is a general catch-all term for the practice of controlled breathing and postures, there are many different types of yoga, each with its own focus. Iyengar yoga is one of these.
Iyengar is more than a term for yoga—it is the actual last name of the person who invented this particular form of the exercise. B.K.S. Iyengar was born in 1918 and he began teaching yoga back in 1936. Iyengar had suffered from tuberculosis and, in an effort to feel better, he worked with yoga guru Krishnamacharya in India. He is still alive and practicing yoga, to which I say, more power to him! He even has his own yoga institute in India, where he works with his son and daughter.
Iyengar’s form of yoga, which is a type of hatha yoga (which focuses on breathing), really strives to make sure the body is in the correct physical alignment while doing the various poses. So if you attend an Iyengar yoga class, the instructor will work hard to be sure everyone there is doing each pose totally correctly. With regular practice, students try to do each pose perfectly. Iyengar developed over 200 poses, ranging from easy to do to very difficult. Many of the Iyengar poses are done while standing.
The idea here is that with this ideal and perfect balance in our bodies, we’ll also achieve balance in our minds.
If you’ve been to a yoga class and rented a mat, brought in a pillow from home and leaned up against a chair at some point, you have Iyengar to thank for all of that. He was the one who came up with the idea of using props while doing yoga. Way back when yoga began, no one used any items to help them do any of the exercises. But with Iyengar yoga, the props can help students get to that perfect position that is so important, even if they are not quite able to do it all on their own.