How is an Iyengar yoga class different?

Iyengar teaching

When I began looking for yoga classes, I had no idea there were so many types of yoga and I found it a bit confusing. I saw hot yoga, vinyasa yoga, power yoga, yoga stretch, pilates/yoga fusion – the list went on and on. So I dove in and tried a Bikram yoga class. The heat was too much for me so I moved on to a yoga stretch class. Nice, but it was a little too slow for me. I switched to Pilates but was curious about a yoga class being held across the hall. A yoga student, an older woman with long grey hair, came out to get a prop and, with sparkling eyes, told me that the teacher was the best yoga teacher in Boise and she bounded back with such energy and lightness. I remember thinking that if yoga did that for her, then I wanted to try it. I signed up and immediately knew this was what I was searching for. The instruction was so precise, it made the asanas easier to do than when I just tried to follow along. Props were used and customized to different people so that everyone could experience the asanas even though physical abilities varied due to condition, age, or past injuries. Although I worked up a sweat during class, I left feeling refreshed and energized, not physically drained. This was an Iyengar yoga class.

Since then, I have studied quite a bit about the subject of yoga and came to learn that the asana practice is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. It is used to fine tune concentration, to prepare the body for long periods of sitting in meditation, and, ultimately, to quiet the mind and connect with the universal bliss that lies within us.

The asanas are done a little differently from method to method, but what really differentiates the methods is intention. Many types of the modern, westernized yoga classes are conducted with the idea of working out, getting stronger, stretching out the stiffness, burning calories, and getting the heart rate up. The intention here is exercise and the classes are usually held with the teacher leading the students as music plays to motivate movement.

In an Iyengar class, the sequences and asanas change every class to produce different effects on the consciousness. The teacher often demonstrates what is to be done and then talks students through with detailed instructions and cues. Because of this, there is rarely any music played. Teachers will often correct and adjust a student’s alignment to be sure the asana is performed safely. In short, the teacher actually teaches how to do the asanas rather than leading a group practice.

So the type of yoga class that is right for you will depend on your intention. That being said, when I started, my intention was exercise. Fortunately, I found an Iyengar class and (sorry to use a worn phrase) it changed my life.

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” BKS Iyengar, in his book Light on Life

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