| The Iyengar Approach to Yoga
by Pamela Nelson
As a child I didn’t know what yoga was, but I was introduced to the idea of it at a young age, as my mom would go to classes and practice along with a book by Kareen Zebroff. Seeing her do a headstand made my mom seem amazing! During university I picked up my own “first” yoga book by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta, students of B.K.S. Iyengar, and I feel grateful for that happenstance purchase. Living in a remote area where no classes were offered forced me to study the words and pictures and really try to comprehend on my own the feel and meaning. Trips to the health food store also meant picking up the WHOLifE magazine for great articles and health tips. The JNS Yoga Studio teacher training ads in WHOLifE always jumped out at me, and after 13 years as a practitioner, my supportive family pushed me to embark on my Iyengar training with a wonderful teacher, Jo-Ann Sutherland. Jo-Ann helped me deepen my own practice and understanding and to develop into a more confident teacher so I could share the benefits of yoga. I currently am a Level 3 Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and mentor to new teachers. I have a daily personal practice and take many teacher training courses and workshops every year with senior certified Iyengar teachers. I have travelled twice to India to study with the Iyengar family, and after almost 30 years, this multi-faceted subject continues to be fresh and inspiring.
This journey has led me to pursue higher levels of certification and travel, as mentioned not only to India, but to many Canadian cities for the annual Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada (IYAC) AGMs and conferences, where I have been fortunate to meet many other wonderful practitioners and teachers. The work, effort, and love that has gone into creating the Iyengar Association in Canada is immense, and I have nothing but gratitude for the original organizers and those that continue the work in Guruji’s name. Over the years I have taken on small roles, but for the next three years I will help as the Vice-President of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada.
The Iyengar approach to yoga is firmly based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga expounded by Patanjali in his classic treatise, The Yoga Sutras, written over 2,500 years go. Iyengar Yoga is a disciplined and deeply researched system developed by Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, who practiced daily for many hours at a time during his 96 years—exploring, studying, writing, and teaching about yoga. As students of Iyengar Yoga, we have been fortunate to benefit from his and the Iyengar family’s deep findings on the subject that they share openly with all ardent students. B.K.S. Iyengar wrote many books and articles on yoga. A few of my favourites are Light on Life, Light on Yoga, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Pranayama.
The term “Iyengar Yoga” was coined by students of Mr. Iyengar to distinguish his approach from other styles of yoga. He, however, described his yoga as “Patanjali Yoga” and said, “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. There is no distinction between one Yoga and another. Yoga, is one.”
What is unique about Iyengar Yoga is that it is characterized in the practice of asana (poses) and pranayama (breathwork) with the innovative approach emphasizing precision and alignment, planned sequencing, timing, and the use of props. This approach has allowed people of varying ages and levels of health and fitness to enjoy the benefits that a sustained practice can bring—the ability to face the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of contemporary life with strength, vitality, mobility, thoughtfulness, and equanimity. No two classes are ever exactly the same. The variation in sequencing of Iyengar classes is influenced by the level and condition of the student, time of day, time of year, and many other factors. In Iyengar yoga classes, the emphasis is on learning, not just doing, so the teacher will usually teach through instruction, demonstration, or adjustment so that the students can fully absorb the process and gain a more in-depth understanding of themselves.
Being influenced by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the second sutra says, yogah cittavrtti nirodhah—yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness. It is stilling the chatter of the mind that disturbs and distracts us. Sutra 1.30 tells us that the distractions of consciousness are the obstacles. These obstacles are disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, lack of detachment, and not seeing reality. They are confounded by the afflictions which cause us suffering; they are ignorance, pride, attachment, aversion, and fear of death. Patanjali writes that we must minimize or eradicate these obstacles through long, sustained practice, adhering to the yamas and niyamas (ethical codes of conduct), and from sutra 1.33 through the cultivation of friendliness and goodwill towards all creatures, compassion, joy, indifference to pleasure and pain, and non-attachment.
What to expect from this method of yoga?
- Qualified and rigorously trained instructors committed to excellence in teaching.
- A safe and systematic progression of yoga postures to develop each student’s ability and skill, both within each class and from class to class.
- Sequencing that develops strength, flexibility, stamina, concentration, and body alignment.
- Individual correction and knowledge of how to adjust postures for common physical problems.
- Precise use of language.
- Demonstration and teaching of specific points to develop understanding and intelligent action.
- Integration of the yoga philosophy with the practice of asana.
- Incorporation and relevance of practice into daily life.
- Ways to use yoga to ease various ailments and stress.
- Use of props, such as blankets, blocks, and straps, to facilitate learning and adjust yoga postures to individual needs.
Pamela Nelson invites you to join her for a class, either online or in-person, or check out the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada’s website to find a teacher near you: https://iyengaryogacanada.com/. Also see Pamela’s display ad on page 13 of the 28.2 July/August issue of the WHOLifE Journal.