Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined

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BKS Iyengar was often quoted that he did not name his practice “Iyengar Yoga,” but that was a term his followers used to differentiate his style from others. He said at at a Guru Poornima lecture that there are many “write ups” about his teachings and that they are focused on his “physical alignment.” Guruji said that those writers did not have the discernment to tell that physical alignment is only part of the story. They were not able to tell that he was also teaching “prana-shakti” of the muscle movement which leads toward deeper aspects of Yoga. “Can you not do Dhyana (meditation) in poses other than sitting?” he retorically asked.

As a practitioner for a few years in Iyengar’s method, I can appreciate his frustration. Even more nowadays, this style is even described as “less physcial” than others like corporate driven vinyasa. And in silly blurb descriptions, like the kind you find on Yoga International, this style is just cast off as “the one that uses props and focuses on alignment.”

Very little of what passes as “yoga” now in the marketplace gives any semblance of value to the inner experience. Most now blast music as part of their “yoga workout” session, and skip Savasana altogether.  In addition, very few people actually have a home practice. And if they do, they are relying on sources like Yogaglo or other flash-in-the-pan flexible, young and lithe Youtube celebrities.

In essence, Yoga in the West is still in grade school. That is why so many are dazzled by Instagram, and not so much dazzled by Sutra-s that tell us that we are divinity in ourselves and that all the rest is a cosmic charade. I read somewhere that your “yoga age” starts when you first go to practice. With this definition, many are still in elementary school. Even more shocking, many are becoming teachers with this level of experience in the current commercialized climate.

If you read a book like The Alpha and Omega of Utthita Trikonasana, you are well aware that classroom instruction is just the first step. Just like going to grade school and learning the alphabet is the first step toward reading The Great Works. When one reads literature, one does not have to do so in a lecture, but has to do independently. Just like in asana practice, we have to use what we learned in class  to further our own practice. As practitioners in this style, we have to go beyond the physical. We have to monitor which asana-s produce certain emotional states. Which sequences give us peace when we face turmoil. Which pranayamas help us move away from the outside world and into our inner self.

Iyengar’s yoga can be deceiving to the naked eye. It appears very physical. Showing the book Light On Yoga to friends and family is often met with jaw drops at the postures toward the end of the book. That is the maya. Iyengar is using those very advanced postures to gain access to the inner self, the substance that cannot be photographed. Most cannot get beyond the physical and cannot comprehend what is not seen. But as all ardhent practitioners in this style know, Iyengar’s yoga touches all the limbs and touches all the Kosha-s.

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17 thoughts on “Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined

  1. MuslimYogini

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful post! I totally relate to your frustrations, I struggle with the extreme externalization of yoga as well and the lack of attention to the alchemy of the soul it is meant to initiate. Thank you so much for sharing the meaning beyond the forms of yoga.

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  2. YogaCat

    thank you 🙏 In amongst the candy floss that appears to have flooded the yoga world it was uplifting to read your post. A beautiful way to start my day and an anchor for my morning practice

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  3. Pingback: Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined | IYENGAR YOGA BLOG

  4. Jyotika

    Thank you for this post. Iyengar yoga was the first yoga I practiced over 30 years ago and no matter how many styles of yoga I’ve encountered over the years it has always been what I consider “real” yoga. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve run into many wonderful teachers who were not Iyengar. But what I see these days – it’s been a gradual decline over about 15 years or so as vinyasa and power took over – often leaves me feeling as if I’m in a yoga hall of mirrors. I attend classes and such gross misinformation is passed on as the truth while yoga studios continue to spew out more and more new yoga “teachers” as a way to make money. I went to an alignment workshop (because you can’t stop and teach alignment during vinyasa class, there’s no time!) recently wherein the teacher, who had been doing yoga for 10 years but was young, lithe and instagram-worthy, actually responded to a question about styles by saying with authority that Iyengar yoga was for when you injured yourself doing vinyasa!!! This kind of thing makes me want to cry so it’s healing to read posts such as yours.

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    1. eau de fran

      Why do you go to this e classe you don’t like, then, and not stick to a style of pratiche that you feel to be right?

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    2. eau de fran

      Why do you go to this e classe you don’t like, then, and not stick to a style of pratice that you feel to be right?

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      Reply
    3. Eau de Fran

      Why do you go to these classes that you don’t like, then, and not stick to a style of pratice that you feel to be right?
      (this is what I meant to write, the corrector took over, sorry)

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      1. Jyotika

        In response to why do I take classes I don’t like, I live in a yoga backwater and there is no, I repeat no Iyengar yoga in a reasonable driving distance. Classes that focus on alignment are very unpopular and the one Iyengar class someone started folded after several months. People prefer a crowded room of sweaty people breathing hard. I go to class to do yoga when I dont feel like it myself, to learn something new, in hopes of finding a great teacher etc.

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  5. felicity green

    great article I am so pleased to see it . I have written a small booklet to try to alert students that Asana is the third Sutra in classical Yoga . The ethics of Yoga are the root of the practice Starting off from the Physical and then going deeper . Mr Iyengar always said” You can bluff with your mind but not with your body. ” so we need to learn nonviolence in our body first telling the truth about first As he said do your A B C and that is the Yamas and Niyamas. The book let is available through Blurb look under Yoga

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  6. Paul Tim Richard

    Reblogged this on Dragon Journal of Taijiquan and commented:
    This reblog of a post by a yoga practitioners speaks very to issues that apply to tai chi and qigong, at least to the manner in which I approach them. As meditative practices that seek inner awareness and knowledge this approach to yoga and tai chi are related. I hope readers of my tai chi blog agree at least to some degree.

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  7. Pingback: Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined — Home Yoga Practice | HALTT

  8. isabelucci

    After two years of constant practice I got to a point in life where travelling secluded myself from the secure and specialized refuge that my teachers (all Iyengar yogis) and their study was.
    So, I had to begin to practice āsana all by myself, having in mind all the things I learned through-out those challenging two years. Boy, did it made me appreciate even more Iyengar’s teachings and methods! The inner self you refer to is right in there, in the middle point of practicing alone and practicing with a teacher, finding the balance.
    Such a great article 😀

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