Iyengar yoga, founded by yogi B.K.S. Iyengar, incorporates the eight limbs (ashtanga) of yoga, along with the use of props, such as belts, blankets and wooden blocks, to allow beginning students to achieve correct positioning for performing the poses (asanas). All yoga practitioners strive to perform the postures properly, yet they may not be physically capable of doing so; therefore using some type of positioning device allows them to hopefully achieve that goal. This method of performing hatha, or forceful, yoga makes it accessible to all potential students and dispels the notion that only the young or very flexible can develop the muscle strength and positioning to take advantage of yoga’s benefits. B.K.S Iyengar grew up penniless and suffered poor health as a child. He was taken under the wing of Krishnamacharya, who is widely recognized as “the father of modern yoga” in the 20th century. His guru took pity on Iyengar and taught him a few asanas in the hopes of improving his health. However, Iyengar was given very little instruction in how to actually perform the poses. When his guru visited Iyengar’s school in 1961, he noted his student’s ability to show others how to perform the poses correctly and told him he needed to disseminate this knowledge worldwide. Iyengar had already worked with famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s and privately tutored him as he toured throughout Europe. This association is credited with popularizing Iyengar yoga worldwide.
Iyengar yoga uses the eight limbs, as put forth in the Yoga Sutra, which dates back to 200 A.D. These limbs consist of the following:
- Yama, ethics,
- Niyama, study,
- Asanas, positions,
- Pranayama, regulated breathing
- Pratyahara, inwardness
- Dharana, concentration,
- Dhyana, meditation and
- Samadhi, self-realization.
Iyengar yoga uses the asanas and pranayama to achieve the other six limbs of the path. For example, the Iyengar yoga student discovers that by consistent practice (niyama), he will refrain from destructive practices, such as over-eating and drinking. Similarly, by understanding the ethics (yama) of non-violence, the student of Iyengar yoga realizes that he must not force his body into unnatural positions and instead use positioning devices to allow the body to adapt naturally to its new range of motion. By incorporating pranayama into the practice of achieving the asanas, the mind is focused (dharana) and can meditate (dhyana) in a comfortable state without distractions to ultimately achieve samadhi.