“As animals, we walk the earth. As bearers of divine essence, we are among the stars. As human beings, we are caught in the middle, seeking to reconcile the paradox of how to make our way upon earth while striving for something more permanent and more profound.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj, means “to yoke” or “bind,” and is often interpreted as “union” of body, mind and spirit or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female practitioner, a yogini.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by clarifying our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment).
Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.
Yoga — a mind-body practice that originated in India more than 4,000 years ago
The practice of yogic asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath) prepares one for meditation, bringing harmony and calmness. Unlike other forms of exercise which strain muscles and bones, yoga gently rejuvenates the body. Yoga restores the body and frees the mind. It is the path to health and spiritual contentment.
Yoga can be tailored to suit each individuals capabilities and uniqueness, so as to develop and improve at one’s own pace.
Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of the living yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, author of the classic yoga treatise Light on Yoga. The Iyengar family’s teachings are deeply grounded in the yoga sutras (texts) of Patanjali, an ancient summation of the path of yoga considered to be at least 2,500 years old.
Iyengar yoga is recognized for its thorough exploration, including the physical, emotional, spiritual, physiological and psychological aspects, of each individual.
It is appropriate for anyone – regardless of age, health or other limitations. It teaches how to develop strength and flexibility, an increased ability to focus, observe, and relax, and encourages empathy and compassion toward oneself and others.
“Regular practice of yoga can help you face the turmoil of life with steadiness and stability.” – B.K.S Iyengar
Research suggests that practicing Iyengar yoga may yield specific health benefits. Here’s a look at some key study findings:
- Osteoarthritis – decreases joint stiffness and improves function
- Low back pain – eases pain, improves function, and lifts depression among adults with chronic low back pain
- Breast cancer recovery – survivors of breast cancer have improvements in several quality-of-life factors including pain management and mental health aspects
- Chronic conditions – yoga may help prevent or manage many chronic conditions including heart disease
How yoga’s combination of poses, deep breathing, and meditation might enhance your health.
- Reduce stress and stress-related health problems like insomnia and fatigue
- Prevent heart disease by decreasing many cardiovascular disease risk factors (including high blood pressure and oxidative stress, a process involved in hardening of the arteries) and aiding in the management of cardiovascular disease
- Maintain a healthy weight by helping ward off the weight gain that often accompanies aging
- Ease anxiety and depression by boosting levels of the brain chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. People with anxiety and depression tend to have low levels of GABA.
- Build balance. Among people ages 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries. Significant improvements in balance and stability were observed after completing a nine-week yoga program. Increases in walking speed and flexibility seen in the lower extremities could also help to prevent falls.
- Relieve back pain. Yoga might be more effective than conventional exercise in relieving low back pain.
- Trained qualified instructors
- A safe and systematic progression of yoga postures to develop each student’s ability and skill
- Sequencing that develops strength, flexibility, stamina, concentration, and body alignment
- Individual modifications to adjust postures to accommodate common physical problems
- Individual correction and adjustment of students, when necessary
- Clear use of language
- Demonstration and teaching that develops understanding and intelligent action
- Integration of yoga philosophy with the practice of asana (poses), pranayama (breath) and meditation
- 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
What are props and why do we use them?
Props include sticky mats, blankets, belts, blocks, benches, wall ropes, sandbags, chairs, and other objects that help students experience the various yoga poses more profoundly. Props may be used in class to encourage students, bolster confidence, and create optimal body alignment.
Allowing students to practice asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing patterns) with greater effectiveness, ease, and stability, props provide support for the body and allow the mind to relax and more profoundly receive the benefits of the yoga.
How does Iyengar Yoga differ from other styles of yoga?
The Iyengar method develops strength, endurance, body alignment, flexibility and relaxation. The Iyengar method develops self-awareness, self-evaluation, and contemplative inward reflection. As the body moves into better alignment, less muscular work is required and relaxation increases naturally.
Can I come to a yoga class if I have health concerns or limitations?
Advise your teacher of your concerns before class. Teachers are trained to modify and suggest alternative strategies (or postures) to enable you to practice safely and intelligently.
Yoga is open to people of all ages and all levels of physical condition. Do not hesitate to try a yoga class because you feel that you are too old, too stiff, too fat, too thin, too tired, etc. Yoga has something to offer everyone.
Can I get hurt in a yoga class?
Although Iyengar yoga is generally regarded as safe, it’s possible for damage to occur with any type of yoga if poses aren’t executed properly. If you’re considering the use of Iyengar yoga for a specific health problem, make sure to consult your physician before starting your yoga practice.
Communicate your health concerns and limitations clearly to the yoga instructor before class, listen to your own body, do what feels right for you. If you don’t want the instructor to adjust or touch you, tell them. Do not compare yourself to others. Yoga is not competitive.
What should I bring to class?
Bring your own sticky mat… and your own props, if you have them.
Please be on time. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes before class is scheduled. Turn off cell phones. Wear comfortable yoga clothes that are footless and allow you to move easily and enable the teacher to observe you well. Yoga is always practiced in bare feet. Please do not wear perfume or heavy jewelry.
Yoga is best practiced on an empty stomach. We suggest waiting a few hours after a heavy meal and at least one hour after a light snack before taking class.
What does “Hatha” mean?
The word hatha means willful or forceful. According to the Yoga Journal, Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.
Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment.
What does “Om” mean?
Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean?
Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us; the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.
Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.
Do I have to be vegetarian to practice yoga?
The first principle of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which means nonharming to self and others. Some people interpret this to include not eating animal products. There is debate about this in the yoga community; ultimately it is a personal decision that everyone has to make for themselves. If you are considering becoming a vegetarian, be sure to take into account your personal health issues as well how your choices will affect those you live with. Being a vegetarian should not be something that you forcefully impose on others, that kind of aggressive action in itself is not an expression of ahimsa.
How many times per week should I practice?
Even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of yoga practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. Many yogis and yoginis suggest starting with one or two times a week, for an hour. If you can only do 20 minutes per session, that’s fine too. Don’t let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle, do what you can and don’t worry about it. You will see the benefits.
How is yoga different from stretching or other kinds of fitness?
Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali’s eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical ashtanga yoga (the eight-limbed path, not to be confused with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga yoga) is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutra. These scriptures provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body. Yoga sometimes interweaves other philosophies such as Hinduism or Buddhism, but it is not necessary to study those paths in order to practice or study yoga.
It is also not necessary to surrender your own religious beliefs to practice yoga.
I’m not flexible— Can I do yoga?
Yes! You are a perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible. This new-found agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well-being.
Who can practice yoga?
Anyone regardless of age, sex, nationality, religion or social status can practice Yoga.
Will my health improve when I practice yoga?
Yoga does help in overcoming health problems. Health is not just a disease-free state but a state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Diseases may be dormant, interrupted or in a fully active stage and you may be able to detect the disease depending upon your sensitivity. Most individuals realize that they have a problem only when the symptoms start showing. In such cases, yoga asanas are taught in such a manner that you receive symptomatic relief. Later, you can continue with your practice so as to get at the root of the disease. Practice of yoga also builds the character of tolerance within you, strengthens the nerves and quiets the mind and so, as Prashant Iyengar states, “Yoga helps cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”
How much should I practice yoga?
The more you practice, the more benefit and improvements you will get; the rewards correspond to the effort put in. However, a daily routine, even if only for a few minutes, is more beneficial than one long session weekly. A daily routine also builds it’s own momentum and encourages you to continue with yoga rather than bursts of irregular but intense practice.
I have a stiff body. Can I practice yoga?
Although it might at first sight appear that someone who is very flexible can perform yoga asanas (postures) better than a stiff person, this is a misconception. Yoga should not be confused with gymnastics. Yoga aims to develop one’s understanding, alignment and awareness through subtle adjustments made to the body, the skin, muscles, tendons and joints etc., while in a yoga posture. The aim is to attain firmness, stability and a feeling of exhilaration in an asana – to make “the effortful effort becomes an effortless effort.”
Which diseases can be treated with yoga?
Therapeutic Yoga from a qualified Yoga Therapist can provide relief from chronic health problems. Some of the chronic ailments for which people have benefited from Yoga practice include:
- Muscular-skeletal disorders – arthritis and pains in the knees, shoulders and other joints, curvatures of the back and back pain, slipped discs and sciatic pain
- Circulatory disorders – heart problems, hypotension, hypertension, circulatory problems in the legs
- Digestive disorders – constipation, acidity, diabetes and hernias
- Respiratory disorders – asthma, coughs, colds and bronchitis
- Nervous disorders – headaches, migraines, sinusitis and stress
- Reproductive disorders; -menstrual problems, uterine displacement and menopausal problems
If suffering from any medical condition, it is essential to inform your teacher. Serious medical conditions require the attention of a suitably qualified remedial instructor with the necessary training and experience.
To learn more about yoga and iyengar yoga we recommend the following:
These links were used as sources of information in writing this page:
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