Iyengar yoga originated, like all yoga, in India. The sage Panjali’s Sutras were documented between 500 BC and 200 BC, as a systematic way to understand consciousness through practice and renunciation. Patanjali's Sutras are considered an authoritative text on yoga. Over the centuries and through various lineages the sutras have been interpreted by academics, commentators and practitioners of yoga with varying emphases.
Born in Bellur, India in 1918, BKS Iyengar's approach to yoga focuses on asana and pranayama to explore the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga.
BKS Iyengar celebrated his 95th birthday in 2013 in Pune, India where he continues to maintain a daily practice and teach. Commencing yoga at age 16 to deal with a series of health conditions, over a lifetime Iyengar has evolved distinct methods of practicing and teaching yoga, which have been adopted by many around the world. Iyengar's methods are founded in traditional yoga and predominately based within Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Iyengar classifies the yoga he teaches as Astanga (eight-limbed) yoga and adopts all aspects of yoga in his method. Many other types of yoga differ, as a particular aspect is pursued (e.g. raja yoga focuses on mastery of mind, hatha yoga emphasises the physical aspects of yoga, and mantra yoga uses mantra to refine mind). Iyengar adopts all aspects of yoga as he considers making distinctions between aspects (e.g. mind and body) arbitrary.
BKS Iyengar has tested Patanjali’s yoga sutras through his own practice of yoga, and as a result, his method holds high relevance to the practice and experience of yoga, with an apparent emphasis on the asana and pranayama limbs. While it may appear that this approach neglects many of the other limbs, Iyengar justifies his method, reasoning the emphasis is held on the teachable and describable aspects of yoga. These aspects are the limbs that require the application of discipline and effort (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara). He views dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (integration) as the outcomes, or effects, of a practice of yoga; these are attained and cannot be explicitly taught. This does not mean these aspects are overlooked.
Iyengar has developed a method, characterised by an emphasis on precision and alignment, use of props and timing which offer a practical way to work toward the outcomes. Iyengar also reasons the outcomes are inherent in the other limbs of yoga, a view which differs to other interpretations of the yoga sutras (and Iyengar’s preliminary view) that the eight-limbs are stepwise achievements.
In practising Iyengar yoga, we benefit from Iyengar’s life-time of practice and teaching experience, be it the detailed definitions of alignment, the use of props or the application of sequence to affect the experience of asana.
When starting out, it may appear that Iyengar yoga is all about working the body to attain a particular shape of the body, however, this interpretation would miss the point of yoga. Iyengar’s methods help you to build the capacity to apply and watch yourself, and with a practice over time, you work toward the integration of the body, mind and soul.
1. Yoga Drsti (With yogic eyes), BKS Iyengar, Astadala Yogamala, Vol 2
2. The Tree of Yoga, BKS Iyengar,1988
3. Understanding the principles behind Iyengar Yoga, Prashant Iyengar, Yoga Rahasya, Vol 2 2004