Iyengar yoga’s trademark is its use of props. Walk into any Iyengar studio and you’ll probably find chairs, blankets, blocks, and belts. They’re used to go deeper into poses, facilitate longer holds, and draw attention to specific aspects of a posture. Props are used not only therapeutically and by beginners, but by intermediate and advanced practitioners as well.
Concise alignment is another trademark of Iyengar yoga. This method aims to correct the habitual misalignment that many people develop naturally over time. When first learning this style, students focus on standing poses to develop vitality, balance, and coordination. They gradually move on to more challenging poses, all the while encouraging stiff muscles to release and weak muscles to strengthen. The result is strength, endurance, flexibility, relaxation, and correct postural alignment. Besides focusing on concise asanas, Iyengar incorporates pranayama, meditation, and yoga philosophy.
Iyengar yoga cultivates meditation in action. Unlike passive meditation, where you sit quietly with closed eyes and focus inward, students are encouraged to hold their attention fully in each asana and apply an alert mind that follows every movement of the body. This helps develop focus to go naturally toward a meditative state.
Often considered the most important yoga teacher in the West, B.K.S. Iyengar is the founder of this self-named yoga style. He was introduced to yoga by his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya—the man now considered to be the “father of modern yoga.” At the age of 18, Iyengar was sent to Pune, India, to teach yoga. He maintained a strong practice all the way up to his recent death at the age of 95.
After teaching yoga to the famous violinist Yehuni Menuhin, word of Iyengar spread to Europe, and he acquired several celebrity clients. He visited New York for the first time in 1956, when there was still little interest in yoga. It wasn’t until the following decade that Iyengar began to attract a following in the U.S., and his popularity has continued to grow since.
Iyengar is the author of 14 books on yoga, pranayama, and philosophy, including the yoga teacher staple Light on Yoga.
Iyengar certification is probably the most rigorous of any yoga style. You need to be a dedicated Iyengar student for at least three years, and a member of either IYALA or IYACSR (official Iyengar associations) for at least one year, before you can undergo the certification process.
When ready, you can either go to one of the several U.S. centers that offers certification, or ask a certified Iyengar teacher to be your mentor and teacher.
The first level of training takes at least two years but can last up to five. After two years, you have to pass two rigorous, standardized assessment tests. There are multiple certification levels, so you could continue to study for many more years. Once you pass the Introductory II level, you are certified to teach under the Iyengar name.
Only certified Iyengar teachers can use the Iyengar name and claim to teach this style of yoga. They are also asked to teach and practice Iyengar yoga only.