Highlighting Iyengar Yoga

Five reasons to love Vancouver’s best-kept Yoga secret

By Eve Johnson (member of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada / association Canadienne de yoga Iyengar (IYAC/ACYI))

If yoga is something you’ve started to do sometime in the past 10 years, I’m guessing that you might not have heard of Iyengar yoga.  I’d be delighted if I were wrong.  But the truth is, Iyengar is the best-kept yoga secret in Vancouver.  Check out the listings of Vancouver’s yoga chains, and you’ll find Power, Yin, Restorative, Kundalini, Vinyasa, Hot and a few more, but not Iyengar.  Not that it’s hard to find a class. Just check out the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Association – Vancouver site where you’ll find a list of 38 teachers in the Lower Mainland, and more than 130 classes.

So what’s so different about Iyengar yoga? And why do some people believe it’s the best, safest and most life-changing style of yoga you can do?

Here’s what you’ll find if you check it out yourself:

Small classes with individual attention and a focus on alignment.

Your Iyengar teacher will not be doing his or her own practice at the front of the room while calling out the names of poses. And you won’t be one of 50 anonymous people wondering if you’re doing it right.  Instead, Iyengar teachers demonstrate a pose, ask you to do it, and then watch the class. Do all the front leg upper thighs externally rotate sufficiently in triangle pose? Are all the front knees facing directly forward in Warrior II, and is the knee lined up with the ankle? Does everyone ground into their back heel?  This detailed work on alignment keeps your joints safe and gives you more stability with less effort. Gradually you’ll begin to feel an inner alignment in your body, and a new sense of your posture when you’re not doing yoga.

A starting point, no matter what your age or physical condition might be.

BKS Iyengar invented 90 per cent of the yoga props we use today, including mats, bolsters, straps and wood bricks.  Using the props makes poses accessible for everyone.  A prop can also let us stay longer in a pose, help us find the correct alignment and let us make more subtle adjustments.  Pregnant? Have your period? You can still come to class. Iyengar yoga has a highly developed practice that’s specific to the changing states of a woman’s body.

A logical progression of poses in classes that become more demanding as you grow.

An Iyengar class is less like a drop-in aerobics class, and more like a group guitar lesson, only without the guitars. Poses are introduced in a carefully worked out order, and built on week by week.  The same people show up every week in the same time at the same place. You learn, you practice what you learned, and you come back ready to learn more.  That’s why the class develops as time goes by. That’s also why you can eventually tackle headstands, shoulder stands and backbends safely, and with confidence.

Detailed instructions from a highly trained teacher.

In downward dog, you won’t just be told to place your hands and feet the right distance apart, push into your hands and lift your pelvis.  Instead, you’ll learn which part of the hand needs to push more, how to line up your fingers, how to lift your upper arms toward your shoulder joints, and take your shoulder blades down your back, while keeping your collarbones wide and your chest lifting.  And that’s just the arms.  Iyengar teacher training takes a minimum of three years, following at least two years as an advanced student.  Teachers who achieve certification have been assessed on both their personal practice, and on their teaching, by a panel of senior teachers.  To keep their certification, all Iyengar teachers take 50 hours of classes and workshops a year. Many choose to do much more, and to go on to more advanced levels of certification.

A deep inner experience.

The odd thing about concentrating on detailed physical cues is that it keeps you so mentally occupied that daily life drops away completely.  BKS Iyengar, the 94-year-old Indian guru who gave his name to the form, describes this as “meditation in action.”  Even at the beginning level, Iyengar yoga is a mind-clearing, calming experience that leaves you physically released and mentally soothed at the same time.  After a while, you realize that although the poses are the subject matter, you’re really being taught to observe yourself and ask questions.  In particular, you learn to ask: “is this the right action?”  It’s one of the most useful questions you can ever ask yourself, on the mat or off, and that’s no secret.

Eve Johnson is a certified Iyengar teacher who teaches at Yoga on 7th (at 7th and Main) and blogs at Five-Minute Yoga.

Photo Credit: Andrew Klaver