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Sunday, June 7, 2009

What Is Iyengar Yoga?

By Mike Selvon

Belur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, founder of Iyengar yoga, has been practicing this relaxation technique for over 60 years and is considered to be one of the foremost meditation instructors in the world. He was born into a poor Iyengar family in the village of Belur Karnataka, South India. Iyengars are a community of Brahmins (a priestly class) who study the vedas and ancient religious texts that indicate a Supreme Being, as well as subsidiary gods, whose existence depends upon the all-powerful God.

After receiving spiritual treatment, B.K.S. Iyengar survived malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and malnutrition. He began teaching this meditation technique in 1937 and has since traveled the globe, spreading his ideas to the Western world.

He has won several awards and published fourteen books, including "Light On Yoga," which has been dubbed "the bible of yoga." Time Magazine called Iyengar one of the "100 most influential people" in 2004. Iyengar yoga is one part spirituality and one part physical fitness, paving the way toward a united mind and body.

Spiritually, Iyengar meditation is based upon Patanjali's eight limbs of raja yoga. The first is Yama, meaning physically and mentally abstaining from the following five things: violence toward others and oneself, from coveting others' belongings, from sexual intercourse, from attachment to possessions and anything that is untrue.

The second limb is called Niyama, referring to the five observances: cleanliness of body and mind, satisfaction with what one has, penance and mental control, introspection and surrender to God. Asana refers to posture and position (ideally an erect stance with relaxed muscles) and Pranayama is the directed control of one's breath, which is so vital to successful yoga practice.

Pratayahara calls for the quieting of senses connected with the outer world. Only then will Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (oneness with the Supreme Being) naturally follow.

In practice, Iyengar yoga is characterized by the use of belts, straps, sandbags, benches and blocks to aid in performing 200 asanas (postures) and creating body alignment. Equally important are the 14 pranayamas (breaths). Less emphasis is placed on muscular effort and more importance is given to finding the ideal position.

Standing yoga poses can build strong legs, improve circulation and coordination and help students with skills they can take to other forms of this meditation. The instruction is rigorous, compared to other styles, with highly trained and certified teachers actively placing students into the right positions and correcting misalignments. Beginners will surely get individualized attention and the most out of their instruction if they attend Iyengar meditation classes.

The benefits of Iyengar yoga include: increased circulation and comfort, better posture, stronger muscles, better balance and coordination -- in addition to feeling more at peace, with less stress and anxiety.