It’s true. I didn’t initially gravitate toward Iyengar yoga. My first experiences with this practice even irritated me. I remember spending what seemed like hours on finding the completely perfect alignment of Triangle Pose thinking, OMG! If we don’t get on with it soon, I might explode! Luckily for my classmates, I did not explode. And luckily for me, I kept going to class because even though it wasn’t the most enjoyable 90 minutes of my week, I realized that there is tons of amazing transformative power in Iyengar Yoga—especially if you stick with it. While I’ll always be more of a vinyasa flow girl, I’m so SO thankful to my Iyengar teachers (and those teachers who aren’t Iyengar but are heavily influenced by it), who have endured my eye rolls and loud sighs and taught me so much anyway.
In case you’re on the fence about Iyengar–or have decided not to go back after you realized it takes your teacher 15 minutes to set you up for one pose! 🙂 –here are just a few of the things that I love about Iyengar Yoga.
1. It’s adaptable. Because of its heavy use of props (and the highly trained eyes of teachers), Iyengar yoga is probably the most easily adaptable yoga practice for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities.
2. Aligned poses are safe poses. I’m a firm believer that it is imperative to learn to practice poses in alignment FIRST—and I don’t just mean that you understand the alignment principles in your mind, but that your muscles and bones understand them, too. Only then is it truly safe to add lots of movement or creativity to your asana practice. The importance of alignment can not be overemphasized.
3. Get out of your habits. The idea of samskara, or patterns, is one of the yoga philosophies that has always resonated the most with me. We all naturally fall into all sorts of patterns—patterns of the mind, patterns in our relationships, patterns in the way we use our muscles. And the tedious, detailed instructions of an Iyengar or alignment-focused yoga teacher is the most wonderful way to bring awareness to the patterns of the body so you can begin to correct any unhealthy habits such as holding tension in your shoulders or poking your ribs out when you reach your arms overhead in Down Dog. This is deep, transformative work that you just don’t get the opportunity to explore in most vinyasa classes.
4. Look deeper. Paying close attention to the habits in my body almost always help me to see other patterns in my life that aren’t serving me. Even more useful is the realization that if I can change the way I hold my shoulders when I get anxious, I can probably change the way I react to my partner when he forgets to replace the paper towels when he uses the last one on the roll. It might take the watchful eye of an experienced teacher, friend, or psychologist (I’m serious!), but you have the power to change everything about your life.
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5. Discipline teaches you that you’re capable of more than you ever thought. I’ve never thought of myself as a super serious yogi—I love telling yoga jokes, laughing, and having fun on my yoga mat. In fact, one of the things that initially drew me to the practice was the very relaxed approach that my first yoga teacher took. Iyengar students are not known for their laid back approach. In fact, I recall a time when an Iyengar teacher refused to teach the students in my teacher training who were having a snack before class because he said he couldn’t safely or efficiently teach twists to students with full bellies. At the time, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, but I’ve since come to appreciate how seriously he took the practice and his job as a yoga teacher. (There’s a time to have fun on your mat, and there’s also a time to hunker down and really focus.) I have to admit, this wasn’t my favorite yoga class ever at the time.. but after sticking with it for a few months, not only did I have a much more complete understanding of yoga, but I also saw that I really do have the capacity for deep understanding.
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