Iyengar yoga is one of the best ways for you to connect your body with your mind and the outside world. From beginners to advanced practitioners, there is an Iyengar routine that can suit everyone.
To introduce (or reintroduce) you to this wonderful practice, this guide will cover;
- What Iyengar poses are
- Beginner Iyengar poses; Tadasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and Virabhadrasana II
- Intermediate Iyengar poses; Utthita Trikonasana, Ustrasana, and Salamba Sirsasana
- Advanced poses; Natarajasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, and Kasyapasana
- The therapeutic applications of the practice.
Let’s get into it!
What are Iyengar Yoga Poses?
Originating in the mid to late 20th century and named and developed by B.K.S. Iyengar – a direct disciple of T. Krishnamacharya – Iyengar is a popular style of yoga that has a strong focus on the body’s precision of alignment.
What makes a pose specifically Iyengar is a focus on the structural alignment of the physical body.
Unlike other styles of yoga where students feel their way through the poses by imitating the teacher, Iyengar poses require precision within each pose.
Beginner Iyengar Yoga Poses
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
One of the best Iyengar yoga poses for beginners is Tadasana (Mountain pose) as it is relatively simple to perform, but true beginners may struggle to fully align and stack their shoulders, knees, and hips.
To perform this pose, simply stand upright with your big toes slightly touching and press down into the four corners of your feet.
Roll your shoulders up and back while taking a deep breath, and then release your shoulder blades downwards so that your neck is elongated. Hold this position and take deep breaths.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) is a popular Iyengar yoga position that increases blood flow to the brain, which means it is great for slowing the heart rate and calming the body.
However, if the position is not properly performed, it can cause significant pain in the neck, shoulders, and wrists.
To perform Adho Mukha Svanasana, extend your hips upwards until both hands and feet are on the mat and your body resembles a mountain shape.
Lower your head between your arms and press your heels into the floor. Breathe deeply and feel the stretches in your calves and arms.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
If you want a beginner pose that is great for stretching the hips and shoulders, you can’t go wrong with Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).
However, some people do find it difficult to perform this position as learning how to correctly square the hips is no easy task.
Virabhadrasana II requires you to face the long side of your mat in a wide stance and stretch your arms out.
Turn your right knee and foot to face the front of the mat while angling your left toes slightly inwards. Bend your right knee, stack it over the ankle, and distribute your weight between both legs.
Reach through both arms, gaze over your right fingertips, and hold.
Intermediate Iyengar Yoga Poses
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
A fantastic Iyengar yoga pose that is slightly more advanced is Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) as it is great for stretching the hamstrings and groin.
One drawback that it does have is that it shouldn’t be performed by those with herniated or bulging discs.
To perform Utthita Trikonasana, simply stand in a wide stance, and turn your right toes out at a 90-degree angle. With palms facing forward, raise your arms to shoulder height.
Exhale and slowly bend at the front hip to reach forward over the right leg. Windmill your arms down to stack your left shoulder of the right one, and send your left arm to the sky.
Leaving the other hand to rest your shin, hold this position.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is extremely beneficial for stretching the hip flexors and back, but it should be avoided by those with serious knee injuries as it can cause pain and strain.
Ustrasana is performed by kneeling on the mat with the knees spread apart and toes tucked under. Place your palms on your lower back and arch backward over your feet.
Once you have fully extended into a backbend, release your hands from your back and hold them by your sides. Relax your shoulders, breathe, and hold!
Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)
A supported headstand (also known as Salamba Sirsasana) is a wonderful Iyegar pose for building core strength. However, it does take some time to learn how to do this pose as it requires very strong balance.
To perform a supported headstand, start in a tabletop position, and place your forearms on the floor whilst cupping your hands together to form a triangle.
Place your head on the floor and press your elbows and forearms down so that there is no weight on your head.
Straighten your legs by lifting your knees and hips up and then slowly walk them until they are directly above your shoulders. Engage your core and lift your legs off the floor.
Here’s a handy video to give you a visual demonstration!
Advanced Iyengar Yoga Poses
Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)
If you want a pose that will improve your balance and work your quads, Natarajasana is a great option. However, it is quite advanced, so beginners will need to practice under the guidance of a teacher.
Natarajasana requires you to first stand with your arms at your side and your feet together. Bend your left knee to bring your foot to your buttocks.
With your left hand, grab the outside of your foot and push your pelvis up towards your belly whilst pushing your tailbone down.
Extend your knee slightly and move it upwards towards the sky whilst extending your right arm in front of you. For a more visual demonstration, check out this video.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow/Wheel Pose)
A pose that includes a deep backbend such as Urdhva Dhanurasana is great for encouraging healthy digestion, but be careful if you are nursing a shoulder injury as this pose may put a strain on it.
To perform this pose, lay on your back and bend your knees to bring the soles of your feet close to your buttocks.
Bring your elbows overhead and place your palms on the mat under your shoulders with your fingers pointing towards your feet.
Press into the floor and lift your hips, shoulders, and head up off the mat until your arms are straight. Straighten your legs out and hold! Here’s a useful video that demonstrates this well.
Kasyapasana (Twisting Lunge)
One of our favorite advanced poses is Kasyapasana (Twisting Lunge) as it is great for stretching the hip flexors. However, it will take some time to master as it requires a very high level of balance.
To execute Kasyapasana, put yourself in a plank pose before twisting around so that your body is facing forward and the weight is on your right arm.
Then, reach your left arm behind your back and grasp your left foot. Check out this video for more clarification!
Programming Iyengar Yoga Poses in your Routine
The sequence in which you perform your Iyengar yoga poses is extremely important as it dictates the effect it has on your body and mind.
Think of it like an arc: It requires a slow build-up to the peak, before slowly adjusting and bringing the body back down to the beginning point.
Here’s a general example of a sequence following this kind of structure:
- Warm up and do some gentle stretches to prepare your body and mind
- Start with foundation poses to establish alignment and focus
- Transition to standing poses to build up strength and stability
- Transfer to balancing poses to enhance concentration and stability
- Shift to seated poses for grounding and stretching the body
- Perform backbends to open the front body
- Perform Inversions to calm the nervous system and build confidence
- Engage in twists to release tension and aid digestion
- Finish with restorative poses for deep relaxation and restoration
- Cool-down to ease the body and transition back.
Iyengar yoga poses have many therapeutic applications, and they are a fantastic option for rehabilitating the body from injury.
Iyengar yoga can help alleviate conditions such as back pain, stress, immobile joints, insomnia, and even anxiety!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many poses are in Iyengar yoga?
According to the Iyengar Institute of New York, there are over 200 asanas (poses), ranging from true beginner levels to extremely advanced.
Is Iyengar yoga for beginners?
Absolutely. There are many poses (such as the ones outlined in this guide) that are suitable for beginners and can help you build up towards more advanced positions.
Who is Iyengar yoga best for?
Iyengar yoga is great for everyone. However, those with postural issues particularly benefit from it thanks to its focus on bodily alignment.
What is the difference between Iyengar yoga and normal yoga?
Unlike other forms of yoga, Iyengar yoga makes use of props such as blocks and belts to help achieve poses a lot faster and with greater ease.
Additionally, Iyengar is very strict on the correct and precise execution of each position. This differs from normal yoga where there is a lot of fluidity.
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