Yoga of the Props

Iyengar yoga is created by B.K.S. Iyengar and characterized by great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment. He has developed an innovative and inspired approach to classical Hatha yoga. Iyengar yoga teachers have completed at least two years of rigorous training through a world-wide standardized system of instruction. The Iyengar yoga style is known for its use of props such as; straps, blocks, blankets, cushions or chairs to help one adjust or support oneself in the different postures. The props, invented by Iyengar during his lifetime of study, make the postures accessible to both the less flexible and the fit and advanced students. Props maximise the opening and awareness of the body and enable students to perform the asanas correctly and minimising the risk of injury or strain. They can also be helpful for sick or disabled people who highly benefit from the asanas.

In terms of asana and pranayama practice, the Iyengar method focuses particularly on three aspects: body alignment or technique, sequencing and timing. Correct body alignment allows the body to develop harmoniously in an anatomically correct way to prevent injury or pain. The precise and careful attention promotes the development of strength, endurance and suppleness – physically, mentally and emotionally. Hence an Iyengar yoga teacher will correct misalignment actively.

Correct sequencing refers to a powerful cumulative effect achieved by practicing asanas and pranayama in particular sequences. There are few more or less strict rules within the topic of sequencing asanas. For example, standing poses are a good preparation for forward bends and after a deep forward bend a few twists are recommended to balance and release your spinal muscles.

Timing refers to the length of time spent in asanas or pranayama. If the postures are held for considerable length of time the effects of the poses pierce deeper within you while the alignment is perfected. Therefore you will find very little flow in Iyengar style yoga and you will rest in child’s pose in between poses. It is not so much a cardiovascular experience as for example a Vinyasa yoga class. Though, holding poses requires strength and is excellent for increasing flexibility. Iyengar yoga is a great style for ill people or elderly, because of the absence of flow or cardiovascular exercise. In addition, Iyengar yoga can also be very appealing to more advanced yoga practitioners who would like to work on their alignment. From my own experience, I can say an Iyengar yoga class is definitely not easy. It requires perseverance to hold a pose for a reasonable amount of time. In addition, Iyengar yoga is very precise, technical and focused on anatomy and subtle movements. The use of props creates a whole range of creative and innovative poses and allows me to practice intense poses safely and without pain.

Nowadays, Iyengar yoga is one of the most practised styles of yoga worldwide. The influence of Iyengar yoga is prevalent in almost every yoga style by the way poses are taught and props are used. Iyengar’s book: ‘Light on Yoga’ has become a yoga classic and the gold standard for its illustration and explanation of hundreds of yoga poses. So Iyengar yoga is definitely worth a try.

“When I practice, I am a philosopher,

When I teach, I am a scientist,

When I demonstrate, I am an artist.”

 – B.K.S. Iyengar –


Categories: Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Yoga of the Props

  1. Erwin Lammers

    What a great read Jacinta. I always look forward to reading your daily blog.

  2. Very informative and well written as always 🙂

  3. nick

    I’m looking for a Iyengar yoga school for a friend in Whangarei and came across this article. It certainly describes an aspect of Iyengar yoga that is most often encountered in the beginner stages: heavy use of props, set sequencing and timing, a safety first approach (all methods should have this but don’t, unfortunately), and attention to detail that includes the right application of vigour without a mind that pushes towards hardness.

    As an Iyengar student progresses and their body reconfigures, especially their core and breathing system (which is what the asana are designed to transform and reveal to the practitioner in preparation for pranayama and, later, formal meditation), they will move much more into explorative self-study and towards subtle body awareness.

    As soon as a student can intuitively combine the asana to work with the experience of their body they don’t need to follow set sequencing. Feedback from the body (insight/repose) is what the practitioner uses to apply asana dynamically as required. This is where the student will begin to radically change their personal practice and actively work with and engage their experience. The sooner a student gets to this point the better.

    In my experience flow isn’t about cardiovascular work and is an advanced practice that will arise out of a deep level of awareness and focused absorption in the body experience. Flow is a spontaneous expression from the subtle body as the student enters into precise awareness and openness within the asana. Iyengar has this, too. It’s just not emphasised in the early stages – it’s quite advanced.

    The precision is required to overcome our gross ignorance, lack of awareness and lack of energy, as well as ensure safety in our practice. It also forms the basis for entering deeper into the physical body and ensures that we extend with feeling into our experience. It helps us define the edges and see and work with our imbalances (particularly our left/right imbalances which also reveal subtle body imbalances and breathing imbalances). Without the precision what are we doing?

    Precision awakens the insight mechanism and in this way Iyengar yoga could be considered a profound Vipassana practice (in my view so far). The insight mechanism that occurs from feedback in our (initially) gross physical practice is the same insight mechanism that we experience in our mental and emotional bodies. It is profound, and we get to experience, see and understand it from the very gross to the very subtle.

    Going for precision often creates confusion because we cannot initially feel into that area of the body. It is in shadow and we may never have used or accessed those muscles (cells?) before in this way. We are taught to rest in the confusion, and maybe we experience past trauma and grief, too – all sorts of things can arise. If this happens it can be experienced and released and over time dissolved so that it just isn’t there as a block anymore. It’s integrated.

    I think this release is just the human organism working properly to resolve and we are now in a process that is beyond yoga. I guess we could visualise the confusion/insight relationship as a murky lily swamp being the confusion and the lotus bloom as the insight that leads to clarity and mindfulness.

    We are mindful in the precision and our effort will likely be strenuous, but our mind is listening and aware without being tight or pushing. Then the body, as Iyengar says, can repose and we gain insight (literally, inner sight) and can extend deeper into the asana with awareness. So, we don’t seek to stretch (I stopped using that word) but to extend through awareness. With the insight and awareness comes clarity and restfulness. We open up and our breathing softens and reshapes.

    So, we can see where the Iyengar practitioner is going with the method. I think there is less difference between the yoga methods as the practitioners of each advance beyond the outward approach of their method, given similar levels of insight and discovery.

    I hope this is helpful. Cheers 🙂

    • Hi Nick, What a wonderful comment you have written. A great read and wonderful to learn more about Iyengar yoga from an experienced practitioner. I have written this blog post about 5 years, so I would probably write something quite different today, after everything I have learnt, read and experienced over the years. You are given a wonderful insight about the bigger & deeper picture of Iyengar yoga. Thank you for taking the time to write a non-judgmental and inspiring comment. Qualities of a true yogi which I don’t come across often. I hope you were able to find the one Iyengar yoga school we have here in Whangarei. Otherwise please contact me. I also know an Iyengar trained teacher who is not linked to any yoga studio (yet). Namaste!

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