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Quick Tips: Iyengar Yoga Explained

        Health | Yoga

If you enjoy the technical aspects of yoga -- the precision and alignment of each pose -- and don't mind a few props, it may be time to try Iyengar yoga.

This popular form of yoga started with a frail, sickly teenage boy from India who began practicing yoga in hopes that it could improve his health and help him recover from tuberculosis, among other ailments. In a few years, that boy began to spread the teachings of yoga throughout his country. And today, more than 80 years later, that boy -- known to most as B.K.S. Iyengar -- is one of the most renowned yoga teachers in the world.

Iyengar trained as a student of classical Ashtanga yoga, which focuses on asanas (poses), pranayama (breath) and meditation, along with a healthy lifestyle off the mat, as well. When Iyengar began teaching, however, he developed his own version of Ashtanga yoga -- a version that today bears his name and is taught by thousands of instructors around the world.

Like many Hatha-based disciplines, Iyengar Yoga classes flow through sequences of traditional postures, and end with quiet poses for relaxation and reflection. But what sets Iyengar Yoga apart from other methods is its focus on alignment, says Sophie Herbert, a yoga instructor based in Brooklyn, New York.

"It uses a lot of props, like ropes and bolsters, to help you maximize the postures and find the ideal shape of the body," she says. "It's very patient and slower than some other forms of yoga." Instructors are encouraged to get creative during class, and to use whatever is necessary -- chairs, walls, blocks -- so that every student, no matter what their fitness or flexibility level, can achieve some modification of each pose. [Source: Jones]

Iyengar Yoga is often considered a therapeutic tool that can help prevent injuries or alleviate health complaints. A 2009 study by University of West Virginia researchers found that six months of a regular Iyengar practice helped reduce disability, pain and depression in people with chronic back pain, for example. [Source: Williams]

In his book "Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom," B.K.S. Iyengar writes that discovering yoga literally saved his life. Decades later, it's safe to say that it also helped him have a long and prosperous one, as well.