Iyengar Yoga for a Healthy Body and Mind

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Throughout my life, I´ve practicad various different forms of yoga and found that in general I´ve been mostly drawn to ashtanga yoga due to what I interrpreted as a combined physical and spiritual practice, with a primary focus on the breath. However, in the last few weeks, I´ve started practicing a new style of yoga for myself called Iyengar. As most who are familiar with this form of yoga know, it is a practice that utilizes an array of props such as bars, wooden blocks, ropes, chairs, belts, etc. to help the student master the asana (or yoga position or pose), providing mind, body and emotional integration.[1]

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    New to Iyengar yoga, which I had previously concluded was more ¨technical¨ or stretching oriented than spiritual, I wanted to investigate a bit deeper and share some of the unique benefits this style of practice can provide. What I discovered is that Iyengar yoga is not any different from other styles of ashtanga yoga from the standpoint that is a combination of asanas, pranayama (breathing) and follows the Yoga Sutra, a guide to liberation, created by Patanjali over 1700 years ago called the eightfold path which is the meaning of ashtanga (8 limbs).[2] However, Iyengar does slightly differ in its three main areas of focus which are technique, sequence and timing.[3] 


    If you are like me, getting into the asanas of a more traditional floor practice has always been difficult due to my lack of natural flexibility. Even though a frequent practice can dramatically improve flexibility, I´ve never commited to practicing more then a few times a week, which has kept me pretty limited in my ability to correctly master the poses. Additionaly, depending on class size and the various teaching abilities, I haven´t always been corrected when my form isn´t right.


    What I´ve come to realize is that there is a tremendous amount of benefit in performing an asana correctly, not only from the stanpoint of proper alignment and precision that this style of yoga demands, but also as a means to practice the poses correctly and avoid injury. Iyengar focuses on holding the poses for an extended period of time and works within a sequence that groups asanas together in the most effective way for developing flexibility, concentration, strength and balance. As a result, many studies have shown that Iyengar is effective in healing not only the mind, but also physical injuries and pain, regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced student.


    I´d like to share two interesting studies I came across in my research. The first relates to chronic lower back pain. This study was conducted on 90 people with chronic back pain to assess whether Iyengar yoga could improve their health condition. The study indeed concluded that as a result of practicing yoga two times a week for 24 weeks, participants saw an improvement in their funcional disability and pain intensity, allowing them to reduce their use of pain medication. Depression also proved to be significantly lower in the yoga students compared to the control group.[4]


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    The second study I´d like to share relates specifically to mental well-being, which has been difficult to measure scientifically. However, in this study, 28 participants reporting symptoms of mild depression, completed one class of Iyengar yoga per week for 5 consecutive weeks. Both their self-reported results of improved mood and less fatigue as well as a trend towards higher coritsol levels compared to the control group, suggested a postive correlation between yoga and mood/mild dperession.[5]


    Additional studies have shown improvements in those with osteoarthritis as well as breast cancer recovery patients by those practicing Iyengar yoga. Although further studies need to be done on assessing the benefits of yoga utilizing larger samples and more complex study designs, the work that is being done in this area has been very positive.[6]


    Iyengar yoga is a great practice for those looking to see some concrete results physically, mentally and spiritually. As with any style of yoga, to really see benefits, it´s important to be consistent and patient with your practice.


    [1] http://www.bksiyengar.com/


    [2] Rosen, R. (No date). Who was Patanjali? Retrieved from  http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2208 


    [3] Taylor, C. (No date). What is Iyengar yoga? Retrieved from  http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/iyengaryoga/


    [4] Pubmed.gov. “Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain,” K. Williams, et al. Spine, September 2009: 34(19):2066-76



    [5] Pubmed.gov. “Iyengar yoga for young adults with rheumatoid arthritis: results from a mixed-methods pilot study,” S. Evans, et al. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, May 2010: 39(5):904-13



    [6] Wong, C. (2010, October 21). Health benefits of iyengar yoga. Retrieved from http://altmedicine.about.com/od/yog1/a/iyengar_yoga.htm

Published On: August 08, 2012