How Iyengar Yoga Differs
Most styles of yoga practiced in the US today started from study with Krishnamacharya, an Indian yogi and scholar (1888-1989), who lived to be over 100. He spent seven years with his guru (Sanskrit for ‘teacher’), R. Brahmacharya, who lived in a cave in a remote region of the Himalayas. Krishnamacharya’s students included Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar, both influential in bringing yoga to the United States and the world.
There are numerous styles of yoga practiced in the U.S. today, only a few of which are covered here. For descriptions of styles not included here, see about.com’s Yoga Style Guide. Many of these styles were developed by students of Jois and Iyengar. There are 2 lines of student descendants who still study and practice in these traditional styles, now called Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga. Mr. Iyengar is still living and teaching at age 94 in India.
Yoga styles vary considerably but the main thing to remember is that you need to simply find the style that works for you. Some people want very vigorous workouts; others need a slower-paced setting in which to learn yoga in depth. Whichever style of yoga you choose, be aware that it should not be painful.
The emphasis in Kundalini yoga is on freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards utilizing the breath. All asana practices make use of controlling the breath, but in Kundalini, the exploration of the effects of the breath on the postures is essential. Kundalini exercises are also called kriyas, hence the alternate name Kriya Yoga.
Bikram or Hot Yoga:
Usually referred to as Hot Yoga, this style was developed by Bikram Choudhury. It is practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room, which loosens tight muscles and creates profuse sweating. The Bikram method is a set series of 26 poses, but not all hot classes make use of this series. This style of yoga can be demanding physically.
Vinyasa or Flow Yoga:
This style is sometimes also called Flow Yoga, because of the way that the poses run together, one right after another. The student moves from one pose into the next without break, on the inhalation or exhalation. For new students, keeping up with an established flow or vinyasa class can be tricky. Vinyasa means breath-synchronized movement. It tends to be a more vigorous style. A Vinyasa class will typically start with a number of Sun Salutations to warm up the body for more intense stretching that’s done at the end of class.
Ashtanga is a fast-paced and intense style of yoga. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. This practice is very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next and the emphasis on daily practice. Ashtanga is also the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga, which is based on the flowing style of Ashtanga but varies the set series. Ashtanga yoga was promoted by Pattabi Jois, a student of T. Krishnamacharya.
Hatha Yoga is a general term that encompasses many of the traditional types of yoga. If a class is described as Hatha style, it is probably going to be slow-paced, providing a good introduction to the basic yoga poses.
So what’s the Difference?
Iyengar yoga differs in that the focus is on the student’s alignment in the posture, the precision of the body and then holding the pose for an increasing length of time. Getting into the pose is as important as staying in it and coming out of it. Iyengar yoga provides the student with a deep understanding of each pose, and the correct alignment of muscles, joints and bones. Iyengar yoga is slower than many types of more vigorous yoga, giving the student time to develop a depth of physical awareness and understanding.