It has happened a few times recently that yoga teachers and students alike have commented on the fact that Iyengar Yoga seems to be ‘stuck in the past’ whereas other yoga methods appear to be very modern and fresh in their approach.
Surprised by these passing and matter-of-factly observations, I started to reflect on them and I came up with a few reasons why it is certainly not the case in my view, that Iyengar Yoga is old fashioned and needs modernising.
I assume that those who hold this opinion might just have in mind, as a point of reference, BKS Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga (LOY). It was published in 1966, its images were revolutionary when the book came out and they are still striking now for their beauty and mastery shown in the execution of the poses. At the time, the descriptions and detailed instructions accompanying each postures represented a novel approach to teaching yoga. The book was for many reasons the apex in yoga-related publications. However for the development of Iyengar Yoga, as it’s known now, it became on the other hand, the starting point for further developments.
Thanks to the progressive minds of Guruji Iyengar and his family as well as their openness and willingness to interact with and help their increasing number of students, poses, sequences, and ways in which to practice them grew steadily and organically. And they are continuing to do so….
Can you see a prop in LOY, or any of the now-ubiquitous yoga tools, in any of the images? No. Or almost…This is because they were fully developed later. Even the sticky mat. Moreover the familiar bricks, belts, chairs, all developed by Guruji Iyengar, were only the start. Many other tools like wooden wedges, metal rods, stools and bandages have continued to come out of the active mind of Guruji Iyengar and his family. As soon as a pre-existing support was not quite enough in helping a student to move further on his yoga journey, some other prop would be invented. Some of these aids have become mainstream, some others are to be found only at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in India.
Have you heard of Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana? No? Well it’s not in LOY! Since the 60s, more poses have been developed and many more familiar poses have been modified with dozens of ad hoc versions to suit specific people and conditions.
It may be a surprise to you to know that Guruji Iyengar started his yoga path with ‘Vinyasa krama’, but via constant yoga study and practice, as well as the meeting of many students over decades, he changed his approach in order to make yoga asanas more accessible to a wider audience, and more importantly, to all ages. So, to a certain extent, a vinyasa-type of yoga is the past! At the same time, a flow of yoga poses, or ‘jumpings’, is actually very much practiced in Iyengar Yoga, but not exclusively.
BKS Iyengar published many more books and articles since LOY. Topics vary from detailed aspects of yoga poses to yoga philosophy, from Pranayama to advice on teaching yoga. This is another concrete testament to his active and inquisitive mind but also to his determination to share his knowledge with all. The Iyengar Yoga library is constantly growing and becoming richer and richer with contributions from his children, Gita and Prashant Iyengar, as well as from Iyengar Yoga teachers world-wide.
The only way to be fully up-to-date with developments and changes within Iyengar Yoga is by going to visit the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. And regularly. Even as an Iyengar Yoga teacher I am always amazed by how fresh, new and constantly-developing Iyengar yoga is every time I go to India.
Curiosity, evolution, modernity and creativity are all within Iyengar Yoga. They all stem from the sincere and intense practice of Yoga, the only constant.