Tag Archives: Iyengar

breathing in yoga


The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins

sutras summary

The Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters (or padas), each one focusing on a different aspect of the yogic practice. The first pada (Samadhi Pada) concentrates on the ultimate goal of yoga, known as samadhi. Samadhi is a blissful state of total meditative absorption and can only be attained through dedicated practice. In this first pada, Patanjali acknowledges the many different obstacles a sadhaka (practitioner) encounters along their sadhana (spiritual path) leading to samadhi. One might wonder why Patanjali began his writings with the final (and thus most advanced) state of the yoga practice. Iyengar believes that ‘the enticing prospect of samadhi, revealed so early in his work, serves as a lamp to draw us into yogic discipline’.

In the second pada (Sadhana Pada), Patanjali outlays the fundamentals of an eight-staged practice designed to attain the aforementioned samadhi. Known as astanga yoga, this eight-limbed practice is as familiar to us yogis as the Bible is to Christians. I won’t open a can of worms, but I will note that one of these limbs, asana, has become an enormously popular physical exercise in Western society, and is what most people think about when they hear the term ‘yoga’.

In the third pada (Vibhuti Pada), Patanjali whispers of extraordinary powers a yogi can potentially earn through a dedicated practice of astanga yoga (some of these special skills include the reading of minds and walking on water). Patanjali warns the reader, however, that a sadhaka can become enamored by these special abilities and stray from their sadhana, thus inducing ego. He further states that a perfect yogi will refuse to exercise his powers and maintain a steady focus on their sadhana.

The fourth and final pada (Kaivalya Pada) expounds upon the sadhaka’s soul once he has reached the state of samadhi. Samadhi Pada describes yoga’s final state, but it doesn’t exactly describe the personality of an enlightened yogi. What does a yogi do once he has attained samadhi? Kaivalya Pada explains just that. In a sense, it is a manual for ultimate spiritual living.

Excerpt from goodyoga.com blog post Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

ultimate freedom

Ultimate freedom means complete freedom in the body, in the mind, and in the Self itself. In order to experience this total freedom, Indian saints and sages introduced the subject of yoga. Yoga is that union of body with mind and mind with soul…so this trinity of man are brought together, that he may live in a state of peace and poise. Yoga is a means for feedom and yoga is the end in feedom itself.

-BKS Iyengar

iyengar yoga


Born in 1918, B.K.S. Iyengar began teaching yoga in 1936, after studying with the yoga guru Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India, in an effort to improve his health while suffering from tuberculosis. He continues to practice and teach today, assisted by his son Prashant and daughter Geeta, at his Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. His methods are also taught at Iyengar institutes throughout the world, and at many yoga centers. In addition to developing and popularizing his style of practice, Iyengar’s books are highly respected and have become classic yoga texts. Chief among them is Light on Yoga, first published in 1966, which describes and illustrates hundreds of yoga poses and many breathing techniques. His other important books include Light on Pranayama, which focuses on breath work, and Light on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is a translation and interpretation of the ancient Yoga Sutras, from which Iyengar drew the philosophical groundwork for his method of yoga. His most recent book, Light on Life, addresses the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga.

Iyengar’s method, a form of hatha yoga, is based on giving primacy to the physical alignment of the body in the poses. In the this school, it is taught that there is a correct way to do each pose, and that every student will one day be able to attain perfect poses through consistent practice. Once this balance is created in the body, it will be reflected in the mind. One of Iyengar’s major innovations is in the use of props. Today it is quite common to see blankets, blocks, straps, pillows, chairs, and bolsters being used in yoga studios. The use of these props is comparatively new in the history of yoga and comes directly from Iyengar. The purpose of the props is to assist the student in attaining ideal alignment, even if the body is not yet open enough.

Vinyasa flow is a term used in yoga to describe the fluid transition from one pose to the next in conjunction with either an inhale or exhale of breath. Iyengar-style yoga includes very little vinyasa flow. Instead, poses are held for longer durations while the alignment is perfected. Between poses, students rest in child’s pose or corpse pose. Therefore, Iyengar yoga is not as intense a cardiovascular experience as a more flowing style such as Ashtanga. Holding the poses, however, is strenuous, builds strength, and is excellent for increasing flexibility. The absence of vinyasa flow is another reason why the Iyengar method brings yoga within reach of a broad population. It’s a great place to start for people who are not physically fit enough to do a flowing style practice. This includes people who are ill, elderly, and overweight. Iyengar is one of the most popular styles of yoga worldwide.

Don’t get the idea that an Iyengar class will be easy, even though the style of practice is adaptable to different levels. Iyengar is also very appealing to more advanced yogis who want to work on their alignment. People who are very meticulous, technical, have an interest in anatomy, and an appreciation of subtle movements in the body may enjoy Iyengar-style practice. Even if you never take an Iyengar class, his influence is so prevalent today you will surely encounter it in the way poses are taught and props are used across the yoga spectrum.

Excerpts from About.com Article Iyengar Yoga by Ann Pizer

3 gurus, 48 questions



Desikachar: Yoga is a relationship. It is
not that the body is not important—
the body is very important; it is the
temple—but a transformation in the
body cannot happen without a good
relationship with the mind. Whatever
happens in the body affects the mind
and whatever happens in the mind
affects the body. And whatever happens
in the emotional body affects the mind,
as well. But the essence of yoga is often
not taught through the body. What is
essential and needs to be taught is the
spirit of yoga, and that people don’t
Iyengar: Refer to my books and CD.
Asanas are not meant for physical
fitness, but for conquering the elements,
energy, and so on. So, how to balance
the energy in the body, how to control
the five elements, how to balance the
various aspects of the mind without
mixing them all together, and how to be
able to perceive the difference between
the gunas [qualities], and to experience
that there is something behind them,
operating in the world of man—that is
what asanas are for. The process is slow
and painstaking, but a steady inquiry
facilitates a growing awareness.
Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is one. God is one.
Yoga means sambandaha, which is atma
manah samyogah, or knowing God
inside you. But using it only for physical
practice is no good, of no use—just a
lot of sweating, pushing, and heavy
breathing for nothing. The spiritual
aspect, which is beyond the physical, is
the purpose of yoga. When the nervous
system is purified, when your mind rests
in the atman [the Self], then you can
experience the true greatness of yoga.



Origins of Virabhadrasana

Shiva: Shiva and family with Nandi
















Shiva and his family at the burning ground.  Parvati, Shiva’s wife, holds Skanda while watching Ganesa (left) and Shiva string together the skulls of the dead.  The bull Nandi rests behind the tree.  Kangra painting, 18th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Kumara sambhava ( Sanskrit: “Birth of Kumara”) is an epic poem by Kalidasa written in the 5th century ce. The work describes the courting of the ascetic Shiva, who is meditating in the mountains, by Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas; the conflagration of Kama (the god of desire)—after his arrow struck Shiva—by the fire from Shiva’s third eye; the wedding and lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati; and the subsequent birth of Kumara (Skanda), the war god.

Virabhadrasana is commonly known as Warrior Pose.  In Light on Yoga, Iyengar tells the story of Kumara sambhava, which he gives as the origin of this asana’s name:

Daksa once celebrated a great sacrifice, but he did not invite his daughter Sati nor her husband Siva, the chief of the gods. Sati, however, went to the sacrifice, but being greatly humiliated and insulted threw herself into the fire and perished. When Siva heard this he was gravely provoked, tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground. A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders. He was told to lead Siva’s army against Daksa and destroy his sacrifice. Virabhadra and his army appeared in the midst of Daksa’s assembly like a hurrican and destroyed the sacrifice, routed the other gods and priests and beheaded Daksa. Siva in grief for Sati withdrew to Kailas and plunged into meditation. Sati was born again as Uma in the house of Himalaya. She strove once more for the love of Siva and ultimately won his heart. The story is told by Kalidasa in his great poem Kumara sambhava (The Birth of the War-Lord).

Sreenivasarao S. provides additional insight into the mythological Virabhadra:

  • Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).
  • Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever  attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly.  He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued.  Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice.
  • Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act.  Virabhadra, the action-hero, personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.
  • The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara.  The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders.  Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled in performing rituals’, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures.  Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded.  Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society.  He refused to conform to the ways of the world.

historical lineage of asana

Historical Lineage of Asana

The other highly influential figure in the development of modern asana practice in 20th-century India was, of course, T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who studied at Kuvalayananda’s institute in the early 1930s and went on to teach some of the most influential global yoga teachers of the 20th century, like B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar. Krishnamacharya was steeped in the traditional teachings of Hinduism, holding degrees in all six darshanas (the philosophical systems of orthodox Hinduism) and Ayurveda. But he was also receptive to the needs of his day, and he was not afraid to innovate, as evidenced by the new forms of asana practice he developed during the 1930s. During his tenure as a yoga teacher under the great modernizer and physical culture enthusiast Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, the maharajah of Mysore, Krishnamacharya formulated a dynamic asana practice, intended mainly for India’s youth, that was very much in line with the physical culture zeitgeist. It was, like Kuvalayananda’s system, a marriage of hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement, and unlike anything seen before in the yoga tradition.

Mark Singleton holds a PhD in divinity from Cambridge University. He is the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.


Iyengar, in his English translation of and commentary to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, defines sādhanā in relation to abhyāsa and kriyā:

Sādhanā is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. Abhyāsa is repeated practice performed with observation and reflection. Kriyā, or action, also implies perfect execution with study and investigation. Therefore, sādhanā, abhyāsa, and kriyā all mean one and the same thing. A sādhaka, or practitioner, is one who skillfully applies…mind and intelligence in practice towards a spiritual goal.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1993, 2002). Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Hammersmith, London, UK: Thorsons. ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4 p.22