Iyengar yoga is one of the most widespread yoga styles in the world, yet it is not as familiar to many as other yoga styles, such as hatha and asthanga. My first experience with Iyengar yoga was three years ago on a surf and yoga camp in Portugal, where I rocked up with a dislocated shoulder I had gotten the day before the camp started. Annoyed with myself, I was so impressed and relieved when morning yoga teacher did not bat an eyelid after hearing about my misfortune and instead said “it is ok for you to do yoga, we modify what we need to modify.” That lady was an Iyengar teacher and I was made a fan of the style there and then.
Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by BKS Iyengar (1918 – 2014), has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture and breath control. Iyengar Yoga is known for making use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asana. The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, allowing them to stay longer, minimising the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old, able and less able.
Last weekend I had the chance to participate in an Iyengar workshop. Rather than repeating second hand stories, I decided to interview our teacher Vula Bolou, a Junior Intermediate Level 3 teacher who has been a direct student of BKS Iyengar. Himself. Here is what she had to say.
In business world the concept of elevator pitch is used to describe a short sales speech, or a summary to quickly define a product, process, service or organisation and its value proposition. What would be your elevator pitch for Iyengar Yoga to somebody who has very limited knowledge of yoga all together?
Yoga is the oldest method of self-development. Iyengar yoga which is a special method developed by an Indian man called BKS Iyengar. He used asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) to make himself better in every way possible. Using this method he achieved clarity of mind and good health, reaching the age of 96. He also possibly reached higher stages of consciousness and in general lived life to the full.
What attracted you to Iyengar over other styles of yoga?
I started yoga when a friend of mine asked me to go to the gym with her and I said that I am not going to do aerobics, what else is there at the gym to do. They had hatha yoga and after a year of hatha another friend took me to a new teacher. She was teaching Iyengar and I stayed with her. I have tried other yoga methods too but my heart is with Iyengar. So I happened to find the style very early on and not through an injury or similar, which is a common path for people to come to this method.
How would you promote Iyengar to people who prefer strong and dynamic vinyasa flow-type yoga classes?
You know, I would not “sell” Iyengar yoga in a sense that if somebody really enjoys a fast paced yoga classes, they will not enjoy Iyengar class the same way. It has to come from within the individual to find something that they need, something that a faster class cannot offer. One needs to be open to the idea that maybe the asana practise can be understood better if done in a slower pace: As the practise is slower, there is just more time for everything. Iyengar yoga can bring more clarity and depth to even the simple poses such as trikonasana. In Iyengar we also use pranayama a different way than in other styles and that offers a different perspective.
Your title, Junior Intermediate Level 3, sounds a bit complicated. Can you explain that to us?
BKS Iyengar wanted to create certain rules and hierarchy in his method to the way he was teaching yoga. To become an Iyengar yoga teacher you first of all need to have had a regular practise with an Iyengar certified teacher for 3 years. After that you can take the first training that lasts 2 years. You can think of this like as a BSc-level “degree.” After that you have Junior Intermediate Level 1 for which you can apply after 18 months after the completion of your first degree and that training takes one year, followed by Intermediate level 2 and level 3 trainings. Then you have Senior Intermediate 1, 2 and 3, followed by Junior Advanced. The highest level of certification is Senior Advanced. In between the certifications you of course need to have years of personal practise, as that is in the heart of yoga – all yoga.
Thank you so much for this talk Vula! Where can we catch you teaching in the future apart from your home base Athens?
I teach regularly in the Greek Islands. In the past I have been also in Austria, the UK and India now am in the talks to go and teach in Turku, Finland and in Copenhagen. You can check www.treeofyoga.org and santorinilovesyoga.com for details.
The BKS Iyengar pictures are from the Internet, all others are mine.