Explore the Legacy
This website is written as a means to assist in the self-practice of yoga asanas for all students of yoga. It is meant to be used as a tool to inspire you to constantly improve and experience the evolution of your yoga sadhana (practice).
The information is recorded from our own practice, but is based on the inspiration of our teachers and yoga Masters, BKS Iyengar, Geeta and Prashant Iyengar (Pune, India).
The sequences compiled do not follow any pattern but are worked out according to a systematic study and experience of sequencing. Please note that the timings are based on our practice - you can adapt these sequences to suit your own needs. It should be said that rather than leave out parts of the sequence due to time restraints, it is suggested that you lessen the time held in the asana.
If you are unsure of the name an asana in the sequences, please write to me and I will gladly assist.
Most of the asanas are from the Introductory level and therefore suitable for all levels of students who have some experience of the postures.
The philosophy of this approach to sequencing is published in the "Basic guidelines for teachers of yoga" by BKS and Geeta Iyengar. When considering the right sequencing of asanas, one has to first understand the capacity of students of yoga who lack awareness in the body and mind. Thus one starts by becoming aware of one's own body's movements, stability, capacity, coordination, flexibility, and firmness. Also, you will get to know your own muscular/skeletal, organic and neuromuscular body.
The practice of asana is introduced in such a way, that the student works with each part, region and various systems of the body.
One must also be aware of general concepts regarding a sequence of yoga poses; they include a sequence that should not irritate the nervous system, appropriate preparation for inversions and backward extension, and their order of learning. You should also know which asanas produce heat or coolness; stimulate or abate; energize; activate or relax; are simple or complex and are commonly practiced at the beginning or the end of the session.
These basic principles of learning have been taken into account, and it is taken as a given that the student using our sequences has some understanding of his/her own abilities and limitations. It is also understood that this is not meant to replace your attendance with your teacher, but merely to enhance and stimulate your self-practice.
"We hope that these sequences, based on our experience and ideas, will be of some value, and that its flaws will serve to stimulate others to do better."
Yogacharya (master teacher), BKS Iyengar was recognized as one of the worlds’ foremost exponents of yoga. He became known in the West through his classic text Light on Yoga, first published in 1966 and never out of print since then. Gradually, during the years following the book’s publication, the term “Iyengar Yoga” came into use. Mr. Iyengar has said: “My pupils, who follow me call it Iyengar Yoga to distinguish it from the teachings of others. Though I am rational, I am tradition bound and sentimental. What I do is pure, authentic, traditional yoga. The sutras I tech is purely Ashtanga Yoga knows as the eight limbs of Yoga, expounded by Patanjali in his 196 terse Sutras.” Yoga traditionally lays great emphasis on practice – sadhana. At the age of 93 (December 2011), BKS Iyengar has not in any sense “retired.”
Each morning for two to three hours, he does his extraordinary personal practice, in the hall of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute (RIMYI), alongside his pupils, while most afternoons he can be found in the library, attending to correspondence, researching and writing. Through his own rigorous practice, careful study of the earliest available texts, and instructions to hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world, BKS Iyengar has reached back to the roots of yoga and brought forth a revitalization of this ancient knowledge. He has methodically practiced each yoga asana (posture), pinpointing its purpose and discovering how it works, so that each individual part of the body may function to its full potential. A demanding teacher, BKS Iyengar guides his students to practice asanas in different ways to understand not just how, but why and what happens when you do an asana. He stresses the importance of the proper sequencing of the asana practice, so the body is completely nourished and the mind quieted and focused. Yogacharya BKS Iyengar is renowned throughout the world for his knowledge of his therapeutic approach to yoga, and his innovative use of supports or “props” – ropes, pillows, bolsters, wooden blocks, sticks, benches, mats, and blankets. He has worked with Western doctors in the fields of heart and immune disease, spinal, orthopedic problems adapting and modifying classical postures so that the patients’ ailments and stiff bodies could be supported in asanas without strain or risk of further damage. Sporting teams, dancers, musicians, and many others have been helped in recovering from injury and illness while at the same time, increasing mobility and concentration.
BKS Iyengar is acknowledged as having been instrumental in bringing yoga to the West, by showing that yoga is open to all, regardless of age, race, creed, social background or infirmity. His contribution to yoga from the very early years of his teaching has been acknowledged by many awards including in 2002, the highest civic award was given by the Government of India, the Padma Bhushan Award. In 2004 he was also named in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the world. A philanthropist for many years, he recently established a trust to build facilities in his home village of Bellur, for young people to learn trades. Having taken yoga to the West, his dream now is to bring yoga to the villages of India. A prolific writer of books, essays, and discourses, his first book Light on Yoga, has been translated into 16 languages including Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Dutch, French, Italian, German, Korean and Ukrainian. He has also written – Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Light on Ashtanga Yoga and his latest Yogamala which contains collections of his writings and interviews.
Understanding the Principles behind “Iyengar Yoga”
by Prashant Iyengar
In the year 1998, Prashantji paid tribute to Guruji on the occasion of Guru Purnima, through a talk entitled as “Yoga: Or System” (Yoga Vaani No 69 June 2002). In his talk, he very clearly and precisely articulated as to “What is Iyengar Yoga.” And the unique features of the system (of Iyengar yoga) being precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and use of props. Today, be observes that many of the practitioners are being so obsessed with these features, that they are forgetting the principles behind them. In this article, we clarify the common misunderstanding of these features and an explanation behind the principles of Iyengar Yoga practice.
Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar
1944 - 2018
Yoga is symmetry – BSK Iyengar
Before Prashantji gave these talks on our system, we as Iyengar Yoga students would often fumble when asked ‘what is Iyengar Yoga?” It is yoga as practiced by Guruji Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. If we were asked to specify in what way it was different from ‘other’ styles of yoga, then we would be unclear in our responses. Many of us had never done ‘other’ forms of yoga and knew yoga as Iyengar yoga. Many of us had never bothered to study the yoga texts to be able to articulate what was so unique about Iyengar yoga and in what way it authenticated what was stated in the ancient texts. So, Prashantji felt it necessary that we clearly know what we are practicing or supposed to practice and so clearly articulates the unique features o “Iyengar Yoga.”
Today, five years later, if any Iyengar Yoga teacher is asked to express what is so unique about Iyengar Yoga then he would have difficulties in expressing that “Iyengar Yoga” is characterized by precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and the use of props.” Unfortunately, as Prashantji again clarifies, that we have become so obsessed with these “4 unique features”, that we have forgotten the principles behind them. By doing this we are only looking at Iyengar Yoga superficially and not at the real teachings of Guruji. The situation is analogous to many rituals, which are common in many civilizations. There was logic, rationale, a reason behind each of these rituals. The principle behind these ceremonies is lost over the years.
For example, it was very common to have elaborate rituals signifying important milestones in human life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death in most civilizations. These “rituals” are now often ridiculed, considered unscientific or superstitious and often looked down upon by so-called intellectuals. These elaborate rituals were basically a preparation for a major change. It would give individuals time to absorb and prepare themselves with the new phase entering their life so that the transition would be smoother. Imagine a death in the family. The interactions with friends and family during these rituals that follow give the near and dear ones time to accept and absorb the loss. Otherwise, the psychological trauma of death in the absence of any support system could lead to the collapse of the surviving individual.
Today, Prashantji notices that many “unique nesses” of Iyengar Yoga are turning into rituals and we are forgetting the principles behind these. If we do not go to the roots of these unique features of Iyengar Yoga then what is today considered the “strength” of Iyengar Yoga would lead o our own downfall and also ridicule of our system. And, this would only happen because we are interpreting Iyengar Yoga from our superficial understanding and not the depth to which Iyengar Yoga really is!
Precision and alignment:
Precision and alignment in the practice of the various asanas form the hallmark of Iyengar Yoga. If legs are to be straight then they have to be absolutely straight. If the legs are to be bent at the knees, then they should be a right angle between the thigh and the calf. There has to be an alignment between the inner and outer wrist, when the hands are lifted up in Urdhva Hastasana, between the left and right leg in Tadasana and Sirsasana; how the weight has to be equally distributed on the front and back of the foot in Tadasana.
Even the junior-most Iyengar Yoga teacher would start emphasizing precision and alignment in his/her very first Iyengar Yoga class. However, some of the teachers are getting obsessed with “precision and alignment” of the body to the point of ridicule and are forgetting the reason why Guruji insists on precision. The precision is not just for the geometrical presentation of the structure of the body!
The precision in the asana is not merely meant for the alignment of the part, but for the proper functioning of the human being. If the body is aligned with precision then the breath is aligned with that same precision, if the breath is balanced then the mind, emotions, and senses get balanced. We have to study the connections of how these precise adjustments work on the entire human being.
If we are asked to spread and create space between the metatarsals in Tadasana – it is not just t align the inner and outer foot for the sake of the foot. Even a first-time practitioner would realize that extending the foot leads to a firm grip on the quadriceps which more closer to the thigh bone. A firmness in the thighs leads to a sharpness and lift in the gastric and lower abdominal region (which is the samanic and apanic region). This, in turn, elates the thoracic and pranic region; the breathing automatically becomes deeper and rhythmic with corresponding changes to the senses, mind, and emotions. So the precision and alignment should be accompanied by a study on the effects on the breath and the mind. As a practitioner progresses, he/she needs to learn how the senses, the mind, and the breath have to and should be utilized to align the body.
Iyengar Yoga practitioners are known for their “ability” to stay for a prolonged duration of time in different asanas. For a beginner, it does mean developing a will-power and is essential in the early stages of practice. However, one has to evolve beyond the realms of external force i.e. will. As Guruji has explained in his talk on citishakti, one should evolve one’s practices whereby one performs an asana not merely by the external force of power of the mind, but the practice should be such that one intrinsically wants to stay in the asana. It is that atma (citti) which gets to you to perform the asana. Then, naturally sthirata (stability) and sukhata (gladness) come in an asana. One should not be staying in the asanas just because ones’ neighbour is doing so or stay in the pose because the clock demands.
One should stay in the asana as long as one is contemplative, reflective in that asana so that one becomes meditative in whatever asana one is performing. We may extend our chronological duration of staying in the asana, but at the cost of quality. Such a practice has no meaning but is in fact detrimental.
Sage Patanjali also mentions that asanas are mastered when prayatna becomes saithilya. So we need to stay in an asana such that the effort required to perform it minimizes. So, we may stay for the same amount of chronological time, but the effort required to maintain it should be diminished. As Prashantji has often mentioned in class “Do not inspire till you expire.”
The performance of an asana includes going into, staying and coming out of the asana. We tend not to give enough emphasis to coming out of the asana. For us, the asana ends with the staying phase. We extend the chronological time to out stay to such an extent that we have no energies left to thoughtfully come out of the asana. It is like utilizing all one’s energies and resources while going up the mountain and having nothing left to come down.
As Iyengar Yoga practitioners, we are aware that it is not just the asana but how you perform them, how long you perform them and also the sequence in which they are performed, which determines the effect of these asanas. The sequence in which the asanas are performed is determined by various factors. These include the purpose of practice, the weather, and time of day, the health status of the practitioner and the level of practice. With over 200 asanas, there can be any number of permutations and combinations. However, there are certain thumb rules. For example, Sarvangasana is never practiced before Sirsasana. Practice generally ends with Savasana or any other such relaxing asanas. Unfortunately, some students and teachers are tending to go overboard with the concept of sequences. They think that sequences are like mantras. One sequence for one disease. One sequence for one individual. It was quite amusing when a foreign student at the Institute felt that she was not taught at the RIMYI as she had not given HER sequence. Although she was attending classes by Geetaji and Prashantji for over a month! It is important to reiterate here that one needs to understand the principles behind sequencing rather than memorizing the sequence alone! Repeating a sequence taught at the Institute will not essentially lead to the same effect.
Props have been a fruit of Guruji’s innovative genius. It is because of the prop that people of all ages and health status can perform asanas with ease and attain benefits of the practice of yoga. As Guruji explained during his presentation during his 85th birthday celebrations, one should not be using a prop only as a crutch or support, but learn from the prop.
Hierarchy in practice:
One of the most important aspects of Iyengar Yoga is a hierarchy of practice. A beginner may be taught Trikonasana in his first-class while Guruji also practiced Trikonasana after 70 years. Both these are asanas are Trikonasana, but the quality of the asana is totally different. For a beginner, the asana is totally on the skeletal plane, whilst Guruji’s Trikonasana would be in a state of meditation in Trikonasana. A beginner’s Trikonasana would be controlled and guided by teacher whists Guruji’s Trikonasana would be guided by his citti.
Thus, as students of Iyengar Yoga, we have to practice asanas and progress in the hierarchy of our practice. We should align our sharira. It is imperative to mention here that sharira which is loosely translated as body in English, in reality, encompasses our breath, mind, senses, intellect, and emotions. So although we start with physical alignment, we have to progress to include the complete meaning of sharira.
We should evolve so as to time our practices not only by the clock but to perform them to attain sthirata and sukhata with the practice being progressively being governed by the will, mind, breath, intelligence and finally the citti.
If and only if we understand the principles behind the unique features of Iyengar Yoga, will we be able to progress in the hierarchy in our practice: which is the fifth important aspect of Iyengar Yoga.
© 2020 BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre, Oudtshoorn. All rights reserved.