Read these 5 Iyengar Yoga Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Yoga tips and hundreds of other topics.
Backbends are among the most challenging yoga postures for most people because we spend so much of our daily lives in a forward-bending position. If you spend much of your workday hunched in front of a computer, you probably have chronic tightness in the upper back, chest, and shoulders. Backbends can help release that tightness, and most iyengar yoga classes include some type of back bend.
The cobra pose is one of the most basic backbends and most yoga beginners can manage it. When done correctly it opens the chest and promotes a strong spine.
Start by lying face down on your mat. Bend your elbows and place your palms next to your armpits. Inhale, and press your palms into the floor to help engage your back muscles as your raise your chest and head. Try to hold for five breaths.
If you have lower back pain, spread your legs wider than your hips. Otherwise, keep your legs together with the tops of your feet pressing into the floor.
To make the cobra more challenging, place your palms farther down your torso, close to your navel, before you lift up.
Triangle pose (utthita trikonasana) is a popular pose in iyengar yoga classes because it promotes alignment by stretching the sides of the spine and the muscles between the ribs, as well as the muscles of the legs and hips. Some style points for fine-tuning your triangle include the following:
-Keep the heel of your front foot in line with the arch of your back foot. The front foot points straight ahead and the back foot is at a 45-degree angle. Starting with the right side, place your right foot in front of you, raise your arms to a T shape and reach your right arm down to your right shin.
-Extend through the back of the knee of the back leg. Many people have a tendency to forget the back leg, but keep both legs and both feet equally active and grounded into the floor.
-Rotate from the hips, and then rotate through the chest. The head should be the last part of the body to turn towards the ceiling, and if your neck bothers you, it's OK to gaze at the floor in this pose. Try to stack your shoulders so they form a line perpendicular to the floor.
Iyengar yoga classes have a stronger element of yoga meditation than ashtanga or power yoga classes. As a method of yoga meditation, many instructors encourage students to practice ujjayi pranayama, or “victorious breath,” a style of breathing deeply and evenly through the upper nasal passages. Your mouth should remain closed, but you should be able to hear your breath. If you are doing it right, you'll sound like Darth Vader. Focusing on the breath helps you build confidence that you can hold the poses and move deeper into them.
In addition, iyengar instructors promote yoga meditation by telling students where to focus their gaze, or drishti, in certain postures. For example, in downward-facing dog, a teacher may say that the drishti is between the feet, so you are gazing back under your body, with your head dropped. Knowing the drishti can help with your focus, especially in an iyengar class, in which poses tend to be held for longer periods than in an ashtanga class. In tree pose, for example, a drishti is a point on the wall that is not moving. Gazing at a fixed point can help you keep your balance. Drishti is less about looking at something and more about looking through it. If you're doing drishti correctly, you'll have a slightly vacant-looking stare.
If you have tight hamstrings, using a belt or strap for reclining big toe pose (supta padangusthasana) and you will experience a wonderful stretch in your hamstrings and calves. Many people are flexible enough to reach their big toes while lying flat on their backs with one leg extended, without letting the back come up from the floor, but just as many people are not that flexible.
Here's the fix:
Start by lying flat on your back with your legs straight out ahead of you and your feet flexed. Bend your left leg and bring your knee towards your chest. Wrap the yoga strap around your left foot and slowly extend your left leg so it is perpendicular towards the floor. Hold the strap in both hands and pull on it gently, to ease left leg towards your chest. Don't bounce, jerk, or pull too hard, and remember to extend through the back of the knee of the left leg. Carefully release the leg to the floor and repeat for the other leg. If you are frugal, you don't have to buy an official yoga strap. An old necktie works fine, as does a bathrobe belt or a rolled-up towel.
The Iyengar style of yoga encourages the use of props. You can use blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, or anything you can think of, in order to help you get the best alignment you can in any given pose that provides extra leverage and stability. If you find that props are helpful in a class, you can buy blocks, straps, and other yoga accessories from many websites or sport and health stores to use at home.
But props have their drawbacks. Don't get overconfident and go too far in a posture because you have the advantage of a prop; you can still become injured if you go beyond your body's limits. Also, if you only practice with props, you can come to rely on them, which hampers your progress and improvement. Props have their place, but put them aside periodically and challenge yourself to find the alignment on your own.