Yoga is steeped in thousands of years of history and tradition. Over time, the practice has evolved, new styles have been developed, and approaches to teaching have been modified to accommodate the changing needs of practitioners.
Two traditional practices, though, have remained – Iyengar and Ashtanga.
Iyengar and Ashtanga both focus on breath (pranayama) and posture (asana), and both are rooted in the eight limbs of yoga, which direct practitioners on how to live a life of meaning and purpose. This, however, may be where the similarities end.
What is Iyengar yoga?
Iyengar yoga is based in Hatha yoga, which generally refers to a gentle style of practice. The practice, created by B.K.S. Iyengar as a way to heal from tuberculosis, is often used as therapy.
Iyengar yoga focuses on alignment and teaches that there is a “right” way to do each posture. Practitioners are guided by the teacher to focus on the nuances of each asana until proper alignment is achieved.
Realizing that every body is different, Iyengar introduced the use of props such as blankets, blocks, straps, and bolsters to help practitioners work through their challenges.
Proper Alignment For a Balanced Body and Mind
Iyengar believed that if a yogi practiced this style regularly, with attention given to proper alignment, they can achieve balance in the body — and when the body is balanced, so is the mind.
Iyengar is not a flowy style of yoga. Instead, students often rest in child’s pose between postures. But that doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” Each posture is held for extended periods while the student adjusts their body and corrects their alignment, which helps to build strength and stamina.
This style of yoga is considered ideal for anyone suffering from injury, for beginners, and even for the advanced practitioner who wants to improve their alignment and quiet their mind.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Like Iyengar, Ashtanga is also intended to calm the mind, but while doing that, it also focuses on cleansing the internal body and keeping the organs doing their jobs.
Through twists, folds, and bandhas or locks, circulation of the blood and lymph systems improve, making the body better at eliminating toxins.
The Ashtanga practice is a set sequence of postures performed in the same order every time. Each posture builds on positions that come before it, and in a way that is intended to build internal heat.
If The Body is Still, The Mind Will Follow.
Ashtanga is a form of Vinyasa yoga, which means the postures are connected through flowing movements. Each movement is done on the breath, and when the practitioner gets into the pose, they hold it for five breaths — with attention on the breath, the asana, and the drishti or gaze.
Like in Iyengar, Ashtanga teaches that if one is able to get the body to be still, the mind will follow.
Ashtanga yoga is physically and mentally demanding, and while modifications can be made to accommodate each yogi, it is often considered a more advanced practice.
Whether it’s Iyengar or Ashtanga, one consistent feature of yoga is that there’s a style that works for everyone. The goal of all yoga is to help the practitioner find a place of peace and calm.