Iyengar Yoga in Holland


What exactly is Iyengar yoga?

Iyengar Yoga has a long tradition in the Netherlands. This form of yoga is inspired by the legendary yogi BKS Iyengar, and has as its highest goal: unity between body, mind and spirit. This sounds like an abstract and possibly vague goal. But in Iyengar yoga we approach that goal in a very concrete way through asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques). Because you perform the postures and breathing techniques with great concentration, they form ‘meditation in action’. This approach also ensures the development of strength, flexibility, balance and inner peace. And for many practitioners, these “side effects” may be more important than that highest goal.

What is unique about Iyengar Yoga is the innovative approach. The emphasis is on precision and alignment, a well-thought-out sequence of the postures, specific timing (how long the postures are held) and the use of props, such as bolsters, blocks, straps, ropes and sandbags.

This approach to yoga allows people of different ages, health levels and fitness levels to experience the benefits of yoga.

BKS Iyengar’s influence on modern asana practice is enormous. Have you ever used a yoga block or a belt in a class? Then you have already gotten to know him a little bit.

BKS Iyengar, Moscow 2009

Who was BKS Iyengar?

BKS Iyengar was born in Bellur, India in December 1918 as a sickly child. He started practicing yoga to improve his health. He was taught yoga by his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya. This was also the teacher of Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

In 1936 Iyengar moved to Pune and began teaching yoga. There he was left to his own devices to shape his own practice and develop as a teacher. When American and European students began practicing yoga in the 1960s, Iyengar’s method also gained fame in the West. One of his famous students was the world-famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who spoke of his yoga teacher with great appreciation. Since the 1970s, Iyengar has taught students from all over the world. He traveled to Europe, South Africa, the US, Russia and China, and his students came to India from all over the world.

The institute he founded there, in Pune, the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), is still bustling with activity. The foundations of RIMYI were laid in 1975. Iyengar Yoga has been practiced in the Netherlands since the 1970s. Pioneers at that time were Dona Holleman, Agnes Mineur (click here to see a unique interview between Claas and her), and the Post sisters (Annemieke, Margriet and Maria). In 1987, the Iyengar Yoga Institute was founded in Amsterdam by Clé Souren and Nanda Peek, among others. In the beginning, BKS Iyengar assessed the teachers personally, but to ensure the quality of teaching, a system of training and assessment has been in place since the 1990s, and teachers wishing to teach Iyengar yoga are trained and assessed according to a globally standardized system .

The Iyengar family

BKI Iyengar is the author of several standard works on yoga, including Light on Yoga, which is still in print since 1966, but also Light on Pranayama and Light on Life. His daughter Geeta Iyengar (1947-1918) also had a major influence on the Iyengar method. Both through her book Yoga, a Gem for Women and through the many lessons she has given. Her contribution to the standardization of the Iyengar method has been immense.

Prashant Iyengar (son of BKS), Sunita Parthasarathy (his daughter) and Abhijata Sridhar Iyengar (his granddaughter) are currently still teaching at RIMYI. There are weekly classes, which many teachers from all over the world can also join for a month or more, and regular intensives.

How is Iyengar Yoga different from other yoga forms?

There are five salient characteristics that distinguish Iyengar Yoga from other forms of yoga:

1. Alignment

Alignment means holding the posture (asana) with respect for the boundaries of the body. You can use different props to support or challenge yourself in an asana without the risk of going too far beyond your limits.

2. Precision

Achieving alignment requires precision in practice. This precision is not primarily about the ‘geometry’ (is your knee really above your ankle), but primarily about promoting concentration and body awareness. If you are concentrated on the position of your knee in relation to your ankle, you will not be able to think about your shopping list.

Alignment and precision are not about an ‘ideal posture’ or an Instagram-worthy asana, but are characterized by an effortless effort in which you feel balance between body, breathing and mind.

3. Sequencing

The order in which the postures are practiced also plays a major role in Iyengar yoga. There is no set order, but the postures are sequenced for a specific purpose. The ultimate goal is total harmony and balance. But on the way there, everyone encounters obstacles every day, which you can try to overcome through certain yoga postures. For example, you can do sequences that focus on certain areas of your body (such as yoga for when you have back pain), sequences that give you energy (such as sun salutations, back bends or handstands), or that calm you down (such as Restorative yoga). In the training to become an Iyengar yoga teacher, a lot of attention is paid to sequencing and anatomy, so that the lessons guarantee safe and structured progress.

4. Timing

Timing refers to how long you hold the asana. In contrast to Vinyasa Yoga, for example, in Iyengar the postures are often held for longer. When you are stable in a pose, you can safely intensify the depth of the pose and work on concentration and precision. Restorative sequences are one extreme on this scale: sometimes you stay in a position for up to 10 minutes. But don’t think that you are just standing still (or lying) in an Iyengar yoga class! Sometimes you do postures briefly and quickly one after the other. But always with a specific goal in mind.

5. Use of props

Finally, those famous props. Blocks, straps, bolsters and blankets. But also the exciting ropes, and all those stools, benches and other wooden objects that you see in most Iyengar yoga studios around the world.

They support you so you can rest in a difficult position, and make poses accessible when your body really can’t bend that way. Props sharpen your attention by focusing on a specific area of your body. Challenge you by making poses more difficult. And they stimulate your creativity! It may be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you start practicing Iyengar yoga, a world will open up for you.

An Iyengar yoga class in practice: what does that look like?

During an Iyengar yoga class, the way in which postures are taught is more or less the same worldwide. The teacher selects specific asanas for a specific class to achieve a specific goal. But the “catalogue” of postures from which the teacher can choose is the same regardless of who is teaching the lesson. This means that you can easily join an Iyengar yoga class anywhere in the world.

Classes usually begin with a few moments of silence or chanting of the invocation, followed by postures to warm up. This can involve standing postures, stretching exercises such as the ‘downward dog’, but also sun salutations or handstands. Advanced postures, like that handstand, are introduced gradually, depending on the level of the group.

The teacher offers alternatives if a posture does not (yet) work, and adjusts the students’ posture for optimal alignment. Most classes involve inverted postures such as shoulderstand and headstand or variations thereof. Classes always end with Savasana (for silence and relaxation).

The teacher not only gives verbal instructions, but also uses demonstration of postures or specific actions. They can also use physical ‘cues’, through touch or through the use of props.

Benefits of Iyengar Yoga

The biggest benefit of a consistent practice of Iyengar yoga: it helps you meet the physical, mental and emotional challenges of contemporary life with strength, vitality, mobility, thoughtfulness and equanimity. But it’s not magic: you have to do it regularly and stick with it for a while.

Additional benefits that practitioners of Iyengar yoga may experience include:

  • Persistent and constant practice not only helps to tackle health problems but also to prevent them.
  • If you already have an illness or injury, Iyengar yoga is accessible so that you can practice yoga despite the bumps and cracks that you encounter in life. Through slow, well-structured practice and the use of props, everyone – from beginner to advanced – can benefit from the effect of the postures.
  • The more you practice, the more your flexibility increases.
  • By holding asanas for a long time, you can build strength and strengthen your entire body.
  • In Iyengar yoga you focus on alignment, which increases your body awareness. You know better where your body is in a room. (proprioception). Your perception of signals from your body (interoception) can also improve.
  • The emphasis on alignment helps you strengthen the muscles responsible for your posture, even outside of class. You will soon notice that you sit and stand straighter. This allows you to develop more self-confidence and energy.
  • While holding the asanas and being aware of your alignment, you should also pay attention to your breathing.
  • You also learn to ignore all your irrelevant thoughts and be in the present moment. You can see Iyengar yoga as a form of meditation in action, which helps you calm your mind.
  • Because the focus is on technique, sensitivity and adjustments and improvement within the limits of your own capabilities, Iyengar yoga can teach you to love your body as it is. If your physical and mental condition improves, this can in turn contribute to healthier lifestyle choices.

“My body is my temple, my asanas are my prayers”

– BKS Iyengar

Certified teachers: quality and reliability

Iyengar yoga is so widely accessible because the certified Iyengar yoga teachers (CIYTs) have undergone extensive training and a certification process under the supervision of experienced trainers and assessors. This ensures high-quality classes that meet strict standards in terms of safety, precision and effectiveness. These teachers have a thorough knowledge of the principles of Iyengar Yoga and can address individual student needs and limitations, creating a safe and supportive environment for personal growth and development.

Becoming a teacher within the Iyengar method takes years of dedicated practice. If you want to take this leap, teachers who came before you must guide and assess you. You may only start after you have taken regular classes with a certified teacher for at least two or preferably three consecutive years. Future teachers then follow a three-year training program in which a mentor guides them. Finally, there’s an assessment, administered by independent assessors. There, candidates demonstrate their knowledge in a written exam in teaching, anatomy and philosophy, and their skills in a practical exam consisting of a demonstration of their own practice, and a teaching exam.

The training does not stop after obtaining the first certificate: every year, certified teachers must meet a minimum number of hours of continued education. This is the condition for retaining your ‘certification mark’ (CM – see opposite). The national Iyengar Yoga Associations (such as the Iyengar Yoga Association Netherlands) supervise this. Teachers are also encouraged to further develop themselves by studying for higher levels of training. The Iyengars in Pune continue to play a major role in designing the training and certification process.

Classes with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers: experience it yourself!

Do you feel like exploring the enriching world of Iyengar yoga? Discover the depth of Iyengar yoga under guidance of our certified teachers in Utrecht. Book a class now and take the first step towards a balanced and healthy life.