Why do yoga?
Every practitioner will answer this differently because the benefits are so varied. The most well known benefits are improved physical strength and flexibility. Yoga is also powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition to all of these benefits, what I love most about yoga is the sense of internal connectedness it creates. It feels like a loving intermingling of body, mind, and breath. It is as if every cell of the body is being nourished and revitalized. With practice, this feeling of contentment can be accessible any time, anywhere.
When body, mind, and breath work in unison, they become a powerful vehicle for manifesting our deepest desires. Yoga is not only a way to get fit and de-stress, but can also be a tool for creating a life you love.
How is Iyengar yoga unique?
Iyengar yoga has a reputation for being very focused on alignment. It is true: we give very precise instructions about how to align the bones, which muscles to contract and which to release and so forth. This makes Iyengar yoga attractive to practical, detail oriented people. It is also beneficial to those with injuries, as Iyengar yoga is the original “therapeutic yoga”.
Sometimes Iyengar yoga is criticized for being too focused on the physical body, for not being very “spiritual”. Once you start practicing regularly, it becomes apparent that there are benefits that transcend the physical. When we refer to “alignment,” it is not just structural alignment, but also alignment of the body, mind, and spirit. In yoga philosophy, these elements are described as five layers of self, or “koshas,” and the goal is to bring them into alignment. When the various aspects of oneself are connected and aligned, all of one’s faculties can work together toward a common goal. If the body is not cooperating, the mind is not present, or there is a disconnect between the two, it is more of a struggle to complete tasks.
Here is one way in which I have experienced “aligning” of the layers of self:
As a beginning student, I would hear instructions such as “roll the inner thighs back, tuck the tailbone, and lift the side ribs” What??? This made absolutely no sense at first. I tried, but my body did not know how to do it. I kept at it, and then one day it clicked: all of sudden my body knew how to do it. I could suddenly feel more space and freedom in my hips and low back. It was my first concrete experience of having created a new connection between my mind and body, and it felt wonderful! This process of connecting mind and body is sometimes referred to as “building intelligence in the body”. It feels like areas of darkness, ignorance in the body are suddenly brought to light and become part of the whole.