B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the most famous yoga instructors in the world. He is so famous, in fact, that this entire movement of yoga was named for him after he reenergized over 200 classical yoga styles. Though he recently passed, you can still visit areas in India where his practice is still pumping lifeblood into the universe. Iyengar is responsible for introducing hundreds of thousands (some argue millions) of students to this ancient Hatha practice and for making yoga as powerful as it is today.
Iyengar developed many styles of yoga though he is most prominently known for asanas (posture) and pranayamas (breathing). These styles of yoga increase your strength, your balance and your flexibility, all while working to restore your sore muscles and organs.
After a long week and, for some, a long day, restorative yoga can be an excellent way to realign your chakras, balance your chi, and re-oxygenate your blood. Many people tend to look for quick and easy ways to boost their energy and focus, and yoga can surely be done quickly and be very beneficial, but restorative yoga is meant to help slow down the body and mind and bring you back to a state free from chaos and distraction.
Restorative yoga should be practiced at least once a week. This ritual will help your muscles heal after being put through the trauma that any kind of fitness can bring. Yoga is also a highly beneficial practice for those recovering from addiction as it helps heal the damage done to the liver and other organs. Restorative yoga is about stillness — in mind and in body. It is about reconnecting your mind to the world around you and reestablishing the connection between your body and the Earth.
Inverting is one of the oldest practices in yoga, going back to 3000 B.C. when yogis would string each other up by their feet to help promote increased blood flow and circulation. Iyengar yoga practices inversions in a much more strict fashion than simply hanging upside down, though yoga swings are often installed to help people achieve a full inversion and work in a similar fashion.
These asanas require the hips to be elevated above the heart to improve blood flow from your lower half to your upper half. After you’ve spent an entire day right-side up, being upside down can feel a little shocking, but the organ benefits are extremely positive. Asanas like salamba sirsasana (headstands) and shoulder stands increase strength, flexibility, balance and blood flow.
Inverted poses help the body regain balance as well as improve strength. When your body turns upside down, blood is forced back to your heart and brain where it pools, submerging your organs in freshly oxygenated blood. When you return right-side up the blood then drains back your legs. It’s as if your organs got a shower and now feel all clean and healthy.
Folding chairs are another important tool for any Iyengar yogi. Chairs help your body balance when you practice asanas that work toward flexibility and strength like parivrtta trikonasana and virabhadrasana. These poses use the chair to help increase flexibility as well as position joints in a fashion that builds strength instead of damaging cartilage.
Asanas using chairs can also be beneficial for inverted poses like viparita karani and sarvangasana. These poses benefit the organs in similar fashions to standard inversions, particularly the digestive organs.
Chair inversions allow the torso to level causing blood to, again, pool in your digestive tract around the liver, kidneys and intestines. Holding the pose long enough allows the blood to revitalize the organs and improve oxygen levels. Healthy, oxygenated organs work more efficiently to help regulate the body and improve overall health and wellness.
There are two major styles of wall poses in Iyengar yoga: freestanding walls poses and rope wall poses. Rope wall poses are probably the most popular because they often allow your body to leave the ground and suspend in the air, allowing for maximum flexibility. The rope wall also helps improve balance by giving you an extra tool to lean on should you feel the sudden urge to fall from the asana.
Rope walls also offer both inverted and non-inverted styles of poses, from the tadasana purvottanasana to chatushpadasana. Both styles are extremely beneficial to your organ health because they, like chair poses and inversions, allow for increased blood flow and increased oxygen. After practicing Iyengar yoga, your organs feel nourished and energized and work harder to keep you healthier and fight off disease.
Bolsters are commonly used in many different styles of yoga to do exactly what they are named for: they bolster your body to increase flexibility and range of motion. Iyengar yoga uses bolsters in many fashions, from intense cardiovascular poses to relaxing restorative asanas.
Bolsters are essentially, thick, rounded and rather firm pillows. When placed in the proper location on your body during a pose, they can help increase your range of motion by challenging your previous standards of your own flexibility.
Bolsters and other tools like bricks and straps are implemented to help improve your body’s alignment to be sure you are not causing damage to your spine when you do forward and back bends.
Though Iyengar yoga is seen as one of the most beneficial styles of yoga for overall health and wellness, there are many styles of yoga to choose from. The most important thing yogis need to remember is choosing a practice that is right for them.
Some practices are more challenging that others, Iyengar being a perfect example of this, so making sure you have chosen a yoga routine that is beneficial to your body will ensure that you can practice forever. After all, my last yoga instructor was 68 and spent the majority of class instructing from a head stand.
If you devote enough time and practice to Iyengar yoga, you will find your body and your organs in peak physical condition, opening up an endless world of fitness possibilities.