Monday, June 3, 2013

Iyengar Yoga at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor

When I first started taking yoga classes, in 1993, Iyengar Yoga was the most commonly taught method of hatha yoga in Ann Arbor, and in much of the country.   Times have changed, and there are many other methods and styles being taught in Ann Arbor and around the country.   All are a form of hatha yoga, which refers to the physical practice of yoga (if you know anything about yoga philosophy, you'll remember that the physical practice is only a part of the entire practice of yoga).

Different styles of yoga will appeal to different types of people.  What is so special about Iyengar Yoga?

First of all, Iyengar Yoga is named after B.K.S. Iyengar, who is currently 94 years old, and still practices yoga including the asanas (albeit in a much more supported manner) in his home city of Pune, Maharashtra, India.   He would be quick to tell you that he didn't name this style, but his students gave it this name to differentiate it from other methods that are taught.

A main feature of Iyengar Yoga is that it places a very strong emphasis of learning and practicing good alignment in the yoga postures, or asanas.  Besides allowing us to more effectively and safely stretch and strengthen our muscles, to create more freedom of movement in our joints, and healthy space for our organs, this practice also develops our awareness - first of our own bodies and where we are in space, and then it starts to extend to what we are doing in other areas of our lives.   As we learn to move consciously into and out of the yoga asanas, we also learn to move consciously throughout our daily lives, so we can respond intelligently to what life throws us.

We often use props to help us move into better alignment and to give us extra support.  We may use blankets, blocks, straps, chairs, or the wall to help support our bodies in the poses.   If your hamstrings are tight, and you can't touch your hands to the floor in a standing forward bend and still keep your legs straight, you might take your hands to blocks or a chair instead.   If your hips are tight and sitting with an upright spine is difficult, you'd sit up on blankets to bring better alignment to the spine and more ease to the pose.  Also holding the pose for longer, in a supported manner, deepens the effects of the pose.

If you are just looking for a good aerobic workout, Iyengar Yoga may not be for you, although it will depend on the nature of the particular class.   Typically the classes I teach don't have an aerobic component, but there is emphasis on learning how to move toward a fuller representation of each
yoga pose within your own physical capabilities.   You'll become stronger and more flexible with this practice.

If you want to experience an Iyengar Yoga class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor, check our class schedule and class descriptions.   A Level 1 class is great for beginners and is not excessively strenuous.   Drop-ins are fine during most weeks, but occasionally a particular week won't be as suitable for someone who is new to Harmony Yoga (for instance, the last week of each session is often "restorative week",  and the classes are taught differently than during the rest of the session).

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