Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga
Iyengar Yoga is firmly grounded in the ancient Indian art of yoga. More than 2,500 years ago, in The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali wrote about Astanga Yoga, the eight- limbed path towards spiritual fulfillment. Iyengar Yoga addresses this journey from a perspective which is practical, experiential and intensely personal.
Yoga is, at its most simple, union -- the union of mind, body and spirit. In Iyengar Yoga, this search for union begins with ongoing practice of the yoga asanas (postures) with a focus on exact alignment. In time students learn to penetrate beyond the outer physical layer to the inner kosas (layers) of mind, energy and spirit.
Mr. Iyengar has said that there is no Iyengar Yoga -- only Patanjali's Yoga. It is his unique perspective that the yoga asanas and Pranayamaa (the control of the breath) can be a template to explore, evaluate and experience each of the other limbs The journey begins with the first two limbs of Astanga Yoga, Yama and Niyama, the yogic guidelines for personal and ethical conduct. Asana can even carry us through to the higher limbs of yoga, including Pratyhara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation), and point the way towards Samadhi, the complete freedom at the end of the yogic journey.
The first two limbs of yoga, Yama and Niyama, give us guidance for our conduct. One of the most essential of these rules is Ahimsa, non-violence -- sometimes translated as love for others. This idea is too complex to be easily understood, but in Iyengar Yoga students learn to practice Ahimsa while practicing asana.
One example: performed incorrectly, a yoga asana may cause pain in the knee. When the student learns the remedy -- correct alignment, as directed by an Iyengar Yoga instructor -- the pose is done without pain, without doing violence to the self. The student begins to understand non-violence and how to apply it, first in yoga, then "off the mat," in life.
Similarly the student becomes aware of Sauca, purity. Yoga sharpens awareness of health and the need to nurture it. Practicing yoga, and practicing Sauca, the student learns to moderate eating, drinking and other habits, leading to a purer lifestyle.