The founder of IYENGAR® yoga, BKS Iyengar

In the 21st century the pace and nature of life and work in the 'developed' world tends to be driven by the huge technological advances of our time. Faster is often thought of as better. It is a 24-7 culture. Expectations and pressures to 'perform effectively' within this culture are only increasing. Most people now spend large periods of their waking lives in the built environment, driving cars, sitting on public transport, sitting in front of a computer screen. Labour saving devices minimise people's physical activity leading to bodily stiffness, weaker muscles, excessive weight gain. Unsurprisingly all this is at the cost of people's physical and mental health, with such issues as joint problems; lower back pain; obesity; undue stress levels; anxiety; depression on the increase.

Naturally many people look to gyms and leisure centres to get themselves into 'better shape' and to relax, often at the turn of the year, perhaps with a New Year resolution. However there can be a lack of balance to physical fitness regimes and they may often not be sufficiently tailored to the needs of the individual, including the balance between body and mind. Just as in our daily lives, faster and without mindfulness is often not better, so too when we work on our bodies. The modern habit and expectation of getting yet more done, 'overdoing', can transfer into our attempts to be kind to ourselves and get into 'better shape'. The emergence of 'power', 'rocket' and 'hot' yoga may reflect this.

So how does yoga and IYENGAR® yoga fit into all this? Yoga is an ancient tried and tested system of personal development that works to balance body, mind and spirit. Yoga (meaning union) combines body, mind and breath and includes all aspects of one’s being. In Yoga, working poses (asanas) and breath awareness (pranayama) enables regeneration in the muscles, nerves, glands, organs and fibres of the body, promoting our physical and mental health.

The founder of IYENGAR yoga, BKS Iyengar, was mindful of the huge variations in body types, flexibilities, stiffnesses between individuals. He was passionate about making yoga practice accessible and safe to as many people worldwide as possible. IYENGAR teachers use props (eg belts, wooden bricks, foam pads) and subtle adjustment to help students find correct alignment and so work with precision and safety in asanas to make space in the body for the breath. Immediate benefits are greater flexibility, core strength and physical health. There is noticeable excess weight loss with the fat-burning effect of holding poses for longer. In time psychological and spiritual benefits start to emerge. This is why IYENGAR yoga has become the most practised and respected form of yoga worldwide.

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