Yoga by Iyengar

B. K. S. Iyengar. Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2001. Oversize hardcover, 416 pages.

B. K. S. Iyengar has become a household name in Yoga circles around the world. His approach to Hatha-Yoga has won the largest following, which continues to grow. This substantial and splendid produced tome with hundreds of images is the most comprehensive introduction to Sri Iyengar’s unique approach.

It is not clear whether the entire book was authored by Sri Iyengar himself or was assembled on the basis of his existing writings and then edited. For the purposes of this review, I will assume that the latter is the case, but one must still hold Sri Iyengar responsible for the final product.

In his Foreword, Sri Iyengar writes: “During my sixty years of teaching and practicing yoga, I have observed that some students only pay attention to the physical aspect of yoga. Their practice is like a fast-flowing stream, tumbling and falling, which lacks depth and direction. By attending to the mental and spiritual side of yoga, a sincere student becomes like a smoothly flowing river, irrigating and fertilizing the land around it.”

The book appropriately begins with a brief discussion of the goals and meaning of Yoga, and there is even a whole, if short, chapter on Yoga’s philosophical foundations, though always from a practical perspective. The reader is given a succinct overview of the cakras, but the equally important subtle channels ( nādī) are not discussed. There are brief sections on breath control, the guru and the disciple, and then from p. 41 on the book launches straight into posture practice to support and restore one’s health. Later on, there is just one brief interlude in which stress and diet are discussed and another in which a few breath control techniques are given.

I know that Sri Iyengar has written extensively on the spiritual aspects of Yoga, and so I cannot help but feel disappointed that this enormous tome should make such short shrift of what constitutes the core of authentic Yoga. Admittedly, the book’s subtle The Path to Holistic Health, suggests the focus of this work. I also know that B. K. S. Iyengar believes that once we have equilibrated the body, the mind functions better and then enables a practitioner to turn to Yoga’s higher stages of practice.

Nevertheless, to allow so little space to the spiritual heart of Yoga in a volume of this size only serves to contribute to the popular stereotype of Yoga as a physical fitness system. Having spoken my mind about what I perceive to be a serious shortcoming, this book unquestionably will be found very helpful by all those practitioners of Iyengar Yoga who want to have a highly illustrated “bible” by their side.

The volume’s beautifully designed layout shows the various phases of a given posture with clear how-to instructions, including words of caution and a statement of a particular posture’s benefits. The text also of course mentions the various props to be used, for which Iyengar Yoga is famous. Many practitioners will find the chapter on Yoga for ailments particularly helpful, as the book gives out recommended series of exercises for each ailment. Finally, the volume includes a twenty-week program and several color plates illustrating the basic anatomical systems.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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