Since October, we’ve a new class on our schedule – Iyengar yoga with ropes. The technique, developed by BKS Iyengar, uses ropes to provide active and passive support in asanas, developing strength, mobility and relaxation. We asked experienced Iyengar yoga teacher Judy Waldman to tell us more about how it works, the benefits and what to expect.
We can trace the use of ropes in yoga asana back hundreds of years from old pictures of yogis but it was BKS Iyengar who popularised them when he opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune in 1976. These can now be found in yoga studios worldwide.
Iyengar saw yoga as a “gift to humanity” so opened the Institute to people of any class, gender and race. As more students came to his classes, he noticed that some of them were weaker or stiffer and weren’t able to access some asanas – so he developed props. If he saw people who couldn’t touch their toes he gave them bricks that they could reach, blocks to sit on to lift the spine and bolsters for supine positions. Ropes were a key part of this approach and he would attach them to the grills of his windows and make them adjustable at different heights to accommodate different abilities. This helped to make yoga truly beneficial for anyone.
In Iyengar yoga, props such as ropes are used creatively to teach actions in an asana, which you then apply to your practice. So instead of becoming dependent on them, they are a guide or a marker. You can expect to stay longer in a pose with more ease and examine the actions in more detail. Then you can integrate that understanding back into your regular yoga asana practice with greater self-awareness, precision and alignment. It can also improve your stamina, flexibility and confidence.
Some good examples of this are in ardha chandrasana, (half moon pose) or parvritta trikonasana (revolved Triangle). Some people may find it challenging to maintain enough stability to extend and revolve the trunk let alone to look up at the ceiling. Rope work can help practitioners balance and work on the extension and broadening, or rotating of the spine to facilitate these actions.
It’s also a great tool when working with injuries. Ropes provide the support needed to access poses safely, rebuilding strength over time. Anyone with a neck injury could do inversions with ropes instead of performing a free standing headstand and still get all the healing benefits of being inverted. Many students find that rope sirsasana or sarvangasana is deeply relaxing and allows you to really let go.
If you become a regular at our Iyengar yoga with ropes classes, you’ll find that each week might have a different focus. As with any Iyengar yoga class, we tend to alternate between standing poses, twists, backbends, inversions and others, offering a wide variety of learning.
If you are a beginner, we suggest you start with an open level or level 1 class first before trying the Iyengar yoga with ropes classes. The ropes classes are level 2, so ideal for anyone with an understanding of level 2 postures and who wants to explore ways to progress and refine actions.
Judy has been practising Iyengar yoga for over 25 years and teaching since 2006. Iyengar yoga has been central in her life after experiencing an incredible sense of physical and psychological freedom from such wide range of asana. She has studied with the Iyengars in India and in the UK on several occasions and attends intensives with advanced teacher Lois Steinberg. Her primary teacher is senior teacher Alaric Newcombe. She enjoys sharing her insights on yoga and aims to inspire students to continually make new discoveries about themselves and others.
We also have an Iyengar Community Open class in Camden every Wednesday. This class is half price, and open to everyone. View and book this class here.