Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys practice Iyengar yoga - your need to knows about the tone-boosting sweat session

Give this one a go at home.

Iyengar yoga: Alicia Keys
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ever heard of Iyengar yoga before? While vinyasa yoga and ashtanga yoga are two of the more popular types of yoga in the Western world, Iyengar isn't quite as well known.

That's not to say it's any less of a workout, though - far from it. In fact, Iyengar is great for both beginners and more advanced yogis looking to improve posture, balance, and strength. Promising to boost both your body and mind, one German study found that three months of Iyengar practice reduced anxiety and depression levels in all participants. 

A bit of background on the stretching style, first. "The style was founded by BKS Iyengar, one of the most respected Gurus," explains Elodie Gythiel, co-founder of Live Yoga Teachers and Iyengar yoga expert. "His book, Light on Yoga, is considered the bible of modern yoga. It's been translated into 23 languages and has sold over three million copies."

While Iyengar introduced his style of yoga in the 1940s, making it one of the more modern forms of yoga to exist, it's built on the ancient principles of hatha yoga.

So, what makes it different to other styles of the workout? Well, it's a more static form of yoga, that said, because classes are normally longer, it's still seriously strength-boosting. Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Miranda Kerr are all reported to be fans of the sweat session, so we've picked the brains of two experts to get their take. 

Keep scrolling as Gythiel and Angie Tiwari, yoga instructor and founder of Unearthed, share your need-to-knows about the workout, plus top tips for trying it at home. Do read our explainer on Pilates vs yoga, round-up of the best yoga classes to try, and breakdown of the many benefits of yoga, while you're here. 

Iyengar yoga: your guide to the modern practice

What is Iyengar yoga?

Unlike vinyasa and ashtanga yoga - where you move quickly through postures - iyengar is all about balance. "Iyengar yoga is a more static kind of yoga," says Gythiel. 

"Alignment is very precise and poses are held for a long time, with practice including a mix of standing poses, twists, backbends and inversions," she continues.

Classes are usually around 90 minutes, which adds to the physical strength element. But don't worry if you don't feel strong enough yet. "Iyengar yoga often uses a lot of props during the practice, which is great if you're stiff or have injuries as you can use straps, blocks and bolsters to adapt the practice to your body," the expert reassures. 

What are the benefits of Iyengar yoga?

"Iyengar yoga has a huge focus on physical alignment and strength building," Tiwari explains. "Postures are held for long durations so your body can find balance in the pose with the belief that this balanced state then extends to the mind, providing mental clarity." 

One small study found that six Iyengar yoga sessions were enough to significantly improve flexibility, while another 2015 study into patients with chronic back pain found that the type of yoga significantly reduced functional disability, pain intensity and depression in participants than standard medical treatment. 

We all know the benefits of a strong body, but we don't often assume yoga is the best way to build muscle. That said, Iyengar might be a great way to improve your strength as it puts your muscles under tension for a long time. Don't believe us? Try holding a triangle pose for minutes at a time and not feel your muscles shaking at the end. 

Similarly, Iyengar is also great for your mental health. "What I prefer about Iyengar is that you're really practising meditation in action," highlights Gythiel. "You work hard during a class, but you also keep your mind and breathing still. You work to the end of your range, but without compromising the alignment, and that takes a lot of focus and concentration, with very little time left to be anxious."

Iyengar yoga: A woman stretching

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to do Iyengar yoga:

There are some staple elements to Iyengar, including:

1. Start with an om

Start your practice by beginning with at least three Oms, instruct the experts.

Oms are used in yoga to symbolise divine energy.

2. Use props

Another key element of Iyengar is prop usage, especially for inversions like shoulder stands. "A qualified yoga teacher will never let you go up in Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) without any support," warns Gythiel. 

Another good example of where a prop is important is in trikonasana or triangle pose, shares Tiwari. "Using blocks as the prop under your hand is key for creating more of an opening and properly supporting yourself."

Not only that, but use of props makes the practice more accessible for all.

3. Start posing

The five types of poses commonly used in Iyengar yoga are: 

  • Standing poses
  • Forward bends
  • Twists
  • Backbends
  • Restorative poses.

If you want to practice any of those elements of Iyengar, give the following videos a go.

Iyengar standing poses

Iyengar forward fold

Iyengar twist poses

Iyengar backbend poses

Iyengar restorative poses

Is Iyengar yoga suitable for beginners?

Both experts reassure that yes, it is - while it's a good workout, it also utilises lots of props, meaning whatever your yoga experience or flexibility, you'll be able to make the most of the flow. 

As with all yoga, you can tailor it to your ability level. 

Chloe Gray
Contributing Health Writer

Chloe Gray is a freelance journalist who writes and talks about health, fitness, and wellbeing through a feminist lens. She was part of the launch team for Stylist magazine's fitness brand, Strong Women, and has written for i news, Women's Health, Red magazine, Good Housekeeping, Refinery29, and more. She's all about building mental and physical strength, eating delicious food that fuels you well, and making the fitness industry more accessible and enjoyable. She's also a qualified fitness trainer and research nerd, so you can be sure everything you read is backed by proper science.