FAQ - Are certain poses taught for each level?

June 3, 2014

The answer is yes. BKS Iyengar has devised a most brilliant set of syllabi. There are actually 13 levels of syllabi: introductory I and II, Junior Intermediate I, II, and III, Senior Intermediate I, II and III, Junior Advanced  I, II and III and Senior Advanced I and II. At the time of this article only up to intermediate senior II is assessed on Canada. The higher levels of certification are awarded by BKS Iyengar himself.

Teachers are certified at each of these levels which qualify them to teach from these syllabi. Introductory I is a provisional teaching certificate and once the teacher gets their introductory II they become fully certified. That means they have been tested on their understanding of the asanas and therefore can teach everything from the Introductory I and II syllabi. As the teacher gains higher levels, they can teach the more advanced asanas.

As a student in beginner classes, you will learn the poses listed on the introductory I and II syllabi. Examples are poses like Utthita trikonasana, marichyasana I, supta virasana, salamba sarvangasana. In fact, the bulk of our teaching is based on these foundational asanas. There are 74 different asanas and variations on the introductory level I and II syllabi alone. There are also different types of pranayama taught at each level. In an intermediate class you will likely work to become more proficient in the introductory level asanas and will work with asanas from the Junior intermediate level I syllabus and maybe the level II. Advancing classes will refine the understanding of these levels and add Junior intermediate II, III and Senior level asanas. At this time at Yoga House we do not get into the Junior Advanced and Senior Advanced syllabi in class because no one has achieved that level of certification! Also the students need to be practicing at a very high level.  In fact only one teacher in Canada is certified at the Junior advanced II level at this time. However, students and teachers alike can practice from the various syllabi. When one gets to the higher levels there are some pretty extreme asanas that should not be attempted unless the body is really prepared for them. If you want to do ruchikasana (standing on one leg with your other leg behind your head, hands in Namaste and smiling), you can see that a lot of preparation has to be done to open the hips, prepare the groins and strengthen the spine!

When you look closely at the list of poses on each syllabus you can see how the basic actions from the earlier syllabi prepare you for the more advanced work. Sometimes you will see different expressions of the same asana through the syllabi.

Take Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana for instance. At the introductory II level we perform this backbend on a chair with the arms going underneath the chair, holding on to the back legs of the chair and the legs extended with feet at the same height as the hips. In the next syllabi, the hands are taken into the sirsasana position (clasped behind the head), no longer holding the chair. This demands more work from the legs. The next level has you sliding further off the chair until the crown of the head is on the floor. The legs are bent in this position. The hands hold the legs of the chair (similar action to having hands clasped behind the head). In the next syllabus, the pose is done with the legs bent as above but no chair. You must be able now to push up from the floor, place the forearms and head on the floor and may use the support of the elbows against the wall. Next syllabus: straighten the legs into the full pose. Finally, the classic presentation which involves dropping the legs back behind the head from sirsasana onto the floor. So we see the progression of the pose through various levels of difficulty. The reality is that many people may not be able to achieve some of the asanas in the higher syllabi. These are advanced asanas that demand a lot of practice to master. However, sometimes we can approach some of these more advanced asanas with the help of props etc. Take a look in Light on Yoga and quiz your teacher: “what syllabus is this on?”  KZ


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