B K S Iyengar

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (1918 – 2014), better known as B.K.S. Iyengar, was the founder of the style of yoga known as "Iyengar Yoga". Considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, he played a major role in introducing yoga to the West. He insisted on perfect poses and promoted pose modifications and using yoga to heal. He trained hundreds of teachers to spread his approach, in which props such as belts and ropes are used to help beginners achieve the poses. The New York Times said: “Perhaps no one has done than Mr. Iyengar to bring yoga to the West.” The Indian newspaper The Hindu called him the yogi who became a global brand. On why he practiced yoga, Iyengar once said: ‘Because I want to make a good death’. He lived to the age of 95.

Iyengar was the author of many books on yoga practice and philosophy including “Light on Yoga,” “Light on Pranayama,” “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” and “Light on Life.” He was one of the earliest students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as "the father of modern yoga". He has been credited with popularizing yoga, first in India and then around the world. The Indian government awarded Iyengar the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014. In 2004, Iyengar was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. [Source: Wikipedia]

Mark Tully wrote in The Guardian, “More than any other practitioner, Iyengar was responsible for the spread of interest in yoga in the west over the last half-century, having originally introduced the violinist Yehudi Menuhin to the art in the early 1950s. Iyengar used to say "my body is my temple and asanas are my prayers". He lived up to that maxim, keeping himself supremely fit. Yet during his childhood he was, in his words, "a creature of contempt for my people" because of his constant ill-health.” [Source: Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014]

Fernando Pagés Ruiz wrote in Yoga Journal: Iyengar played “perhaps the most significant role of anyone in bringing hatha yoga to the West. It's hard to imagine how our yoga would look without Iyengar's contributions, especially his precisely detailed, systematic articulation of each asana, his research into therapeutic applications, and his multi-tiered, rigorous training system which has produced so many influential teachers. [Source:Fernando Pagés Ruiz, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007]

Nirupama Subramanian wrote in The Hindu, “A lifelong student of yoga as he was, Iyengar will be remembered by his disciples foremost as teacher exemplar, who shared with his disciples the gift of his own knowledge without holding anything back, imposing only these conditions: sustained practice, discipline and rigour. With these, anyone could attain the goal of self-realisation, he encouraged students in his celebrated work Light on Life. For, ultimately, that inner journey is what yoga is about. But even before achieving that, he promised, there would be “an incremental experience of greater freedom as we discover ever more self-control, sensitivity and awareness that permit us to live the life we aspire to, one of decency; clean, honest human relations, goodwill and fellowship; trust; self-reliance; joy in the fortune of others; and equanimity in the face of our own misfortunes.” [Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014]

Websites and Resources: Yoga National Institutes of Health, US government, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction ; Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Yoga: Its Origin, History and Development, Indian government mea.gov.in/in-focus-article ; Different Types of Yoga - Yoga Journal yogajournal.com ; Wikipedia article on yoga Wikipedia ; Medical News Today medicalnewstoday.com ; Yoga and modern philosophy, Mircea Eliade crossasia-repository.ub.uni-heidelberg.de ; India's 10 most renowned yoga gurus rediff.com ; Wikipedia article on yoga philosophy Wikipedia ; Yoga Poses Handbook mymission.lamission.edu ; George Feuerstein, Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana) santosha.com/moksha/meditation

Life of B. K. S. Iyengar

Bellur Iyengar Yoga Center Yoga Hall in Iyengar's hometown of Bellur

B.K.S. Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918 into a poor Sri Vaishnava Iyengar family in the village of Bellur, Kolar district in the Kingdom of Mysore (now Karnataka in southern India). He was the 11th of 13 children (10 of whom survived) born to Sri Krishnamachar, a school teacher, and Sheshamma. Bellur was hit by the influenza pandemic at the time of his birth, and an attack of that disease left the young boy sickly and weak for many years. "My arms were thin, my legs were spindly, and my stomach protruded in an ungainly manner," he wrote. "My head used to hang down, and I had to lift it with great effort." [Source: Wikipedia +, Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014 ~\~]

When Iyengar was five years old, his father left the village and his job as a primary school headteacher, moving to Bangalore, where he worked as a clerk. Four years later, the 9-year-old boy lost his father, who died of appendicitis. His father was from Bellur. Iyengar retained his ties with that village and later established education, public health and other social projects there.+ ~|~

Iyengar was a sickly child. Throughout his childhood, he struggled with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and general malnutrition. He did not do very well in school either. His life was turned around when he was 15 years old and visited the Mysore ashram of his brother-in-law, the yoga master T. Krishnamacharya. [Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014]

Iyengar was based mainly in Pune, a city in Maharashtra southeast of Mumbai (Bombay). His marriage to his wife Ramamani was arranged by his family, and was very happy and they has six children. He said: "We lived without conflict as if our two souls were one." She died in 1973 when she was 46 and Iyengar called his yoga school in Pune after her. His son, Prashant, and daughter, Geeta, are now the principal teachers in the Pune yoga school, and his granddaughter, Abhijat, has also taught there. He is also survived by four other daughters. B.K.S. Iyengar died on August 20, 2014 of renal failure and heart failure at the age of 95. + ~|~

Iyengar’s Yoga Education

Iyengar at BKS Iyengar Centre House

In 1934, 15-year-old Iyengar went to Mysore to visit his brother-in-law, the yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. There, Iyengar learned asana practice, which steadily improved his health. Krishnamacharya had Iyengar and other students give yoga demonstration in the Maharaja's court at Mysore, which had a positive influence on Iyengar. Iyengar considers his association with his brother-in-law a turning point in his life saying that over a two-year period "he (Krishnamacharya) only taught me for about ten or fifteen days, but those few days determined what I have become today!" K. Pattabhi Jois has claimed that he, and not Krishnamacharya, was Iyengar's guru. In 1937, Krishnamacharya sent Iyengar to Pune at the age of eighteen to spread the teaching of yoga. [Source: Wikipedia]

Krishnamacharya was a Sanskrit scholar who had learned yoga from a master in the Tibetan Himalayas. After that he set up a school under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore. He had summoned Iyengar to Mysore initially to look after his sister while he was away travelling. In 2010, Iyengar told CNN-IBN that his brother-in-law and guru had taken him on as a pupil only because his “pet” student had left the ashram. Even then, he said, he created a “fear complex” in him, sometimes also threatening to starve him. As a fatherless boy, Iyengar said, he was treated like a kulak. “I pushed myself to the limits in my practice in order to do my duty to my teacher and guardian and to satisfy his demanding expectations,” he wrote in “Light on Life.” [Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014]

After four years at the Mysore ashram, 19-year-old Iyengar was sent off to Pune to teach yoga. He wrote in “Light on Life.” that he had nothing — no family or community to help him in a new city, no local language skills and no guarantee that he would find students — except his knowledge of asanas. But at that time he knew little about the philosophy of yoga, its ancient texts, and about one of its most important aspects, pranayama, or breathing techniques. Many of these things he taught himself in the following years. “[My] body became my first instrument to know what yoga is. The slow process of refinement started then and continues in my practice to this day. In the process yogasana brought tremendous physical benefits,” he wrote, “but I could already see that yoga could have as many as benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body.”

Pune become Iyengar’s home for the rest of his life. His early years there were far days there were far from easy. He had problems getting his yoga school going. He was employed by the Deccan Gymkhana Club. The staff there were jealous of his success and one night burned all his equipment. After three years, the club asked Iyengar to leave. Sometimes he could only afford a plate of rice every two or three days. As time went on he attracted more students and his living became more secure. [Source: Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014 ~\~]

Krishnamacharya and B.K.S. Iyengar

Though Iyengar had very high regard for Krishnamacharya, and occasionally turned to him for advice, he had a troubled relationship with him. In the beginning, Krishnamacharya predicted that the stiff, sickly teenager would not be successful at yoga. He was neglected and treated like a servant. Only when Krishnamacharya's favorite pupil at the time, Keshavamurthy, left one day did serious training start. Krishnamacharya began teaching a series of difficult postures, sometimes telling him to not eat until he mastered a certain posture. This harsh approach would later influence the way Iyengar taught his students. [Source: Wikipedia]

Krishnamacharya teaching

Fernando Pagés Ruiz wrote in Yoga Journal: ““It's also hard to know just how much Krishnamacharya's training affected Iyengar's later development. Though intense, Iyengar's tenure with his teacher lasted barely a year. Along with the burning devotion to yoga he evoked in Iyengar, perhaps Krishnamacharya planted the seeds which were later to germinate into Iyengar's mature yoga.(Some of the characteristics for which Iyengar's yoga is noted—particularly, pose modifications and using yoga to heal—are quite similar to those Krishnamacharya developed in his later work.) Perhaps any deep inquiry into hatha yoga tends to produce parallel results. At any rate, Iyengar has always revered his childhood guru. He still says, "I'm a small model in yoga; my guruji was a great man." [Source:Fernando Pagés Ruiz, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007 ]

“Iyengar's destiny wasn't apparent at first... In fact, Iyengar's account of his life with Krishnamacharya sounds like a Dickens novel. Krishnamacharya could be an extremely harsh taskmaster. At first, he barely bothered to teach Iyengar, who spent his days watering the gardens and performing other chores. Iyengar's only friendship came from his roommate, a boy named Keshavamurthy, who happened to be Krishnamacharya's favorite protégé. In a strange twist of fate, Keshavamurthy disappeared one morning and never returned. Krishnamacharya was only days away from an important demonstration at the yogashala and was relying on his star pupil to perform asanas. Faced with this crisis, Krishnamacharya quickly began teaching Iyengar a series of difficult postures.

“Iyengar practiced diligently and, on the day of the demonstration, surprised Krishnamacharya by performing exceptionally. After this, Krishnamacharya began instructing his determined pupil in earnest. Iyengar progressed rapidly, beginning to assist classes at the yogashala and accompanying Krishnamacharya on yoga demonstration tours. But Krishnamacharya continued his authoritarian style of instruction. Once, when Krishnamacharya asked him to demonstrate Hanumanasana (a full split), Iyengar complained that he had never learned the pose. "Do it!”Krishnamacharya commanded. Iyengar complied, tearing his hamstrings.

“Iyengar's brief apprenticeship ended abruptly. After a yoga demonstration in northern Karnataka Province, a group of women asked Krishnamacharya for instruction. Krishnamacharya chose Iyengar, the youngest student with him, to lead the women in a segregated class, since men and women didn't study together in those days. Iyengar's teaching impressed them. At their request, Krishnamacharya assigned Iyengar to remain as their instructor.”

B.K.S. Iyengar’s Teaching Career

the great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar swore by Iyengar yoga

In Pune, Iyengar spent many hours each day learning and experimenting with various techniques. He taught sirsasana (head stand) to Elisabeth, Queen of Belgium when she was 80. Among his other devotees were the novelist Aldous Huxley, the actress Annette Bening, the film maker Mira Nair and the designer Donna Karan, as well as prominent Indian figures, including the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and the Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor. Ruiz wrote: “Teaching represented a promotion for Iyengar, but it did little to improve his situation. Yoga teaching was still a marginal profession. At times, recalls Iyengar, he ate only one plate of rice in three days, sustaining himself mostly on tap water. But he single-mindedly devoted himself to yoga. In fact, Iyengar says, he was so obsessed that some neighbors and family considered him mad. He would practice for hours, using heavy cobblestones to force his legs into Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and bending backward over a steam roller parked in the street to improve his Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose). Out of concern for his well-being, Iyengar's brother arranged his marriage to a 16-year-old named Ramamani. Fortunately for Iyengar, Ramamani respected his work and became an important partner in his investigation of the asanas. [Source: Fernando Pagés Ruiz, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007 ]

“Several hundred miles away from his guru, Iyengar's only way to learn more about asanas was to explore poses with his own body and analyze their effects. With Ramamani's help, Iyengar refined and advanced the asanas he learned from Krishnamacharya. Like Krishnamacharya, as Iyengar slowly gained pupils he modified and adapted postures to meet his students' needs. And, like Krishnamacharya, Iyengar never hesitated to innovate. He largely abandoned his mentor's vinyasa style of practice. Instead, he constantly researched the nature of internal alignment, considering the effect of every body part, even the skin, in developing each pose. Since many people less fit than Krishnamacharya's young students came to Iyengar for instruction, he learned to use props to help them. And since some of his students were sick, Iyengar began to develop asana as a healing practice, creating specific therapeutic programs. In addition, Iyengar came to see the body as a temple and asana as prayer. Iyengar's emphasis on asana didn't always please his former teacher. Although Krishnamacharya praised Iyengar's skill at asana practice at Iyengar's 60th birthday celebration, he also suggested that it was time for Iyengar to relinquish asana and focus on meditation.

Iyengar Becomes Successful in the West

Iyengar with Swami Yogiraj Ramlaigam

Ruiz wrote: “Through the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, Iyengar's reputation as both a teacher and a healer grew. He acquired well-known, respected students like philosopher-sage Jiddhu Krishnamurt, Jayaprakash Narayan and violinist Yehudi Menuhim, who helped draw Western students to his teachings. By the 1960s, yoga was becoming a part of world culture, and Iyengar was recognized as one of its chief ambassadors.” [Source: Fernando Pagés Ruiz, Yoga Journal, August 29, 2007 ]

Mark Tully wrote in The Guardian, “The break that transformed Iyengar from a comparatively obscure Indian yoga teacher into an international guru came in 1952, when Menuhin visited India. Because Iyengar had taught the famous philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, he was asked to go to Bombay to meet Menuhin, who was known to be interested in yoga. Menuhin said he was very tired and could spare only five minutes. Iyengar told him to adopt a relaxing asana, and he fell asleep. After one hour, Menuhin woke refreshed and spent another two hours with Iyengar. Menuhin came to believe that practising yoga improved his playing, and in 1954 invited Iyengar to Switzerland. At the end of that visit, he presented his yoga teacher with a watch on the back of which was inscribed, "To my best violin teacher, BKS Iyengar". [Source: Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014 ~\~]

“From then on Iyengar visited the west regularly, and schools teaching his system of yoga sprang up all over the world. There are now hundreds of Iyengar yoga centres. During his early travels, he had to face misunderstanding and racism. British immigration officers thought he was some sort of magician and asked him whether he could walk on fire, chew glass or swallow razor blades. A London hotel once refused to accept him as a guest until Menuhin intervened. Even then, Iyengar was told he could not eat in the dining room, and his meals were sent to his room. ~\~

Iyengar’s Yoga

Nirupama Subramanian wrote in The Hindu, Iyengar’s “teachings are now a global brand — “Iyengar school of yoga” — with no marketing or advertising effort or hype by him. Nor did he ever put down any other kind, especially modern versions such as “power yoga”, or “flow yoga” that are aimed more at perfecting the body than the mind. His influence was recognised by the Oxford dictionary under the entry “Iyengar: noun — a type of hatha yoga focusing on the correct alignment of the body, making use of straps, wooden blocks, and other objects as aids to achieving the correct postures.” [Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014 ]

Mark Tully wrote in The Guardian, “When BBC Radio 4 celebrated” Iyengar’s 80th birthday “the programme started with him answering questions standing on his head. Guruji, as he was known to his followers, said the position was as natural for him as standing on their feet was for others. This was only one of the yoga asanas he taught the pupils from all over the world who flocked to his school in Pune. Iyengar always insisted that yoga is a spiritual discipline, describing it as "the quest of the soul for the spark of divinity within us". He used to tell his pupils to "be aware that the current of spiritual awareness has to flow in each movement and in each action". As to its wider benefits, he maintained: "Before peace between the nations we have to find peace inside that small nation which is our own being". He regarded much of the yoga that became popular in the west as "nothing more than physical exercise". Unlike western keep-fit exercises, he insisted, yoga must not put any strain on the heart. [Source: Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014]

a basic Iyengar asana

Silvia Prescott, a former Iyengar student and colleague, wrote in The Guardian, “It’s hard to define his contribution to yoga. People often identify it as the use of props – things that can help you understand how the body works, and how it connects with the mind – the belts, blocks and ropes he used in classes. That is certainly something he did in a big way, but it’s not the only thing. The important thing about the aids – the supports that help one get the posture – is that when one gets into the right posture, or something closer to it, something happens to the body that has an effect on the mind, and that’s the alignment and the balancing of different parts of oneself. It’s what he was, not what he did, and it’s more a spiritual and psychological matter than a logical one. As he got older he talked and wrote more about spirituality, but he never did to begin with. Light on Yoga [Iyengar’s 1966 bestseller] was 90% physical. The spiritual side was implicit. [Source: Silvia Prescott, The Guardian, August 22, 2014 -]

“Recently I was looking at a bit of film in which he is adjusting somebody in a headstand, with ropes around their legs. In 90% of people, the leg is not in correct alignment – the foot, the shin, the knee and thigh are not aligned correctly, which of course can lead to damage. In the film Mr Iyengar was teaching an assistant how to tie wooden rods into the ropes so they pushed this student’s shin bones in such a way that she understood she needed to turn her kneecap out.” -

Subramanian wrote in The Hindu, “Age should not deter practice was Iyengar’s belief, and he continued to practice asanas and pranayama until almost the end. In Light on Life, he wrote that death was inevitable, but that he did not think about it. “[B]oth birth and death are beyond the will of a human being. They are not my domain…The complexity of the life of the mind comes to an end at death, with all its sadness and happiness. If one is already free from that complexity, death comes naturally and smoothly.” A true practitioner of yoga would not die before he died, Iyengar believed. His own life was a testament to that.”

Iyengar as a Teacher

Tully wrote in The Guardian, “Iyengar appeared daunting with his leonine head, mane of hair and formidable eyebrows, which, as he used to say, went in two directions. He had a reputation as a stern teacher, and would insist on his pupils copying his asanas with absolute accuracy, achieving perfect balance. But he also patiently helped those who were having difficulty with their asanas and designed special exercises and equipment for pupils with physical problems. He studied anatomy, psychology and physiology to pioneer modern therapeutic yoga. He cured one of his pupils, Nivedita Joshi, from a slipped-disc condition that had left her unable to move her hands and legs; she now runs the Iyengar centre in New Delhi. But Iyengar never sought publicity for his achievements and lived a simple life, unmoved by his international renown. Earlier this year he was awarded a state honour, the Padma Vibhushan. [Source: Mark Tully, The Guardian, August 20, 2014]

the use of belts and constraints in Iyengar yoga

Subramanian wrote: “Iyengar’s own approach to teaching — his reputation was that of a disciplinarian, but a kind one — was perhaps influenced by his experience of learning from a man who offered no answers to curious questions, no step-by-step guidance, but “would simply demand a posture and leave it to me or his other students to figure out how it could be realised.” After a scooter accident left him with a dislocated spine, he also pioneered the use of props in yoga, making it easier and acceptable for students to achieve postures with the help of ropes, blocks, benches and suchlike. His generosity as a guru who gave freely everything he knew, training more and more people to teach what they had learnt, was perhaps why disciples have continued to flock from all over the globe to his Pune institute ...The students went away and set up schools all over the world. [Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014]

Silvia Prescott wrote in The Guardian, “I didn’t find him intimidating. Some people did, but I found him inspiring. There’s a clip in a forthcoming film about him in which he says, “See how many students I have in spite of my wild nature?” He did have a wild nature; he was quick, and could be sharp, but I never felt it was a personal thing – it was always so you could understand better what you were doing. I’ve seen teachers in other fields who have got cross or irritated when people didn’t understand. I felt he could just get a bit impatient if you couldn’t get it, and there was a tremendous affection for everybody, and for the subject, and that outweighed everything else. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to go on with yoga. [Source: Silvia Prescott, The Guardian, August 22, 2014 -]

“Being corrected in a pose by him was totally different from being corrected by anyone else. I can still feel what his touch was like, and it was just magic. Sometimes people who didn’t know him, or people who like gentle, easy yoga – you know, do something for three minutes and then lie down and have a rest – said Mr Iyengar was horrible and that he hit people. It’s true he might give somebody a slap, but that slap would wake up that part of the body so you didn’t forget it. He was extraordinary, a genius; there’s no doubt about it. But his teaching was not for everyone. Different students need different teachers and different teachers find different students. It’s very strange and fascinating.” -

Remembering Iyengar

Silvia Prescott, who was only four years younger than Iyengar, wrote inThe Guardian, “I first met Mr Iyengar in London in the summer of 1971. That’s what we all called him then, before the name “Guruji” became fashionable. I had been learning Iyengar yoga for nearly a year, and practising every day, but when I met him that was it. I realised he was a spiritual teacher as well as a physical one. At the time I was teaching keep-fit classes, which was odd because I was the butt of everybody’s jokes in gym at school. But I had a friend who was in this class and she begged me to join. So I went, and it turned out to be a very good form of keep fit, systematic and sensible. And that started me off on physical things I’d never been able to cope with before, when I was in my 40s. [Source: Silvia Prescott, The Guardian, August 22, 2014 -]

“Yoga at that time was becoming very popular. There was a programme on television about it, and a friend of a friend told me I must try it. She said there was an ILEA [Inner London Education Authority] teacher-training class starting. Silva Mehta was one of Mr Iyengar’s few students in the UK at that time, and she was asked by the ILEA to train yoga teachers. I started doing the class in 1970, in a class of around 25, and I met Mr Iyengar when he came over the following year, during the hot season in Pune. After that he came every summer.-

“Once in those first few years he went to Bristol and gave a public talk, and my parents went to hear it. There were questions at the end, and someone asked, “Why do you practise yoga?” Mr Iyengar thought for a few moments and then said: “Because I want to make a good death.” That made such an impression on my father, who was then in his 80s. He had such a positive attitude. But it’s not all logical or rational. Sometimes when I started teaching yoga, I found that my hand would go to touch somebody in a particular place, but I wouldn’t know why. He had that sense to the nth degree. I occasionally got a little flicker of it and I’m sure most people who practise and teach Iyengar yoga get something of it, too. I think he inculcated it into people in some way, but it’s very hard to put into words. -

“Not everyone in that first group I was part of went on to work as an Iyengar yoga teacher. Some students invented their own yoga – that’s a great trick, to invent your own yoga! Some people imitated Mr Iyengar and are still imitating him to this day, and some people didn’t know how or why, but they just did it. That’s what happened to me, and I know other yoga teachers who are the same. It’s not a question of learning how to teach, but of understanding what you’re doing.” -

Iyengar Institute in Pune

Iyengar was based in Pune and taught classes at the Pune institute, dedicated to his wife Ramamani who died in 1973. The institute charges a modest Rs 1,100 a year. Prescott wrote: “I didn’t go to Pune for the opening of the Iyengar Institute in 1976 because my mother was dying, but I went the following winter, and then most years after that – probably around 20 times in all, for around a month each time. Those trips became part of who I was. [Source: Silvia Prescott, The Guardian, August 22, 2014 -]

“Before I went I tried to imagine India, and I pictured mud huts. Then, of course, we arrived in Bombay, and getting out of the plane was just amazing. The heat came at one like a wall, and the smell of smoke, because we arrived early in the morning and everyone had little fires, all the workers in the airport and so on. And there were skyscrapers! Mehta, our teacher, was with us. She had a friend with a flat in a skyscraper with a beautiful view overlooking the sea. We arrived at the weekend, and Mr Iyengar used to teach classes in Bombay on Saturday and Sunday, so we went to the classes and then took the train with him back to Pune. -

“We had a room with six or eight beds and a bathroom, a worktop, a sink and a little grill. Upstairs was the yoga hall. Mr Iyengar taught a class every day, for two or three hours. Sometimes there would be an asana [poses] class in the morning and then a pranayama [breathing] class in the late afternoon, or a separate class for sitting poses, forward bends or something. There would be local classes going on at the same time, and Geeta or Prashant [Iyengar’s daughter and son] might be teaching those, but he would very often be there. Right up to this year or last, he was often in the asana hall while classes were going on, doing his own practice. Very often somebody else would be teaching and he would interrupt, and say: “Don’t do it that way, do it this way.” Sometimes we went on trips to see the caves and did a bit of sightseeing; or went to Bombay for the weekend and did the classes there and saw friends and had tea in a hotel. -

“Classes were always different depending on the class, on him, and on the weather. Sometimes he might have decided to do something but then change his mind. In the first couple of years it was more intimate because there were fewer people, but even then it wasn’t “tell me about your life and what’s worrying you”. I felt he knew what he had to give, and that there was really no point in getting into anything that might interfere with that. I never felt I wanted anything other than what was being given.” -

Iyengar Influence Abroad

Nirupama Subramanian wrote in The Hindu, “On a visit to China in 2011, where B.K.S. Iyengar found himself surrounded by crowds of followers he did not know he had in that country, one young student told him: “I’ve been practising for seven years, but feel I can’t improve.” The yoga guru’s reply was a succinct summing up of his belief that the discipline of bringing mind and body together was a constant journey. “I’ve been practising yoga for 76 years,” he told her. “And I’m still learning.”[Source: Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu, August 21, 2014 ]

“Iyengar’s visit to China, as the star guest at a yoga ‘summit’ in Guangzhou in 2011 was his first to that country, and he went with few expectations. Certainly, he did not imagine that he had some 30,000 followers in that country, and that translated versions of all his books were widely available and read. There is even a Chinese postage stamp in his honour. The enthusiastic reception he got bowled him over, and he told The Hindu: “I will not be surprised if China even overtakes India in yoga.”

“China was the most recent addition to his overseas conquests. India’s community of hard-nosed strategic analysts could well celebrate him as one of the earliest and most enduring ambassadors of Indian soft power, decades before the Harvard academic Joseph Nye coined that term, his reach in the early decades of the Cold War far more pervasive than Bollywood’s popularity in Soviet bloc countries.

“In archival photographs, he can be seen holding yoga demos, or instructing huge classes in various Western capitals, dressed unself-consciously in his trademark briefs, his long locks already an iconic style. In the 1950s, a host of American celebs were already eating out of his hands after he was introduced to the U.S. by Yehudi Menuhin. But the most often told story is about how Menuhin himself became Iyengar’s sishya after meeting him during a concert tour of India in 1951. The violin maestro already knew some yoga, but a meeting with Iyengar convinced him that here was the teacher he had been waiting for. Later, Menuhin would say that Iyengar was his “best violin teacher” because he had helped him become aware of the “mechanics” of playing the instrument such that his aches and pains disappeared forever.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.