B.K.S. Iyengar – 1918-2014
“Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.”
Last week, one of the most influential modern day yoga masters, B.K.S. Iyengar, passed away at the age of 95. Iyengar is credited with shaping the modern practice of yoga. He was a lion of a man in a five foot frame. This pioneer dedicated his life to spreading the benefits of yoga all over the world. He wrote 14 books about yoga including Light on Yoga which sold 3 million copies and has been translated into 17 languages. In 2004, Time Magazine named Iyengar one of the most influential people in the world. Up until the last few months of his life, he practiced yoga for hours a day. Even though he is gone, his spirit will live on through his lessons and teachings.
Iyengar’s contributions to the yoga community are vast. He took a therapeutic approach to yoga. This was probably due to the fact that as a child in India he was very sick. When he found yoga, his health vastly improved. Iyengar is perhaps most noted for introducing the use of props (blocks, blankets, straps, bolsters, and ropes) to yoga which made yoga accessibly to everyone, not just the gymnasts and the young. He focused on the importance of alignment to ensure a safe yoga practice. He believed in holding yoga poses for a long time while simultaneously finding peace in the body and quiet in the mind. He stressed the importance of diversifying your yoga routine to prevent injury from repetition. His breathing techniques (pranayama) and yoga poses are used in the western medical field to help patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain. Iyengar taught thousands of students including Aldous Huxley, Judith Lasater, Madonna, and Martha Stewart. His teachings have a much greater wing span.
As a yoga instructor, I am interested in Iyengar’s discussion of the trappings of the physical practice of yoga. In Light on Yoga Iyengar writes, “The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center of our being, the soul.” He warns students not to get stuck trying to master the physical practice of yoga. The outward form of the body is not the ultimate goal of yoga; it is just a pathway to the self. So the next time you are down on yourself, as some students are, because they can’t do a headstand or an arm balance, remember that mastery of the physical poses does not make you a master yogi. Asana, the physical practice of yoga, is only an avenue to our inner world and true self.
Yoga taught in the USA today is highly influenced by Iyenger either directly or indirectly. Your yoga instructor may not be teaching Iyengar Yoga, but without a doubt, your teacher was influenced by Iyengar in some way. It is with great humility and respect that we as yoga teachers pay homage to this master. Your spirit will live on though your lessons and teaching in our classes everyday.
“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”