BKS Iyengar, the father of the Iyengar yoga method,
(14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014)
Named the ‘Michelangelo of Yoga’, he is the author of 14 books, on yoga practice and philosophy. His most famous book, ‘Light on Yoga’, has been translated into 18 languages and has sold over three million copies. In 2004, he was named one of the
100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
BKS Iyengar’s early years
BKS Iyengar was born into a poor family in Bellur, Karnataka, India, he was the 11th of 13 children. When he was nine, his father died after an attack of appendicitis.
Throughout his childhood, BKS Iyengar struggled with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and general malnutrition. “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.”
At the age of 14, BKS Iyengar went to live with his sister and his brother-in-law in Mysore. His brother-in-law, Krishnamacharya, the founder of ‘Ashtanga Yoga’, suggested that he practice yoga to become stronger and healthier. Krishnamacharya took BKS Iyengar under his wing and became his guru.
Though BKS Iyengar held Krishnamacharya in high regard and would, on occasion, turn to him for advice, his relationship with his guru was not unproblematic. In fact, initially, Krishnamacharya predicted that the stiff, sickly teenager would not be successful at yoga. However, after 7 or 8 years of constant practice BKS Iyengar did acquire full health.
At the age of 18, Krishnamacharya sent BKS Iyengar to Pune to teach yoga. He settled there and began his own journey into the science and art of yoga. He spent several hours everyday learning and experimenting with various techniques.
The practise and teaching of BKS Iyengar
BKS Iyengar practised yoga daily for around 80 years: three hours of Asanas and one hour of Pranayama. Well into his 90s, he was able to maintain a headstand for over 30 minutes. The constancy of his practice allowed him to develop his encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject.
Achievements, hallmarks and honours
In the Hatha-Yoga system, there are between 84 and an unknown number of asanas and variations. BKS Iyengar and with his scientific and systematic mind created a gradual approach for around 200 asanas together with 14 different forms of pranayama. He then structured and categorised these in a way that allows everyone to progress surely and safely from the most basic postures to the most advanced.
By creating subtle adjustments in muscles, bones, skin and the organs, BKS Iyengar added an intensity to yoga which wasn’t there before – he then started to use props (blocks, straps, blankets, ropes, etc) to enable further postural refinements. These subtle adjustments (and the use of props), became the hallmarks of the Iyengar Yoga system.
For his achievements in the field of yoga, the Indian Government gave him three separate honours: the Padma Shri (1991), the Padma Bhushan (2002) and the Padma Vibhushan (2014).
The journey continues
Since his death, supported and surrounded by a new generation of dedicated teachers, his daughter Geeta Iyengar (1944 – 2018), his son Prashant Iyengar, and his granddaughter Abhijata Iyengar have taken over his work. They continue his mission of learning and evolving through daily practice, teaching classes, alleviating pain and diseases with more focused therapeutic classes. In addition, they maintain an overview of the worldwide Iyengar Yoga association and its certification process.
Here is what his son Prashant says about the continuity of his work:
“ Well, he left a legacy, and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt “