B.K.S. (Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja) Iyengar is a living yoga master, born in southern India on December 14, 1918.
He is the author of the classic text Light on Yoga, and has been teaching since 1936, after a childhood marred by poverty and illness. When he started as a teenager, his body was weak and stiff, but he soon found that the postures improved his health. More than 75 years later, he’s still practising daily, and his method has helped spread yoga far beyond India.
The technique is primarily physical, emphasising precision in bodily alignment, but the effects are also profound on the mind. As Mr Iyengar explained in 2005:
“When I left India and came to Europe and America a half century ago, open-mouthed audiences gaped at the presentation of yogasana positions, seeing them as some exotic form of contortionism. These very same asanas have now been embraced by many millions of people throughout the world, and their physical and therapeutic benefits are widely acknowledged. This in itself is an extraordinary transformation, as yoga has lit a fire in the hearts of so many.”
B.K.S. Iyengar’s gift as a teacher has been to make this systematically accessible, even to those with serious ailments, by the use of supports or props. This approach has changed how yoga is taught everywhere. In his words, the practice is for everyone:
“What most people want is the same. Most people simply want physical and mental health, understanding and wisdom, and peace and freedom. Often our means of pursuing these basic human needs come apart at the seams, as we are pulled by the different and often competing demands of human life. Yoga, as it was understood by its sages, is designed to satisfy all these human needs in a comprehensive, seamless whole. Its goal is nothing less than to attain the integrity of wholeness – oneness with ourselves and as a consequence oneness with all that lies beyond ourselves. We become the harmonious microcosm in the universal.”
As Mr Iyengar stresses, this process is transformative:
“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit the broken pieces together. Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless stresses and struggles of life. Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed. To a yogi, freedom implies not being battered by the dualities of life, its ups and downs, its pleasures and its suffering. It implies equanimity and ultimately that there is an inner serene core of one’s being that is never out of touch with the unchanging, eternal infinite.”
B.K.S. Iyengar lives in Pune, India, next to the Institute he created. There, his insight is shared with new generations, by his children, Geeta and Prashant, who are themselves distinguished teachers and authors.
Text from the Iyengar Yoga Institute in London.