Thursday, 28 August 2014

RIP GURUJI BKS IYENGAR (14.12.18 - 20.8.14)

Many of you will have heard Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as BKS Iyengar died in hospital in Pune on Wednesday 20 August 2014, aged 95.
It is a sad time but it may help us to reflect on Guruji’s tremendous work and a life well lived.

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin made headlines for conducting the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with his feet, while standing on his head, at the centenary celebration of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982. Menuhin was 66, and he had yoga guru and longtime friend BKS Iyengar to thank.

“No one is too old or too stiff, too fat or thin or tired for yoga,” said BKS Iyengar, the man credited with mainstreaming yoga across borders and continents.

His tryst with yoga began at 16 and ended only when he passed away on Wednesday, aged 95.

The son of a poor schoolteacher, BKS spent much of his childhood in bed, battling frequent attacks of malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid. “My sisters and sisters-in-law used to say that my head would hang down on a repulsive body in such a way that they never touched me on account of my appearance,” he wrote in the essay “My Yogic Journey.”  Then he found yoga. In two years, the sickly teenager had transformed into a yogi so skilled that his brother-in-law and guru, T Krishnamacharya, sent him to Pune to teach.

“Yoga saved my life. I took it up for my health, and then I took it up as a mission,” said BKS, who could do steady half-hour headstands (sirsasana) till late last year. Learning from his own practice, he used yoga to heal and restore others.

Among the many stories you hear at his Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune is the one about him asking his daughter to bring him a brick from the garden to help support a student struggling to hold an asana or posture. She brought him a brick, which metamorphosed into the now familiar ‘yoga block’. BKS also gave the world the yoga chair, yoga blanket, yoga ropes and yoga straps.

By using props, he unintentionally devised his own style of restorative and strengthening yoga, which took his name and is now taught in more than 70 nations.

Props are a crutch towards perfection, believed BKS, who encouraged students to use them not only to improve stability, flexibility and strength but also to perfect alignment and hold postures for long stretches. This, he believed, gave yogis mental toughness.
The stillness, he believed, brought physical and emotional equilibrium. “By drawing our senses of perception inward, we are able to experience the control, silence, and quietness of the mind,” he said in his 2006 book, Light on Life.

Before BKS Iyengar made yoga available and understandable there were Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras,” a philosophical text compiled around two thousand years ago. The yoga sutras say hardly anything about physical poses. “Yoga”, the sutras say, “is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.” They focus on the breath and the mind; their only real guidance regarding posture is that it should be “steady and comfortable.”

Instructions for postures (asanas), appeared much later, in medieval texts, such as the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika.” Fifteen poses appear in the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” most of them seated or supine. There are no sun salutations, no downward-facing dogs or warriors. There are instructions for drawing discharged semen back into the penis, so as to overcome death, and for severing the tendon connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, and lengthening it so that it can touch the forehead!

Only in our time has hatha yoga been transformed into an accessible regimen for health and well-being. “Perhaps no one has done more than Mr Iyengar to bring yoga to the West,” said the New York Times in a 2002 profile of the guru. “Long before Christy Turlington was gracing magazine covers, decades before power yoga was a multimillion-dollar business, Mr Iyengar was teaching Americans, among others, the virtues of asanas and breath control.”

Chrstie Turlington, one of top fashion and beauty supermodels of the 1990s, famously graced the front cover of Time magazine in a cross-legged pose for a 2001 report on the explosion in yoga’s popularity.

Despite suffering a heart attack at 80, BKS had continued to practise yoga into his 90s. Iyengar died early Wednesday in hospital after suffering kidney failure, the Press Trust of India news agency said. His website carried a picture of Iyengar’s smiling face beside a message that read: “I always tell people, ‘live happily and die majestically.’”


No other yoga teacher was as influential as Iyengar. His book “Light on Yoga”, with a foreword written by Menuhin, remains unparalleled as a guide to asana practice. As a Yoga Journal tribute put it, when “teachers refer to the correct way to do a posture, they’re usually alluding to the alignment Mr. Iyengar instructs and expertly models in his book.”
In “Light on Yoga”, Iyengar describes yoga as a “timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of man as a whole,” and calls Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras” the “first book to systematize this practice.” The desire to imbue his methods with ancient authority is understandable, but Iyengar was too modest. It was he, not any ancient sage, who figured out how to show the people of the world the safest way to stand on their heads.
An invitation has been extended to all Iyengar yoga practitioners to take part in a communal dedication to the memory of our Guru, B. K. S. Iyengar, tomorrow, Thursday 28th August at 8.30pm.

It would be lovely if as many of us as possible could practice the following sequence of asanas holding Guruji in our hearts.

Tadasana - 3 minutes
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Utthita Trikonasana to the right and to the left
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tadasana - 3 minutes
5 minutes seated quietly

Thank you


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The groundwork of all happiness is health

 I truly believe that.

A close friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with a long-term illness. We no longer live close enough to see one another above once or twice a year, but we remain kindred spirits.

Health is something healthy people don’t really think about. It doesn’t really become an issue until it is an issue.

It made me think about that old metaphor about how you fill your life:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up an empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students, if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’
 ‘Now,’ said the professor, ‘I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things –Health, Family, Friends.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, car & things you are passionate about (kite surfing/dress-making/whatever!).
The sand is everything else – the small stuff. ’If you put the sand into the jar first, he continued, then there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. So…
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Take care of your health and well-being.
Play with your children.
Take your partner out to dinner.
There will always be time to clean the house or put the rubbish out.
Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'
I have nagged/cajoled/begged/encouraged my friend into attending an Iyengar Yoga class once a week. She is in pain, tired and nervous. It is a 20 minute drive. But now that her health is seriously in question she understands that for the first time in her life (well, since having children!) she needs to prioritise herself. To prioritise her health. For one evening out of seven, she can say this is mine, I am putting myself first tonight.
It is so easy to list the reasons why we can’t find the time to look after ourselves, but maybe if we look closely we’ll see a lot of time is spent on the sand and not enough time on the golf balls.

All of this is easy for me to say during the summer holidays…ask me again during term time when I’m working full time and attempting to keep up with my children’s school & social life! I am a work in progress, as is my time management. However, even thinking about how we organise our time can lead to a change for the better.
So the question is:
What are your golf balls and how many hours per week do you devote to them?