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


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