Published article in Sunday Independent - 01.09.2014
BKS IYENGAR, who has died aged 95, was credited with bringing the 3,000-year-old oral tradition and physical practice of yoga to the West; he promoted a system, notable for its use of props and its step-by-step approach to the "asanas" (yoga positions), which is now the most widely practised form of the discipline in the world.
The seeds of his popularity were sown in 1952 during a chance meeting with Yehudi Menuhin. The violinist had been suffering from the sort of muscular and skeletal aches and pains that had ruined the career of many a string player, and was finding it difficult to relax or sleep. On a visit to India that year he was introduced by an Indian friend to Iyengar, and after a few sessions of yoga Menuhin found his bowing arm had become much less stiff and he was able to relax.
Menuhin became a fervent Iyengar disciple, describing him as "my best violin teacher". As well as using his new discipline on one famous occasion to conduct the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with his feet while standing on his head, he invited Iyengar to teach in Switzerland, and introduced him to his students in London, to other artists, and to royalty. Iyengar went on to build up an international following among dancers, film stars, politicians, writers (including Aldous Huxley), sports stars and even, in 1958, the 85-year-old Queen Mother of Belgium, whom he taught to stand on her head: "Once she'd done it, I taught her gardener to help her up," he recalled.
Iyengar's manual Light on Yoga, published in 1966 with a foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, has been translated into 18 languages and has gone into nearly 60 editions. It was the first ever yoga instruction book to attempt to marry theory with practice.
From 1975, the establishment of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India (named in honour of Iyengar's wife, who died in 1973), attracted student yoga teachers from around the globe and led to the founding of some 1,500 Iyengar yoga centres in more than 70 countries.
In 2004 Time magazine included Iyengar on a list of "100 People Who Shape Our World". But, as Iyengar recalled in his 2005 book Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom, this was quite a contrast to the attitude that had prevailed when he first visited the United States nearly 50 years earlier, in 1956. Then, people had dismissed him as a contortionist, and he remembered getting sceptical stares from people who thought yoga was only for cranks.
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918 into a large but poor Brahmin family at Bellur in the Indian state of Karnataka. A sickly child, he suffered constant bouts of malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. Doctors predicted that he would not live to see his 21st birthday.
In his teens he noticed that people who practised yoga seemed much less prone to illness than those who did not; so at the age of 16 he decided to give it a try. His brother-in-law, T Krishnamacharya, was a yoga teacher, and the young Iyengar began studying the asanas under his guidance. After two years' training, Iyengar began to tour India with his brother-in-law giving demonstrations. On one tour he was invited to teach yoga at the Deccan Gymkhana in Pune. It was there that he began to develop his system.
To maintain the integrity of Iyengar yoga, Iyengar developed a rigorous process of certification for teachers which emphasised injury prevention. "The art of teaching is also to know when to stop," he wrote. In later life he handed the day-to-day running of his Pune institute to his children Geeta and Prashant; but he remained involved, travelling around the world and giving classes until late last year. Even at the age of 95 he claimed that there was not a single asana, from headstands to vertical splits, that he could no longer perform. "If you have the right mind, your body can do anything," he maintained.
Iyengar married his wife, Ramamani, in 1943 in an arranged marriage. Their son and five daughters survive him.
Published article in The Independent - 01.09.2014
Written by Andrew Buncombe
BKS Iyengar: Teacher who spread yoga around the world and numbered Menuhin, Huxley and Tendulkar among his followers.
Until almost the very end, BKS Iyengar stuck to a schedule that was disciplined, bordering even on the strict. The yoga guru who became famous for utilising more than 50 aids, including mats and ropes to stretch and align the bodies of his students in a style of yoga that became his own, continued to practice himself almost every day. Until last year, he could manage to perform the sirsasana, or head stand, for up to half an hour.
"My time has come," the man credited with popularising Indian yoga around the world told his family this week as his health again waned. "My soul is deeply satisfied with the work that has been done. Now my body is in your hands."
At the age of 14 he was invited to visit an yoga ashram run by his brother-in-law, T Krishnamacharya, a Sanskrit scholar who had established a yoga school in Mysore under the patronage of the local Maharajah. "I pushed myself to the limits in my practice in order to do my duty to my teacher and guardian and to satisfy his demanding expectations," Iyengar would later write in his 1966 memoir, Light on Life. Today, many still consider that book to be a seminal yoga text.
After four years in Mysore Iyengar was encouraged to move to the city of Pune and establish his own school. It was believed that because he spoke a little English, he could flourish. As he continued to teach and practice and study, he developed a style of yoga that came to be recognisable as his own.
A scooter accident that left him with a twisted spine encouraged him to experiment with the use of ropes and straps in order to help hold and improve posture and positions. "When I stretch, I stretch in such a way that my awareness moves, and a gate of awareness finally opens," Iyengar told India's Mint newspaper last year. "I don't stretch my body as if it is an object. I do yoga from the self towards the body, not the other way around."
The students who practised under Iyengar themselves became teachers. They have helped spread his brand of yoga around the world. It is now taught in 70 countries and his books translated into 19 languages.
But it is generally reckoned that it was a 1951 meeting with the violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin that was responsible for spreading Iyengar's celebrity on a global scale. Menuhin already knew a little yoga but when he met Iyengar he explained that he suffered from constant pain as a result of his repeated playing. He rarely slept comfortably, he said.
The musician soon become one of Iyengar's many students and he claimed the master had eased his problems. As a result of tackling those pains and allowing him to keep performing, Menuhin described Iyengar as his "best violin teacher". Menuhin would introduce Iyengar to other Western celebrities, including figures such as the novelist Aldous Huxley. (Sachin Tendulkar, and some of his colleagues in the Indian cricket team, would be a later fan of the guru.)
In 1975 he established an institute in Pune, named after his wife Ramamani, who had died two years earlier. The institute charged students the equivalent of just £10 a year. After he helped spread Indian yoga to the West – a move that in 2001 saw Christy Turlington gracing the cover of Time magazine in an ILS asana – other practitioners followed.
Many of them were criticised for turning yoga into little more than a sweaty form of keep fit and taking it too far from its original spiritual roots. But Iyengar was loathe to join in the criticism or condemnation. "It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga," he said. "For the aberration, don't blame yoga or the whole community of yogis."
Iyengar suffered two heart attacks, in 1996 and again in 1998. Despite this, he never stopped practising yoga or believing that there was more for him to learn. His was honoured many times by the Indian state and had been due to receive the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award.
His family said that in recent weeks he had been suffering from kidney problems. He was admitted to a hospital in Pune last week. Following his death, many thousands of his students and followers headed to Pune to attend his cremation.
His website posted a smiling image of Iyengar with a message he liked to repeat. "I always tell people, 'Live happily and die majestically'."
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, yoga teacher: born Bellur, India 14 December 1918; married 1943 Ramamani (died 1973; five daughters, one son); died Pune, India 20 August 2014.
Published article in The Guardian - 22.08.2014
My teacher Mr Iyengar:a former pupil remembers the yoga master.
Written by Silvia Prescott.
BKS Iyengar, who died this week in India, reinvented yoga. A forrmer student of his – and at 91 his close contemporary – celebrates a ‘genius’ of mind and body.
I first met Mr Iyengar in London in the summer of 1971. That’s what we all called him then, before the name “Guruji” became fashionable. I had been learning Iyengar yoga for nearly a year, and practising every day, but when I met him that was it. I realised he was a spiritual teacher as well as a physical one.
At the time I was teaching keep-fit classes, which was odd because I was the butt of everybody’s jokes in gym at school. But I had a friend who was in this class and she begged me to join. So I went, and it turned out to be a very good form of keep fit, systematic and sensible. And that started me off on physical things I’d never been able to cope with before, when I was in my 40s.
Yoga at that time was becoming very popular. There was a programme on television about it, and a friend of a friend told me I must try it. She said there was an ILEA [Inner London Education Authority] teacher-training class starting. Silva Mehta was one of Mr Iyengar’s few students in the UK at that time, and she was asked by the ILEA to train yoga teachers. I started doing the class in 1970, in a class of around 25, and I met Mr Iyengar when he came over the following year, during the hot season in Pune.
After that he came every summer. I didn’t find him intimidating. Some people did, but I found him inspiring. There’s a clip in a forthcoming film about him in which he says, “See how many students I have in spite of my wild nature?” He did have a wild nature; he was quick, and could be sharp, but I never felt it was a personal thing – it was always so you could understand better what you were doing. I’ve seen teachers in other fields who have got cross or irritated when people didn’t understand. I felt he could just get a bit impatient if you couldn’t get it, and there was a tremendous affection for everybody, and for the subject, and that outweighed everything else. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to go on with yoga.
Once in those first few years he went to Bristol and gave a public talk, and my parents went to hear it. There were questions at the end, and someone asked, “Why do you practise yoga?” Mr Iyengar thought for a few moments and then said: “Because I want to make a good death.” That made such an impression on my father, who was then in his 80s. He had such a positive attitude.
I didn’t go to Pune for the opening of the Iyengar Institute in 1976 because my mother was dying, but I went the following winter, and then most years after that – probably around 20 times in all, for around a month each time. Those trips became part of who I was.
Before I went I tried to imagine India, and I pictured mud huts. Then, of course, we arrived in Bombay, and getting out of the plane was just amazing. The heat came at one like a wall, and the smell of smoke, because we arrived early in the morning and everyone had little fires, all the workers in the airport and so on. And there were skyscrapers! Mehta, our teacher, was with us. She had a friend with a flat in a skyscraper with a beautiful view overlooking the sea. We arrived at the weekend, and Mr Iyengar used to teach classes in Bombay on Saturday and Sunday, so we went to the classes and then took the train with him back to Pune.
We had a room with six or eight beds and a bathroom, a worktop, a sink and a little grill. Upstairs was the yoga hall. Mr Iyengar taught a class every day, for two or three hours. Sometimes there would be an asana [poses] class in the morning and then a pranayama [breathing] class in the late afternoon, or a separate class for sitting poses, forward bends or something. There would be local classes going on at the same time, and Geeta or Prashant [Iyengar’s daughter and son] might be teaching those, but he would very often be there. Right up to this year or last, he was often in the asana hall while classes were going on, doing his own practice. Very often somebody else would be teaching and he would interrupt, and say: “Don’t do it that way, do it this way.”
Sometimes we went on trips to see the caves and did a bit of sightseeing; or went to Bombay for the weekend and did the classes there and saw friends and had tea in a hotel.
Classes were always different depending on the class, on him, and on the weather. Sometimes he might have decided to do something but then change his mind. In the first couple of years it was more intimate because there were fewer people, but even then it wasn’t “tell me about your life and what’s worrying you”. I felt he knew what he had to give, and that there was really no point in getting into anything that might interfere with that. I never felt I wanted anything other than what was being given.
Being corrected in a pose by him was totally different from being corrected by anyone else. I can still feel what his touch was like, and it was just magic. Sometimes people who didn’t know him, or people who like gentle, easy yoga – you know, do something for three minutes and then lie down and have a rest – said Mr Iyengar was horrible and that he hit people. It’s true he might give somebody a slap, but that slap would wake up that part of the body so you didn’t forget it. He was extraordinary, a genius; there’s no doubt about it. But his teaching was not for everyone. Different students need different teachers and different teachers find different students. It’s very strange and fascinating.
Silvia Prescott having a pose corrected by BKS Iyengar in the 1970s
It’s hard to define his contribution to yoga. People often identify it as the use of props – things that can help you understand how the body works, and how it connects with the mind – the belts, blocks and ropes he used in classes. That is certainly something he did in a big way, but it’s not the only thing. The important thing about the aids – the supports that help one get the posture – is that when one gets into the right posture, or something closer to it, something happens to the body that has an effect on the mind, and that’s the alignment and the balancing of different parts of oneself. It’s what he was, not what he did, and it’s more a spiritual and psychological matter than a logical one. As he got older he talked and wrote more about spirituality, but he never did to begin with. Light on Yoga [Iyengar’s 1966 bestseller] was 90% physical. The spiritual side was implicit.
Recently I was looking at a bit of film in which he is adjusting somebody in a headstand, with ropes around their legs. In 90% of people, the leg is not in correct alignment – the foot, the shin, the knee and thigh are not aligned correctly, which of course can lead to damage. In the film Mr Iyengar was teaching an assistant how to tie wooden rods into the ropes so they pushed this student’s shin bones in such a way that she understood she needed to turn her kneecap out.
But it’s not all logical or rational. Sometimes when I started teaching yoga, I found that my hand would go to touch somebody in a particular place, but I wouldn’t know why. He had that sense to the nth degree. I occasionally got a little flicker of it and I’m sure most people who practise and teach Iyengar yoga get something of it, too. I think he inculcated it into people in some way, but it’s very hard to put into words.
Not everyone in that first group I was part of went on to work as an Iyengar yoga teacher. Some students invented their own yoga – that’s a great trick, to invent your own yoga! Some people imitated Mr Iyengar and are still imitating him to this day, and some people didn’t know how or why, but they just did it. That’s what happened to me, and I know other yoga teachers who are the same. It’s not a question of learning how to teach, but of understanding what you’re doing.
Published article in Yoga Journal - 20.08.2014
Published article in Yoga Journal - 21.08.2014
Remembering B.K.S. Iyengar: Matthew Sanford
No one has explored the asana as thoroughly or as profoundly as Sri BKS Iyengar, at least not in recorded history. That is reason enough to pause. Even more than that, he developed a rigorous and disciplined method to pass down his realization. That is a reason for gratitude. My debt goes further. I am someone who could have been easily left behind. Paralyzed since the age of 13, I found Iyengar Yoga at 25 and have been practicing for 23 years. (I have not studied with Sri BKS Iyengar in person, as traveling to India is very difficult for someone in a wheelchair.) No other style of yoga possesses the depth, precision, adaptations, and knowledge to welcome my paralyzed body into the world of the asana. It turns out that Iyengar Yoga’s revolutionary approach to alignment, precision, props, and adjustments transcends my severed spinal cord.
Published article in Yoga Journal - 20.08.2014
BKS Iyengar, 95, who handed many modern yogis that golden key, “left his mortal body” Wednesday morning, a spokesperson said. The founder of one of modern yoga’s most prominent schools was admitted to the hospital on August 12th for heart troubles reportedly after much persuasion from family members. His condition had since been steadily deteriorating. Put on dialysis over the weekend, his kidneys failed to respond to the treatment and he ultimately suffered renal failure.
Born December 14, 1918, in Karnataka, India (originally known as the state of Mysore), Iyengar was destined to be the Guruji so many people know today from day one. His father, Sri Krichnamachar (not to be confused with Sri T. Krishnamacharya, his guru), was a school teacher, who passed the gift of tutelage on to his son. Iyengar began studying yoga at the age of 16 with Krishnamacharya. At 18, his guru sent him to Pune to teach and preach yoga. He went on to instruct everyone from International heads of state to Hollywood actors. It was his encounter with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1952 that led to the spreading of his teachings to the West. His book, , became a veritable bible for teachers and students and transformed yoga into the practice as we know it today.
Published article in The Guardian Newspaper - 01.05.2012
'It is, so experts insist, never too late to take up yoga. One study for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine put 21 over-60s into a hatha yoga class, once a week for 12 weeks. To qualify, they had to be suffering from 'dowager's hump' (hyperkyphosis), the dreaded hunched back which interferes with normal movement. The study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, reported impressive benefits: the curvatures themselves were reduced by 6%; walking speeds went up 8%, and 'reaches' were improved by 18%. As a bonus, many volunteers reported their balance was better – which is worth bearing in mind by anyone who dreads toppling like a ninepin in later life.
And if you were to topple, yoga might just save you from snapping a femur. A small pilot study on bone loss in 2009 (the results of which were published in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation) enrolled 18 people with osteoporosis or osteopenia. After a baseline bone density test at the start, seven people were assigned to the control group, and 11 learned a 10-posture yoga sequence that included basic moves like downward- and upward-facing dog, bridge pose and triangle. Poses were maintained for at least 20-30 seconds, and the whole routine took 10 minutes or so.
After two years, a further bone density test took place: though almost every member of the control group either lost bone or maintained the status quo, around 85% of the yoga group gained it in the spine and hip. Dr Loren Fishman, who carried out the study, was shocked at the results. "By putting tremendous pressure on the bones, without harming the joints, yoga may be the answer to osteoporosis," she said. In fact, Dr Fishman was so inspired, she went on to write a book on the subject:Yoga for Osteoporosis.'