TRIBUTE M12 THE MAGAZINE
When yoga was still a blip on my life’s radar and I was an adrena- line-driven journalist, I had the fortune to go to Pune for yoga guru B K S Iyengar’s 80th birth- day. And returned awed by the
energy the tiny frame exuded.
The rock star of yoga — the last of the greatest Hatha
Yoga teachers for all times with hundreds of institutes
that teach his brand of yoga around the world — was
not at all well-known in the country of his own origin.
It was perhaps because he was not flashy or controversial like so many others.
Occasionally, when prodded (and very rarely) he
would make an acerbic and telling comment, deriding
how yoga was being taught or practised in India.
Because, with him, it was always about yoga, never
This explains also why though there are many books
by him and on his style since, his first best-seller, Light
on Yoga, published by Harper Collins (despite its
rather complicated and extremely frustrating indexing
of asanas) still remains one of the first books that anybody bitten by the yoga bug would and must buy.
On how to structure an asana and chunk it, from having to use a prop (like a wall) or to use preparatory
poses to create the right foundation for it, the book
covers it all. The spiritual aspect of a pose, the ancient
legend behind it, sequencing the pose, benefits and
contraindications of each — so compactly, so completely covered as never before. Most of the other books that
followed, by other authors, must have been colored,
influenced by that book for sure. That way B K S (as he
was referred to popularly), would always be the beacon.
The book anticipates the problems of a beginner and
gives tips on how to circumvent them. This particular
aspect of a pose is where a master distinguishes himself
from the wannabe. The intricacy of awareness and
intuitive knowledge that B K S Iyengar brings to yoga
practice is unparalleled. That book has been, is, and
will be, one of my constant ‘teachers.’
It is also a very personalized account of the asanas.
For instance, B K S would note, and rightly, how mastering a particular pose can fill you with exhilaration.
Most other books are detached, clinical and seem unre-
al. The sort of books even dedicated students would
buy and stack up, creating an infertile library that
never gets to be opened.
But in Lighton
Yoga, you have a live
along, teaching you,
ticking you off,
telling a story to
grip you, warning
or cautioning you
(including of ego
that a pose
can sometimes knock
with), generally holding your
hand if need be,
or prodding you
hard, if required.
strength that B K
S bought to yoga learning and teaching came largely
from his personal practice. Expected to be dead even
before he was born, he was a sickly child plagued by
many diseases, suffered shame due to his fragile and
It is now part of Iyengar lore that his brother-in-law
and guru, the stellar Krishnamacharya, was a superstrict teacher who made the life of the young aspirant
rather difficult, maybe even miserable, crushing him
with a daunting practice and prickly verbal barbs. He
only managed to win his guru’s approbation by default
— when he stood in for another favorite student who
ran away before a public asanademonstration. This
explains how tough life was, for that young boy.
Injuries from being self-taught, road accidents that
almost killed him and ruined his practice, heart attacks
— none of these stopped the juggernaut of his yoga
journey. Severe poverty, starvation where often he had
to survive a day with just tea, wracking sickness that
cramped his passion for yoga by making his body stiffer
— none of that daunted him. That is how he would
have the confidence to take emotional or physical
wrecks who landed up at his doorstep for help and turn
them completely around.
The legend has built up around him not just because
of his extraordinary physical prowess despite his original physical frailty, but because of his magical power to
heal people with yoga.
His personal turmoils on the yoga journey, instead of
deterring him, propelled him on with even greater passion towards yoga and make what he has offered to the
world rather special. In fact, not many teachers have
done what he has done to yoga practice — emboldened
it, brought it out of its timid closet where it was and (is
often even today) confined.
Unlike some teachers who have a strong personal
practice but are unable to reach that across to their fol-lowers/students, he has had the superior confidence,
awesome intuitive skills, amazing intention and purity
of purpose to reach the toughness of yoga as it is —
sheer and stark in its beauty — to its practitioners. This
is a tough call. Very few teachers have been able to
match his skills here. But the fact that he had set that
trend means the others who follow have no choice. At
least some of us are required to take that difficult path.
The fact that he had used yoga to heal himself is why
his style of yoga is confident and tough. The idea of
healing has to be self-involved, dedicated and constant.
That it cannot be whimsical or timid. Very few styles
have this as their signature. In fact, Iyengar yoga books
(even by other authors, not just him, who follow the
style) will offer bold poses for healing.
For instance, you will not be surprised if you find on
offer that headstand can help cure anxiety! But yes, in
the Iyengar style you could get rid of your anxiety by
seeing the world upside down. And that way, be rid of
it for ever.
The heavy use of props (blocks, ropes, belts, wall,
chairs, bolsters, cushions) to
help the student transit
his/her natural timidity,
body stiffness, confusion
and revivify nervous co-
ordination is what distin-
guishes the Iyengar style
But more than that, it is
the insistence on physical
alignment, perfection of
breath awareness, medita-
tive focus on the body make
the Iyengar style what yoga
is meant to be — an exhila-
rating and severe disci-
pline that gifts a high
all its own.
It comes closest
to the pure defini-
tion of yoga —
tapasya. And its
creator, a true
Shameem Akthar teaches Sivananda Yoga in Mumbai, and is a columnist with India Abroad. She tweets @jaisivananda.
BKS Iyengar’s style comes
closest to the pure definition
of yoga — a tapasya,
says yoga guru
THE ROCK STAR OF YOGA THE ROCK STAR OF YOGA At an Iyengar Yoga event in the United States. B K S Iyengar is credited with playing a pioneering role in bringing Yoga to the West.
B K S Iyengar: 1918-2014