Who is BKS Iyengar?
BKS Iyengar devoted his life to the practice, study and teaching of yoga. Widely credited for bringing yoga to the West, he was the founder of Iyengar Yoga and is considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. As well as being a devoted teacher and student of yoga, he wrote many books on yoga practice and philosophy, including Light on Yoga (1966), Light on Pranayama (1981), Light on the Yoga Sutras (1993), and Light on Life (2005).
Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.
— BKS Iyengar
BKS Iyengar is often referred to as the ‘father of yoga’. He was a warm, charismatic and demanding teacher, who had both remarkable self-discipline and tremendous passion to communicate his knowledge to pupils around the world. BKS Iyengar died in 2014, at the age of 95. He had 6 children - his son, Prashant; five daughters, Geeta, Vanita, Suchita, Sunita and Savitha; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Born 14 December 1918 in Bellur, India, BKS Iyengar overcame extreme poverty and illness early in life through his study of yoga. He was the 11th of 13 children and, at five years of age, moved with his family to Bangalore. When he was nine, BKS Iyengar lost his father and throughout his childhood was very ill with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and malnutrition.
Education in yoga
When BKS Iyengar was 15, the yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya agreed to have him move to Mysore, so that he might practice yoga to improve his health. However, Iyengar had a troubled relationship with his teacher, who often neglected the young Iyengar and gave little instruction, predicting that the stiff, sickly teenager would be a failure. However, Iyengar persevered and triumphed over his difficulties. At the age of 18, he moved to Pune to spread the teaching of yoga.
In 1952, BKS Iyengar met with violinist Yehudi Menuhin. This was a pivotal moment in Iyengar’s teaching career. He began traveling with Mr. Menuhin and went from being a relatively obscure yoga teacher to an international guru, eventually opening institutes on six continents.
Among his devotees were novelist Aldous Huxley, actress Annette Bening and designer Donna Karan, as well as several prominent Indian figures, including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor. Iyengar famously taught Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, 85 at the time, to stand on her head.
BKS Iyengar is widely celebrated as the man who brought yoga to the West. In 1966 he had his first book, Light on Yoga (1966) published, which became an international best-seller. In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his wife. He officially retired from teaching in 1984, but continued to be active, giving special classes, delivering lectures and writing books. Iyengar’s daughter Geeta, son Prashant and granddaughter Abhijata Sridhar have gained international acclaim as teachers. Sadly Geeta passed away in December 2018. Prashant and Abhijata continue the legacy of BKS Iyengar.
Iyengar died on 20 August 2014 in Pune, India, aged 95. He was cremated on the same day at Vaikunth Auditorium, near his home.
The Indian government awarded BKS Iyengar the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014. In 2004, Iyengar was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine.
Approach to yoga/teaching
BKS Iyengar guided his students to practice asanas in many different ways to help them understand the greater depths of each asana. His method initially appealed to students for the physical stamina and flexibility required and, by engaging students in this way, Iyengar was able to teach people from all walks of life about the deeper spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga.
Iyengar was also renowned for his therapeutic approach to yoga. He started to work out ways to assist students who came to him with special problems by exploring the ways the asanas worked on his own body. In the early 80’s, Following a scooter accident which severely damaged his spine, he further explored the use of props to help people practice yoga despite difficulties. Sporting teams, dancers, musicians and many others have benefited from the Iyengar method of yoga in their recovery from injury and illness.
BKS Iyengar wrote many books on the subject of yoga. His book, Light on Yoga (1966), remains the seminal text for Iyengar Yoga students and teachers around the world. It has been translated into 17 languages and sold three million copies. See below for a list of some of the most popular publications by BKS Iyengar:
Light on Yoga (1966)
Light on Pranayama (1985)
The Tree of Yoga (2002)
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (2002)
The Art of Yoga (2005)
Light on Life (2006)
Sparks of Divinity: The Teachings of BKS Iyengar (2012)
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health (2013)
Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga (2013)
Yoga for Sports (2015)
Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.
— BKS Iyengar
“We are human beings, so we should have the qualities to help human beings. That is what I feel is charity” – BKS Iyengar
Guruji established the Bellur Trust with the objective of undertaking educational, social, cultural and health related projects for the people of Bellur. Bellur is a small village in Southern India where Guruji was born and lived as a young boy. Guruji’s vision for Bellur was to improve the quality of life and improve future prospects for children within the community. Guruji believed that good health and education provides a firm foundation for lasting social and economic reform.
Projects that the Guruji and the trust have completed include:
- Built a primary school in 1967, which has since been extended and maintained. A secondary school followed in 2005. At these schools all fees are waived; uniforms, books and stationary are supplied; students are provided a hot lunch and Yoga classes are included in the syllabus for all students. The trust’s education initiatives are a launching pad for uplifting future generations.
- Built a 50,000 gallon water tank to provide fresh clean drinking water to the village.
- Built a day hospital providing medical services, surgical procedures and medication free for the village.
- Built a Guest House to provide accommodation for visitors to Bellur.
- Built and restored the world’s first Sage Patanjali temple in Bellur.
- Built the Bellur Iyengar Yoga Centre.
The charitable work of the trust is ongoing and future plans for the trust are as ambitious as those already completed. Ongoing support from the Iyengar community is required to continue the momentum. The benefits to Bellur and neighbouring villages has been enormous and the future plans will continue to see improved living conditions and opportunities for the local community. Guruji requested his students world-wide to launch fund raising initiatives to help raise funds to continue to deliver new projects and help maintain those already delivered. IYA regularly donates to the Trust.
BKS Iyengar’s method of yoga was firmly based on the eight limbs of yoga as taught by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Patanjali is believed to have lived about 2,500 years ago. He is believed to have been born by his own free will and, thanks to his mastery of language, to have become an enlightened yogi, who could compress the whole yoga philosophy into only 196 Sutras. In many yoga schools around the world, the Invocation to Patanjali is chanted before each class as a way of honouring the history and tradition of the Iyengar method of yoga.
Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI)
The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) welcomes students and teachers of Iyengar Yoga from all around the world. It was established on 19 January 1975 in Pune, Maharashtra, and was the home and practice hall of BKS Iyengar during his lifetime. The RIMYI is a popular place of pilgrimage for Iyengar Yoga students, offering classes, workshops and educational seminars run by the Iyengar family.
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