Happy 92nd birthday to Sri Sri Sri Yogacharya BKS Iyengar! B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the foremost teachers of Yoga in the world and has been practicing and teaching for over sixty years. Recently, he even led a conference on cultivating compassion and meditation techniques with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Millions of students now follow his method and there are Iyengar yoga centres all over the world. He has written many books on yogic practice and its philosophy including “Light on Yoga,” “Light on Pranayama,” “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” and more.
Mr. Iyengar was born in 1918 into a large poor family in the village of Bellur in Karnataka state in India under very difficult circumstances. His mother gave birth to him during an influenza epidemic leaving him sickly and weak and his father died when he was only 9 years old. As a result he went to live with his brother in Bangalore. His childhood was further marked by a variety of serious illnesses including malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid together with malnutrition.
At the age of 15 Mr Iyengar was invited to Mysore to stay with his eldest sister by her husband, the scholar and yogi Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who was visiting. Krishnamacharya ran a yoga school in the palace of his patron, the Raja of Mysore, where Mr Iyengar eventually received some basic instruction in asana practice to improve his health. His guru however, was an erratic and terrifying personality who drove him hard and so at first Mr Iyengar had to struggle from day to day. This diligence in practice gradually paid off as he mastered some of the postures and improved his health.
Then in 1937 Mr Iyengar was asked by his Guru to go to Pune to teach yoga. In Pune life was still very difficult as he was a stranger there with weak language skills, speaking only a little English and the local language Marathi. As he had left school before he could complete his examinations and had no skills, he was left with little choice but to continue to make his living through teaching yoga. Moreover as he felt he had little experience or theoretical knowledge, he decided to practice with determination and learn by trial and error. In the beginning his students were better than him so he would dedicate many hours a day to practice, sometimes surviving for days on only water and perhaps some bread or rice. This was also a difficult time in his yoga and he would suffer great pains through incorrect technique, often having to place heavy weights on his body to relieve the aches. However through determination and a refusal to give up he gradually began to understand the techniques of each posture and their effects. The number of his students also began to increase, though financially times were still incredibly hard as yoga was not greatly respected or understood, even in India.
Then In 1943, his brothers arranged his marriage to Ramamani. Mr Iyengar had avoided marriage for some time as he felt he could not support a family, but on meeting her consented. Initially life continued to be very hard for them but bit by bit they worked their way out of poverty. They agreed that she would take care of their family while he would provide the income. Strangely it also fell upon her to introduce the subject of yoga to her children for some time.
Gradually Mr Iyengar’s recognition as a yoga teacher grew but it was a meeting with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1952 which led to Mr Iyengar’s eventual international recognition. It was Yehudi Menuhin who arranged for Mr Iyengar to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere and so meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life.
Events continued to develop and grow, leading up to the publication of Light on Yoga in 1966 after many years of development. This book turned out to be an international best seller which continues to be reprinted in several languages all over the world and succeeded in making Yoga truly universal. This was later followed by titles covering Pranayama and various aspects of Yoga philosophy. His latest work “Yoga: The path to Holistic Health” was published in 2001.
Finally in 1975 Mr Iyengar was able to open the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his recently departed wife, where he still resides and teaches. By this time Mr Iyengar’s eldest daughter, Geeta and son Prashant had also started teaching yoga under his guidance.
In 1984 Mr Iyengar officially retired from teaching though he continues to take medical classes and teaches at special events as well as being fully active in promoting yoga world wide and being involved in the institute and its charitable foundation. Though physically quite capable of continuing, he felt it was time to “let the next generation come through” and did not want to become attached to his position there. Classes still run regularly which are hugely popular and oversubscribed and are conducted by Geeta, Prashant or senior teachers.
It can be said that Mr Iyengar is therefore one of the premier Yogis responsible for introducing yoga to the West and Iyengar style yoga is probably the most widely practiced form of yoga in Europe and America today.
B.K.S. Iyengar is now 92 years old and still remains unsurpassed in his practice and teaching. He is a true light for all of us on the path of yoga.