Archive for November, 2010

A tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar

November 7, 2010

I wrote this article for the Dec 2008 edition of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy on the occasion of Guruji’s nintieth birthday.



“The belief underlying yoga therapy is to enable the human system to function as efficiently, effectively, and naturally as it can. This natural process however, operates at its own rhythm and pace, and the pace may be slow”. B.K.S. Iyengar. B.K.S. Archive project. 2007. Published by Iyengar Yoga National Association United States.

Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, and universally acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest living Yoga masters, B.K.S. Iyengar who celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year continues to live as he always has – simply, and in the service of others.

He rises early in the same modest house that he built 40 years ago and practices his pranayama. He then strolls across the narrow pathway that runs between his house and his yoga institute. If it is the beginning of the month, he lingers in the ground floor reception area to greet the influx of foreign students newly arrived. He then climbs the stairs to the asana hall for the first of his two regular daily asana practices. As many as fifty students on any given morning will already be in the hall for this, the designated time for group practice.

Guruji’s practice is varied, and it nearly always includes some back-bends. The students closest to him — mostly locals — are in place, ready to help him with whatever props he decides to use that day. Some of the deep supported back bends require that the heavy trestle be strategically placed close to the ceiling ropes. While he practices he also teaches those around him, effectively giving a private class — except that many in the room gather round to watch.

B.K.S. Iyengar made yoga accessible to hundreds of thousands of people. He challenged the long-held views of the traditionalists – that it was meant only for an elite few – and brought Yoga to men and women alike, whatever their social station. He teaches all students – the aged and the young, the infirm and the strong. Sometimes with props, with modifications, and myriad teaching strategies, his method benefits all.

Iyengar Yoga emphasizes precision of alignment. With progress, the practitioner learns to strive for meditation in action.  Asana, far from being only a physical pursuit, becomes a stepping-stone on the path, so clearly defined by Patanjali, to experience the universal divine within us.

His development of Yoga props – now ubiquitous in yoga studios throughout the world – revolutionized the art and science of Yoga. The other groundbreaking aspect of B.K.S. Iyengar’s teaching is in the area of Yoga as therapy. Through trial, error and persistence, and with his belief system rooted firmly in Vedic law and philosophy, he combines his considerable insight (many would say genius), with the healing power of Yoga to attend to the ills and diseases that beset humanity. Time and again he has demonstrated that conditions as far ranging as HIV/AIDS, cerebral palsy, high blood pressure, MS, sciatica, all manor of muscular skeletal injuries, congenital defects such as scoliosis, conditions afflicting the organic body, and psychological problems can all be addressed with Yoga.

The twice–weekly medical classes held at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, which are full of people suffering from various disorders, are a fertile training ground for Yogis seeking to understand the therapeutic aspects of Yoga. Senior teachers are taught ‘on their feet’ how to take patients through specially prescribed sequences. This may be the first time in their life a patient has learned to rest and be quiet.

The restorative poses, when intelligently sequenced and correctly propped have a profound effect on the body’s ability to heal. Still others are put through some very exacting asana, and it’s often hard for them. In one corner of the hall a woman groans in pain. Guruji runs to all, attends to all. His apparently stern exterior belies his compassionate center. He knows that if he appears ‘soft’, progress will be slow and “the pupil tends to take it easy.” Guruji appears to improvise on the spot after observing the patients body conditions, but his work is backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of the body and it’s workings and his unparalleled knowledge of Yoga. Countless medical practitioners have beaten a path to his door to learn from him, and are chastened by the experience. Many more in the future will look to the work of this great man not only for inspiration, but also for the concrete practicalities that make up this body of knowledge.

As we begin to wake up to the limitations of allopathic medicine, only time will tell how significant this work is and how valuable it will be for humanity.

© 2008 Bobby Clennell.