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The Legacy of Yoga Guru BKS Iyengar

BKS Iyengar, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja, left his body on August 20, 2014, at the age of 95.

Called Guru-ji by the hundreds of thousands who love him, and affectionately nicknamed “Biks” by some practitioners of Iyengar Yoga in America, B.K.S Iyengar is the foremost exponent of Hatha Yoga in the world. Some insist that no one such as him has walked the earth since Patanjali.

Iyengar was introduced to yoga at the age of 16 as a way to build up his immune system, after suffering several serious illnesses as a child. He adopted the practice and never looked back. Three years later, he was teaching it to others.

Iyengar first gained international notoriety while traveling with devotee violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1952. In his later life, he counted Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, actress Annette Bening and designer Donna Karan among his students.

Outside of India, Iyengar is known as the greatest teacher (guru) of yoga poses (asana) in our lifetime. Many say he is the greatest guru of asana of any time in recorded history. His teaching of asana as spiritual union with God is rooted in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Yoga is discipline. BIks said, “The brain is the hardest part of the body to adjust in asana.”

The method of yoga practiced and taught from his school in Pune, India, has become known as Iyengar Yoga. Teachers of this method are certified by senior instructors after a three year regimen which includes a month of study in Pune.

The Iyengar method emphasizes posture, alignment and duration. Holding the pose with an alert and active mind is at the foundation of the method. “Use your intelligence to control the body before starting the movements of the body. In the beginning, the brain moves faster than the body; later, the body moves faster than the brain. The movement of the body and the intelligence of the brain should synchronize and keep pace with each other,” said Biks.

Today, the Iyengar method is taught and practiced at studios in 72 countries and even used by medical doctors to treat conditions such as diabetes. His book, Light on Yoga, sold more than 3 million copies around the world, and has been translated into 17 languages. In 2004, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

A demanding instructor known for yelling at his students like a drill seargent in a military academy, Iyengar preached mastery of every micro movement of every yoga pose. To help his students master the pose, he developed and incorporated props like belts, straps, and blocks, which were used to help imprint the correct posture and alignment of the pose into the practitioner’s memory.

While the Western commercialization of yoga removes much of its spirituality and tends to treat yoga as exercise, it does not take long to perceive that something more happens during a yoga class. For those who want to understand more about Yoga philosophy, The Tree of Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar is a good start.

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The pictures in this article were taken in Pune, India by this author whose life was forever changed by the teachings of this guru.

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