Iyengar, B.K.S.

▪ 1999

      In 1998 B.K.S. Iyengar, unlike most octogenarians, celebrated his 80th birthday year at the height of his fame and in outstanding physical and mental health. Generally regarded as the world's foremost teacher and practitioner of yoga, he was also its most influential popularizer. From his Shrimati Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute—named in honour of his late wife and run with the assistance of his daughter and son—in Pune, India, he surveyed a steadily expanding empire of more than 200 Iyengar-style yoga centres, more than 10,000 teachers, and some 2,000,000 students worldwide.

      Iyengar regularly taught hatha yoga—an orchestration of numerous postures, controlled breathing, and meditation that relaxes and develops mind, body, and spirit—to classes in Pune and throughout the world. His appearance and method of teaching were both unforgettable, and his flexible body belied his age. He wore his long gray hair drawn back from a brow bisected from hairline to bridge of nose by a red painted line. His bushy eyebrows shaded deep-set, luminous eyes. Iyengar spoke nonstop during his classes and used a personal approach characterized by sensitivity to his students' unique physiques. His method was sympathetic to the difficulty of trying to meditate and relax while at the same time trying to control one's breathing while twisted in an improbable posture. He introduced the use of various props—for example, blocks, chairs, and blankets—to make yoga less daunting, especially to Westerners.

      Iyengar was born into a large, impoverished family on Dec. 14, 1918, in Bellur, Kolar district, Karnataka, India. He was a sickly child with a distended belly and an inability to hold his head up straight. His physical condition made him a laughingstock among his peers, and his friendlessness hindered his academic achievement. While still in his teens, he turned to yoga for relief, although not without suffering great physical pain in his effort to master the 200 yoga postures (asanas). The pain paid off when, by an arrangement with his brother-in-law, he began to attract some measure of attention by demonstrating the asanas. In 1952 he met and taught the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Subsequently, Menuhin rewarded him with an introduction to the West and also wrote a foreword to Iyengar's treatise Light on Yoga (1965). This seminal work featured some 600 photographs of Iyengar demonstrating the asanas and proved to be a great success in Europe and the U.S. Iyengar later wrote Light on Pranayama (1981), The Art of Yoga (1985), The Tree of Yoga (1988), and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (1993).

LAWRENCE KOWALSKI

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Universalium. 2010.

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