‘Yoga Saved My Life’ A Tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar

“Yoga saved my life. I took it for my health, and then I took it as a mission.”

         B.K.S. Iyengar in The New York Times 

B.K.S. Iyengar made it his mission to bring yoga to the world, and what a mission it became. When he passed away this Wednesday morning, August 20 at the age of 95, he had become one of the most influential yoga masters of our generation, leaving behind a worldwide organization, yoga institutes on six continents, and thousands and thousands of some of the most highly trained yoga teachers in the world, and most significantly, a profound spiritual legacy.

It was apt that the Master whose yoga excelled at making yoga postures accessible to every body, no matter what condition, himself had seen his body transformed by the practice. As a child, he suffered from tuberculosis, influenza, typhoid and malaria, and doctors predicted that he wouldn’t live past 20.

By the time he discovered yoga at 16, he has said, it took him six years to return to health. “Yoga,” he observed wryly at the age of 84, “has given me a bonus of 65 years.”

Well, make that a bonus of 75 years. When Mr. Iyengar took up yoga at 16, he first studied under the tutelage of his brother-in-law, T. Krishnamacharya, who trained a generation of teachers in India. But he soon went on to create his own very unique form of yoga.

Mr. Iyengar never forgot the experience of being trapped by physical limitations, and kept up a demanding daily practice well into his 90s. His yoga has become known for its focus on precise alignment in yoga postures and extensive use of props to enable students of all abilities to move into even complex postures with proper alignment.

“I saw lots of people practicing yoga where there is absolutely no foundation or firmness in the presentations, and I thought that this type of yoga is not going to help anyone, because it’s going to die, because it’s like a dust, gathering dust,” he said in a 2007 CNN interview. “So I made up my mind, that in order to attract people, . . . each and every fiber of my body, while presenting the asanas, without contortion, without distortion, without attraction, that each and every part of our fibers, sinus, muscles should run parallel to each of them in the core areas. So I started practicing to bring alignment on the joints, on the wrists, on the fingers, on the muscles, on the right and the left, the back and the front… Then it gave me an idea that asanas have to be presented in a measured form.”

Mr. Iyengar first brought his teaching to the U.S. New York, in 1956, but it took years before yoga really began to take hold in the West.  It was the healing aspects of yoga, he once commented, which really took the West by storm. Only later did people develop an interest in the spiritual aspect of the physical cultivation of the body that was central to Mr. Iyengar’s own approach to practice.

Even with the intense focus on the physical form of postures that characterizes Iyengar yoga, Mr. Iyengar never lost never lost sight of the ultimate goal of yoga: “It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity,” he if often quoted as saying.

“In order to find out how to reveal our innermost Being, the sages explored the various sheaths of existence, starting from body and progressing through mind and intelligence, and ultimately to the soul. The yogic journey guides us from our periphery, the body, to the center of our being, the soul. The aim is to integrate the various layers so that the inner divinity shines out as through clear glass.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar  –Light on Life

In his wake, yoga in the West has developed into an industry that is far more commercial and purely physical than the practice he taught and advocated. “The commercialism may wash off sometime later,” he commented wryly in a New York Times article in 2005. But he was concerned that the commercialism of yoga eventually would dilute its original intent and essence.

Mr. Iyengar’s legacy includes some of  the most influential writings on yoga asana and yoga philosophy, including his most widely published book, Light on Yoga, which has been translated into 17 languages, as well as his books Light on Pranayama and Light on Life.

BKS Iyengar’s Spiritual Legacy – Quotes from a True Master

“The supreme adventure in a man’s life is his journey back to his Creator. To reach the goal he needs well developed and co-ordinated functioning of his body, senses, mind, reason and Self.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar –Light on Yoga

“Yoga recognizes that the way our bodies and minds work has changed very little over the millennia. The way we function inside our skin is not susceptible to differ either in time or from place to place. In the functioning of our minds, in our way of relating to each other, there are inherent stresses, like geological fault lines that, left unaddressed, will always cause things to go wrong, whether individually or collectively. The whole thrust of yogic philosophical and scientific inquiry has therefore been to examine the nature of being, with a view to learning to respond to the stresses of life without so many tremors and troubles.” ~B.K.S.Iyengar -Light on Life, p. xv.

“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union — the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”  ~B.K.S. Iyengar 

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”  ~B.K.S. Iyengar

“If you take up any noble line and stick to it, you can reach the ultimate. Be inspired, but not proud. Do not aim low; you will miss the mark. Aim high; you will be on the threshold of bliss.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar  – Light on Life, p. x.

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