If you’ve ever stepped on a yoga mat or incorporated yoga in your daily life, there’s a very good chance you’re practicing the eminent teachings of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as B.K.S. Iyengar. If you’ve never stepped on a yoga mat, there’s still something to be learned here that will give you a better understanding of the deep roots of yoga and living a life of self-awareness. My yoga teacher training is being conducted at a studio that practices and teaches under the Iyengar style of yoga. Which is no shock to me, as I find myself completely resonating with his philosophies on the mind, body, and soul, just as well as I resonate with my yoga family and space at the studio.
Who was B.K.S. Iyengar?
Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar was one of the world’s most distinguished leaders in yoga and is best known for bringing his studies and his style of practice to the West (yep, to us!). Through his decades of teaching yoga, he has generated a student and teacher base of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. He was the author of several books on practicing yoga and philosophy, including Light on Yoga and Light on Pranayama. Iyengar was one of the very first students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga”. From these early teachings, he began to spread and popularize the practice of yoga in India, eventually bringing his modern discoveries to the West.
The physical practice of Iyengar Yoga.
Yoga Guru B.K.S. Iyengar viewed yoga as an “art and a science”. The practice of Iyengar Yoga focuses on anatomical details and the alignment of the body in each asana (posture). Essentially, Iyengar Yoga is the practice of precision, both in the body and within the mind. Each pose is held for a longer period of time and often modified using a variety of props, which make them accessible to everyone . Iyengar Yoga was fundamentally designed to cultivate strength, flexibility, stability, and awareness. Using over 200 classical yoga poses and over 14 different styles of Pranayama (breathwork), with varying levels of advancement, students practicing under Iyengar Yoga are able to naturally progress and develop their mind, body, and spirit. Iyengar Yoga is rooted heavily by the traditional Eight Limbs of Yoga, designed by Patanjali. (Learn more about the 8 Limbs here!)
It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence. – B.K.S. Iyengar
What can Iyengar teach us about yoga and about life?
Those who have had the privilege of practicing under the late B.K.S. Iyengar rave about his fearless personality and his lighthearted energy. He was known for linking the idea of yoga to a spiritual activity, creating the practice of moving meditation and encouraging constant awareness of the body. Iyengar teaches us to move with intention, certainly something I try to be conscious of in my own practice both on and off the mat.
Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action. – B.K.S. Iyengar
As a teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar rarely said the same thing twice and never repeated himself from one moment to the next. He always spoke directly to the students in front of him, examining their understanding of the practice and leading them to advancements in postures only when they were physically and mentally ready. Iyengar once said, “You have to teach from the known to the unknown.” What an eye-opening statement! As a yoga teacher in training, this is something to keep tucked in my mind when I begin leading my students.
As mentioned, B.K.S. was fearless, truly in the literal sense. He often reminded his students that the soul never dies, which allowed them to approach most situations in life with less fear; fear of dying, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. This philosophy instilled a lightness over his yoga community and allowed his students to shift their energy inward toward the Self. Take a moment and think about this statement: the soul never dies. Does this alleviate some of your fears?
Yoga is for everyone.
B.K.S. Iyengar is perhaps most notably remembered for his legacy: Yoga is for Everyone. He believed that even the sick and weak can find means of practicing yoga, either through asana or pranayama, to experience the benefits of the poses and the benefits of your own self-awareness. Every body can find a way closer to the Self (or soul). Yoga is not limited to a certain body or a certain mind.
Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together. – B.K.S. Iyengar
Iyengar has refurbished the basic teachings of ancient yoga, making it accessible and comprehensible to all of us. He has created a foundation upon which we, as yoga students and as human beings, can feel whole.
What an honor and a privilege it is to be going through such a transformational journey with the teachings of Iyengar as my backbone.
Peace and love,