Sunset Yoga Teachers’ Tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar
Sunset Yoga Center’s Teachers have offered these tributes to B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away in August.
I am truly grateful to B.K.S. Iyengar for developing this method of yoga as it has been instrumental in helping me manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The specific focus on alignment and breath helped me to heal my body , mind, and spirit and renew my zest for life. Going through the extensive teacher training process helped me to gain a better understanding of the actions of the poses and the philosophy that supports this healthy lifestyle. I understand my body and mind so much more clearly, now, which allows me to conduct my life with more awareness and integrity.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Iyengar when I went to study at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India in 2010. It was a pleasure to watch him mentor his granddaughter, Abijata, while she taught some of the classes and while she practiced. He was preparing her to continue his legacy after his death. There was a playfulness mixed in with his guidance of her teaching skills and when he worked with her on her poses. He will be greatly missed, but his beautiful gift will be carried on by his daughter, Geeta, his son, Prashant, his granddaughter, Abijata, and the rest of his wonderful teachers at the institute and throughout the world.
I never met Mr. Iyengar in person, but when I heard news of his passing I was touched and saddened in a surprisingly profound way. Why did I feel such loss over someone I had never met? Over my years of studying Iyengar yoga, I have heard so many second- and third-hand stories of others’ interactions with him. His intelligence, perceptiveness, power, compassion and even humor were evident in the anecdotes of others who encountered this extraordinary man. Ask anyone who had the honor of meeting him: he was undeniably larger than life. His writings, of course, are full of his wisdom and insight not only into yoga but into how to live a peaceful and fulfilling life.
I believe the sense of loss I feel is in large part a disappointment that I will never encounter him in this earthly sphere. Who would not want to meet such an amazing person? But what I have chosen to focus on is my overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift Mr. Iyengar has given us; he made the benefits of yoga accessible to all. I am so grateful for the beneficial effects yoga has had in every aspect of my life. I would not be the person I am today without the tradition of his teachings being handed down to others, as yoga has been for thousands of years.
In the past several weeks before his death, I was intensifying my preparation for my first certification assessment. I had been worried about whether or not I would pass, if my teaching was good enough, if my practice was good enough, wondering why I was even considering teaching because who am I to be instructing others when my practice still has so far to go? When I heard of Mr. Iyengar’s death, I picked up my copy of “Light on Life” because it made me feel comforted to read some of his thoughtful writing. I opened the book where I had left a bookmark in it years ago, at the very end of the preface, and read: “It is my profound hope that my end can be your beginning.” Later that day, on social media, I saw this powerful quote repeated over and over again. While I have no illusions that I will ever be a great master like B.K.S Iyengar, that simple sentence re-focused me on my original intent of teaching, which was to share even a small portion of the benefits I have experienced from my study of yoga. Yes, I am a beginner. And with gratitude and humility in my practice and in my teaching, I will work to honor the legacy Mr. Iyengar has so graciously left us all. Thank you, Mr. Iyengar.
The Iyengar style of yoga is named for B.K.S. Iyengar, who recently passed away. The fact that a person has a building, theory, or process named for them is not necessarily an indication of their impact on humanity. In Mr. Iyengar’s case, we can look beyond the style of yoga, to his numerous books, articles, and lectures to see that he was a highly regarded authority on yoga. But we can and should go further and review things that sometimes may be taken for granted in today’s environment.
When Mr. Iyengar began studying yoga, the predominate method of study was a guru/disciple model, where students travelled to their teachers. After Mr. Iyengar began teaching, he traveled in order to bring yoga to new audiences around the world. To bring yoga to so many new students, Mr. Iyengar systemized his teaching method. He went further, constructing teacher development and assessment systems, to ensure the quality of instruction presented to inquiring students.
We may also take the use of props for granted. But the first props that Mr Iyengar brought into teaching yoga were common items found around the house or garments that were used for other purposes. Where common items did not meet his needs, he developed new props, like those to support backbends. Other items, such as the horse or trestle, evolved from a partitioning rod he found used in office buildings. With these props students can experience the effects of the poses even when their bodies don’t have the elasticity or strength of their youth. A presentation once noted that Mr. Iyengar did not pursue patents or royalties for the props he developed. Instead his priority was to make yoga accessible to as many students as possible.
We have probably all heard that Iyengar yoga places a strong emphasis on alignment. Any student that has taken a couple of classes in the Iyengar style has been instructed the importance of foot placement and leg alignment. Students quickly experience improvement in their poses from corrected alignment. I discovered Mr Iyengar’s contributions here when I looked through a book about his guru, Krishnamacharya. There are a number of photos of Krishnamacharya in well known standing poses. But I was shocked by the haphazard position of his feet and knees. Some of the poses looked painful, such as when his knees were not directly over his knees. Mr Iyengar has said that his body is both his first prop and his laboratory. Clearly, Mr Iyengar made large advances in understanding the use of alignment to create a solid foundation, from which we can experience lightness and ease in the poses.
In outdoor camping there is a maxim that when you leave a campsite you should leave it better than you found it. Mr Iyengar has left yoga better than he found it. By making yoga accessible to all people, regardless of physical ability or geographic location, he has made the world a better place than he found it. May we all aspire to the latter.