An iconic guru

An iconic guru

BKS Iyengar, who passed in Pune away on Wednesday, will be remembered as a great teacher who did much to popularise yoga, India’s ancient science of physical and mental wellbeing, within the country and outside for many decades.

His name has become so synonymous with yoga that an Iyengar school of yoga has come into being, with millions of people all over the world practising  and benefitting from it. The story of his long life is itself a testament to the transformative power of yoga. He overcame the disabilities caused by early ailments and malnourishment, which he suffered as a boy from a poor family in a village in Kolar district in Karnataka, with the power of yoga, and lived to a ripe old age in remarkably good health of body and mind.

From the middle of the last century Iyengar has been considered as an authentic exponent of yoga across the world. It had been introduced to the world by eminent experts like Kuvalayananda, Yogendra and T Krishnamacharya. But Iyengar took it closer to the people, by creatively realigning many postures and practices to particular needs.

His friendship with Yehudi Menuhin, whom he taught yoga, helped in the beginning but there was much misunderstanding and resistance to be overcome to make the practice acceptable to larger numbers of people. Though a particular form of yoga is known after him, he did not present it in shortened or capsule forms and always stuck to the first principles of Patanjali’s original exposition in the sutras. This is clear from the emphasis he laid on practice and on the need to look at yoga as a whole science of the body and mind. He also saw it as having spiritual and moral dimensions which are not always obvious. 

But this was not to be confused with spirituality related to a particular religion. In fact he tried to free yoga of the religious idiom in which it has sometimes been caught, as he believed that it is part of the Indian heritage. He also did much to explain the philosophical foundations of yoga through books and lectures. He was once considered as one of the 100 most influential persons in the world.  The iconic status was a result of his mastery of and commitment to yoga and there are few others of that stature now.