B.K.S. Iyengar would be the first to tell you that, “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 are open.” Iyengar came to an open heart and soul through years of tedious yoga practice because he was a sickly child, and poor child born into a family in Karnataka, India. He evolved from a sickly child into a yogic master, bequeathed with two honorable titles, Padma Shree and Padma Bushan by his native country. In the west, Time magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people alive. While Iyengar’s personal journey in yoga is fascinating, it is the essence of his teachings that resonate so beautifully throughout the world.
Iyengar is Discovering Yoga: From Disease to Divinity
Instead of giving into malnutrition, malaria, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis, all ailments which often left him bed-ridden for months, he turned to Krishnamacharya, another famous yogi to enlighten his mind and heal his body. While Krishnamacharya never ‘taught’ him personally, he gave him his blessing to continue the road, which lead him to understand that, “yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” It is this perfect blending of a physical approach to yoga – which is where most people begin their approach, to a more spiritual, or mindful approach to yoga – that speaks to many of Iyengar’s followers today.
“Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
Alignment and Anatomical Perfection in Yoga
Iyengar is known to spend much time focusing on perfectly balanced stretches with a very keen eye for alignment and proper anatomical placement. He even prescribes specific series of yoga asana in Light On Yoga, that are meant to heal specific ailments like diabetes and arthritis. In the ancient yogic teachings from which Iyengar draws his knowledge, every asana has a corresponding emotional and psychological component to its practice. An asana can cure excess energy in some places of the body and cause it to flow more freely in places where it is stagnant. While Iyengar does not mention the sheaths of the body, or koshas from Vedanta yoga with as much gusto as the physical apparatus, he alludes to other levels of health and wellness, vitality and mental clarity in documentaries and interviews, books and in his own personal teaching to students one on one.
“When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
Famous Students Learn the Truth about Yoga
One famous student, Patricia Walden spoke of Guruji’s (a honorific title that yoga students often give their teachers) incessant reference to the heart, and its profound divinity. He was said to have held up a leaf at the beginning of every practice and used it to describe the feet. He said that when the body was aligned properly, the brain could be lighter – like the leaf. Iyengar’s focus on the physical as a means to attain the divine is awe-inspiring and his own personal life and experience attests to this truth.
“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
Image courtesy of Eric Lon