Today, December 14, 2010, marks the 92nd birthday of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, known to the world as B.K.S. Iyengar, the world’s greatest living yoga master, and to his students as Guruji. Mr. Iyengar has been teaching yoga for more than 75 years, and gained international fame when he befriended Yehudi Menuhin, a world famous violinist, who arranged for him to teach in Europe. Since that time, Mr. Iyengar has been credited as perfecting the yoga asana practice that is most widely taught in the west.
Mr. Iyengar was born in 1918 in Bellur, India, into a poor family and had a difficult childhood. His father died when he was young, and he suffered from a number of serious illnesses including malaria, tuberculosis, thyphoid fever, and malnutrition. At age 15, Mr. Iyengar’s brother-in-law, Sri Krishnamacharya, brought him to Mysore and taught him an asana practice to improve his health. In his 2005 book Light on Life, Mr. Iyengar describes his early life and how he came to yoga:
My poor health was matched, as it often is when one is sick, by my poor mood. A deep melancholy often overtook me, and at times I asked myself whether life was worth the trouble of living.
Seeing that the general state of my health was so poor, my brother-in-law recommended a stiff regime of yoga practice to knock me into shape and strengthen me up to face life’s trials and challenges as I approached adulthood.
Mr. Iyengar’s yoga practice began with the physical asana practice. And in Light on Life, he explains that yoga is so much more:
The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga.
While this is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end… Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing the three levels of quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit.
In a press conference held last Friday at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute in Pune, India, on Friday, Iyengar discussed his past, and the present state of yoga. In an article from Indian news outlet Daily News & Analysis, Iyengar is quoted as saying:
I believe in living in the present tense. There is no point crying about the past and speculating about the future. I had a very difficult past. I had only two students in 1939 and the people in Pune were actually hostile towards me. However, I worked harder and succeeded. Today, Iyengar yoga has become a massive tree which has spread across the world. Nobody is hostile towards me and I have so many friends. I have every reason to live in the present.
Of his own yoga practice, all three hours a day of it, Mr. Iyengar says:
Yoga is not an addiction for me. It was an addiction when I was a young man. Today, yoga inspires me. Every day, I learn something new and interesting. I cannot have my meals, without practicing yoga. My practice gives me new ideas, thoughts and feelings.
There are 300 joints, 700 muscles and 96 kms of blood circulation system in our body. When I practice a particular asana, I need to pay attention to every single part of my body. When I practice, my intellectual awareness is flows from head to toe, like the river to the sea. I find this gratifying and interesting.
Mr. Iyengar officially retired from teaching yoga in 1984, but is actively involved in the world of Iyengar yoga. He has authored 14 books, the first of which, Light on Yoga, was published in 1966 and has since become an international best-seller and has been translated into 17 languages.
One of my favorite books Iyengar: The Yoga Master, was not written by Mr. Iyengar, but is a collection of stories written by his students and recounts the impact that he has had on individuals and the world.
In honor of Mr. Iyengar’s birthday, I invite you to leave comments here including personal stories, thoughts, or simply birthday wishes.