The yoga community is saddened, as one of its iconic leaders, guru and a friend to many, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, known as B.K.S. Iyengar, the creator of “Iyengar Yoga” died on Wednesday, August 20, at the age of 96.
He created Iyengar yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga, to help people live a healthier, more meaningful life. His style focused on two primary elements: one was to provide practitioners with the understanding of proper alignment of the body while doing the postures (asanas), and the other was the focus on the techniques of breath control (the pranayamas), which are a cornerstone of the yoga practice. His teachings encouraged discipline and hard work in order to truly achieve transformation.
Iyengar was born in Karnataka, India; his family was poor. He was the 11th of 13 children, only 10 of whom survived. Growing up, young Iyengar had malaria and tuberculosis. He was weak, living in the midst of the influenza pandemic. To improve his health at age 15, he was invited by his brother-in-law to Mysore, India, to study yoga.
His personal improvement was proof to him that yoga is powerfully healing. After that, he spent his whole adulthood experimenting with various techniques and developing the practice based on his studies and personal experiences.
Iyengar’s mission was to make yoga more accessible to all. So he developed more than 100 classical yoga postures and more than a dozen breathing exercises. His work and personal teachings were developed for people with different abilities, aiming to bring benefits to the whole body and mind.
His philosophy was that practitioners should be aware of their health conditions in order to be able to adjust their postures accordingly. A simple example was when he advised practitioners with high blood pressure to avoid headstands. Iyengar, or “guru-ji,” a nickname many knew him by, encouraged props. His belief was that props were necessary to minimize the risk of injury during yoga practice. Today, you see many studios offering blocks and straps for modification.
Experiencing the power of yoga from a young age, Iyengar spent his life dedicated to the journey of teaching and writing while spreading his knowledge and philosophies.
He had many accomplishments in his life, including the Padma Shri award in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014. But maybe his most important achievement of all was introducing yoga to the Western world.
There are two types of icons in this world: our own personal icons – the people close in our lives, family members or friends who have positive impact on us and support us – and then there are those iconic figures, like Iyengar, who we may never have had the chance to meet, but they have inspired us and helped us to improve our physical and emotional health.
Iyengar, the iconic leader, was one of these people whose tremendous work will withstand time. His teachings and philosophies will be carried through generations to come.
“The body is my temple. Asanas are my prayers.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
The yoga community worldwide has expressed their loss via social media. Here are some words of sympathy from people who respected him:
[Photo by Marat Z – CC BY]
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