If you’ve ever stepped onto a yoga mat or incorporated yoga into your daily life, there’s a good chance you’re practicing the teachings of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as B.K.S. Iyengar. If you’ve never stepped onto a yoga mat, there’s still something to be learned here that will give you a better understanding of the deep roots of yoga and living a life of self-awareness.
Who Was B.K.S. Iyengar?
Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the world’s most distinguished leaders in yoga and is best known for bringing his studies and his style of practice to the West. Through his decades of teaching yoga, he generated a student and teacher base of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. He was the author of several books on practicing yoga and philosophy, including "Light on Yoga" and Light on Pranayama."
Iyengar was one of the very first students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is known as being the “Father of Modern Yoga.” From these early teachings, he began to spread and popularize the practice of yoga in India, eventually bringing his modern discoveries to the West. (Learn about The Practice of Pranayama.) (Image B.K.S. Iyengar on his 86th birthday in 2004 | Credit: Mutt Lunker | CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Practice of Iyengar Yoga
Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar viewed yoga as an “art and science.” The practice of Iyengar yoga focuses on anatomical details and the alignment of the body in each asana (pose). In essence, Iyengar yoga is the practice of precision, both in the body and mind. Each asana is held for a longer period of time and are often modified using a variety of yoga props, which makes them accessible to both old, young, beginner and advanced students .
Iyengar yoga was fundamentally designed to cultivate strength, flexibility, stability and awareness. Using over 200 classical yoga asanas and over 14 different styles of pranayama (breathwork), with varying levels of advancement, students practicing Iyengar yoga are able to naturally progress and develop their mind, body and spirit. Iyengar yoga is rooted heavily by the traditional Eight Limbs of Yoga, which were designed by Patanjali. (Join us in A Journey Through the 8 Limbs of Yoga.)
“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
What Can Iyengar Teach Us About Yoga and Life?
Those who have had the privilege of practicing with the late B.K.S. Iyengar rave about his fearless personality and his lighthearted energy. He was known for linking the idea of yoga to a spiritual activity, creating the practice of moving meditation and encouraging constant awareness of the body. Iyengar yoga teaches us to move with intention. (Learn the Number One Rule of Meditation.)
“Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
As a teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar rarely said the same thing twice and never repeated himself from one moment to the next. He always spoke directly to the students in front of him, dissecting their understanding of the practice and leading them to advancements in asanas only when they were physically and mentally ready. Iyengar said, “You have to teach from the known to the unknown.”
He was a fearless yogi, truly in the literal sense. He often reminded his students that the soul never dies, which allowed them to approach most situations in life with less fear; fear of dying, fear of failure and fear of the unknown. This philosophy instilled a lightness over his yoga community and allowed his students to shift their energy inward toward the Self.
Yoga Is for Everyone
B.K.S. Iyengar is perhaps most notably remembered for his strident belief that yoga is for everyone. He believed that even the sick and weak can find means of practicing yoga, either through asana or pranayama, to experience the benefits of the poses and the benefits of self-awareness. Everyone can find a way closer to the Self. Yoga is not limited to a certain body or a certain mind.
Iyengar has refurbished the basic teachings of ancient yoga, making it accessible and comprehensible to all of us. He has created a foundation upon which we, as yoga students and as human beings, can feel whole. (Read more in 12 Popular Yoga Styles.)
“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together." – B.K.S. Iyengar