BKS Iyengar would have made 98 today. Thank you for all you have given to the world.
Saturday marks the the second anniversary of Guruji’s passing. I think he would be happy to see that his community of teachers and students continues to grow. As it is now assessment season, we can expect at least another 100-plus Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) by year’s end in the US, and perhaps another thousand or so worldwide. Considering we are a planet of 7.5 billion humans, the number of CIYTs is exponentially small in comparison. However, we have to see how many lives each of these CIYTs touch to give these numbers more power.
In the yoga world, there are very few who have not at least heard of Iyengar’s name. He has had such a large influence on the yoga world, that even those who practice other systems have to give some acknowledgment to his contributions in the systemization of asanas and the way they are taught.
One year ago during Birjoo Mehta’s workshop in San Diego, he said that as a teacher he should not “parrot” Guruji’s words, but to rather convey the “essence” of his teachings.
I may be talking about what he is giving me through the guru tattwa which where the books of his, which where teachings of his, what he said in lectures would only serve to confirm to what I have to say, what I have to feel, but it is not something he said.
As a CIYT, I can understand this sentiment. I could easily sit in front of my class with a copy of Light On Yoga and teach straight from the text. But that would be mechanical and boring for the students. Instead, he has taught “how” to teach by observing to who is standing in front of you. That requires tremendously more effort and creativity than reading from a script. It also gives one the discernment on what to teach and more importantly what not to teach.
I think he wanted us all to learn to see our students deeper than they themselves can perceive. A lazy knee in tadasana is telling on many other factors that the student may not be aware. Once you bring that awareness to the student, many other changes happen as a result. Seeing Guruji’s tapes and videos, I have seen him bring this type of awareness to his students again and again and again.
Even his photographs on Light On Yoga has enormous teachings which are not written. During my teacher trainings, my mentoring teachers, colleagues and I pour over pictures of a certain pose we are studying and always learn one more facet of the pose through that experience. The text is just basic. But through his system we have learned how to “see” a pose even from a photograph on a very deep level.
What he have given the world is a miracle. He resurrected yoga as an old and antiquated practice, to something that has tremendous healing force for the world in its current state. There is study after study about the effects of Iyengar yoga on health and each study confirms the sophistication of this system as a legitimate healing modality.
In a newspaper interview earlier this year, Prashant Iyengar said about his father’s teachings that “he left a legacy and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt.”
So it is our duty as CIYT’s to carry his legacy forward by teaching the “essence” of what he has taught us. Even if we have never met him, we continue to be taught by him what has been passed through his senior teaches, his books, videos, and lectures.
May your light continue to shine on yoga and all of humanity, dear Guruji. You are indeed missed by all.
(photo credit: Penney Sing)
BKS Iyengar was often quoted that he did not name his practice “Iyengar Yoga,” but that was a term his followers used to differentiate his style from others. He said at at a Guru Poornima lecture that there are many “write ups” about his teachings and that they are focused on his “physical alignment.” Guruji said that those writers did not have the discernment to tell that physical alignment is only part of the story. They were not able to tell that he was also teaching “prana-shakti” of the muscle movement which leads toward deeper aspects of Yoga. “Can you not do Dhyana (meditation) in poses other than sitting?” he retorically asked.
As a practitioner for a few years in Iyengar’s method, I can appreciate his frustration. Even more nowadays, this style is even described as “less physcial” than others like corporate driven vinyasa. And in silly blurb descriptions, like the kind you find on Yoga International, this style is just cast off as “the one that uses props and focuses on alignment.”
Very little of what passes as “yoga” now in the marketplace gives any semblance of value to the inner experience. Most now blast music as part of their “yoga workout” session, and skip Savasana altogether. In addition, very few people actually have a home practice. And if they do, they are relying on sources like Yogaglo or other flash-in-the-pan flexible, young and lithe Youtube celebrities.
In essence, Yoga in the West is still in grade school. That is why so many are dazzled by Instagram, and not so much dazzled by Sutra-s that tell us that we are divinity in ourselves and that all the rest is a cosmic charade. I read somewhere that your “yoga age” starts when you first go to practice. With this definition, many are still in elementary school. Even more shocking, many are becoming teachers with this level of experience in the current commercialized climate.
If you read a book like The Alpha and Omega of Utthita Trikonasana, you are well aware that classroom instruction is just the first step. Just like going to grade school and learning the alphabet is the first step toward reading The Great Works. When one reads literature, one does not have to do so in a lecture, but has to do independently. Just like in asana practice, we have to use what we learned in class to further our own practice. As practitioners in this style, we have to go beyond the physical. We have to monitor which asana-s produce certain emotional states. Which sequences give us peace when we face turmoil. Which pranayamas help us move away from the outside world and into our inner self.
Iyengar’s yoga can be deceiving to the naked eye. It appears very physical. Showing the book Light On Yoga to friends and family is often met with jaw drops at the postures toward the end of the book. That is the maya. Iyengar is using those very advanced postures to gain access to the inner self, the substance that cannot be photographed. Most cannot get beyond the physical and cannot comprehend what is not seen. But as all ardhent practitioners in this style know, Iyengar’s yoga touches all the limbs and touches all the Kosha-s.
This is a special time of year for the Iyengar community, with Geeta Iyengar finishing up the second Yoganushasanam which began on her birthday, and just finishing the event right before Guruji’s birthday. The Iyengar community still has much to celebrate as the teachings continue to thrive and take thousands of practitioners worldwide deeper into their true selves through this uncompromising practice. Although Guruji has passed, his teaching remain alive through his family, certified teachers, and his writings.
Happy birthday Guruji, may your vision be realized!
When one first reads the eight limbs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, there are many questions that arise. Are the eight limbs practiced sequentially, like rungs in a ladder, or are they practiced all together? That really depends upon your point of view and also which tradition you follow. This post assumes one has read the eight limbs. If not here is a link to review them. I will provide a few points of view from my training and personal practice on following the eight limbs.
Say like you are a sincere practitioner and want to follow the eight limbs sequentially like a staircase–not proceeding to the next limb until you have “mastered” the previous. Then you meet a formidable challenge like the Yamas. The first Yama is ahimsa (non-harming). On your way to your practice, you accidentally step on a bug, injuring it. Can you proceed to the next limb? What about telling the truth (satya), not stealing (asteya), staying sexually continent (brahmacharya), and not being greedy (aparigraha)? Then what about the Niyamas of saucha (internal and external cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (ardor for practice), svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara pranidhana (complete surrender to God)? If you had to master one limb before proceeding to the next, it would most likely take several lifetimes to qualify for Asana!
We have to keep in mind that the aim of Yoga is to still the citta. So living in observance of these ethical guidelines is highly conducive for stilling the mind. Imagine doing the exact opposite. What if you harmed others, lied, steal from others, had multiple sex partners, and were stingy and greedy. Your mind would be all over the place.
My point of view is that the first four limbs of Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama are things one can do externally to still the citta. The next two limbs: pratyahara and dharana are things one can do internally to still the citta. The last two limbs: Dhyana and Samadhi are what Yoga does to the practitioner who correctly and steadfastly practices these concepts.
The first four limbs, Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama, are called the bahiranga (the pursuit of external purity), pratyahara (detachment form the senses), and dharana (concentration) are called the antaranga (the pursuit of internal purity), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (illumination) are called the antaratama (the pursuit of the Soul).
In the West we like “goals.” Rather than viewing the eight limbs as a goal with Samadhi being the prize, I like to view the eight limbs as a toolbox one can use to get the mind to quieten. If there are any sincere “goals” of yoga, they would be to practice daily, and not be attached to things of with the ego identifies itself (abhyasa and vairagyam).
What if you were not able to practice Asana? Your practice would be to follow the Yamas and Niyamas to create stillness in the mind. What if your mind was too busy to focus on Pranayama? Your practice would be Asana. These are examples of slotting in and slotting out limbs like gathering tools from a toolbox to quiet the mind.
Can you practice several limbs at once? Of course! When doing a sincere pranayama practice, you are already following the Yamas and Niyamas easily. You are in supported Savasana or a seated position and are therefore practicing Asana. B.K.S. Iyengar used Asana as a focus point to amplify the other limbs, just as Gandhi used the Yamas of ahimsa and satya to liberate India from the West.
The take home message here is whenever the mind is not quiet, Patanjali says you have access to many tools to make it quiet. Then you can see your true self and all your splendorous radiance.
Have a great weekend!
I write a great deal about Asana in my blog. One could argue that my blog is only about Asana and that I have not even come close to touching the other limbs. That would be a valid argument. I have been fortunate enough lately to devote much time to reading and studying the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s. After hearing an interview with scholar Edwin Bryant, the idea has crystalized that has been inside of for much time: since Asanas are so powerful and profoundly life changing by themselves, the entire practice of Yoga is light years more powerful and transformative.
There are only three Yoga Sutra-s that address Asana: sthira sukham asanam (the seat/pose steadies and brings about comfort for the aspirant’s consciousness), prayatna-śaithilya-ananta-samāpatti-bhyām (mastery in the Asana is accomplished when the aspirant has a state of effortless effort in the body and in the consciousness), and tato dvaṅdva-an-abhighātaḥ (from then on the aspirant is not vexed by the dualities that exist between the pure consciousness and the perceived world.)
As Bryant points out, reference to Asana only encompasses 12 words in a 1200 word text, or 1 percent. But rather dismissing Asana as unimportant because of its brief “cameo” in the Sutra-s, reflect on how powerful Asana has been in your life. For many of my readers, Asana is only what they have practiced. That is not a bad thing, as Asana as Bryant describes is “plugged in” to a larger system of total transformation.
Now imagine how powerful it would be to practice daily and uninterruptedly a concept like telling the truth, or keeping yourself clean, or not being greedy. Just practicing those concepts for one day would be life changing to many. Then one only begins to gather how difficult and how deep the whole of the Yoga Sutra-s are in what they are trying to impart to the reader.
By all means don’t give up your Asana practice! B.K.S. Iyengar taught that all limbs can be practiced in Asana and has proved it in how he changed the world’s view of Yoga.
Gandhi liberated India with concepts in the Yoga Sutra-s like Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence) and inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to duplicate these principles to create civil rights in the US. Similarly, the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s teach how to emancipate ourselves not only from sorrows, but from all the Karmic and Samskaric imprints we have inherited.
Today would have been B.K.S. Iyengar’s 96th birthday. To illustrate the legacy of Iyengar’s teaching, I would like to draw attention to this video. It is an interview with Mark Zambon who attended Geeta Iyengar’s 10-day intensive that wrapped up last week.
Zambon lost both of his legs in a bomb blast when he was serving in Afghanistan. To assist with his rehabilitation, he was directed to an Iyengar yoga class taught by a Vietnam veteran. The elder veteran advised Zambon to try Iyengar yoga. He said “combat veterans take well to Iyengar yoga because it touches a very similar space in the experience of life.”
Zambon said the loss of his legs after the bomb blast radically changed his body functioning aside from the obvious loss of two useful limbs. He said it was difficult to cool himself down because 30 percent of his body surface had disappeared and he would sweat profusely after doing basic activities like simply getting into bed.
He states that during his Iyengar practice he was taught Salamba Sirsasana and states that the pose made his phantom leg pain disappear. He also notes that it has sharpened his senses. Zambon also noted that during the 10-day intensive, the pranayama practice showed him the more internal dimensions Yoga. “At the end of the pranayama drills, I feel a tranquility in my mind…a wonderful peace.”
He said that Iyengar’s emphasis on getting the body back into alignment has helped him not only regain the ability to do daily activities like drive a car, but states it was able to allow him to continue his hobby of mountaineering. Zambon climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilamanjaro and proudly displayed a Salamba Sirsasana atop the mountain.
Being no stranger to challenges, Zambon states he wants to now train to be a certified Iyengar instructor. Although it is a tough path to get certified, Zambon shows that he has the true grit to ace the certification process.