Tag Archives: nobel peace prize

Why do we use Sanskrit when teaching Yoga?


As Iyengar instructors, the very first thing we teach students about the pose is its name in Sanskrit. If the word is complicated like say Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana*, we break it down piece by piece. Why in the world do we do this? Are we yoga snobs? Why not just say an approximation of the pose in English leave out the Sanskrit, and be happy with that?

First of all, Yoga originated in India at a time when Sanskrit was widely used. It is the original language of all the major yoga texts including the Bhagavad Gita and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Just like French is the language of fine cuisine, Sanskrit is the language of Yoga. That may not matter to someone who just takes Yoga at the boutique studio down the street, but if you travel around the world you will be grateful to hear the familiar Sanskrit words that you have learned from your Iyengar instructor.

Yoga has had quite a journey from its origins. When B.K.S. Iyengar first started teaching Yoga, he said he had very few students. Yoga was viewed at the time like something one’s eccentric grandfather did many years ago in adhering to antiquated traditions. That is when Iyengar decided to take his Yoga teachings to the West which was hungry and ripe for his teachings. While spreading Yoga in the West, Iyengar stayed rooted in India to recharge Yoga as a cultural treasure for its country of origin. Just months before his passing, Iyengar was recognized by the President of India for his work in Yoga. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently led the UN and the world in the first International Yoga Day.

Instructors who take the extra pains to learn the Sanskrit words present themselves as more serious about the subject. When I hear what some people are calling Asana-s, I feel a twinge in my belly. Wild Thing, Happy Baby, and Chair Pose have no basis in Sanskrit, they are words that come from the fitness-yoga craze that is the majority of yoga we see now in the West. I got berated one time when I corrected a person who was calling Utkatasana “Chair pose.” I pointed out that it is translated as “awkward or fierce pose.” It surprised me how strong of a reaction people had about saying something incorrectly.


As Western practitioners, we must respect Yoga’s origin and language. Sanskrit is beautiful and easily lends itself to chanting and devotion. Sanskrit has a vibrational quality that transcends merely speaking a language to communicate. Yoga Sutra 1.27 states that the Pranava, or the sound “OM” is the source of all sounds of the universe and Yoga Sutra 1.29 states that deep meditation on this sound will lead to one’s realization. What English word does all that?

*Triangamukaikapada Paschimottanasana is translated as three parts facing one leg intense stretch of the West side (posterior) part of the body pose. It looks like this in stage I.

triangmukhaikapada paschimottonasana

BKS Iyengar receives Padma Vibhushan Award from the President of India


Courtesy ANI

BKS Iyengar was awarded the Padma Vibhushan Award at a presidential ceremony over the weekend. He was recognized for his work in yoga. This is India’s second highest civilian award. Other award recipients have included Zubin Metha who conducted the Three Tenors in the famous Dodger’s Stadium performance, and writer Ruskin Bond. BKS Iyengar remains a foremost name in yoga. He took yoga from obscurity and made it accessible to thousands worldwide. At 95 years old, Iyengar continues to practice yoga three hours daily. There are certified Iyengar teachers in over 80 countries worldwide including Yemen, Iran, and Israel’s West bank…areas where yoga is very needed. BKS Iyengar is also a candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. 

Why BKS Iyengar is a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize


Courtesy Sakal Times

This year’s field of candidates for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize will be vast. Among them all, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: BKS Iyengar. Why would this 95 year old man be such a worthy candidate? He has dedicated his life studying and teaching yoga according to Patanjali’s yoga sutras and adapting them to modern life. As a result, yoga has sprouted outside of India not only in the West, but in the most unlikely of places: Iran, The West Bank of Israel, and Yemen.

Iyengar has defied the odds for the sake of propagating yoga to the world. He was born a sickly child with malaria and TB and was extremely impoverished. He took up yoga from his brother in a law, Sanskrit Scholar Krishnamacharya. His teachings were very harsh, but Iyengar was able to withstand them. He took the teachings further, and refined them using available bricks and other tools as “props.”

He went through years of poverty, but was steadfast in his yoga practice. In 1966, he published Light on Yoga which has become an essential text for modern yoga. He has also developed a system of teaching yoga that is safe and accessible for all levels of students. His teaching program remains the most rigorous, taking a candidate up to 4 years to be fully certified through a series of peer reviewed assessments. This is his contribution to glean the best and most serious teachers from those who are casual in their approach to the subject.

Because of these high standards, Iyengar’s yoga system has brought peace and health to thousands worldwide. One of his most famous students, Father Joe Pareira, is using Iyengar’s system to treat substance abuse. He has also adapted his poses for medical purposes. There are numerous studies emerging from medical journals about how Iyengar Yoga is helping with a host of ailments that the medical community only treats superficially.

Philanthropically, Iyengar has donated a portion of his wealth to help build schools and provide clean water for his hometown of Bellur, India. His trust has built a special high school for girls, so they do not have to travel to a faraway neighboring town for their education.

At 95 years old, Iyengar still practices yoga more than 2 hours daily at his home and institute in Pune India. He can still do an uninterrupted headstand for 30 minutes! His daily practice is a testament to what is possible for the aged.

No Indian has ever won the Nobel Peace Prize (not Gandhi, not Mother Theresa). It is about time the world has properly recognized this country’s contribution to world peace. There is no greater representative of peace than BKS Iyengar.

Below is a link to petition BKS Iyengar to receive the Nobel Peace Prize: