B.K.S. Iyengar (Guruji) was born in 1918 in Bellur, India. At the time of his birth, his mother had influenza which he consequently suffered as well. He spent his childhood in a perpetual weakened state, fighting malaria, typhoid and suspected tuberculosis.
When he was nine years old, Guruji’s brother-in-law began to teach him asana to improve his health. It wasn’t an easy feat, as his small and weak stature began a long and tough road of yoga studies. When he started his exercises, his body was stiff from all the times he was bed-ridden with his illnesses. However, under the strict tutelage of his teachers, his body slowly began to transform and become stronger. He soon began teaching yoga for a living from a young age. One of his first classes was women-only, as it would not have been proper for an adult male to lead a class of women. He practiced yoga for 10 hours a day, enduring an incredible amount of pain and poverty. Though sometimes he did not have enough money for food, he became fit and strong. He fortuitously met the love of his life Ramamani through an arranged marriage and they had six children. He supported his family with his earnings from teaching yoga.
By working intensively on his own body for so many years, Guruji learned precise effects and benefits of each pose. With the realization that yoga had healed his own illnesses, he wanted to share this path to health with others and thus developed ways to bring yoga to the common man and woman. He studied the yoga sutras (texts of Patanjali, the sage who originally recorded the concepts of yoga around 500 B.C.) and interpreted this ancient art by developing his own method of special sequences and the use of props. In Iyengar Yoga, props are used to ensure proper alignment and make yoga accessible to everyone. The yoga asana practiced with props is unique in that it is the only form of exercise which allows both action and relaxation simultaneously.
With this ability to make yoga readily accessible, Guruji’s classes became popular. He compiled the most complete volume of asanas (yoga poses) in his book “Light on Yoga” in English, offering yoga to the world. He has written many books besides this one including his more recent hit “Light on Life.” His passion for yoga, his love, and generosity for others have led him to share his method with millions of people throughout the world. Through his travels he has taught many, from the rich and the famous to the average person. He worked diligently for 70 years to translate this ancient craft into an activity that is accessible to people of modern times so that they can receive the benefits of yoga. Now there are 180 Iyengar Yoga Institutes in 40 countries around the world.
Though he was 93 years old in 2012 when I visited, B.K.S. Iyengar was still doing yoga every day, participating as a teacher from the sidelines in his institute: The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. This institute is named after his late wife Ramamani who sadly died when Iyengar’s children were still very young. Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar, two of his children, and Aby, his grandaughter, continue to teach at the institute along with many other master teachers.
Sadly, Guruji passed away on August 20, 2014. The world lost a great man on that day. Guruji is widely credited with bringing yoga to the western world. He interpreted the texts of Patanjali and made yoga accessible to all by teaching and healing others with his great knowledge of yoga and by offering a method that even beginners can enjoy.
For an article about Guruji’s life and influence in the New York Times go to:
The Official Iyengar Site:
1. Iyengar, B.K.S. Yoga Wisdom and Practice. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2009.
2. Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga. New York:Schocken Books, 1979.
3. Iyengar, Geeta. A Gem for Women. Spokane, WA:Timeless Books, 1990.
4. Iyengar, B.K.S. Yoga, the Path to Holistic Health. London:Dorling Kindersely Ltd. 2001.
5. Iyengar, B.K.S., Geeta. Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga. Mumbai: YOG Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, 2003.