BY ADITHI MATHEWS
There is a grainy, black & white film made in 1976 called ‘The Ultimate Freedom’. The film starts with an introductory monologue which pans close to a man with a youthful face and head full of light hair. His English is laced with an Indian accent, but what undoubtedly stands out is his strong confidence. He says, ‘’You all read the title of the film. The Ultimate Freedom. Ultimate freedom means, complete freedom in body, in the mind and in the self itself. In order to experience this total freedom, Indian sages and saints introduced the subject called Yoga. ‘’ Just few seconds into the brief introduction, you can’t help but be completely spell bound by the passion that is so evident in the speaker – BKS Iyengar, whose life is a testimony about the transformative power of Yoga.
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (BKS) Iyengar was born in South India to a family of limited means. As a young child Iyengar was mostly ill suffering from bouts of malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. These illnesses caused the young boy to miss out on his academics and youthful fun. During his teenage years, a slight twist of fate sent him to Mysore to live with his older sister and husband,T. Krishnamacharya who is none other than the father of modern Yoga. It was under his tutelage, Iyengar trained in depth in every aspect of Yoga and through the process was able to regain his strength, health and vigour. Iyengar continued to use his own life as example to experiment, apply and prove to the world the healing powers of Yoga.
The journey of Yoga sent Iyengar to Pune, where he was introduced to world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin who was fascinated after his first Yoga class with Iyengar. He went on to remain Iyengar’s lifelong student. It was through Yehudi that Iyengar first travelled to the west, giving demonstrations on Yoga and spreading the word. Following his travels westward, Iyengar also set up an institute in Pune – Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, which to this date attracts thousands of Yoga enthusiasts from around the world.
Iyengar does not take credit to coining the term ‘Iyenagr Yoga’ he simply referred to it as ‘Patanjali Yoga’. The term was born when his loyal students started to call his techniques and teachings as Iyengar Yoga. ‘’I have no right to brand my practices or teachings as Iyengar Yoga. My pupils, who follow me, call it Iyengar Yoga.’’ He said, in defense of the brand name of his style of Yoga. ‘The Light on Yoga’ a book written by Iyengar is considered as a must read for Yogis. It has been hailed as a great work by many Yoga practitioners and has also been translated into many languages and sold worldwide.
Simply put, Iyengar Yoga is Hatha Yoga, the only obvious distinction one can make is – the importance on alignment, the generous usage of props and staying in the poses for longer periods of time. The blocks, boulders, belts and straps which we find in our yoga studios today and in instructional videos for restorative Yoga, were innovations of Iyengar himself.
A typical Iyengar Yoga class is instruction heavy, with a pure emphasis only on Asana. Most modern yogi’s who are warmed to fast paced Vinyasa methods might take some time to warm up to the pace and the instructions of an Iyengar Asana class. The crux of Iyengar Yoga is perfecting the body through the usage of props and also correcting alignment faults which people naturally develop with age and lifestyle habits. Only after mastering and perfecting the body, can one procced to the breath. All asana classes follow the sequence of standing postures, seated postures and reclining postures.
To be convinced of any craft, one can always look at the creator. In this context, the last living Yoga legend of the world BKS Iyengar, lived the practice of Yoga till his very last breath. His passion for the science of Yoga, still continues to shine bright and inspire numerous practitioners around the world.
Learn more about Iyengar Yoga in our book – Zu den Quellen des Yoga (To the source of Yoga) published by Random House. Also included is an exclusive interview with Prashanth Iyengar, son of BKS Iyengar who currently manages the Institute in Pune along with his sister Geeta Iyengar.
Adithi Mathews is a writer and yoga practitioner currently living in Germany. A former Radio Jockey, TV Journalist and Web Editor, she was introduced to the practise of Yoga at the age of 13, and settled into a more serious practice after she moved to live in Germany. Her thirst to learn, led her to The Sivananda Vedanta Danwantri Ashram in Kerala where she completed her Teachers Training and Advanced Teachers Training Course. Connect with Adithi via Facebook or Twitter.