An introduction to Iyengar Yoga

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.

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5 videos to remember BKS Iyengar

Continuing our tribute to BKS Iyengar this week, the yoga.in team has selected a few of our favourite videos of BKS Iyengar as a homage to the great yoga master:

Genius In Action: BKS Iyengar

An excerpt from a film tribute created on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of BKS Iyengar’s first trip to the US narrated by his long-time student Patricia Walden.

 

The Ultimate Freedom Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar

Filmed in black and white in 1976, BKS Iyengar presents a short introduction to yoga followed by the demonstration of asanas.

 

1938 silent film of Krishnamacharya and BKS Iyengar

This 45-minute black and white silent film was filmed in 1938. We see a young BKS Iyengar demonstrating asanas as well as his teacher, Krishnamacharya, and a female disciple.

 

Breath of the Gods trailer 

A 3-minute excerpt of a feature documentary on the origins of modern yoga, featuring BKS Iyengar, Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois, including some rare black and white footage of BKS Iyengar demonstrating asanas in the presence of the Maharajah of Mysore as his guru, Krishnamacharya, watches on.

 

BKS Iyengar demonstrates inhalation and exhalation at a yoga convention:

 

Bonus video: Yoga Yantra

This is a beautiful animation based on film footage of BKS Iyengar in practice, traditional yantras and mandalas, and Indian classical music. You can watch it here.

 

Geeta Iyengar’s words for her father

Geeta Iyengar in Pune
Geeta Iyengar in Pune

Within 12 hours from Guruji’s death at 20th August 3:15 AM Indian Standard Time the last rites and the cremation took place in Pune. We would like to share with you Geetaji’s last words for her father, B.K.S. Iyengar:

“Only his body has ended. One person’s efforts from inside out, changed the acceptance of yoga throughout the world. Nothing was hidden, from the time he began to practice, to his illness and death. Even last night he was telling Abhijata, “I have shown you all these things, now realize them for yourself.” What he has given cannot be encompassed by words. If a disciple is more developed, then that person will understand. What can be said in words, is that he was precious to us.”

Source: Iyengar Yoga Association (US)

Photo: by Coni Hörler

B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014)

B.K.S. Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar passed away tonight, at the age of 95. It touches all yoginis and yogis in this world and all who have met him personally.

Our friend in Rishikesh, Usha Devi, said once: “Guruji is pure fire”. His fire, his positive energy, could be felt by anyone who interacted with him and lives on now in all the many practitioners around the globe who got inspired by his teachings.

(Photo by Coni Hörler)

“Breath of the Gods” in London

Breath of Gods
Breath of Gods

You’ve heard us talk about this documentary . . . because we are pretty excited about it! Well good news for those of you in London. It will be released at the ICA, The Mall on February 22nd with more dates to follow. We’re still waiting to hear about release dates in the US, we’ll keep you posted. If you’ve forgotten what the documentary is about – here is a refresher:

Modern yoga, that is, the form practiced daily by tens of millions of people around the world, goes back directly to Lord Shiva according to Indian tradition. At the same time, however, modern yoga originated in the early 20th century, a creation of Indian savant T. Krishnamacharya, a story that is far less known and is where Breath of the Gods looks to explore further.

We see Krishnamacharya’s life and teachings through director Jan Schmidt-Garre’s eyes on his search for authentic yoga. His journey leads him from the legendary students and relatives of Krishnamacharya’s to the source of modern yoga, at the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. He discovers the different styles and teaching methods of the yoga masters; from Pattabhi Jois he learns the ‘Sun salutation’, from Iyengar the ‘King of Asanas’, the headstand, and finally Sribhashyam reveals to him his father’s secret ‘Life Saving Yoga Session’.

Breath of the Gods is an eye-opening journey to the origins of modern yoga, featuring interviews with yoga legends B.K.S Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and T. K. Sribhashyam, and rare historical footage.

http://www.breathofthegods.com

If you go to see it, let us know what you think about it!

Interview with Shubha Krishnamacharya

Shubha Krishnamacharya

Attending the film premiere of “Der atmende Gott” or “Breath of the Gods” in Berlin were T.K. Sribhashyam and Srishubha, son and daughter of T. Krichnamacharya. We were able to join them in a 2-hour workshop and meet with Shubha for a relaxed interview. Here are some highlights:

  • During T. Krishnamacharya’s time there was no real sense within the family that he was doing something extraordinary. Yoga was a relic of a forgotten past. He taught yoga, mostly in 1:1 sessions.  Interestingly, if Shubha was asked by her schoolmates in Mysore about her father’s profession she would say: “He is a professor in philosophy” rather than “He is a Yoga teacher”. This story is very similar to the experience of his disciple B.K.S. Iyengar (Srishubha’s uncle).  In the early years, B.K.S. Iyengar was not able to make a living by teaching yoga.  He gave between 10,000 and 15,000 demonstrations to raise awareness of yoga, which is now a mass movement. Srishubha told us, “I cannot believe this – when my father started there was nothing.”
  • “Yoga is a very personal experience, you have to do it for yourself, you have to feel what you are doing… It is not the sweating, or not sweating, (in India) it is not the physical thing we are concentrated on, we concentrate more on mental. In India it is more of a 1:1 style, I teach you once a week, and afterward you practice alone,” says Shubha. This 1:1 style is still the core of the teaching philosophy at the Krichnamacharya Yoga Mandiram centre in Chennai (one of the top centres in our new yoga book).
  • “The essence of my father’s teaching was always the coordination of movement and breath,” – today a well accepted statement in most styles of yoga. “Breath controls the mind, and asana and breathing come together. The aim is to be mentally present, not only physically.”
  • “The course you decide depends on age,” says Shubha. In India, yoga is for all ages, young and old. This is an aspect of yoga we hope will increase in the West as well.
  • “Let us make the breathing longer, so we can live longer, “ says Shubha. The lungs get better exercise which seems to be at least part of the secret as to why some yogis reach such an old age. According to some yogis we have only a fixed amount of breaths in our lives, so if we breathe longer, we live longer.
  • “Yoga is very much about concentration. The coordination of movement and awareness makes the difference.”
  • “Sweating is the result of physical exercise. Yoga is both, mind and body.”
  • Yoga.in: “What would you say to someone as to why he should come to India to experience yoga?”
    Shubha: “My father would say it is the ‘gurukulam style’… Let us at least dream of that. It is a way of life, it is not just one or two hours of you doing yoga… My father used to do, we used to follow. He did not tell what to do. We did not do any research. Is this good, is this bad? It was a total surrender…“
  • Yoga.in: “Why did P. Jois, Desikachar and Iyengar create different yoga styles, even if they were educated in total surrender and gurukula style?”
    Shubha:  “When it is an individual class, we close the doors. What my sister has learned is not automatically what I have learned.“ This means that the Krishnamacharya style of teaching is a 1:1 teacher/student ratio (at the absolute maximum it is 1:2 if the students are from the same family), so each student is taught yoga based on their personal needs, abilities and limitations.
  • “In India it is very uncommon to ask a question. Now it has become popular, but before not. Now I would like to ask my father many questions, and one of them would even be ‘What is yoga for you?’ ”.
Shubha Krishnamacharya
Shubha Krishnamacharya

Many thanks to Shubha Krishnamacharya for her time and for sharing with us her insightful experiences.