Who Is BKS Iyengar?
BKS Iyengar is a famous name in the yoga community, but who was he?
BKS Iyengar is one of the most important yoga teachers of the 20th century. He was the founder of Iyengar Yoga and is often credited with bringing the practice of yoga to the West.
BKS Iyengar (his full name is Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, but it’s a bit of a mouthful, so people refer to him as BKS Iyengar) was born in Bellur, Karnataka, India in 1918.
In the 1920s, modern yoga institutes were set up for the first time near Mumbai - they spread the modern style of hatha yoga, promoting its medical benefits as well as health and fitness benefits.
After studying in Mysore with his brother-in-law T. Krishnamacharya, Iyengar moved to Pune in India to teach yoga. He developed a name for himself here, especially in therapeutic yoga.
In 1951, he met the famous American violinist Yehudi Menuhin who was in pain from years of playing the violin. Iyengar healed him and within minutes Menuhin was in a deep, pain-free sleep. They became lifelong friends and it catapulted Iyengar’s name into the American consciousness.
In 1966, Iyengar published his book called Light On Yoga and it took the USA by storm. It was an encyclopaedic yoga book of postures with instructions on how to practice at home and how it would benefit your health.
It was a totally modern look at yoga and introduced the yoga revolution to America for the first time. He emphasised the fact that practicing yoga wasn’t like joining a cult or a religion, it is a secular practice that should be accessible to everyone.
He had many famous followers including author Aldous Huxley, actress Annette Bening, and designer Donna Karen.
Sadly Iyengar died on 20th August 2014 at the age of 95, but his yoga legacy has left a mark on the Western world forever. In 2004, he was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
WHAT IS IYENGAR YOGA?
Iyengar yoga is the style of yoga founded by BKS Iyengar. It’s a type of hatha yoga that focuses on the alignment of postures and breath control. Close attention is paid to the detail of each pose. Iyengar insisted on yoga practice being anatomically precise as well as truly engaging the mind throughout the practice.
Iyengar yoga is an accessible form of yoga - anyone can practice Iyengar yoga - and over time, it will increase your strength and suppleness, improve your posture and quieten the thinking mind. It is now one of the most widely practiced styles of yoga in the world.
He wasn’t the first to introduce props into yoga practice but he was a major proponent of making yoga accessible to all and using props to help students who couldn’t do poses otherwise.
You can see an example of Iyengar teaching above.
WHERE CAN I PRACTICE IYENGAR YOGA?
You can find an Iyengar yoga class near you on the Iyengar Yoga UK website. They have a great search facility that you can type your postcode into and find a class near you. Alternatively if you live in the capital, check out the Iyengar Yoga Institute which run some of the best yoga courses in London.
BKS Iyengar ensured that all classes taught by Iyengar teachers have the same method of teaching. Instructors are all trained under the same yoga teacher training course, so you can go anywhere in the world and understand the alignment of the postures as they will be the same.
You can visit the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, Maharashtra, India which is the world’s hub for Iyengar yoga. It is now operated by BKS Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta. Note however that they won’t accept applications from people who have practicing yoga regularly for less than eight years.