Saturday, April 24, 2010

BKS Iyengar - The Living Legend of Yoga

Today’s update is about a Legendary Icon of India. He is the most eminent personalities of India, in fact one of the most eminent personalities of the world, The Padma Shri, The Padma Bhushan and the Living Legend of our times Sri Bellur Krishnamacharya Sundararaja Iyenger, popularly known as Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. This update on my blog is dedicated to the Legendary Yoga Teacher, A Genius artist at work and an innovator called BKS Iyengar and all his followers. BKS Iyengar is considered as one of the foremost yoga teachers who introduced yoga to the western world. He is undoubtedly among one of the most influential persons of India internationally during the century. India is very lucky to have blessed with a Sanjeevani (The life saving medicine) called Yoga. Yoga, an integrated system of physical and spiritual exercises, had a history that dated back thousands of years in India and was intertwined with the development of the Hindu religion. Yet even there it remained something of a specialized interest when Iyengar began his long career. Iyengar himself could contort his body into seemingly impossible shapes, but he also spread the idea that yoga was something anyone could do and that it offered numerous benefits for an individual's overall health. Iyengar's 1966 book Light on Yoga has appeared in at least 18 languages and his teachings, writings and devoted corps of students and followers have spread the practice of his Iyengar yoga over much of the world. Guru Iyengar’s story is quite interesting one and has gone through a roller coaster ride in his entire life. There might be many enthusiasts who would like to learn about the life story of this great master of yoga. In this update of my blog I tried to bring as many facets of Guru Iyengar’s life as possible in the permitted parameter of my blog. There are several stories about Guru Iyengar all over internet. I have referred many of these stories published over internet and a few on print media and regrouped all the best sorted information for you. I hope you are going to like this presentation. Guru Iyengar has a vast and larger than life image. It is really hard to sketch his life story in a single update. I have no choice but to publish it in a single update for reader’s interests. Though you might find it little lengthy, I assure you won’t regret reading the entire story of Guru Iyenger. 

His Birth in 1918:
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was a native of Bellur in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, born on December 14, 1918, in the midst of the worldwide influenza epidemic of that year. Iyengar's family was part of the high-status Brahmin caste and the name Iyengar is associated with the family's membership in a group of South Indian adherents of a specific philosophical branch of Hinduism. Iyengar's father, Bellur Krishnamachar Iyengar, was a schoolmaster in a nearby village and the family raised crops on a small piece of land they had inherited.

His childhood:
BKS Iyengar was born into a large but poor family. Iyengar's mother, Seshamma, was stricken with influenza during the pregnancy that culminated in his birth and Iyengar suffered from health problems that would plague him for much of his childhood. The omens for his survival were not good. As he put it in his book Light on Life- “I looked sickly with thin arms and legs, a protruding stomach and a heavy head. My appearance was not prepossessing. I was weak and sickly and my childhood was marked with one bout of ill health after another. Most notably, I was a victim of malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. The general malnutrition caused by poverty merely exacerbated the situation and sometimes I would have more than one of these ailments to contend with. At one point, the doctors predicted that I would not live past 20. The constant bouts of ill health kept me away from school for long periods and my education suffered. A deep melancholy overtook me and at times I asked myself whether life was worth the trouble of living. Fortunately, however, the school I attended taught English, a subject that stood me in extremely good stead later.” Iyengar's situation was worsened by the death of his father from untreated appendicitis when Iyengar was nine. The young boy did poorly in school and he failed a key English-language examination. The exam result brought his schooling to an end and Iyengar's family began to wonder how the still frail young man might make a living.

His Interaction with Guru Krishnamacharya and practice of Yoga:
After the death of his father, the young Iyengar was sent to Bangalore to live with one of his brothers. But while he was passing through his painful and difficult childhood, an extremely accomplished man named Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was busy educating himself widely and deeply in yoga and the Indian philosophies. Krishnamacharya studied in Varanasi, Nepal and several other places, including seven years in Tibet. A polymath, he gained degrees from some of the best universities in India, including the Royal College of Mysore. In 1924 he returned to his native Karnataka. Against much opposition, for even in India yoga was not yet recognized as a serious profession, Krishnamacharya decided that he would teach yoga. It was not long before he came to the attention of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur IV, the Maharaja of Mysore. The Maharaja offered Krishnamacharya patronage and he became a personal advisor to the Royal Family, having the run of the Jagamohan Palace in Mysore. The Maharajah also endowed a Yogashala (school of yoga) for Krishnamacharya. And now that he had status, a profession and money, Krishnamacharya felt ready to marry. As fate would have it, the woman Krishnamacharya married was Namagiriyamma, one of BKS Iyengar's older sisters.

Krishnamacharya and Iyengar met for the first time in March 1934 when Iyengar was 16. It was the Maharajah of Mysore's custom to send Krishnamacharya to various places to spread knowledge of yoga. On one of those educational visits Krishnamacharya and some of his pupils were due to visit Kaivalyadham at Lonavala, in the foothills between Mumbai and Pune (at one time often written as 'Poona'). Krishnamacharya stopped off in Bangalore, where Iyengar was then living with his brother, to ask if Iyengar would go to Mysore to take care of his sister Namagiriyamma, now Krishnamacharya's wife, until Krishnamacharya could return. The young Iyengar had heard of the lush palaces in Mysore and curious to see them for himself he was more than willing to accede to this request. His new brother-in-law therefore bought him the fateful railway ticket to stay with his sister that would change his life.

When Krishnamacharya returned to Mysore, Iyengar asked for his brother-in-law's permission to return to his home in Bangalore. To Iyengar's surprise, Krishnamacharya refused. He instead suggested that Iyengar should remain in Mysore. He could enrol at the Mysore High School while Krishnamacharya taught him a few yoga asanas, or postures, at the Yogashala to improve his health. The two offers were tempting for Iyengar was not only grateful for the opportunity to perhaps catch up on some of his missed studies, but of even greater interest was the possibility that he might at last be able to improve his health. The plan was duly set in motion. And when Krishnamacharya was confronted with Iyengar's stiff, weak and sickly body, he apparently predicted that Iyengar would never amount to much in yoga. But since it was Krishnamacharya who planted the seed of yoga in him, BKS Iyengar calls Krishnamacharya his guru.

His First steps in to yoga:
Having spent most of his childhood in bed recovering from one bout of sickness after another, the young BKS Iyengar was understandably extremely weak and stiff. When he bent down in a despairing effort to touch his toes, his hands would barely reach down as far as his knees. His body did not take well to the physical activity imposed upon it by the new regimen of asana practice prescribed by his recently acquired Guru. Iyengar worked hard but his body just did not seem to respond. Krishnamacharya was stern and demanding -- a perfectionist and a taskmaster. He would force Iyengar to have classes at least twice a day and sometimes more. Iyengar recalls suffering severe aches and pains and intense fatigue, but his diligence was unrelenting. Iyengar was not developing much of a love for yoga. Outside of the asana classes, Krishnamacharya paid virtually no attention to him.

The plan to study at Mysore High School having fallen through and Iyengar's life was far from enjoyable as he spent his time in between asana sessions doing such things as watering the plants and undertaking other menial tasks. About the only relief he had was a friendship he formed with his roommate Keshavamurthy, who also happened to be Krishnamacharya's favourite pupil and chosen protege. Although Krishnamacharya continued to pay scant attention to Iyengar, Iyengar himself noticed that the magic of yoga was beginning to take hold of him and his health was slowly but surely improving.

The supremely diligent student The Maharajah of Mysore still liked to send Krishnamacharya and a few of his star pupils to various locations around India to give lectures and demonstrations on yoga. Sometimes, however, those lecture-demonstrations were held at the Yogashala itself. After Iyengar had been with his guru for about a year or so, one such important demonstration, to be attended by some important dignitaries, was pending. As usual, Keshavamurthy was to be the star attraction.

The U turn in Iyengar’s Life:
BKS Iyengar's new life was set firmly on its new path when one early morning, Keshavamurthy simply disappeared off the face of the earth and could not be found anywhere. He was never to return. Being only days away from the Yogashala's very important demonstration, Krishnamacharya grew desperate. He had little alternative but to turn his attention to his earnest new pupil. He quickly began teaching Iyengar some of the more advanced asanas that were to be the climax of the demonstration and Iyengar could do nothing but make the best efforts he could. He practiced diligently and surprised his teacher by performing exceptionally well at the demonstration.

If Krishnamacharya now realized that he had the stuff of gold in his hands, he did not show it in any way -- except to begin instructing this exceptionally diligent pupil in earnest and to impose upon him the toughest and most difficult of routines. Iyengar responded to this attention by making extremely rapid progress and he was soon assisting his guru in the classes at the Yogashala. He also took Keshavamurthy's place and accompanied Krishnamacharya to a variety of yoga demonstrations around the country.

Although people were beginning to sing Iyengar's praises both inside and outside the Yogashala, relations with his guru did not improve much. At one demonstration Krishnamacharya had indicated to Iyengar which poses he was to perform and in what order. Iyengar had practiced them, only for Krishnamcharya to suddenly change the content and order of the programme. Amongst other things, he was now to perform Hanumanasana (the full splits). Iyengar complained that he had never been taught this and so could not do it and in any case his shorts were too tight. Krishnamacharya simply called for a pair of scissors, quietly cut a slit along each side of Iyengar's shorts and said "You can do it now". Iyengar was forced to comply and tore his hamstrings in the process. Feeling hemmed in on every side, Iyengar was now praying that he would soon leave what he later came to call 'this bondage'.

The first classes fortunately for BKS Iyengar:
His escape route from this perceived tyranny was at hand. In late 1936 the Maharajah of Mysore instructed Krishnamacharya to go to northern Karnataka to give a lecture and demonstration on yoga. Krishnamacharya took Iyengar with him. Some of the ladies in the audience were very impressed and wanted to learn something of yoga. But with the Indian modesty of the time, they were very unwilling to be taught by any of the older men. As the youngest in the group, the 18-year old Sundararaja was deputed by Krishnamacharya to instruct them. Thus, began Iyengar's career as a teacher of yoga. In the mean time, he continued with his intense practice routine and his health continued to improve.

The fame of Krishnamacharya and his Yogashala had spread far and wide. In 1937, members of the Deccan Gymkhana Club in Pune, Maharashtra State wrote to Krishnamacharya asking him to send them a yoga teacher on a six-month contract. The Deccan Gymkhana being one of the oldest and most prestigious sports clubs in all of India, Krishnamacharya was thrilled to receive such an honour. Unfortunately, in spite of the importance of the offer, none of the Yogashala's students were particularly keen to go. To begin with, they had all, except Iyengar, studied at the Mysore Sanskrit Patshala. So although fluent in Sanskrit as well as their native Kannada, none of them could speak either Marathi, the language of Pune and Maharashtra, or English. And since young Sundararaja Iyengar spoke the best English in the group, Krishnamacharya ordered him to go and fill the position. And with that, BKS Iyengar's two-year apprenticeship with his Guru came to an end and he went to Pune to try his hand at being an independent teacher of yoga. Although, given the nature of the appointment, he went with some trepidation; he was also very relieved to be leaving.

The beginning of Iyengar’s Career as an Independent yoga Teacher:
When BKS Iyengar arrived in Pune to begin his new life, he had no family around him, no friends and no money. He was now 18 years old. The one factor supposedly in his favour was his grasp of English -- which was shaky to say the least! Due to the fact that his ill health had made him constantly miss classes, he had ended up failing his matriculation examination in English by three points. He was doubly disadvantaged in that he also could not speak Marathi, the local language. Never having finished even his High School education, he was acutely aware that he had no real skills. It was make or break time for the young man. Either he began making a living from this opportunity to teach yoga or he return to the Yogashala penniless and without any real prospects for an independent life. He had but one thing going for him ... his immense dedication to his daily practice routine.

Although India was the home of yoga, it was still a minority interest. Only those with a sufficiently large surplus of funds to devote to such an interest could possibly afford to attend a yoga class. Having come from an extremely impoverished background Iyengar therefore found himself mixing, through his work with the Gymkhana, with a worldly and accomplished group of people, all with a far higher educational level than his own. None of them furthermore, had to contend with the problems of malnutrition, illness and weakness of health that he had had to contend with. Iyengar therefore found himself teaching yoga to people who were not only wealthier and better educated than him, they also tended to be bigger, stronger, better fed and healthier. The Deccan was after all, a very serious sports club that regularly produced national and international champions and had a membership to reflect this. It was humiliating to him that some of his early students, particularly those coming from the Deccan Gymkhana's famous gymnasium, seemed to have a native talent for doing the asanas and so could do them better than he could even though he was supposed to be the teacher and that they could also correct his faltering English while they were doing so.

The Evolution of Iyengar Yoga:
Iyengar had an additional problem. His own Guru, Krishnamacharya, had never really divulged any systematic techniques for achieving the postures. So Iyengar did not know how to transmit the techniques effectively. He realized for himself that there were only three ways out of this particular difficulty. His first option was to consult his Guru regularly. His second was to read many books, to memorize their contents and then to divulge them to his students. His third was to instruct his students from a direct personal experience. As to the first option, since Krishnamacharya was now hundreds of miles away, this was not possible. In any case, their personal relations had never been of this cozy nature which is why Iyengar had come to Pune in the first place. As to the second, Iyengar did not know where to get such books ... and even if they could be obtained, such was his character that he was not prepared to pass on second-hand information. So only the third option remained. Iyengar therefore opted to practice with renewed vigour so that he could gain as much first-hand information as rapidly as possible so that he could then pass it on to those who came to study with him. With zeal and intensity unmatched virtually anywhere in any discipline, BKS Iyengar set about gaining the first-hand direct experiential information that he needed in order to fulfill his new responsibilities as a teacher of yoga.

His objective now clear, Iyengar practiced 8 hours a day and more so that he might become truly the master of the little that had been passed on to him by his Guru. Thanks to his unwavering dedication his understanding of yoga improved. He practiced a variety of techniques on himself, using his own body as a guinea-pig. He suffered immense pains and difficulties, thereby determining that there were correct and incorrect ways to do the various asanas. He focused minutely on the various parts of his body in the many asanas he performed and he learned from bitter experience that there were strategies that when pursued brought success and health; but that there were also strategies that would bring the exact opposite.

And so the hallmarks of what would eventually become known as 'Iyengar yoga' began to be laid. It is now the world's most practiced form. Due to his practice and his investigations, Iyengar developed a clear and systematic approach to his craft. It made yoga accessible to people of all ages, in all locations, in all conditions and from all walks of life. No matter what might be their starting point, Iyengar gave a clear set of progressive, systematic and detailed instructions -- stressing their safety -- as to how they were to proceed. He observed in fine and clear detail the finest and most intricate movements of the body in every pose and noted the subtlest of responses both externally and internally as he carefully adjusted and shifted this part of the body or that. By working tirelessly and endlessly upon himself he developed knowledge unmatched by any.

The incomparable information that Iyengar gained from his personal practice was passed on directly to his students. Another important feature that became another of the distinguishing hallmarks of 'the Iyengar method' was that like his Guru, Krishnamacharya, Iyengar was always willing to modify and adapt the asanas to meet the needs of his students. Again like Krishnamacharya, he became an innovator. But ... it was not long before he was surpassing even his teacher in his knowledge and his methods. The immensely detailed observations he made of every part of the human body assisted him in conveying to others what they should do even down to detailed instructions about how the skin should be feeling, how the blood should be flowing, or what kinds of sensations they should be having in their brains, in their kidneys and in other seemingly inaccessible parts of their bodies. And although Iyengar did suffer tremendously while undertaking these researches, his overall health improved steadily and gradually. This spurred him on and he had soon left all his childhood sicknesses and weaknesses behind him. Soon, none of his students could stand before him and claim to be healthier than he was. And it was with this direct experience as a foundation and through the discoveries he made and the innovations he introduced while undertaking it, that Bellur Krishnamacharya Sundararaja Iyengar eventually became an unsurpassable and definitive world authority on how asanas should be performed, on their effectiveness and on how that effectiveness came about.

But it was not only Iyengar's own physical health that steadily improved. He noted, in his own self, a steady flowering of the qualities for which yoga is ultimately renowned: its ability to bring emotional, psychological and above all spiritual joy and equilibrium. In keeping with the five duties that fall to Iyengar, he was able to inform others that the Ultimate Reality did indeed dwell within. More than that, through his practices he was able to give clear and precise instructions to others so that they could do what he had done and notice the presence of the Divine Spirit of the Universe at any place within themselves that they might care to observe it. As a true Iyengar, his message was that by careful practice and through due attention paid to the subtleties of execution, anyone with the desire, no matter where they might be forced to begin, could make such progress in yoga that they would not only regain their physical health and mental composure, they would find themselves being reconnected with a hitherto forgotten spiritual dimension to their existence. BKS Iyengar demonstrated to others, through his own life and practice, that he had in no way forgotten that the five duties of an Iyengar were to show the way to praise the Universal Spirit and to demonstrate how to find It. Iyengar showed, through his practice, that his famous saying: 'the body is my temple and asanas are my prayers' was not a mere string of words. It was a demonstrable experiential truth that could be grasped by any. Anyone at all could transport themselves to a newer and a better life and reality by doing what he had done: to attend with observation, with clarity, with dedication and with due devotion to how and where each part of themselves should be placed. Millions have followed him on this path and have experienced what he taught, which is that health, joy, equanimity and a growth in Spirit will be theirs and that their lives will be enriched. 

His Struggle for Survival:
The news begins to spread but unfortunately, Iyengar was still not earning enough money from his yoga teaching to survive. But this did not deter him from what he saw as a necessity. Hungry or not he would continue with his strict and rigorous practice routine. Days would go by when he had no more than a cup of tea to sustain him. A plate of rice would have to be rationed out to last him for three days. At other times he would fill his belly with water from an outside tap just so that his stomach would feel full enough not to bother him for a while. That done, he would return to his practising. Nothing swayed him from his dedication to his chosen task: to become the most effective teacher and practitioner it was in him to be. The only alternative was to return to the Yogashala in Mysore and lick his wounds and he was not yet ready for that.

Slowly and gradually, the many hours of intense practice that Iyengar put in began to bear fruit. As his knowledge and understanding increased, so also did the clarity, acuity, perceptiveness and relevance of his instructions. His pupils noticed these things ... and his reputation as an accomplished and effective teacher of yoga began to grow. Word of his skill as an instructor reached the authorities in charge of the Deccan Gymkhana and they duly showed their appreciation by extending his original six-month contract to three years. They also wanted him to teach more widely in a variety of the schools, colleges and physical education establishments that they oversaw around the city. This stability also allowed him to try to find other locations in which he could try his hand at teaching some of his own classes. It was still difficult to make a living, particularly because he was sometimes forced to cancel classes at the last moment when it turned out that one or another of the locations he was slated to use was suddenly unavailable because of some more important engagement. But his reputation for excellence eventually reached as far as Mumbai some 220 kilometres away. In 1940 he agreed to start a regular weekend class in the Bulbai Memorial Institute in that city even though it meant twelve hours of thru and fro train journey in order to honour the commitment. But ... this turned out to be one of the wisest decisions of his life as his Mumbai class was to prove to be possibly the most critical engagement of his career.

Invention of New Techniques in Yoga:
Iyengar's obsession with practice did not go unobserved by his neighbours. Some of them thought him frankly insane. He could be observed prowling the streets looking, for example, for heavy cobblestones. When he found them he would then sit calmly down in the street, draw his heels in close to his perineum, spread his knees wide out to either side, place the stones upon his knees and then sit there steadily for hours at a time ostensibly improving his baddha konasana (the wide-angle or cobbler's pose, one of the classic yoga positions). Or ... a road-building crew would pack up for the night or for the weekend and leave a previously innocuous object such as a steam roller parked there until its return. Before anyone knew what had happened, BKS Iyengar would arrive and have worked out some way to drape him over it in an effort -- ultimately successful -- to improve his practice and understanding of urdhva dhanurasana (the raised bow or "wheel" pose, another of the classic yoga asanas).

The neighbours might have been concerned, but they had in fact been given a front row seat from which they could observe the genesis of another of the distinguishing hallmarks of the developing Iyengar yoga. The master was trying to find a method to deal with yet another of the challenges that faced him as a teacher. The people now coming to him for classes were far less fit and accomplished than were the people who had generally enrolled to study at Krishnamacharya's Yogashala. His concern was finding ways to enable those who were that little bit stiffer and older to master the postures he wanted to teach them. It was thus Iyengar who devised methods to use simple everyday objects -- things that could be found in any home -- such as walls, ropes, chairs, belts, blocks and blankets as aids and props. His intent was to enable people of every shape, size and level of ability to place themselves in the most beneficial positions so that they could derive the maximum benefits that yoga had to offer in any and all poses they attempted. So effective was this approach that a healthy market now exists for 'yoga props' and for accoutrements of every description. And when standard everyday objects would not suffice, Iyengar proceeded to invent his own. A healthy commercial market also exists for 'backbenders', 'heart chakra openers', 'yoga walls', 'halasana benches' and other such devices, all originally invented by him and built to his precise design specifications by local craftsmen who were generally mystified as to what exactly they were building.

Not wanting to turn anyone away from his classes, Iyengar was also deeply concerned with how to help the sick people who frequently came to his classes. Having used yoga to heal himself, he was completely convinced that if he would but put his mind to it, he would be able to devise healing methods and practices to benefit his students. To Iyengar, therefore, asana became a healing practice. Yoga was therapy. He set about devising specific programmes of practice to benefit students. Due to the rigour and intensity of his own practice, his observation and his complete familiarity with the workings of the human body, he was ultimately able to bring relief to thousands of people sporting a bewilderingly wide array of health issues and disabilities are their problems physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. Although other yoga systems and teachers began to advertise themselves as also having therapeutic benefits, Iyengar's expertise remains untouched. Anyone seriously wanting assistance in yoga therapeutics, or else wanting to undertake research in the efficacy of yoga, either goes straight to BKS Iyengar or to someone trained by him and in his methods.

The blessings of his Marriage in 1943:
But since these achievements of BKS Iyengar were still some way in the future, the neighbours' concerns needed to be addressed. Word about their doubts and worries concerning his overall mental state reached his brothers who then felt it best to take action. Their solution was to advise him to get married. They were convinced that this would force him to 'settle down' and adopt a more normal pattern of life. But Iyengar was resistant for the marriage as his classes were growing, albeit slowly. In any case, what other trade could he ply? He did not want anything to interfere with his long practices for they were the foundation of his entire technique. Moreover, he did not feel that he was yet earning enough to support a family. He was barely able to support himself. But Iyengar's brothers were insistent. They cast around for a suitable match. They eventually found a delightful 16-year old girl, Srimati Ramamani. They then went back to Iyengar to promote her as a prospect. The most they could get from him was a grudging agreement to at least meet her. And upon meeting her he was most taken with her, as she was with him and they both willingly consented to the arrangement. He and Ramamani were duly married in 1943.

For her part, when she married her Sundararaja, Ramamani knew nothing about yoga. That notwithstanding, she soon became the unwavering source of all his strength, of his commitment and of the progress that he continued to make in his career as a teacher. She supported his practice, providing him with everything he needed in the way of space, time and energy. She became his finest critic and his most knowledgeable adviser. She provided him with feedback in his many investigations. But Ramamani also bore him five daughters and one son which she took care of happily, making sure that her husband had all the time he needed to continue with his investigations into the mysteries of life through asana and so that he could then pass on what he had uncovered to others through his teachings. Indeed, it was Ramamani and not her husband, who introduced their children to yoga.

That Iyengar had made another good move in marrying Ramamani and that she was the ideal partner to him, is confirmed by a story he often recounts. He dates his 'sudden interest in yoga', as he later put it, to 1946 -- when he had been married for three years and had already been practicing with ever-increasing intensity for over twelve! Iyengar apparently dreamed that he saw the family deity, Lord Venkateshwara, also commonly known as Balaji, who blessed him with one hand and gave him a few grains of rice with the other. Balaji also spoke to him and told him that yoga and its practicing and teaching were to be his vocation and that from that moment on he was to have no further worries about his welfare. Iyengar awoke to find, to his surprise, that Ramamani had also had a dream that very same night. In her dream, Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, had placed a coin in her hand saying that it was the return of some money borrowed from Iyengar long before. They were both amazed. And the very next day some of Iyengar's pupils contacted him wanting to arrange a fuller programme of lessons. According to Iyengar, up until that day he had done yoga not for any pleasure it might have brought him, but simply as a way of earning a living. But from that point on, his attitude shifted and he began to do yoga for its own sake and for no other reason.

In spite of their concordant dreams, life for the Iyengar couple did not improve immediately. Nevertheless, it was also true that from that point on their stars remained constantly in the ascendant. Iyengar began to gain influential pupils. He was soon teaching many members of Indian royalty, along with many of the country's most prominent business, sports and entertainment personalities. He also gave hundreds upon hundreds of demonstrations before dignitaries of all kinds such as Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. Thus within a few years of the auspicious dream, Iyengar was teaching people as famous as the philosopher and sage Jiddhu Krishnamurti and Jayaprakash Narayan who was involved in the fight for India's independence. He become one of India's star attractions and was regularly called upon to give demonstrations to visiting dignitaries and heads of state so they could admire, along with the Taj Mahal, some of the other wonders that India had to offer. He gave demonstrations in front of Pope Paul VI and Mohmad Hatta, the President of Indonesia. Dr. G. S. Pathak, the Vice President of India, was but one of the famous people who became an Iyengar student. Another famous student who was to become particularly significant to the development of Iyengar's career was Dr. Rustom Jal Vakil, India's internationally renowned coronary and hypertension specialist. Vakil is widely regarded as 'the father of modern cardiology' and was awarded the highly prestigious Albert Lasker award in 1957 for his 'brilliant and systematic studies on rauwolfia [used as a traditional Indian/ayurvedic herbal remedy] in hypertension and his effective bridging of the gap between Indian experience and that of Western medicine'. BKS Iyengar was soon busy snapping up students of no mean distinction. Many of them were garnered through the reputation built up by his initially unrewarding classes in Mumbai.

If BKS Iyengar's brothers had indeed felt that getting him to marry would divert him from his path then they miscalculated badly for they not only underestimated his own character, they also read the character of the woman they introduced him to wrongly. With her by his side he not only became more determined than ever to stick to what he was doing, but they had given him someone who would love him and give him the strength and the will to continue with his investigations. Ramamani was someone who was prepared to devote her life to assisting him in developing his unique approach to the subject that had become his life. 

His Friendship with a famous violin maestro ‘Yehudi Menuhin’:
The maestro and the queen in 1948 the famous violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin was sitting in his osteopath's office waiting for his appointment when a small book on yoga caught his eye. He was already suffering from a variety of the muscle and skeletal aches and pains that have ruined the career of many a budding string player. Since he knew nothing about yoga Menuhin, a very curious man with immensely broad interests, opened the book. He was immediately fascinated by the contents and felt he would like to know more about this subject.

As well as being one of the greatest violinists of all time, Yehudi Menuhin was an enormously generous man with global and humanitarian interests. He was famous for his charity concerts in support of causes that interested him. In 1952 he was invited to India by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, to give such a series of concerts. He met Nehru for the first time after one of the scheduled concerts and mentioned the book he had read. Nehru smiled and immediately dared Menuhin to stand on his head. Much to everyone's surprise Menuhin accomplished this successfully. Nehru then displayed his own headstand. This relatively light-hearted incident made the headlines all over India. Yoga teachers from every quarter tried to contact the violin wunderkind to offer him their guidance. Menuhin met and took lessons from a goodly number, but none of them particularly impressed him. But he did mention his interest to Dr. Rustam Vakil's wife. She immediately referred him to the family guru, BKS Iyengar.

Word was sent to BKS Iyengar and arrangements were made for them to meet. The only time Menuhin could find free for his first yoga session was 7 am in the morning. Somewhat reluctantly, Iyengar made the 7-hour journey for what was supposed to be a quick five-minute session befor Menuhin had to leave for another appointment. The five minute session stretched out into three and a half hours as Menuhin began to feel transformed and revitalized doing a few asanas under Iyengar's instruction. And when Menuhin mentioned that he was almost constantly fatigued, was never really able to relax and was unable to sleep, in less than one minute Iyengar apparently had him dozing and snoring gently away for the first time in days! The two men formed an extremely close friendship which lasted until Menuhin's death 47 years later in 1999.

In 1954, Menuhin returned to Mumbai. He and Iyengar had corresponded regularly and even by mail Menuhin had received enough assistance and benefits for him to know that he wanted to commit himself as a regular student. And he informed Iyengar as much. Menuhin became an earnest and diligent student, making his yoga practice a regular feature of his life. In 1982, for example, he was invited to conduct the celebrated Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at its 100th jubilee celebrations. He conducted the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony standing on his head while directing the orchestra with his feet. Under the programme of asanas that Iyengar prescribed for him Yehudi Menuhin's muscular pains disappeared completely. Menuhin wrote that "yoga made its contribution to my quest to understand consciously the mechanics of violin playing" and he also called Iyengar "my best violin teacher".

Guru Iyenger’s Relationship with Elisabeth – the Queen Mother of Belgium
Menuhin's schedule was busy and it was not practical for him to return constantly to India to have yoga lessons. He therefore invited Iyengar to leave India with him as his private tutor. A benefit would be that Iyengar would also be able to pass on his teachings to others. Iyengar accepted this invitation and travelled with Menuhin to Britain, France and Switzerland, giving his first demonstrations in all those places. Iyengar met and taught some of the most famous artists and musicians in the world such as the pianists Sir Clifford Curzon and Lilli Kraus and the cellist Jacqueline du Pre.

One particularly significant person that Iyengar met during this period was the redoubtable lady Queen Elisabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium. She and her husband King Albert I had together steered Belgium through the disasters of the First World War. Her husband's heroic resistance leading the Belgian Army against superior German forces had given the French enough time to stage what became known as 'the Miracle of the Marne'. Elisabeth had distinguished herself in the war by not only opening a field hospital, but by serving in it personally as a nurse, even though it was at that time unheard of for any member of any Royal Family to minister to wounded common soldiers. Unfortunately, King Albert died tragically in a mountain accident in February 1934, the same year that Iyengar met his Guru and began his life of yoga. Queen Elisabeth was therefore alone when a second and far more devastating invasion by the Germans occurred in the Second World War. This time she was relatively helpless to assist. She found solace in her art, her music and her charitable works. But once her country was liberated, she swung into action, involving herself deeply in the restoration of her country. In 1958, she became the first member of the European royalty to be received at the Kremlin -- something that resonated with Iyengar given that he himself gave demonstrations in front of Marshal Bulganin, an ex-Premier of Russia and Nikita Kruschev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Russia. In 1961 the Queen Mother even visited China despite the fact that it was against the express wishes of her grandson King Baudouin who said 'Grandmother, you are going to bother quite a few people'. She replied by saying '... thanks to the Lord those people are fewer and fewer every day'.

BKS Iyengar was introduced to Queen Elisabeth in 1958 when she was already 85 years old. She wanted to learn to stand on her head and was not about to take 'No' for an answer saying: 'if you can't teach me to stand on my head, you can leave'. With some trepidation and acutely aware what headlines there would be if the august queen did not survive the experience, Iyengar carefully positioned his feet and his body to allow for the maximum possibility of success and hoisted her up onto her head. Although this was remarkable enough, everyone around was rather more concerned with whether or not he could bring her down safely again. Queen Elisabeth was so taken with Iyengar that she gave him two gifts that ever afterwards remained precious to him: a bust of herself that she had sculpted with her own hands; and a fine gold watch that Iyengar wore proudly and continuously for many days afterwards.

In 1965 Iyengar was teaching in Gstaad, Switzerland, when he received a telephone call from Queen Elisabeth, then 92 years old. She had just suffered a stroke and requested his presence. He flew to her immediately. Under his instruction she was able to regain a respectable amount of movement, being again able to hold and use a fork. When it was time for him to depart, his erstwhile queen tearfully held up her right cheek, spoke directly to Iyengar and said: "Kiss me." Iyengar bent forwards and did so; and when she offered the other cheek he kissed that one also. With the tears now rolling freely down over her face the Queen bade farewell to her Indian guru for the last time. The great lady died shortly afterwards on November 23rd. 1965.

World Recognition of Iyenger Yoga:
Light in Europe BKS Iyengar had now had the opportunity to visit Europe. He had met many dignitaries, formed extremely close relationships with a few of them and been able to give them the benefit of his many deep and intensive years of practice and reflection. But if that had been his sole achievement, the story of Iyengar yoga would have ended right there and then. People like Menuhin and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium would have died with fond memories of their private yoga teacher and the rest of the world would have been none the wiser.

But ... that was not all there was to Iyengar; and no more so was that all that there was to the unique insights and teachings he had developed. India was granted its independence from the British rule on August 15th, 1947. All through the 1930s, '40s and 50s interest in all things Indian grew as the world at large learned more about India's ancient heritage, its philosophy, its arts and crafts, its music and its culture. When he first came to Europe in 1954, it was the first time that many Westerners had been exposed to yoga. As the 'counter-culture' revolution of the 1960s hit its stride, such things as yoga and meditation became a part of world culture. The name of BKS Iyengar may not, at any one given moment, have been as widely recognizable as that of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri Chinmoy, or Ravi Shankar, but he has lasted as long as any and is now at the very least as well known as they -- and he is considerably better known than many others who had their 10 minutes of fame and then disappeared into obscurity.

It is indeed arguable that over his lifetime BKS Iyengar has done more than any other person to spread the word about the practice and benefits of yoga. This begs the two questions 'Why?' and 'How?' Iyengar has been able to do this because of his pedagogical approach -- i.e. his theory and practice of teaching.

Iyengar's own adventure with teaching yoga began because he wished to resolve a specific problem: how to teach what he had himself learned in such a way that it was clear and easy to understand to those who came to study with him. Days and weeks and months and years of deep and intense study and reflection had gradually enabled him to draw forth the essential principles. Yet although the essential principles he elucidated were easy to grasp, the depth and profundity of the human mind and spirit -- the real topics in yoga -- remained ever evident. Even as Iyengar students set to on absorbing those same fundamentals, they could appreciate, right from the outset, that a lifetime of opportunities for the study of the body, the mind, the spirit and the diverse interactivity yet unity of these, had also been made available to them. Thus Iyengar's students were able to make immediate and genuine but non-trivial beginnings to a study they could see would reshape their lives. And the exact same technique he had used to help Queen Elisabeth stand on her head at 85, or remedy the musculature of Menuhin's violin playing would work for anyone of similar build, disposition and circumstances. The techniques were not reserved for the famous or for royalty alone.

As the profile of such activities as yoga and meditation grew, so also did the name of Iyengar. The reason was simple. Iyengar was offering to ordinary people exactly the same commodity he was offering to the entitled and the rich and famous: an opportunity to grow in spirit and to gain satisfaction in life by applying the deceptively simple techniques he had gleaned through years of dedicated study. All over Europe the word spread about the magic that BKS Iyengar could weave by no more than getting people to move their fingers and toes. And from all corners of the continent they flocked to him.

When BKS Iyengar accepted Menuhin's invitation in 1954, it set the pattern of his life and his teaching for the next two decades. He would leave India to teach Menuhin, Menuhin's family and their close friends. Initially, those friends would join in on the Menuhin's sessions. But eventually, outside sessions in other premises had to be arranged to satisfy the ever-increasing numbers who wanted to join in. After a few years there were large numbers of people dotted around the various countries of Europe who eagerly awaited his return the following year so that they could continue learning from him and so that they could keep being transported to the places and the states of mind and spirit that he seemed able to guide them to by doing no more than indicating to them precisely where and how they should arrange the various parts not just of their bodies, but of their whole beings. They came because the master teacher had perfected the art, the theory, the practice and the science of instructing them in the five duties of an Iyengar, the gross and the subtle and the external and the internal, alike.

At the invitation of Standard Oil heiress Rebekah Harkness, he came to the United States in 1956. American interest in yoga was growing—indeed, Indian gurus were already active there—but Iyengar was repelled by the country's materialism. "I saw Americans were interested in the three W's—wealth, women and wine," he told O'Connor. "I was taken aback to see how the way of life here conflicted with my own country. I thought twice about coming back." Iyengar lived for a time in Switzerland and did not return to the United States until the early 1970s.

By that time, however, he had become a well-known author, in America as well as the rest of the world. Frustrated by existing yoga manuals, which he felt cheated the user by giving directions that were inadequate for the realization of the poses depicted in photographs, he wrote Light on Yoga in 1966. Iyengar worked closely with a photographer on 4,000 shots of himself in yoga poses or asanas, from which the final images in the book were selected. Four decades later, Light on Yoga was considered the preeminent yoga text in the field, with new translations into other languages appearing regularly; it was often referred to as the bible of yoga. 

Light on Yoga spawned a large group of Iyengar followers who wanted to disseminate Iyengar's ideas in a systematic way. The popularity of yoga continued to rise in the United States with the debut of the Public Broadcasting System television program Lilias! Yoga and You in 1972 and the following year the first Iyengar Yoga studio opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Iyengar himself made a return visit to the United States in 1973 and by 1984 the first annual International Iyengar Convention, held in San Francisco, drew a crowd of 800 devotees. Iyengar's followers, who referred to him as Guruji, generally maintained their adherence, despite his habit of physically slapping students who made errors; some complained (according to O'Connor) that his initials, B.K.S., could stand for "beat, kick and slap."

Iyengar divided his time between India and the West over the later decades of his life. In 1975 he established the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, named after his late wife; the institute became a key center for the training of new Iyengar instructors. Working, as he had on Light on Yoga, with native speakers of English as co-authors, he wrote seven more books, including Body the Shrine, Yoga Thy Light (1978), The Art of Yoga (1985), The Tree of Yoga (1988), Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health (2001) and Light on Life, (2005), in which he interwove practical yoga advice, philosophical reflections and stories from his own life and career. 

Gradually retiring from teaching, Iyengar was supplanted as guru by two of his children, daughter Geeta and son Prashant. He continued, however, to practice yoga on a daily basis and well into his ninth decade he was able to stand on his head and stay in that position for half an hour. In 2005 Iyengar made a tour of the United States in order to promote Light on Life, for which he had reportedly received a seven-figure advance. (He plowed the profits from his books back into his institute and into local development projects in Bellur.) By that time, Iyengar counted Hollywood celebrities, including the lithe Seinfeld actor Michael Richards and actress Annette Bening, among his followers and Iyengar Yoga schools were operating in well over 250 cities. "I am leaving everything for posterity, as a guide for generations to come," he told Hilary de Vries of the New York Times. "If they read my books, their confidence will grow so that none can shake them.

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