In the Presence of BKS Iyengar

The Iyengar yoga style is a special type of Hatha yoga. It is characterized by the development of the perfection in the asanas, all based on positioning the different parts of the body in the correct place with a great precision in the corporal alignment. The practice of this style of Yoga is systematic and accumulative, beginning with simple postures and advancing toward the most complex of them. The Iyengar yoga can be practiced by any 7 year-old grown-up, and it doesn’t matter the sex, age or the physical condition of the practitioner.

Iyengar Yoga is an approach to yoga developed by Bellur Kirshnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar Yoga aims to integrate body, mind, and soul. Iyengar Yoga is known for the dynamic precision that its practitioners exemplify in their execution of the physical asanas. It is a complete system of yoga that aims to liberate the soul by integrating the mind and the body through the practice of asanas. In Iyengar Yoga, asana practice becomes meditation in motion, and yoga itself becomes “the perfect art in action.”

In the Presence of BKS Iyengar

There are moments in the lives of those of us who seek truth and beauty that leave us forever changed. For yoga enthusiasts, one such moment was the recent Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, CO. in September 2005 where BKS Iyengar began his teaching and U.S. tour for his new book Light on Life.

As a yoga student, I was first introduced to the Iyengar method in 1977. The intelligence behind the practice gave me support, stability and freedom from nagging back and shoulder pain. BKS Iyengar was a student of Sri Krishnamacharya, the man who revived the teachings of Astanga Yoga in the 21st century. The Astanga yoga path has at its base the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the guiding principles on the path of yoga, or Union.

Mr. Iyengar shares this lineage with other notable teachers such as Patahbi Jois, T.K. Desikachar and Indra Devi. BKS Iyengar’s outstanding contribution is how he has codified and refined the practice of Asana (poses) and Pranayama (breath control) to reflect in action, the whole of the Yoga Sutras. Mr. Iyengar’s methods have been recognized the world over. In 2004 the Indian government crowned him the Emperor of Yoga, a prestigious education award, and the BBC has hailed him as “the Michelangelo of yoga”.

At Estes Park in September 2005, 800 of us stood on our mats inside a perfectly designed rectangle to define our personal space. We waited patiently chanting the Yoga Sutras and reviewing our Sanskrit on the overhead projectors. Then like a single organism, we were drawn to the stage anticipating the appearance of BKS Iyengar. The applause began the moment his face appeared and continued seemingly forever until every cell of our bodies were filled with gratitude for this great man and his life’s work. And then class began. Each senior teacher took turns teaching a yoga pose to the crowd and, after giving their best instruction, the master would speak: “Observe your mind…what is its state? Now (in tadasana), bring the inner skin of the big toe mound down onto the floor. Observe, did your mind become quiet? Peaceful? Yes or no?” Invariably, the answer would be “yes.” And so it went, pose after pose, pearls of awareness that expanded and tied together our consciousness into a seamless strand of action, peace and poise.

This was not my first experience being a student in his presence. I met Mr. Iyengar in San Francisco in 1984 at the 1st International Iyengar Yoga Convention, made a trip to India, and attended two other conventions where he taught before seeing him this year in Estes Park. Each time I have been impressed with his forthright honesty and instinctive knowledge and skill. I have watched him time and again adjust people in poses, add a prop, give weight and resistance, or take the resistance away, always with the end result of restoring them to balance and lightness of being, beyond their pain and suffering. Yes, he was always a passionate and demanding teacher, but not in any ordinary way, only 100%. This year I saw a mellow man of 87 years, easy to smile and make a joke. Yet still absolutely clear about what was important, the integration and inner freedom that was possible for every human being through the mindful practice of yoga. He wants us to see what he sees and know the importance of every nuance on the path to freedom. As his students he calls us to study long, observe carefully and learn to be fully human so that we might serve others in the highest sense.

Having myself studied and performed the basic yoga poses thousands of times over the past 25 years, I still scurried between poses to cryptically jot down each renewed or deeper insight, refusing complacency and thirsting for the larger vision of yoga, for the truth of being. I have never been disappointed by Mr. Iyengar, but rather awed by his simple yet profound teachings, his keen observations, and his deep sense of compassion and wisdom. I am still puzzling over his comment that we either breathe and draw oxygen from our brain or breathe and draw oxygen from our lungs.

Mr. Iyengar is no doubt a living master who has reached out and touched so many, often giving them back their lives after illnesses and injury. For those of us who have seen him in action he has awakened in us a deep sense of compassion and a desire to learn. Those yoga students who had the great good fortune to be in Estes Park with Mr. Iyengar have had a glimpse of the light, the wisdom, the truth, and the vast possibilities yoga has to offer. To quote the master himself, “The Light of yoga, which once lit will never dim, the better your practice, the brighter the flame.”

After studying and teaching for 25 years and assisting thousands of people in finding pain relief through yoga… I am grateful and humbled as I return again to my mat to investigate the polarity of nature and soul, to study, to learn and to grow.

Lillah Schwartz pioneered the Iyengar method in North Carolina beginning in 1981. Lillah has also become world renown for her therapeutic Yoga DVD “Relief from Neck and Back Pain”. She is an Introductory Certified Iyengar Instructor and is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her studio – Lighten Up Yoga -, which offers Yoga Classes and Yoga teacher training in downtown Asheville.