The man credited with introducing yoga to the world, BKS Iyengar, passed away yesterday. An
unlikely candidate for the job, frail and sickly as he was as a child, Iyengar developed a particular form of yoga, named after him, that focuses on asanas and pranayama. Essentially, this means Iyengar Yoga eschews the more vigorous and fast-paced versions like Bikram Yoga and power yoga to concentrate on teaching students to precisely align their bodies in the way instructed, and use proper breath control. It is a more therapeutic and inclusive form of the ancient discipline, which can be practised by anyone, irrespective of age.
Iyengar himself was the best advertisement for his form of yoga. “Practice,” he once told a reporter, “is my feast,” and it was a testament to his will and determination that he could continue to do his famous headstands even into his 90s. And it is, perhaps, that promise of longevity that continues to draw acolytes to Iyengar Yoga, considered the most widely practiced form of yoga, with over 100 institutes, teachers and associations across the world.
After a meeting he described as “fortuitous” between himself and renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who complained about trouble sleeping and a failure to be able to relax, Iyengar travelled across the world, popularising yoga as both an art and a science. In his wake, yoga has become something of a global fad and celebrity catnip, with imitators and competitors potting the landscape. Yet, in the West, and increasingly in India, the yoga industry is concerned with the physical results of yoga as an exercise form, rather than the more spiritual aspects of it. Iyengar disdained such entrepreneurship, but in many ways, he paved the way for it.