"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
B. K. S. Iyengar
Until 2014 it was possible watching a man in his 90s twist his body into impossible shapes and making it look easy... days with arguably the greatest Hatha guru in history. Named among Time Magazine's top 100 living legends, BKS Iyengar has given classes at his center in Pune, India till his last days in his present incarnation. The good news is: It still feels like the great man himself is still there. For those lucky enough to study here, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be near the old master.
Being interested in yoga no more guarantees being able to attend the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute than being a Catholic guarantees a chat with the Pope. BKS Iyengar may not be there anymore, but his teaching is very much alive, through his family, his son Prashant, his daughter Geeta, his grand-daughter Abiji. While Abiji leads a class, we can still see the presence of the master by analysing the mistakes she sees students making: He has passed on his knowledge to this highly skilled young woman who will probably one day lead the center. His footprint is here and everywhere: He has written famous books (Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Light on Life) and taught tenthousands of students in India and all around the world. Any Iyengar Yoga class on our plante is filled with quality and deep understanding of the Masters wisdom. No wonder, because after ten or twenty years of intensive, daily practice you are still at the level of a "Junior Intermediate II" or a "Junior Advanced I". Any teacher training here starts at a minimum of 3 years. Education in the system of Iyengar goes over decades or to say it with the words of his son Prashant: Many, many lifetimes.
Getting into the institute involves leaping a series of hurdles. One must have been studying Iyengar's style for a minimum of eight years, and have a personal recommendation from a qualified Iyengar teacher. This makes it in a league far-removed from a book-by-the-week yoga center. However, for those devoted to this unique style, it is worth the effort.
The center itself is designed around the principles of the trinity of humanity: there are three levels, representing the body, mind and spirit. The holy number eight (the number of limbs in Ashtanga yoga) is reflected in the columns built to support the center and its height is exactly 71 feet, the two numerals adding up to, unsurprisingly, eight.
Practice halls, or shalas, are filled with props reminiscent of bondage rooms. Ropes, mats, weights, chairs and other paraphernalia line the walls. This is the hallmark of the Iyengar style – using whatever it takes to perfect the physical pose, or asana. To Iyengar, everything can be traced back to the asana, including the blissful meditative state striven for by yoga students everywhere. For him, the body is the vehicle to the divine, so all attention must be focused on perfecting the alignment. Millimeter by millimeter, he tweaks his own asanas and those of his students until the pose is as close to perfection as possible.
There is no accommodation or food facilities on-site. The halls here are purely for yoga, and nothing but yoga. Apartments are rentable in the neighborhood and hotels are always an option. All applications for admission go through Iyengar's secretary, who also doubles as a buffer between the Iyengar family and the rest of the world. Anyone dreaming of a casual chat with one of the family members themselves can, frankly, keep dreaming. They are actually kind and approachable persons, just very sought-after and not always available.
For a student of Iyengar yoga, visiting the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute can be like icing on the cake of years of study. A little effort and the realization of a dream could bring you here, to the enchantment and chaos of India.What we know
Very difficult to enrol for non-Indians
Beginner classes open for Indians
No accommodationWhy to go
The Iyengar family
Elite learning centerWhat we love
The Iyengar family is teaching classes
The props used in this unique style
Crème de la crème of yoga students
The most distinct and innovative feature of the Iyengar method are its so-called "props": blocks, straps, blankets, chairs, and weights. They are meant to facilitate a correct alignment for all practitioners during asana practice.
An in-depth understanding of the asanas, combined with the best possible alignment enabled by specific props – this is what makes Iyengar Yoga a healing practice. After two accidents, the master successfully healed himself, drawing on his extensive knowledge of the human body, which extended into the very last cell. Everyone, even people with physical limitations, can practice the Iyengar method and experience the asanas' effects. This makes Iyengar Yoga suitable, like no other style, as a therapeutic approach and for elderly practitioners or pregnant women.
Clearly set apart from Vinyasa Flow classes, just a few postures are practised in an Iyengar setting. How precise these asanas had to be executed could be seen when the master was teaching them. Iyengar's highly detailed explanations for a single pose could easily take ten minutes, while the practitioners were holding the very same asana. Similarly, yoga teacher training takes decades, if not a lifetime.
Today, his son Prashant and his daughter Geeta manage the institute in Pune. Both of them have become masters themselves, with their own individual points of focus. His granddaughter Abhijata also teaches and lives the Iyengar tradition and is well on her way to becoming an important personality in the yoga world herself.
The focus on perfect alignment, as practised in Iyengar Yoga, has had a great influence on other styles of yoga common in the West. During the first few classes, one might find the long holds of postures boring or not demanding enough. That is why many beginners feel drawn to Vinyasa Flow classes. But after practising the Iyengar method for a while, this perception may well change, and one will find inspiration in this particular precision that goes into aligning body and mind. The long in-depth teacher training required ensures the high standard of practically all Iyengar classes. Everyone should try Iyengar Yoga, at least once, to experience the unique approach coined by the "master of asana". Especially older people, pregnant women, or those who have sustained injuries or are prone to them, are in good hands here.
Sri Prashant Iyengar is the only son of B. K. S. Iyengar. With his sister Geeta he manages the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune. He is an acknowledged figure in yoga and, as a linguistic virtuoso, has a unique way of sharing the profound wisdom of old scriptures and yoga teachings, even with Western practitioners. He is also a talented violinist and great music lover. His deeply inspiring lectures and thoughts on the practice and philosophy of yoga have been widely published.