"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
B. K. S. Iyengar
Already a legend in his lifetime, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar became known by his abbreviated name B. K. S. Iyengar and as the "master of asana". His knowledge about yoga was not merely theoretical, but drew from his own incredibly rich experience.
Born in poor health in a South Indian village in 1918, weak and sickly throughout his early years, he regained his health after the great yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, his brother-in-law, taught him yoga for two years. When he was only 18, his teacher sent him to Pune to give yoga lessons. For the following decades, Iyengar immersed himself in practising asanas, often up to eight hours a day. He studied his own body and thoroughly explored every single asana, its alignment and effects. In 1975, he opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, which has since become the centre for his particular style of yoga: Iyengar Yoga.
During class, he would occasionally smack his students and actively correct their posture, and these direct adjustments would leave a permanent impression on their subconscious. A softer correction or the right words at the right time had lasting effects as well.
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.