Maha Yogi B.K.S. Iyengar
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar has been one of the foremost teachers of YOGA in the world and has been practicing and teaching for over sixty years.
Millions of dedicated students now follow his method .. and there are “ Iyengar Yoga Centres ” all over the world.
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar had written many books on yogic practice and YOGA philosophy including “ Light on Yoga ” .. “ Light on Pranayama ” .. “ Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ” .. and many more.
“ birth and child-hood ”
Iyengar was born on 14th December, Year 1918, into a large family in the village of BELLUR, Kolar District, Karnataka State.
His mother gave birth to him during an influenza epidemic, leaving him sick and weak and his father died when he was only nine years. As a result, he went to live with his brother in Bengaluru. His child-hood was further marked by a great many serious illnesses .. including malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid, together with malnutrition.
“ the Guru ”
In the Year 1934 .. his brother-in-law .. Yogi Tirumalai Krishnamacharya .. asked young Iyengar, to go to Mysore, so as to improve his health through yoga practice.
There, youthful Iyengar learned asana practice, which steadily improved his health. Yogi Krishnamacharya had Iyengar and other students give YOGA demonstration in the Maharaja’s court at Mysore, which had a positive influence on Iyengar.
Iyengar considers his association with his brother-in-law a turning point in his life
“ receiving YOGA ”
Yogi Krishnamacharya ran a yoga school in the palace of his patron, the Maha Raja of Mysore, where Iyengar eventually received some basic Yoga Philosophy instruction and asana practices to improve his health.
The Guru was a terrifying personality who drove young Iyengar hard and so, at first, Iyengar had to struggle from day to day. However, this diligence in practice gradually paid off as he mastered most of the yogic postures and dramatically improved his health.
“ going to Pune ”
Then, in the Year 1937, Iyengar was asked by his Guru to go to Pune to teach YOGA.
In Pune, life was still very difficult as he was a stranger there with poor language skills, speaking only a little broken English and a little of the local language Marathi.
As he had left school before he could complete his school final examinations and had no particular educational skills, he was left with little choice but to continue to make his living through teaching YOGA. Moreover, as he felt he had little experience or not very great theoretical knowledge, he decided to practice with determination and learn by trial and error.
“ many hours a day practice ”
In the beginning, he would dedicate many hours a day to practice, sometimes surviving for days only on water and perhaps some bread or rice.
This was also a difficult time in his YOGA PROFESSIONAL CAREER and he would suffer great pains through incorrect technique, often having to place heavy weights on his body to relieve the aches.
However, through persistant determination and an iron-willed refusal to give up, he gradually began to understand the right techniques of each posture and their particular effects. The number of his students also began to increase, though financially times were still incredibly hard as “ YOGA ” was not greatly respected or really understood, even in India.
“ marriage and family life ”
Then, in the Year 1943, his brothers arranged his marriage to “ Ramamani ”.
Master Iyengar avoided marriage for some time as he felt he could not support a family, but on meeting her, he consented. Initially, life continued to be very hard for them but bit by bit they worked their way out of poverty. They agreed that she would take care of their family while he would provide the income. It also fell upon her to introduce the subject of YOGA to her children for some time.
“ YOGA goes global ”
Gradually, Yogi Iyengar’s reputation as a “ YOGA TEACHER ” grew, but it was a meeting with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Year 1952 which led to Iyengar’s eventual international recognition.
It was Yehudi Menuhin who arranged for Iyengar to teach abroad in England, Switzerland, France .. and elsewhere .. so as to meet people from all over the world and from all walks of life.
“ Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute – Pune ”
Finally in the Year 1975, Master Yogi Iyengar was able to open the “ Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute ” in Pune, in memory of his departed wife, where he resided life long and taught the ancient health-science system of PATANJALA YOGA.
By this time Master Iyengar’s eldest daughter, “ Geetha ” and son “ Prashant ” had also started teaching YOGA under his guidance.
“ promoting YOGA SCIENCE worldwide ”
In the Year 1984, Grand Master Iyengar officially retired from teaching. However, he continued to give Yogic Science classes and continued to teach on special events as well as being fully active in promoting YOGA SCIENCE worldwide, simultaneously being involved in the INSTITUTE and its Charitable Foundation.
Though physically still capable of continuing, he felt it was time to “ let the next generation come through ” and did not want to become attached to his position there. Intensive Yoga Training Classes still run regularly which are hugely popular and oversubscribed and are conducted by Geetha, Prashant or other senior teachers.
“ Pioneer MahaYogi ”
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar, thus, had become one of the Great Pioneer Yogis responsible for introducing ANCIENT INDIAN YOGA to the West and the “ Iyengar style ” of YOGA ASANAS is probably the most widely practiced form of YOGA in Europe and America today.
Events continued to develop and grow, leading up to the publication of “ Light on Yoga ” in the Year 1966, after many years of development. This book turned out to be an international best seller which continues to be reprinted in several languages all over the world and succeeded in making YOGA truly universal.
This was later followed by titles covering “ Pranayama ” and various aspects of Yoga Philosophy. His latest work “ Yoga : The Path to Holistic Health ” was published in the Year 2001.
In the Year 2004, MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar was named as one of the hundred most influential people in the world, as stated by Time Magazine.
“ Perhaps no one has done more than Mr. Iyengar to bring YOGA to the West ”, quoted New York Times.
“ many national recognitions ”
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar said, in a recent interview, that at an age of 90, he continued to practice asanas for three hours and pranayama for an hour daily.
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar was the recipient of some of the most prestigious awards : Padma Shri .. in the Year, 1991. Padma Bhushan .. in the Year, 2002. Padma Vibhushan .. in the Year, 2014. Following great personalities were YOGA students of MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar :
Jiddu Krishnamurti Jayaprakash Narayan Yehudi Menuhin Elizebeth, the Queen of Belgium.
“ peaceful departure ”
MahaYogi B.K.S. Iyengar, at the ripe old age of 96, was admitted for a brief illness into a private hospital in Pune.
The Great Grand Master left the Earth Planet on 20th August, 2014, peacefully vacating his Earthly physical abode.
“ Light on Yoga ”
The word “ YOGA ” is derived from the Sanskrit root “ yuj ” meaning, “ to bind ” , “ to join ” , “ to attach ” and “ to yoke ” .. to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means “ union ” or “ communion ”. It is the true union of our individual will with the Will of God.
“ It thus means ”, says Mahadev Desai in his introduction to the Gita According to Gandhi, “ the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God .. it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, with what YOGA presupposes .. it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly. ”
“ YOGA ” is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, co-ordinated and systematized by Patanjali in his classical work, the “ Yoga Sutras ”, which consists of 185 terse aphorisms.
In Indian philosophical thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spiritual ( Paramatma or God ) of which the individual human spirit ( jivatma ) is a part. The system of YOGA is so called because it teaches the means by which the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation ( moksha ).
One who follows the PATH OF YOGA is a ‘ yogi ’ or ‘ yogini ’.
In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important authority on YOGA philosophy, Lord Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of YOGA as a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow. It is said :
“When one’s mind, intellect and self ( ahamkara ) are under control .. freed from restless desires, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a ‘ YUKTA ’ .. one in communion with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow. So it is with a ‘ YOGI ’, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him.
“ When the restlessnesses of the mind, intellect and self is are stilled through the practice of YOGA, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself, finds fulfillment. Then, he knows the joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which his worldly reason cannot grasp. He abides in this reality and moves not there form. He has found the treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this.
“ As a well-cut diamond has many facets .. each reflecting a different colour of light .. so does the word ‘ YOGA ’, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavour to win inner peace and happiness. ”
The Bhagavad Gita also gives other explanations of the term YOGA and lays stress upon “ Karma Yoga ” ( Yoga in Action ). It is said :
“ Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive ; and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equi-poise is called ‘ YOGA ’.”
“ YOGA ” has also been described as wisdom in work or skilful living amongst activities with harmony and moderation.
“ YOGA ” is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who stays awake.
By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and waking, “ YOGA ” destroys all pain and sorrow.
The Kathopanished describes YOGA thus :
“ When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not .. then, say the wise .. is reached the highest stage.
This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as ‘ YOGA ’. He who attains it is free from delusion. ”
In the second aphorism of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Maharshi Patanjali describes “ YOGA ” as “ chitta vritti nirodhah ”. This may be translated as the restraint ( nirodhah ) of mental ( chitta ) modifications ( vrtti ) or as suppression ( nirodhah ) of the fluctuations ( vrtti ) of consciousness ( chitta ). The word “ chitta ” denotes “ the mind in its total or collective sense ” as being composed of three categories :
(a) Mind ( “ Manas ”, that is, the individual mind having the power and faculty of attention, selection and rejection ; it is the oscillating indecisive faculty of the mind ) ;
(b) Intelligence or reason ( “ Buddhi ”, that is, the decisive state which determines the distinction between things ) ;
(c) Ego ( “ Ahamkara ”, literally the I-maker, the state which arrogantly asserts that ‘ I know ’ ).
The word “ vrtti ” is derived from the Sanskrit root “ vrt ” meaning “ to turn ” , “ to revolve ”, “ to roll on ”. It thus means course of action, behavior, mode of being, condition or mental state.
“ YOGA ” is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy being directed into constructive channels.
As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry .. so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for greater human welfare and greater upliftment.
The problem of controlling the mind is not so very easy, as clearly borne out by the following dialogue in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna expressess his ‘ understanding ’ to Lord Sri Krishna :
“ Krishna ! You have told me of ‘ YOGA ’ as a communion with Brahman ( the Universal Spirit ), which is ever one. But, how can this be permanent, since the mind is so restless and inconsistent ? The mind is so impetuous and very very stubborn, strong and wilful, as difficult to harness as the wind ! ”
Lord Sri Krishna replies :
“ Undoubtedly, Oh STRONG ARMED WARRIOR, the mind is restless and hard to control. But, it can be trained by constant practice ( abhyasa ) and by freedom from desire ( vairagya ). A man who cannot control his mind will find it difficult to attain this divine communion ; but the self-controlled man can attain it if he tries hard and directs his energy by the right means. ”
“ Eight Limbs of Yoga ”
The right means are just as important as the end in view. Maharshi Patanjali enumerates these means as the eigtht limbs or stages of YOGA for the quest of the soul. They are :
1. “ Yama ” .. universal moral commandments 2. “ Niyama ” .. self purification practices 3. “ Asana ” .. physical body postures 4. “ Pranayama ” .. rhythmic control of the breath 5. “ Pratyahara ” .. withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects 6. “ Dharana ” .. concentration 7. “ Dhyana ” .. meditation 8. “ Samadhi ” .. a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the individual aspirant becomes one with the object of his meditation .. Paramatma or the Universal Spirit “ Yama ” and “ Niyama ” control the Yogi’s passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with his fellow man. “ Asanas ” keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature.
Finally, the yogi becomes free of body consciousness. He conquers the body and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul. The first three limbs are parts of the “ outward quest ” .. called as “ bahiranga sadhana ”.
The next two stages, “ Pranayama ” and “ Pratyahara ”, teach the aspirant to regulate the breathing, and thereby controling the mind. This helps to free the senses from the thraldom of the objects of desire. These two limbs of YOGA are integral “ preparations for the inward quest ” .. called as “ antaranga sadhana ”.
“ Dharana ”, “ Dhyana ” and “ Samadhi ” take the yogi into the innermost recesses of his soul.
The yogi does not look heavenward to find God. He knows that HE .. The God .. is within, being known as the “ Antaratma ( the Inner Self ) ”.
The last three stages keep a yoga practioner in harmony with himself and his Maker. These stages are called “ antaratma sadhana ” .. “ the actual quest of the soul ”.
“ M-I-N-D ” is the king of the senses. One who has conquered his mind, senses, passions, thought and reason is a king among men. He is fit for “ Raja Yoga ”, the royal union with the Universal Spirit. He has Inner Light.
One who has conquered his mind is a Raja Yogi. The word “ Raja ” means a “ King ”. The expression “ Raja YOGA ” implies a complete mastery of the Self.
Though PATANJALI explains the ways to control the mind, he nowhere states in his aphorisms that this science is Raja YOGA, but calls it “ Ashtanga Yoga ” or the “ eight limbs of YOGA ”. However, as it implies complete mastery of the self, one may call it the “ Science of Raja Yoga ”.
By profound practice of meditation, the “ knower ”, the “ knowledge ” and the “ known ” become one.
The “ seer ”, the “ sight ” and the “ seen ” have no separate existence from each other. It is like a great musician becoming one with his instrument and the music that comes from it.
Then, the yogi stands in his own nature and realizes his “ Self..Atman ”, the part of the Supreme Soul within himself.
Happy is the man who knows how to distinguish the “ real ” from the “ unreal ”, the “ eternal ” from the ‘ transient ’ and the “ good ” from the “ pleasant ” by his discrimination and wisdom.
Twice blessed is he who knows true love and can love all God’s creatures.
He who works selflessly for the welfare of others with love in his heart is thrice blessed.
But, the YOGI who combines within his mortal frame knowledge, love and selfless service is holy and becomes a place of pilgrimage, like the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Saraswati and Jamuna. Those who meet him become calm and purified.
“ Sadhana .. Key to Freedom ”
All the important texts on YOGA lay great emphasis on “ sadhana ” or “ abhyasa ” ( constant practice ).
“ Sadhana ” is not just a theoretical study of YOGA texts. It is a spiritual endeovour.
“ Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the ‘ sadhaka ’ must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself.
“ The young, the old, the extremely aged, even the sick and the infirm obtain perfection in YOGA by constant practice. Success will follow him who practices .. not him who practices not.
“ Success in YOGA is not obtained by the mere theoretical reading of sacred texts.
“ Success is not obtained by wearing the dress of a ‘ yogi ’ or a ‘ sanyasi ’ nor by talking about it. Constant practice alone is the secret of success. Verily, there is no doubt of this. ”
= Hatha Yoga Pradipika : Chapter 1, verses 64-6
It is by the co-ordinated and concentrated efforts of his body, senses, mind, reason and Self that a man obtains the prize of INNER PEACE and fulfils the QUEST OF HIS SOUL to meet his Maker. The supreme adventure in a man’s life is his journey back to his Creator.
To reach the goal, he needs well developed and co-ordinated functioning of his body, senses, mind, reason and Self. If the effort is not coordinated, he fails in his adventure. In the third “ valli (chapter) ” of the first part of the Kathopanisad, Yama ( the God of Death ) explains this YOGA to the seeker Nachiketa by way of the parable of the individual in a chariot :
“ Know the ‘ Atman ( Self ) ’ as the Lord in a chariot, reason as the charioteer and mind as the reins. The senses, they say, are the horses, and their objects of desire are the pastures. The Self, when united with the senses and the mind, the wise call the Enjoyer ( Bhokta ).
“ The undiscriminating can never rein in his mind : his senses are like the vicious horses of a charioteer. The discriminating ever controls his mind : his senses are like disciplined horses. The undiscriminating becomes unmindful, ever ever impure .. he does not reach the goal, wandering from one body to another.
“ The discriminating becomes mindful, ever pure : he reaches the goal and is never reborn. The man who has a discriminating charioteer to rein in his mind reaches the end of the journey .. the Supreme Abode of the everlasting Spirit.
“ The senses are more powerful than the objects of desire. Greater than the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the reason and superior to reason is ‘ HE ’ .. the Spirit in all. Discipline yourself by the Self and destroy your deceptive enemy in the shape of desire. ”
= Kathopanisad : chapter III, verses 42-3
To realize this not only constant practice is demanded but also renunciation. As regards renunciation, the question arises as to what one should renounce.
The yogi does not renounce the world, for that would mean renouncing the Creator. The yogi renounces all that takes him away from the Lord.
He renounces his own desires, knowing that all inspiration and right action come from the Lord. He renounces those who oppose the work of the Lord, those who spread demonic ideas and who merely talk of moral values but do not practice them.
The yogi does not renounce action. He cuts the bonds that tie himself to his actions by dedicating their fruits either to the Lord or to humanity.
He believes that it is his privilege to do his duty and that he has no right to the fruits of his actions.
While others are asleep when duty calls and wake up only to claim their rights, the yogi is fully awake to his duty, but asleep over his rights.
Hence, it is said, that in the night of all beings the disciplined and tranquil man wakes to the light.
“ Song of the Soul ”
I am neither ego nor reason, I am neither mind nor thought, I cannot be heard nor cast into words, nor by smell nor sight ever caught : In light and wind I am not found, nor yet in Earth and sky .. Consciousness and Joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I. ”
“ I have no name, I have no Life. I breathe no vital air, No elements have moulded me, no bodily sheath is my lair : I have no speech, no hands and feet, nor means of evolution .. Consciousness and Joy am I, and Bliss in dissolution. ”
“ I cast aside hatred and passion, I conquered delusion and greed ; No touch of pride caressed me, so envy never did breed : Beyond all faiths, past reach of wealth, past freedom, past desire, Consciousness and Joy am I, and Bliss is my attire. ”
“ Virtue and vice, or pleasure and pain are not my heritage, Nor sacred texts, nor offerings, nor prayer, nor pilgrimage : I am neither food, nor eating, nor yet the eater am I .. Consciousness and Joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I. ”
“ I have no misgiving of death, no chasms of race divide me, No parents ever called me child, no bond of birth ever tied me : I am neither disciple nor master, I have no kin, no friend .. Consciousness and Joy am I, and merging in Bliss is my end. ”
“ Neither knowable, knowledge, nor knower am I, formless is my form, I dwell within the senses but they are not my home : Ever serenely balanced, I am neither free nor bound .. Consciousness and Joy am I, and Bliss is where I am found. ”