BKS Iyengar (1918 – 2014), is a world-renowned authority in the yoga of our era. He developed a method of yoga based on the ancient spiritual tradition of classical yoga as well as on the scientific foundations of experimentation, comparison, analysis, and rational examination. His method is known as “the Iyengar method” and is one of the most popular methods of yoga in the world today.
BKS Iyengar was born in 1918 into a poor family in the small, remote village of Belur in the state of South India. As a child, he suffered many ailments, including malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis. His father died when he was only 9 years old and he did not receive any formal education. Fortunately, his elder sister married renowned yoga teacher Shri T. Krishnamacharya and at 15 Iyengar was invited by him to the city of Mysore to live with his sister and her family and learn yoga from Krishnamacharya. At 18 he was sent to teach in Pune, central India, where he resides today. In the early years, he lived in poverty and humility and spent most of the day practicing yoga. He used to practice for hours – 10 hours a day and more. In the early 20th century, yoga was not popular as it is today and Iyengar was scorned, but with the help of his dedicated and consistent yoga practice, he was able to overcome his illnesses and develop a healthy body as well as a strong personality. With his talent and persistence, he managed to acquire a reputation as a gifted teacher and healer. Iyengar demonstrated his yoga poses throughout India and gradually became well-known.
In 1943 he met his wife Ramamni and in 1944 their eldest daughter Geeta was born. Iyengar has five daughters and a son. In 1975, after his beloved wife passed away, he established the Iyengar Yoga Center named in honor of his wife – the Ramamamni Iyengar Memorial Institute, in Pune. These days Geeta, his son Prashant and granddaughter Abhijata lead the center. Geeta is a graduate of Ayurvedic medicine and conventional medicine; Prashant is a man of stature, a philosopher, and an artist; Abhig’ta studies closely with Iyengar and is already is a gifted teacher. All three are teaching centers in Pune and continue to enrich and develop the method of Iyengar yoga.
In 1952, Iyengar met the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Their meeting was a turning point; Menuhin became a devoted disciple and introduced Iyengar to the West. Starting in the 1950’s Iyengar traveled west frequently conducting workshops in Europe, the U.S., and Israel, which he visited in 1996. Iyengar taught people like Bijoy Krishnamurti and the Queen of Belgium (who he taught how to stand on her head when she was 80 years old). Slowly the sickly child from Belur became a charismatic and famous teacher worldwide.
In 1964 Yehudi Menuhin wrote the following words in the Introduction of ” Light on Yoga ” Iyengar’s first book: “whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or witnessing the precision, refinement, and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created: unarmed, unashamed, Son of God”.
Iyengar’s ability to work well into his old age was amazing. He was sharp, clear, and active. He visited the RIMYI library for a few hours every day where he read letters, went through the publications, and wrote articles and books. No doubt, many years of yoga practice were bearing their fruit for this exemplary person who started out meagerly and managed to build himself up against all odds, achieving the highest levels of growth and changing the yoga map of the world beyond recognition.