(This story was first published on 20 August 2015 and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark BKS Iyengar’s birth anniversary.)
A yogi took over the world, rising gradually, to establish his magical sway over the world. His brand of yoga swept the United States and even found place as a verb in the Oxford dictionary. In 2004, BKS Iyengar made it to Time magazine’s List of 100 Most Influential People in the World, and the yoga that he gave to the world continues to inspire millions.
What was it about Iyengar yoga that stood out in the ‘yoga market’? Iyengar’s offering was simple – his brand of yoga had four key elements: precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and usage of props. On offer were 200 asanas and 14 types of pranayamas, to improve flexibility, concentration and balance. It offered relaxation to those suffering from stress and backache – dual inflictions of the times we live in.
A Life in Poses
Proper alignment of the asanas is central to Iyengar yoga. This yoga form allows people to find their own access points, after which they are encouraged to push the limits of their body in search of precise movements. It is not an asana in Iyengar yoga unless it has been perfected by the body. Strenuous, yes. But the “child’s pose”, that follows every asana ensures adequate rest.
Iyengar believed that “reversing gravity” ensured a number of health benefits for the practitioner. Iyengar yoga practitioners routinely loop themselves onto ropes to make the body work against gravity. Besides ropes, other props are also used to assist people in perfecting each pose.
It’s All About Timing
Iyengar yoga is all about sequencing: an Iyengar yoga practitioner does his asanas in a specific sequence, all of which are perfectly timed. A proper yoga sequence, Iyengar believed, was imperative, for it should be one that does not agitate the nervous system. Iyengar believed that each yoga pose should bring sthirta or sukh, to the practitioner. Needless to say, the most devout of Iyengar yogis are known to stay in asanas for prolonged periods.
The list of Iyengar’s devotees is long – Aldous Huxley, designer Donna Karan, Hollywood actress Annete Benning, Sachin Tendulkar and Kareena Kapoor are just some of the names.
What’s more remarkable is that Iyengar introduced yoga to the West way back in the ’60s, when his classic text Light on Yoga first hit the stands in 1966. It has never been out of circulation since. That too – one must remember – without state patronage and the hullaballoo of an International Yoga Day.