B.K.S. Iyengar, the great yogic master who pioneered a system of yoga and is credited for helping bring yoga to the world, died Wednesday morning, August 20, in Pune, India.
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I, Vrinda, find it a bit ironic that B.K.S Iyengar is being hailed in the popular press for sparking the “global yoga craze” when he himself embodied a yoga governed by principles that the multi-billion dollar yoga industry has largely forgotten. According to Iyengar’s website, Iyengar yoga is rooted in the teachings of Patanjali, who defined yoga as a “method to silence the vibrations of the chitta,” chitta being the consciousness of mind, ego and intellect. Could that be much further away, philosophically, than today’s “yoga craze,” where yoga is one more offering at the gym and the yoga marketers and publishers seems to be defining yoga more as a hip fitness fad sure to get you a really great butt than a way to achieve union of the Individual Self with the Universal Self?
Iyengar started doing yoga as a child suffering from crippling respiratory conditions, studying under his brother-in-law Krishnamacharya, who was legendary in his strictness, and going on to develop his own original system of yoga perhaps best known for its precision of alignment — with liberal use of props and straps to aid the practitioner in achieving that precision alignment. His medical applications of yoga are widely respected, and despite the global spread of Iyengar yoga (with now centers in 72 countries), he never strayed far from his Patanjaliac roots.
It makes one wonder what Guruji, as Iyengar was known to his followers, might think of the headlines proclaiming him as the man behind yoga’s popularization. His niece was quoted in the New York Times’ obituary detailing his death saying that even up to a few weeks ago, he said: “I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.”
In an interview last year with Livemint.com, Iyengar steered clear of condemning the commercialization of the 5,000-year-old practice, saying it was probably a good thing that yoga has proliferated:
“Who knows, we may be reading it wrong. It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga. Without knowing that, I can’t say this yoga or that is bad. I think overall the majority of people who are practicing it as a subject are following the right line. For the aberration, don’t blame yoga or the whole community of yogis,” he says.
Spoken like a true yogi.
Pranams to B.K.S. Iyengar. A great yogi before everyone was a yogi.
What do you think B.K.S. Iyengar would think of the current incarnation of yoga as a fitness fad for the wealthy?