10 Things I Learned From BKS Iyengar — Honoring His Passing
BKS Iyengar has passed away, and it is sad to see someone we grew up with as a yoga “teacher of teachers,” pass.
I want to remember him with 10 things I learned directly from him, which for some reason stick in my imagination and never leave me.
Whether I learned them from books or from hearing them from a You Tube video, he had this magic as he spoke where his words resonated.
1) FORGET THE GATEKEEPERS, BUT RESPECT TRADITION
When Iyengar asked his teacher (none other than Krishnamacharya) to teach himpranayama (the fourth limb of yoga where we learn to extend/control/retain the breath), what did the teacher say?
The big K said “NO” to him, because Iyengar was too sick and not ready.
What did Iyengar do? Did he give up? No way!
He spied on him, and used mirroring-neurons techniques to study and see how he should practice by copying what the teacher did.
Then he also read ancient texts and studied by himself. There is a YouTube video going around where he takes a one minute inhale and a one minute exhale.
Some might say he did not respect tradition.
But he looked at sources from ancient teachers, he observed his own teacher, and he did the best he could. And millions learned from it.
Including me. Thank you BKS Iyengar.
When we love and are passionate about something much larger than ourselves we lose all sense of prohibitions and man made rules. We just have to do it, and so he did.
2) TAKE FIVE MINUTES REST FOR EVERY HALF HOUR OF PRACTICE
Don’t forget that the word “practice” implies there are periods you are practicing for. Iyengar had great balance between practice and life.
If we do not take time to restore the nervous system after practice then we run the risk of being agitated, or jittered. It’s not worth it.
Iyengar was always about the entire body, the entire spirit, the entire life. Your life, our lives.
3) IT TAKES YEARS OF CONSTANT PRACTICE TO GO DEEPER IN YOGA
He said once that although his book “Light on Yoga” had a suggested three year course on how to learn yoga, he could also have made it as a ten year course. Because he had no idea how slow some students would go (for example, me.)
It’s not about speed or achievement. It’s about Yoga.
“When I practice, I am a philosopher, when I teach I am a scientist, when I demonstrate I am an artist,” BKS Iyengar.
Within practice his focus was always on the highest…
But when teaching: precision and determination, and proof of what works, is what counted… and when he wass showing the practice, then it was art in movement and art in stillness.
Practice leads to skill, leads to minute appreciation of the subtleties of how yoga interweaves with body and spirit. This is the art of yoga.
5) HOW TO BE A LION
When I think of a lion I think of a big animal that roars and scares me.
He was known as “the lion,” that is Iyengar’s reputation.
He was very strict in classes, he says, because he wanted people to be disciplined and to respect the form of the practice.
Every time I remember him while I am on the mat I tend to try a pose again, or do it with more intention, or stay in it longer. Such is his effect.
Always go a tiny bit deeper each time, not just in yoga but in everything in life.
6) YOGA IS ALIVE AND MUST CHANGE WITH THE TIMES
In one of his latest interviews he said that yoga is a science and like any other, it must be explored by US, the students that come after, the next generation.
It is our responsibility to keep on going deeper with it, finding the balance between what we learn and what we “download” from divine intelligence as we practice.
To believe that yoga needs to be static and never change is simply untrue. It’s not real.
7) ON YOUR BIRTHDAY DO AS MANY BACK BENDS AS YOUR AGE
He used to do as many backbends as years he turned, every year.
I’ve not been able to do this. Maybe I am lazy. Maybe my back is not there yet. Maybe I am different.
But I admire him for this, for challenging himself to keep his back young. This is how he played. This is how you live to ninety-five.
8) ON HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO WITHDRAW THE SENSES
“One way to test how difficult pratyahara (the fifth limb where we withdraw the senses to make room for concentration) is to go for a walk and at the same time try not to comment or judge or even name what you see or smell:”
“Even on a country walk, though you might be able to stop yourself from saying: beautiful, it will be almost impossible not to let yourself name the objects – teak tree, cherry tree, violet hibiscus, thorn bush, etc.”
Ever since I read that I try to appreciate nature with my whole body and mind and not just my brain that likes to name things. It is not easy.
Not naming things and rather BEING with them is quite the challenge. I think I will try that today.
9) YOGA GIVES ENERGY FOR EVERY AREA OF LIFE
I’m not sure if I counted them all. But Iyengar wrote at least twenty-two books on Yoga that I could find.
For Iyengar, Yoga wasn’t limited to the mat. He lectured, he traveled, he wrote, every day until his death.
Whatever you are interested in, whatever you do that can change the world, let it infiltrate every area of your life until you breathe and live it and all around you can benefit from it.
That is what Iyengar did for Yoga. That is what I hope to do in the areas of my life I am passionate about.
10) THE YOGI CANNOT BE AFRAID TO DIE
That comes from Light on Life, one of his latest books:
“The yogi steps towards death fearlessly like a soldier who would be ashamed to cling to life, and like a saint because he is already part of the Oneness that he has recognized as the Supreme Reality.”
We are afraid to die because we are afraid we have not lived…
We must live!
Featured image courtesy of Elinore Cohen.