TRIBUTES TO B.K.S. IYENGAR
To mark Guruji’s centenary year in 2018, here is a selection of tributes from Iyengar yoga teachers and students.
My essential experience in connection to Guruji came from my dearest teacher Pamela Lever. I was a young mother from a troubled childhood, having lost my sole parent, Mum, to brain cancer in 1979. She was 42 years old. At the age of 17 I borrowed a Vogue beauty book from the library, I read the information about yoga and this remained a permanent imprint in my brain.
From my troubled childhood, I had many mental troubles, too long to list (I was not aware of these at the time). I married at 19 years old and my husband, being a steady and fit man, became a rock for me. From my heart I was devoted to my wife and mother role, but my mind needed something else to heal the scars of past experiences. For example, I became a regular smoker at nine years old (my husband inspired me to quit); I regularly drank alcohol from the age of 12; there was no parenting from the age of 10; I was unprotected from abuse, or rather I became one of mum’s carers.
I later came in contact with the opportunity to follow yoga in a playgroup meeting, where Iyengar yoga was discussed. I sought everywhere in my town to find an Iyengar teacher. Just by chance I found Pam teaching in our local hall. I found her teaching hit me straight at the heart and following the Iyengar method through the body, my mind could not get enough of this good stuff. I practised at home every day as I could barely afford one lesson a week, and very often children in tow, Pamela was so generous to accommodate me in her lesson.
I am a Junior Intermediate Level 2 teacher now, running my own school, a mother of four, grandparent and wife of 35 years. I have been practising Iyengar Yoga for 30 years and teaching for 21. I have barely needed to seek medical attention and use the philosophy for physiological strength and guidance. None of this would be so if it wasn’t for Pam, recommended me to teacher training, when I was a little unqualified to apply.
Pamela was attending Pune regularly and was glowing with the generosity of Iyengar yoga Guruji had imprinted in her on every level. I would never have been freed from my mental anguish if it wasn’t for Pam’s kindness and inspiration, which Guruji humbly offered radiantly in every way possible from his being.
My gratitude goes equally to Pam and Guruji, as we all become one.
Kirsten Agar Ward
Words cannot adequately express my gratitude. Told by medics we had a 0.0001% chance of a pregnancy without unaffordable IVF, Guruji helped us with yoga programmes, we performed pujas and we were blessed with our son. Guruji was so compassionate and generous in helping us all in so many ways – directly like this, by his teaching of course, by his example. Being in his presence, whether in practice, class, or more informally was awesome. He gave us so much. It was truly a godsend to live at the same time as he and to have encountered him directly.
Richard Agar Ward
One may seldom ever meet souls as evolved as Guruji. Perhaps those such as he may only emerge once every few hundred years. Those of us who learned directly from Guruji were especially fortunate. Guruji was transformed by his own efforts in the field of Yoga. He received Divine Grace to become the outstanding individual, practitioner and teacher in the art, science and philosophy of Yoga in the twentieth century. If anyone can be said to have lived life to its potential it was he. We pupils should be eternally grateful. What would our lives have been like without him?
Guruji for me
Growing up in India, karma and rebirth are very much a part of the individual belief system. You do something good in this lifetime, your soul will evolve and move you towards the final destination of moksha. Harm someone and there is no getting away from it – there will be repercussions in this lifetime or the next.
I feel I must have done something really wonderful in previous lives to have discovered Guruji.
The discovery too was such a quirk of fate. I grew up in Pune without knowing anything about him. I don’t think I was ready for yoga then being a complete bookworm who hated play and couldn’t even touch her toes. At 22 I discovered Light on Yoga in a bookshop in a tiny town I happened to be visiting for a couple of weeks – a town literally in the middle of nowhere.
And that was the start of my journey with him. Over the following years it was the physical aspect of the asanas which interested me. His depth of knowledge of the human body, his sequencing to help one achieve more, gradual challenges to keep me striving and motivated – Guruji’s influence in my life has been the one constant as I moved across cities, countries, jobs, got married, had a baby.
I have recently enrolled for the teacher training program. Thanks to that I find myself delving further into his readings and there is this strong sense within me that it wasn’t just a quirk of fate finding LOY. He’s made the path for pranayama and meditation so much simpler. All I can hope is that there is some positive karma I have earned in previous lives and I can’t help but believe Guruji is handholding me further along in this lifetime.
My most teeth-rattling stage fright experience ever was when I performed Sirsasana in front of Guruji Iyengar on my ﬁrst trip to Pune. Needless to say, I placed myself in my worst pose, so when I came down I had the most painful neck in the history of mankind. There went my dreams of blinding Guruji with my sincere sadhana. But, then came His teaching of the Tadasana of Tadasanas, which realigned my aching and frightened being. Thank God, that ﬁrst trip was not a complete disaster after all. Luckily, I didn’t blind Him.
I first met Guruji in 1998, when he came to South London to bless the IYISL. I was a young and impressionable teen and I was in awe!! I went on to become a close devote of his work through the teaching of Glenys Shepherd. I met him on several occasions following that at RIMANI Pune as a student under Guruji’s tuition. What struck me the most about Guruji was his ease in his body, the glowing nature of his skin and his lightness of being. To simply be in his presence was an inspiration that gives me strength.
I was 11 when I first visited the institute in Pune, my mum and dad (Alan Brown and Diana Bayliss) were doing one of the intensives. myself, my brother, sister and a couple of the other children used to wait for our parents to come out after class. I remember one time we were all slumped outside in a very unyogic way, leaning by the wall chatting. All of a sudden we sensed Mr Iyengar walking past, we all went completely quiet and sat up really straight in unison! I remember being completely in awe even as a child. Another time when they had a party celebration at the institute during one of the intensives. My little brother Giles who was 5, went over to Mr Iyengar and asked him if he could move all the hairs on his eyebrow individually. I think he laughed. It’s a nice memory. in 2014 I went to the institute now as a fully fledged Iyengar Yoga teacher, we were fortunate enough to meet him and lots of people gathered round to wish him a happy birthday, he spoke to me but i was so nervous I’m not really sure what was said. I’ll always wish I’d been braver and stopped to speak to him.
We were having celebrations at the Manchester & District Institute of Iyengar Yoga. Guruji was at the institute along with Jawahar and Birjoo and all these awe inspiring teachers from India. I was in my final year of teacher training. My teacher Jeanne Maslen, said that I and another trainee should go over to Guruji and talk to him and then sent us off in his general direction. Hurriedly we discussed what on earth we should say to him. I asked him what my husband should do for the arthritis in his hands, my friend Jo asked for his advice about taking her assessment. He said an assessment was 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration!! Anyone who has ever taken an assessment will know how true that statement is!!
It was at a social during a teacher’s intensive in 1989. The Iyengar Family had laid on some delicious food in the courtyard and my 6 year old son Giles was itching to ask Guruji a particular question. It was our first visit to the Institute, the course had been gruelling, Guruji severe and to me a bit scary. But Giles, unaffected, approached and the next moment Iyengar was roaring with laughter.
The question? Could Mr Iyengar move separately each individual hair of his eyebrows?
I never did find out the answer but I got the photo.
At the UK convention after sharing an amusing anecdote about Guruji, I noticed a younger teacher had tears in her eyes, the reason she said, was that she had never met him. This incident reminded me how fortunate I am to have lived at the same time as Guruji; to have been taught by him and even to have had conversations with him. But it also made me realise how loved he was, even by people who never met or spoke to him in person and how much he meant to us all.
Guruji came on many visits to south London one was at a school in Catford in the late seventies.
Genie Hammond asked me to accompany her to the event which gave me a chance to teach in front of Guruji. At that time, I was a newly qualified and very shy introductory teacher in my early twenties. My name was called to teach Bharadvajasana 1 on the school stage. Guruji was very patience he let me finish then walk to the stage looked up at me with his wonderful smile and his large brown eyes shone. He then proceeded to teach Bharadvajasana again adjusting me with kindness and compassion. A light was lit in my heart on that day.
Thank you Guruji for giving your knowledge so freely.
Memory of my first visit to Pune in January 1977:
I had practised Iyengar Yoga and had become a teacher. Although I had had lessons with Guruji on his visits to the U.K. I wanted and needed to visit the Institute in Pune. So in January 1977 I did.
In those days the classes were small. There were 30 of us from Manchester . Guruji met us on the stairs as we entered the yoga room. We had seen photos of the practice room and when we entered I made the comment that it felt like coming home. He immediately said ‘Yes this is your Spiritual Home’.
Over the following visits I have always remembered him welcoming us to our Spiritual Home.
My journey with the teachings of BKS Iyengar began in London in 1989 when I had 1 year old twins. Twenty seven and a half years later I can honestly say that those teachings have shaped my life. They sustained me through treatment for aggressive cancer and helped me cope with all the difficulties of modern life. I have been lucky enough to attend many classes in Pune where Guruji taught through Abijhata, I still learn from those teachings today. I only met the great man once and I feel privileged to have received his blessings.
1 March 2018
Four memories of Guruji, all in class at RIMIYI from 2004 on: a special person, in deed a Guru, whose words and actions and smile you do not forget:
– Guruji teaching Maha Mudra “I see and you seek – I am the seer and you the seeker – that is why you cannot perceive – the intelligence is blocked by the seeking”
– Guruji berating us all in Sirsasana to get our buttocks in “You Westerners, buttocks like pumpkins!”
– Guruji helping a sick pupil in medical class to do the pose that would help him (mayurasana) with a brilliant on the spot modification on the trestler and giving a great beaming smile at his success!
– Guruji sitting in Baddha konasana dandling his tiny grand daughter on his knee and letting her pull on his great bushy eyebrows!
It was always a bit disarming to discover that Guruji’s daunting status as a supreme master of yoga was matched by his human empathy and understanding of the common concerns of householders. I was telling Guruji one day outside the Institute in Pune about the problems we were having with leaking skylights at the Institute building in London. He said to me something like “you think things are bad in London” and pointing to the Institute roof, “let me show you the problems we are having here in Pune.” And there we were two blokes swapping stories about shoddy workmanship and the difficulty of finding good labourers!
I first met Guruji in 1981. I had travelled to the Institute in Pune with a group of students and teachers from Scotland, led by our teacher Bob Welham. Guruji or Mr Iyengar as we called him then, gave us an introductory talk. I don’t remember much of what he said but his energy and presence were mesmerising—and terrifying.
His morning classes would sometimes last for four hours and I don’t think I was the only one to be standing in a pool of my own sweat day after day, but if you had the good fortune to be touched or adjusted by him, that was never forgotten. One day I was doing Parsva Halasana to the right and I didn’t hear him approach. Suddenly he shouted at me to take my left shoulder back. Terrifying. But at the same time he swiftly adjusted my shoulder and arm with the utmost gentleness, care and precision. I received a distinct and important message; he could be fierce and compassionate at the same time. On a later occasion he was cross with us Brits who like to say sorry a lot, whether or not we mean it. “ You people say sorry and are soft on the outside but hard on the inside,” he said. “I am hard on the outside but I am soft on the inside and this is true compassion.”
Story from my first visit (aged 24) to RIMYI, Pune – 23 August to 9 September 1977:
Guruji was unhappy with the lack of secure connection between our entwined arm and leg in Marichyasana 3. He demonstrated the asana and said to me: “Push my arm”. Taken by surprise, I did nothing. So he shouted loudly: “Push my arm”. In shocked reflex I shoved his entwined arm so hard he fell over. Now everyone was in shock, but he just lay there, still in full Marichyasana 3, and burst out laughing. Through his laughter he said: “I wanted to demonstrate how my arm was so well entwined that you couldn’t push it off my leg. Here I am and it’s still entwined”.
Guruji’s visit to Crystal Palace in 1993
As a newly qualified Iyengar teachers (1992), the opportunity to take part in the Euro Yoga convention, was too great an opportunity to miss.
My friend and also fellow ‘new’ Teacher (Barbara Hall) and I were extremely honoured, and lucky, to be in the right place at the right time.
(I’m in the Pink to Mr. Iyengar’s left, Barbara to his right, and Manouso in the background.)
Our own teacher, Margaret Austin, knew Mr. Iyengar, and asked him if he would mind having his photo taken with us. As you can see he was more than happy to oblige. I cannot, unfortunately, remember what he was telling me, well it was 25 years ago. The convention was everything and more.
I have also been so very lucky to have taken part in his classes in Pune many times over the years.
We continue to teach, some 26 years later, and so very proud to call ourselves ‘Iyengar Teachers’.
Even though it has been nearly ten years since I went to Pune, I frequently recall with deep gratitude the small collection of personal experiences that I had with Guruji during my trips to the Institute. Most of my personal experiences were in 2008 when I was put in the medical class due to my lower back, neck and shoulder problems. There were also occasions in other years, in the library or during the Sunday children’s’ classes when I had a chance to observe Guruji or be in his presence. While all these experiences were very special for me, they are similar to those many students have when they went to Pune.
However there is one outstanding experience that I think is worth sharing with you.
In 2006 I went to Pune with my first child, Oliver, then aged 10 months. I stayed in the apartments next to the Institute, and either my partner or my mother, both whom generously came with me, cared for my baby while I attended the classes. On one particular afternoon, I took Oliver over to the Institute, and carried him around the building and went with him to observe the medical class until he became restless. As I descended the stairs, Guruji was coming up and so of course I stood to one side as best I could to let him pass. But he didn’t pass. He stopped and was very interested in Oliver. Both Guruji and Oliver’s big, warm eyes met and they beamed at each other in silence. Guruji then asked me a few questions about him and I was deeply moved by his obvious love for and interest in children. Before continuing on his way, Guruji blessed Oliver and wished us both well and I was left with a memory and an experience I will treasure forever. Needless to say, Oliver now 12, is also very happy and pleased to know he carries Guruji’s special touch.
Yoga on the radio
In 1985 Guruji presented a film of his life in Penzance Town Hall. For most it was our first encounter with him. After an Indian buffet, Radio Cornwall interviewed Guruji, asking about the benefits of yoga. Guruji’s brilliant eyes under those bushy eyebrows scanned the group – he chose me to perform Trikonasana, saying ‘See the underside of the trunk is squeezed and the upper side gets extended. This tones the abdominal organs.’ The interviewer brought the mike down to my level. ‘How are you feeling down there?’ Honestly ‘I wish I hadn’t had so much lunch.’
After BKS Iyengar died I realised that it is because I have lived and learnt his teachings through others who have shared his passion for yoga and life. I have been taught by those who were taught by him, I have been and still am told stories continually about him, we are still taught by his family and his principle pupils, we are still all that close to him.
I didn’t need to meet Iyengar himself, (but would’ve have loved to), because I have experienced him through others. I have learnt that Iyengar’s selfless teachings and instructions are to be passed on, to be shared, to be practised ‘pass it on’. Not only did Mr Iyengar inspire me to practice, he inspired me to draw. By observing the photos in Light on Yoga and drawing the postures it helps me to help me understand their direction, their actions, their links and by putting pictures together, as opposed to a list of Sanskrit names, I hope I pass something on to inspire my students and others to carry on their practice at home.
Class stands in Tadasana.
BKS Iyengar “You people think you are, Ho-lis-tic. Isn’t that what you say?”
“You are very holy people”
“You do not think so? I am telling you; never have I seen so many holy people.
Confused faces, nervous laughter.
“You are full of holes, energy pours out of every one of you. Every cell is drained, is it not so?”
“Why do a hard pose? Is there tension; in Jaw, eyes, throat, face?”
32 people relax.
“That is why I say you are very holy people”
Genuine laughter as the penny drops.
Dave Browne, Pune 1993
With gratitude to Yogacharya BKS Iyengar: how he has deeply influenced my life, my practice, teaching, reading, study of philosophy and much more. It is incredible how he has shared and spread Yoga around the globe. His generosity to the villagers of his birthplace: drinking water, the hospital, school, college, temple and Yoga Centre. Go to Bellur, stay at the beautiful Yoga Centre and see his vision as a working reality. I will never forget how moved I felt by my experience. How many lives can one person touch and influence? May we live a deep and meaningful life too?
In November 1997 I attended a lecture by Guruji in Manchester* I remember how excited I was in the days before he arrived. He explained that asana is not merely a physical discovery. I was absorbed in his words, the ideas and the poetic images he used. When a child is holding the thread of a kite string they can feel the tug of the wind in their hand. So it is with Yoga we hold the thread of intelligence, connecting the body with the mind. As Guruji spoke he communicated his experience to us directly, with imagination and simplicity.
* See Asta Dala Yogamala Vol.3 p.72
I was studying in Pune at the institute for the first and only time in August 2010. It was early in the morning and still dark outside and we were taking our first class with Aby. She had been berating us because everybody’s postures looked a bit dull and lacklustre and she wasn’t wrong!
All at once I became aware of a new alertness in the crowded studio, it reminded me of a pack of meerkats standing sentry. Suddenly legs had straightened, spines extended, shoulders retracted, ribs softened, it was the yogic equivalent of a Mexican wave. I dutifully copied but it was only a moment later that I understood the cause…..Guruji himself had entered the studio for his self practice, I think I saw him smile to himself, but I may have imagined it. Despite the fact that I could never claim I met him directly, I certainly felt his presence!
I want to express my gratitude to Guruji. I am grateful every day for the blessings he has brought into my life. Sometimes I reflect what my life might have been had I not met my first yoga teacher Marion. Guruji’s zeal and passion for yoga is instilled in all his teachers. There is an enthusiam and keenness to go beyond the physical and intellectual to the spiritual. After my first class with Marion I was hooked, I felt so wonderful and I wondered how I could feel like this all the time. I knew straight away that I wanted to spend my life doing yoga. Yoga not only brought me a sense of well-being but it also brought me love. I met my husband Edgar around this time and for twenty-seven years we have shared our life and yoga journey together.
We met Guruji first in Manchester in 1997 when he came to give a talk and to MDIIY. Edgar and I spent the previous evening threading 108 carnations into a garland. We had spent time in India and knew that as a mark of respect in temples one presents a garland of marigolds. The nearest thing at that time of year we could find was carnations and we chose 108 as we knew it was an auspicious number. When Edgar presented the garland I remember him touching Guruji’s feet and it was a beautiful moment.
We met him several other times at RIMYI in Pune and I was always overwhelmed by his enormous presence. I only thing I can liken it to is being in the presence of a lion. He was majestic, awe inspiring, frightening yet also kind, compassionate and funny. He could be stern one moment and then his eyes would sparkle and he would be making you laugh then next.
A beam of light radiated from Mr Iyengar as he entered the yoga room, he was
so focused, observant, instructive and thoroughly in control of the class. No
one could linger in the background. Yoga taught by Guruji was completely in
the moment, I will always remember his insight, instruction and presence.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I came across Iyengar Yoga 7 years ago when a friend casually mentioned she was doing Iyengar yoga with this amazing teacher.
I decided I’d give it ago and haven’t looked back since.
I was, and still am, in awe of the unrelenting focus and dedication my teachers have for the teachings of Guruji BKS iyengar. To me, he is a genius at feeling, understanding, performing and teaching asanas. It is with tremendous humility that I pay tribute to such a richly textured man. A man so deeply human, of profound insight and generosity of spirit, whose enthusiasm, intensity and razor-sharp intelligence were legend and whose light shone on thousands of people. He has had such a profound impact on my experience and development as a yogi, and as a human being. I only wish I could have met him.
I found Mr Iyengar’s passion and dedication infectious. I am so grateful to have been touched by his light. Inspired by his teaching, I have recently enrolled in a teacher training programme, where I find myself eagerly delving deeper and deeper into the art of yoga. Thank you Mr Iyengar! Your legacy will live through the knowledge you shared so deeply with us as well as through your written words.
I am immensely grateful and continuously humbled to have discovered the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar and his family.
Iyengar’s gift was to bring “real” Yoga to the West. His insights were both subtle and profound and his Yoga therapy teachings are unparalleled in their depth. His highly sophisticated teaching system is structured to take the student safely from raw beginner to achieve their highest potential as Yogis, and this is his enduring legacy for humanity. I regard it as my life‘s work to continue to spreading his teaching.
I never cease to be inspired in my Yogic journey as it evolves; I distinctly remember when that flame was ignited, when B.K.S. Iyengar adjusted me in sirsasana demonstration 33 years ago. It’s only retrospectively that one realises the significance of these moments in one’s life.
The event was held in Sunderland in the early 80’s, organised by Margaret and Gordon Austin. Written questions were to be submitted, read out by Gordon, and answered by Mr Iyengar who sat in padmasana for the whole afternoon.
“Please will Mr Iyengar explain the chakra system?
“Will the person who wrote this stand up?
Do you know all about the gross body?”
“I do not. I apologise, Mr Iyengar.”
Guruji said, ”Do not read! Work on your yoga mat!”
During the interval whilst signing our new copies of “Light On Yoga”he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, patted my cheek and said, ”The chakra lady!”
Irony, warmth, humour, kindness and wisdom were all included in his words.