Today’s update is about a Legendary Icon of India. He is the most eminent personalities of India, in fact one of the most eminent personalities of the world, The Padma Shri, The Padma Bhushan and the Living Legend of our times Sri Bellur Krishnamacharya Sundararaja Iyenger, popularly known as Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. This update on my blog is dedicated to the Legendary Yoga Teacher, A Genius artist at work and an innovator called BKS Iyengar and all his followers. BKS Iyengar is considered as one of the foremost yoga teachers who introduced yoga to the western world. He is undoubtedly among one of the most influential persons of India internationally during the century. India is very lucky to have blessed with a Sanjeevani (The life saving medicine) called Yoga. Yoga, an integrated system of physical and spiritual exercises, had a history that dated back millions of years in India and was intertwined with the development of the Hindu religion. Yet even there it remained something of a specialized interest when Iyengar began his long career. Iyengar himself could contort his body into seemingly impossible shapes, but he also spread the idea that yoga was something anyone could do and that it offered numerous benefits for an individual's overall health. Iyengar's 1966 book Light on Yoga has appeared in at least 18 languages and his teachings, writings and devoted corps of students and followers have spread the practice of his Iyengar yoga over much of the world. Guru Iyengar’s story is quite interesting one and has gone through a roller coaster ride in his entire life. There might be many enthusiasts who would like to learn about the life story of this great master of yoga. In this update of my blog I tried to bring as many facets of Guru Iyengar’s life as possible in the permitted parameter of my blog. There are several stories about Guru Iyengar all over internet. I have referred many of these stories published over internet and a few on print media and regrouped all the best sorted information for you. I hope you are going to like this presentation. Guru Iyengar has a vast and larger than life image. It is real hard to sketch his life story in a single update. I have no choice but to publish it in a single update for reader’s interests. Though you might find it little lengthy, I assure you won’t regret reading the entire story of Guru Iyenger. Some vintage photographs and videos of Guru Iyyengar have been added in between the paragraphs in order to keep you connected. I hope you are going enjoy them as well.
His Birth in 1918:
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was a native of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, born on December 14, 1918, in the midst of the worldwide influenza epidemic of that year. He was the 11th of 13 children, ten of whom survived. Iyengar spent his early life in a village called Bellur, which has been reported as his birthplace, but he told Contemporary Authors that he was born in the larger city of Bangalore in the same region, where the family later moved. Iyengar's family was part of the high-status Brahmin caste and the name Iyengar is associated with the family's membership in a group of South Indian adherents of a specific philosophical branch of Hinduism. Iyengar's father, Bellur Krishnamachar Iyengar, was a schoolmaster in a nearby village and the family raised crops on a small plot of land they had inherited.
BKS Iyengar was born into a large but poor family. Iyengar's mother, Seshamma, was stricken with influenza during the pregnancy that culminated in his birth and Iyengar suffered from health problems that would plague him for much of his childhood. The omens for his survival were not good. As he put it in his book Light on Life- “I looked sickly with thin arms and legs, a protruding stomach and a heavy head. My appearance was not prepossessing. I was weak and sickly and my childhood was marked with one bout of ill health after another. Most notably, I was a victim of malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. The general malnutrition caused by poverty merely exacerbated the situation and sometimes I would have more than one of these ailments to contend with. At one point, the doctors predicted that I would not live past 20. The constant bouts of ill health kept me away from school for long periods and my education suffered. A deep melancholy overtook me and at times I asked myself whether life was worth the trouble of living. Fortunately, however, the school I attended taught English, a subject that stood me in extremely good stead later.” Iyengar's situation was worsened by the death of his father from untreated appendicitis when Iyengar was nine. The young boy did poorly in school and he failed a key English-language examination. The exam result brought his schooling to an end and Iyengar's family began to wonder how the still frail young man might make a living.
His Interaction with Guru Krishnamacharya and practice of Yoga:
After the death of his father, the young Iyengar was sent to Bangalore to live with one of his brothers. But while he was passing through his painful and difficult childhood, an extremely accomplished man named Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was busy educating himself widely and deeply in yoga and the Indian philosophies. Krishnamacharya studied in Varanasi, Nepal and several other places, including seven years in Tibet. A polymath, he gained degrees from some of the best universities in India, including the Royal College of Mysore. In 1924 he returned to his native Karnataka. Against much opposition, for even in India yoga was not yet recognized as a serious profession, Krishnamacharya decided that he would teach yoga. It was not long before he came to the attention of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur IV, the Maharaja of Mysore. The Maharaja offered Krishnamacharya patronage and he became a personal advisor to the Royal Family, having the run of the Jagamohan Palace in Mysore. The Maharajah also endowed a Yogashala (school of yoga) for Krishnamacharya. And now that he had status, a profession and money, Krishnamacharya felt ready to marry. As fate would have it, the woman Krishnamacharya married was Namagiriyamma, one of BKS Iyengar's older sisters.
His First steps in to yoga:
The U turn in Iyengar’s Life:
BKS Iyengar's new life was set firmly on its new path when one early morning, Keshavamurthy simply disappeared off the face of the earth and could not be found anywhere. He was never to return. Being only days away from the Yogashala's very important demonstration, Krishnamacharya grew desperate. He had little alternative but to turn his attention to his earnest new pupil. He quickly began teaching Iyengar some of the more advanced asanas that were to be the climax of the demonstration and Iyengar could do nothing but make the best efforts he could. He practiced diligently and surprised his teacher by performing exceptionally well at the demonstration.
If Krishnamacharya now realized that he had the stuff of gold in his hands, he did not show it in any way -- except to begin instructing this exceptionally diligent pupil in earnest and to impose upon him the toughest and most difficult of routines. Iyengar responded to this attention by making extremely rapid progress and he was soon assisting his guru in the classes at the Yogashala. He also took Keshavamurthy's place and accompanied Krishnamacharya to a variety of yoga demonstrations around the country.
Although people were beginning to sing Iyengar's praises both inside and outside the Yogashala, relations with his guru did not improve much. At one demonstration Krishnamacharya had indicated to Iyengar which poses he was to perform and in what order. Iyengar had practiced them, only for Krishnamcharya to suddenly change the content and order of the programme. Amongst other things, he was now to perform Hanumanasana (the full splits). Iyengar complained that he had never been taught this and so could not do it and in any case his shorts were too tight. Krishnamacharya simply called for a pair of scissors, quietly cut a slit along each side of Iyengar's shorts and said "You can do it now". Iyengar was forced to comply and tore his hamstrings in the process. Feeling hemmed in on every side, Iyengar was now praying that he would soon leave what he later came to call 'this bondage'.
The first classes fortunately for BKS Iyengar:
His escape route from this perceived tyranny was at hand. In late 1936 the Maharajah of Mysore instructed Krishnamacharya to go to northern Karnataka to give a lecture and demonstration on yoga. Krishnamacharya took Iyengar with him. Some of the ladies in the audience were very impressed and wanted to learn something of yoga. But with the Indian modesty of the time, they were very unwilling to be taught by any of the older men. As the youngest in the group, the 18-year old Sundararaja was deputed by Krishnamacharya to instruct them. Thus, began Iyengar's career as a teacher of yoga. In the mean time, he continued with his intense practice routine and his health continued to improve.
The fame of Krishnamacharya and his Yogashala had spread far and wide. In 1937, members of the Deccan Gymkhana Club in Pune, Maharashtra State wrote to Krishnamacharya asking him to send them a yoga teacher on a six-month contract. The Deccan Gymkhana being one of the oldest and most prestigious sports clubs in all of India, Krishnamacharya was thrilled to receive such an honour. Unfortunately, in spite of the importance of the offer, none of the Yogashala's students were particularly keen to go. To begin with, they had all, except Iyengar, studied at the Mysore Sanskrit Patshala. So although fluent in Sanskrit as well as their native Kannada, none of them could speak either Marathi, the language of Pune and Maharashtra, or English. And since young Sundararaja Iyengar spoke the best English in the group, Krishnamacharya ordered him to go and fill the position. And with that, BKS Iyengar's two-year apprenticeship with his Guru came to an end and he went to Pune to try his hand at being an independent teacher of yoga. Although, given the nature of the appointment, he went with some trepidation; he was also very relieved to be leaving.
The beginning of Iyengar’s Career as an Independent yoga Teacher:
When BKS Iyengar arrived in Pune to begin his new life, he had no family around him, no friends and no money. He was now 18 years old. The one factor supposedly in his favour was his grasp of English -- which was shaky to say the least! Due to the fact that his ill health had made him constantly miss classes, he had ended up failing his matriculation examination in English by three points. He was doubly disadvantaged in that he also could not speak Marathi, the local language. Never having finished even his High School education, he was acutely aware that he had no real skills. It was make or break time for the young man. Either he began making a living from this opportunity to teach yoga or he return to the Yogashala penniless and without any real prospects for an independent life. He had but one thing going for him ... his immense dedication to his daily practice routine.
Although India was the home of yoga, it was still a minority interest. Only those with a sufficiently large surplus of funds to devote to such an interest could possibly afford to attend a yoga class. Having come from an extremely impoverished background Iyengar therefore found himself mixing, through his work with the Gymkhana, with a worldly and accomplished group of people, all with a far higher educational level than his own. None of them furthermore, had to contend with the problems of malnutrition, illness and weakness of health that he had had to contend with. Iyengar therefore found himself teaching yoga to people who were not only wealthier and better educated than him, they also tended to be bigger, stronger, better fed and healthier. The Deccan was after all, a very serious sports club that regularly produced national and international champions and had a membership to reflect this. It was humiliating to him that some of his early students, particularly those coming from the Deccan Gymkhana's famous gymnasium, seemed to have a native talent for doing the asanas and so could do them better than he could even though he was supposed to be the teacher and that they could also correct his faltering English while they were doing so.
The Evolution of Iyengar Yoga:
His Struggle for Survival:
The news begins to spread but unfortunately, Iyengar was still not earning enough money from his yoga teaching to survive. But this did not deter him from what he saw as a necessity. Hungry or not he would continue with his strict and rigorous practice routine. Days would go by when he had no more than a cup of tea to sustain him. A plate of rice would have to be rationed out to last him for three days. At other times he would fill his belly with water from an outside tap just so that his stomach would feel full enough not to bother him for a while. That done, he would return to his practising. Nothing swayed him from his dedication to his chosen task: to become the most effective teacher and practitioner it was in him to be. The only alternative was to return to the Yogashala in Mysore and lick his wounds and he was not yet ready for that.
Slowly and gradually, the many hours of intense practice that Iyengar put in began to bear fruit. As his knowledge and understanding increased, so also did the clarity, acuity, perceptiveness and relevance of his instructions. His pupils noticed these things ... and his reputation as an accomplished and effective teacher of yoga began to grow. Word of his skill as an instructor reached the authorities in charge of the Deccan Gymkhana and they duly showed their appreciation by extending his original six-month contract to three years. They also wanted him to teach more widely in a variety of the schools, colleges and physical education establishments that they oversaw around the city. This stability also allowed him to try to find other locations in which he could try his hand at teaching some of his own classes. It was still difficult to make a living, particularly because he was sometimes forced to cancel classes at the last moment when it turned out that one or another of the locations he was slated to use was suddenly unavailable because of some more important engagement. But his reputation for excellence eventually reached as far as Mumbai some 220 kilometres away. In 1940 he agreed to start a regular weekend class in the Bulbai Memorial Institute in that city even though it meant twelve hours of thru and fro train journey in order to honour the commitment. But ... this turned out to be one of the wisest decisions of his life as his Mumbai class was to prove to be possibly the most critical engagement of his career.
Invention of New Techniques in Yoga:
Iyengar's obsession with practice did not go unobserved by his neighbours. Some of them thought him frankly insane. He could be observed prowling the streets looking, for example, for heavy cobblestones. When he found them he would then sit calmly down in the street, draw his heels in close to his perineum, spread his knees wide out to either side, place the stones upon his knees and then sit there steadily for hours at a time ostensibly improving his baddha konasana (the wide-angle or cobbler's pose, one of the classic yoga positions). Or ... a road-building crew would pack up for the night or for the weekend and leave a previously innocuous object such as a steam roller parked there until its return. Before anyone knew what had happened, BKS Iyengar would arrive and have worked out some way to drape him over it in an effort -- ultimately successful -- to improve his practice and understanding of urdhva dhanurasana (the raised bow or "wheel" pose, another of the classic yoga asanas).
The neighbours might have been concerned, but they had in fact been given a front row seat from which they could observe the genesis of another of the distinguishing hallmarks of the developing Iyengar yoga. The master was trying to find a method to deal with yet another of the challenges that faced him as a teacher. The people now coming to him for classes were far less fit and accomplished than were the people who had generally enrolled to study at Krishnamacharya's Yogashala. His concern was finding ways to enable those who were that little bit stiffer and older to master the postures he wanted to teach them. It was thus Iyengar who devised methods to use simple everyday objects -- things that could be found in any home -- such as walls, ropes, chairs, belts, blocks and blankets as aids and props. His intent was to enable people of every shape, size and level of ability to place themselves in the most beneficial positions so that they could derive the maximum benefits that yoga had to offer in any and all poses they attempted. So effective was this approach that a healthy market now exists for 'yoga props' and for accoutrements of every description. And when standard everyday objects would not suffice, Iyengar proceeded to invent his own. A healthy commercial market also exists for 'backbenders', 'heart chakra openers', 'yoga walls', 'halasana benches' and other such devices, all originally invented by him and built to his precise design specifications by local craftsmen who were generally mystified as to what exactly they were building.
Not wanting to turn anyone away from his classes, Iyengar was also deeply concerned with how to help the sick people who frequently came to his classes. Having used yoga to heal himself, he was completely convinced that if he would but put his mind to it, he would be able to devise healing methods and practices to benefit his students. To Iyengar, therefore, asana became a healing practice. Yoga was therapy. He set about devising specific programmes of practice to benefit students. Due to the rigour and intensity of his own practice, his observation and his complete familiarity with the workings of the human body, he was ultimately able to bring relief to thousands of people sporting a bewilderingly wide array of health issues and disabilities are their problems physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. Although other yoga systems and teachers began to advertise themselves as also having therapeutic benefits, Iyengar's expertise remains untouched. Anyone seriously wanting assistance in yoga therapeutics, or else wanting to undertake research in the efficacy of yoga, either goes straight to BKS Iyengar or to someone trained by him and in his methods.
The blessings of his Marriage in 1943:
But since these achievements of BKS Iyengar were still some way in the future, the neighbours' concerns needed to be addressed. Word about their doubts and worries concerning his overall mental state reached his brothers who then felt it best to take action. Their solution was to advise him to get married. They were convinced that this would force him to 'settle down' and adopt a more normal pattern of life. But Iyengar was resistant for the marriage as his classes were growing, albeit slowly. In any case, what other trade could he ply? He did not want anything to interfere with his long practices for they were the foundation of his entire technique. Moreover, he did not feel that he was yet earning enough to support a family. He was barely able to support himself. But Iyengar's brothers were insistent. They cast around for a suitable match. They eventually found a delightful 16-year old girl, Srimati Ramamani. They then went back to Iyengar to promote her as a prospect. The most they could get from him was a grudging agreement to at least meet her. And upon meeting her he was most taken with her, as she was with him and they both willingly consented to the arrangement. He and Ramamani were duly married in 1943.
His Friendship with a famous violin maestro ‘Yehudi Menuhin’:
Guru Iyenger’s Relationship with Elisabeth – the Queen Mother of Belgium:
Menuhin's schedule was busy and it was not practical for him to return constantly to India to have yoga lessons. He therefore invited Iyengar to leave India with him as his private tutor. A benefit would be that Iyengar would also be able to pass on his teachings to others. Iyengar accepted this invitation and travelled with Menuhin to Britain, France and Switzerland, giving his first demonstrations in all those places. Iyengar met and taught some of the most famous artists and musicians in the world such as the pianists Sir Clifford Curzon and Lilli Kraus and the cellist Jacqueline du Pre.
One particularly significant person that Iyengar met during this period was the redoubtable lady Queen Elisabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium. She and her husband King Albert I had together steered Belgium through the disasters of the First World War. Her husband's heroic resistance leading the Belgian Army against superior German forces had given the French enough time to stage what became known as 'the Miracle of the Marne'. Elisabeth had distinguished herself in the war by not only opening a field hospital, but by serving in it personally as a nurse, even though it was at that time unheard of for any member of any Royal Family to minister to wounded common soldiers. Unfortunately, King Albert died tragically in a mountain accident in February 1934, the same year that Iyengar met his Guru and began his life of yoga. Queen Elisabeth was therefore alone when a second and far more devastating invasion by the Germans occurred in the Second World War. This time she was relatively helpless to assist. She found solace in her art, her music and her charitable works. But once her country was liberated, she swung into action, involving herself deeply in the restoration of her country. In 1958, she became the first member of the European royalty to be received at the Kremlin -- something that resonated with Iyengar given that he himself gave demonstrations in front of Marshal Bulganin, an ex-Premier of Russia and Nikita Kruschev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Russia. In 1961 the Queen Mother even visited China despite the fact that it was against the express wishes of her grandson King Baudouin who said 'Grandmother, you are going to bother quite a few people'. She replied by saying '... thanks to the Lord those people are fewer and fewer every day'.
BKS Iyengar was introduced to Queen Elisabeth in 1958 when she was already 85 years old. She wanted to learn to stand on her head and was not about to take 'No' for an answer saying: 'if you can't teach me to stand on my head, you can leave'. With some trepidation and acutely aware what headlines there would be if the august queen did not survive the experience, Iyengar carefully positioned his feet and his body to allow for the maximum possibility of success and hoisted her up onto her head. Although this was remarkable enough, everyone around was rather more concerned with whether or not he could bring her down safely again. Queen Elisabeth was so taken with Iyengar that she gave him two gifts that ever afterwards remained precious to him: a bust of herself that she had sculpted with her own hands; and a fine gold watch that Iyengar wore proudly and continuously for many days afterwards.
In 1965 Iyengar was teaching in Gstaad, Switzerland, when he received a telephone call from Queen Elisabeth, then 92 years old. She had just suffered a stroke and requested his presence. He flew to her immediately. Under his instruction she was able to regain a respectable amount of movement, being again able to hold and use a fork. When it was time for him to depart, his erstwhile queen tearfully held up her right cheek, spoke directly to Iyengar and said: "Kiss me." Iyengar bent forwards and did so; and when she offered the other cheek he kissed that one also. With the tears now rolling freely down over her face the Queen bade farewell to her Indian guru for the last time. The great lady died shortly afterwards on November 23rd. 1965.
World Recognition of Iyenger Yoga:
This is all for today. I hope you enjoy this information. Keep watching the space for more updates.