Life of the master
The founder of the now renowned Iyengar yoga is Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, also known as BKS Iyengar.
He was born on 14 December 1918 in Bellur, Karnataka into a Sri Vaishnava Iyengar family.
When he was 5 yrs old their family moved to Bangalore, and when he was 9, his father died.
He got infected with influenza during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and got very sick. Although he didn’t die, the sickness persisted throughout his childhood. Throughout his childhood, he struggled with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid and general malnutrition.
In 1934, his brother-in-law T Krishnamacharya asked him to come to Mysore to practice asanas for improving health.Krishnamacharya’s yoga teaching style was such that he adapted yogasanas for various kind of people. And under the instruction of Krishnamacharya in the Mysore yogashala, BKS’s asana practice began. Slowly but surely the yoga practice bore fruit for Iyengar and his health improved, as well as his competence.
Krishnamacharya’s yogashala in Mysore was inside the King of Mysore’s palace, and the king used to send Krishnamacharya to different locations in India to give demonstration on Yoga. Iyengar being one of his earnest pupils, Krishnamacharya took him to a demonstration in north Karnataka in late 1936. The ladies were impressed by the demonstration and wanted to learn more, so Krishnamacharya told Iyengar to teach them, and thus his career as a teacher began.
Iyengar’s fame grew and in 1937, Dr. Gokhale on behalf of members of the Deccan Gymkhana Club in Pune, wrote to Krishnamacharya asking him to send them a yoga teacher on a six-month contract. Krishnamacharya ordered Iyengar to go and fill the position. And with that, BKS Iyengar’s two-year apprenticeship with his Guru came to an end.
With new responsibilities as a hatha yoga teacher, Iyengar intensified his personal practice such that he could learn as fast as possible to be able to guide his students better. His transmission of yogasanas was not from any scripture rather his personal experience of doing the asanas. His skills, clarity, and teaching ability increased and the authorities of Gymkhana club extended his contract to three years.
In 1940, he began a regular weekend class in Bulbai Memorial Institute, Mumbai for which he travelled every weekend back and forth from Pune to Mumbai. Here the students were older people having many health problems. So Iyengar found ways to use everyday objects as props to help them master the asanas. When everyday objects didn’t suffice, he invented his own, like “backbenders”, “halasana benches” etc. In 1943, Iyengar got married while he his fame was increasing, and he taught many influential people. Among his students were members of Indian royalty, business, sports and entertainment personalities.
He has taught Jiddu Krishnamurti the philosopher, Jayaprakash Narayan the freedom fighter, Elisabeth the Queen of Belgium, Sachin Tendulkar the cricketer, Kareena Kapoor the Bollywood actress, Mira Nair the filmmaker….and many more.
In 1966, he published his first book on yoga “Light on Yoga” which became an international bestseller.
In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his late wife. He officially retired from teaching in 1984, but continued to be active in the world of Iyengar Yoga, teaching special classes, giving lectures, and writing books. In 2003, BKS Iyengar initiated the setting up of the Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust (BKSSNT), a charitable body named in memory of his parents known by us as the Bellur Trust.
In 2004, Iyengar was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
The Indian government awarded Iyengar the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014.
In June 2011, he was presented with commemorative stamps issued in his honour by the Beijing branch of China Post. At that time there were over thirty thousand Iyengar yoga students in 57 cities in China.
Iyengar died on 20 August 2014 in Pune, aged 95.
Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute is the heart and soul of Iyengar yoga, located in Pune, established in 1975. BKS also established other institutions which Light on Yoga Research Trust, Iyengar Yogashraya, Youth’s offerings to Guruji, Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust. They serve different functions like propagating Iyengar yoga, research on yoga, development of Bellur in Karnataka etc.
BKS wrote books like Light on Yoga, Light on Yoga sutras of Patanjali, etc which were quite famous.Those books are available to order online. To learn Iyengar yoga, one can contact one of their certified teachers living nearby the location, the list of which is available in their official website.