Reflections on Iyengar’s influence

Since BKS Iyengar died, many articles have been written about his influence, greatness etc. I thought I’d reflect briefly on how I feel he has had an impact on my yoga life.

I think the first point to note is that many of the yoga teachers in the UK in the ’70s and ’80s were Iyengar yoga teachers. Friends I’ve talked to who were in London at that time said that it was nearly all Iyengar teachers. Richard Adamo who I trained with to become a teacher, attended Iyengar classes in London, and other yoga teachers that I’ve been to have Iyengar backgrounds. If you had a very very large piece of paper and plotted all the yoga teachers in the UK (or the world) as a family history tree, I’m sure a huge percentage of them could be traced back to Iyengar. And one outcome of this is the use of props when practising asana. I teach and practise with some use of blocks and straps myself, and they can be used to modify a pose, to deepen it, or to make it more accessible to all bodies.

Along with most people who are interested in yoga, I also have some of his books. The door-stopper Light on Yoga (scroll down the list on the page) was published in 1965/6 and has apparently never been out of print. With illustrations and detailed instructions for over 200 asana it remains among the best reference book for learning precisely how to attempt a particular pose, as can be seen in some of the phenomenal variations Iyengar demonstrates in the photos. He also rates the asana for difficulty, although everything is relative! I first came across this book when I was practising Ashtanga yoga with Richard Adamo and a friend showed it to me – I couldn’t believe some of the pictures and stayed up late reading it! It encouraged me to try things I didn’t think were possible.

My local library also had a copy of Geeta Iyengar’s Yoga: A Gem for Women, which provides a woman’s perspective on what was a male-dominated practice. Geeta is Iyengar’s oldest daughter and co-runs the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India, which her father established in memory of his wife.

So just in small ways, one man in India who I never knew, has guided me in what I do today. And in being a yoga teacher myself, I’m passing on those connections.

You can read longer articles and other reflections on the Yoga International website, the British Wheel of Yoga website which briefly mentions Iyengar’s history and how he brought yoga to the West, on Aham Yoga which has lots of snippets of interesting facts about his life, or on Well and Good where several yoga teachers provide their reflections on learning with BKS Iyengar. Or watch some archive footage.

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