WHY IYENGAR YOGA IS NOT STUCK IN THE PAST

It has happened a few times recently that yoga teachers and students alike have commented on the fact that Iyengar Yoga seems to be ‘stuck in the past’ whereas other yoga methods appear to be very modern and fresh in their approach.

Surprised by these passing and matter-of-factly observations, I started to reflect on them and I came up with a few reasons why it is certainly not the case in my view, that Iyengar Yoga is old fashioned and needs modernising.

I assume that those who hold this opinion might just have in mind, as a point of reference, BKS Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga (LOY). It was published in 1966, its images were revolutionary when the book came out and they are still striking now for their beauty and mastery shown in the execution of the poses. At the time, the descriptions and detailed instructions accompanying each postures represented a novel approach to teaching yoga. The book was for many reasons the apex in yoga-related publications. However for the development of Iyengar Yoga, as it’s known now, it became on the other hand, the starting point for further developments.

Thanks to the progressive minds of Guruji Iyengar and his family as well as their openness and willingness to interact with and help their increasing number of students, poses, sequences, and ways in which to practice them grew steadily and organically. And they are continuing to do so….

Can you see a prop in LOY, or any of the now-ubiquitous yoga tools, in any of the images? No. Or almost…This is because they were fully developed later. Even the sticky mat. Moreover the familiar bricks, belts, chairs, all developed by Guruji Iyengar, were only the start. Many other tools like wooden wedges, metal rods, stools and bandages have continued to come out of the active mind of Guruji Iyengar and his family. As soon as a pre-existing support was not quite enough in helping a student to move further on his yoga journey, some other prop would be invented. Some of these aids have become mainstream, some others are to be found only at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in India.

Have you heard of Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana? No? Well it’s not in LOY! Since the 60s, more poses have been developed and many more familiar poses have been modified with dozens of ad hoc versions to suit specific people and conditions.

It may be a surprise to you to know that Guruji Iyengar started his yoga path with ‘Vinyasa krama’, but via constant yoga study and practice, as well as the meeting of many students over decades, he changed his approach in order to make yoga asanas more accessible to a wider audience, and more importantly, to all ages. So, to a certain extent, a vinyasa-type of yoga is the past! At the same time, a flow of yoga poses, or ‘jumpings’, is actually very much practiced in Iyengar Yoga, but not exclusively.

BKS Iyengar published many more books and articles since LOY. Topics vary from detailed aspects of yoga poses to yoga philosophy, from Pranayama to advice on teaching yoga. This is another concrete testament to his active and inquisitive mind but also to his determination to share his knowledge with all. The Iyengar Yoga library is constantly growing and becoming richer and richer with contributions from his children, Gita and Prashant Iyengar, as well as from Iyengar Yoga teachers world-wide.

The only way to be fully up-to-date with developments and changes within Iyengar Yoga is by going to visit the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. And regularly. Even as an Iyengar Yoga teacher I am always amazed by how fresh, new and constantly-developing Iyengar yoga is every time I go to India.

Curiosity, evolution, modernity and creativity are all within Iyengar Yoga. They all stem from the sincere and intense practice of Yoga, the only constant.

 

DECEMBER 2017-MY LATEST VISIT TO THE IYENGAR YOGA INSTITUTE IN PUNE, INDIA

OFFICIAL LOGO FOR THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS OF B.K.S IYENGAR

For the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) the 14th December 2017 marked the beginning of a year-long celebration throughout India and the rest of the world, in honour of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, its founder. Guruji Iyengar would have been 100 years old on the 14th December 2019. I was at the Institute for the full month of December and was privileged to attend the first two events marking the year-long celebration. 

I have been at the Pune ashram three times so far. The waiting list for UK residents is of 2-3 years. Once your application is granted you will be attending regular classes during the month of your choice. This means one class per day, plus personal practice time in the mornings. In the afternoons and evenings, one can assist in, or watch any other of the busy classes, for locals and foreign visitors. The two studios are extremely busy and over 1000 people attend classes every week!

The stay never disappoints. The teaching is excellent, demanding, warm and compassionate. The range of yoga asanas and pranayamas practiced is very thoughtful and thorough. By the end of one month, there is more than enough to take home and ponder on, re-practice and perhaps even re-learn and discover again. Guruji Iyengar was known for its unstoppable evolving nature. Since the onset he developed his practice readjusting it to himself and his students, constantly reacting to his and other bodies’ and minds’ responses. No two lessons are ever the same and you can bet that you will be doing something new in each class you go to!

MAIN PRACTICE HALL AT THE RIMYI
MAIN PRACTICE HALL AT THE RIMYI

On December 14th 2017 an afternoon of talks and presentations was held in front of hundreds of attendees from India and abroad. Most of them are longstanding students and some just arrive from afar on Guruji’s birthday every year to pay their respects. The tradition continues even though he has passed away. Iyengar’s students and children alike shared their memories of their relationship with their guru and/or father. The interventions were moving, funny and inspiring. A memorable full Indian banquet was offered to all at the end of the evening.

MY FRIENDS AND I AT THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
MY FRIENDS AND I (3RD FROM LEFT…) AT THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
BKS IYENGAR PAYING RESPECTS TO PATANJALI-image used for the centenary celebrations
B.K.S. IYENGAR PAYING RESPECTS TO PATANJALI-image used for the centenary celebrations

The second special event was a week-long workshop given by Prashant, B.K.S. Iyengar’s son. A regular and well-respected teacher of the morning classes at the Pune Institute for decades, he set out to transmit many more of his dad’s and guru’s teachings during a very intensive week. He wanted us all to read between the lines of Iyengar’s messages. In Prashant’s words: “There are paragraphs and even books to be read in between Iyengar’s words….”

Over a 75 year-long teaching career, Guruji Iyengar has influenced not only his children and grandchildren, but also thousands of people from all over the world, directly and indirectly. Many of his students have gone to become teachers themselves inspiring thus more people. Two of his regular students have tabbed teaching me. Their gratitude and respect for their Guru shine brightly through during each and every class I have attended. 

All us students of Iyengar yoga are truly blessed in having such a strong tradition behind us.

When I teach I do my utmost to respect my teachers and stay true to the source.