Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, partly responsible for bringing yoga to the West, died early Wednesday morning in a hospital in Pune, India at the age of 95. Credited for establishing yoga institutes on six continents, he had a strong and international following, including Jayaprakash, the Indian independence fighter, American actress Ali Macgraw and Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist.
In a 2002 interview, Menuhin spoke of his much-loved yoga guru, stating: “Yoga means Iyengar. They are synonymous terms.” In 1952, Menuhin had an encounter with Iyengar that would influence the spread of his practice to the Western world long before high-end gyms and spas offered yoga classes and packages. Iyengar was summoned to Mumbai, at the time called Bombay, for a quick meeting that turned into a three-and-a-half hour-long yoga session. Menuhin later went on to say that practicing yoga had completely changed the way he played the violin.
According to his website, Iyengar died at the age of 95, after a life spent dedicated to his yoga practice and bringing his knowledge to others. His method reached many teachers from all over the world, and is distinguished by the use of belts or ropes to further help the beginner yoga practitioner achieve poses. In a 2002 article featuring the guru, The New York Times suggested that Iyengar had done more than any other person to bring yoga to the west.
According to the yoga guru’s friend, Dr. Satish Desai, Iyengar had been in the hospital as a result of kidney failure and was being treated. The death of the revolutionary has affected many who knew and were inspired by him, including the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, who recently said on Twitter that he was extremely saddened about Iyengar’s death and added that he sends his condolences to Iyengar’s followers throughout the world. Modi went on to say that Iyengar would be remembered for generations as someone who was a great guru and scholar. He also claimed Iyengar to be loyal, reliable and hardworking, adding that Iyengar had dedicated his life to bringing yoga into the lives of people all over the world.
Dedicating his life to his yoga practice, Iyengar continued to practice his yoga postures well into his 90s. As the founder of the Iyengar School of Yoga, he was known across the world as the father of modern yoga and named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. During his long life, he received many awards, including the Padma Shri (1991), the Padma Bhushan (2002) and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014.
Iyengar’s unique practice is most often recognized as having long asanas (postures), some of which can last up to several minutes. His use for long postures in yoga is accompanied by the control of long breaths. This technique of yoga is believed to make the practitioner more strong, flexible and disciplined.
The yoga world grieves for Iyengar and is deeply affected by his death. Along with the thousands of lives he has touched, Iyengar leaves behind a legacy of dedication for most of his 95 years that will be carried on as long as yoga exists. His long poses, attention to breath and life philosophies will be remembered by the people who have been lucky enough to hear his words of wisdom straight from the source. With the many schools he has opened across the world, yoga practitioners alike will continue to discover the unique spin Iyengar has put on yoga.
Opinion by Monica de Lartigue