The power of yoga

HARMONY OF BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT Through the practice of yoga   | Photo Credit: STR

Last year, I was gifted a Kindle for my birthday. I fell in love with it instantly. Sure, I love the idea of a book, holding it, turning pages, the feel of paper… But then I think of trees being cut down and I realize that I love my Kindle more. I decided to give away the ever-growing collection of books that I had accumulated through my life. I thought I would keep a few but ended up hanging onto only four books. Three of these four were written by B.K.S. Iyengar – Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama:The Yogic Art of Breathing and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

B.K.S. Iyengar is the founder of a style of yoga called Iyengar Yoga. He was born in Bellur, Karnataka to a poor Brahmin family. He was a sickly child. “My arms were thin, my legs were spindly, and my stomach protruded in an ungainly manner. My head used to hang down, and I had to lift it with great effort,” he wrote

As luck or karma would have it, his brother-in-law was T. Krishnamachariya, who is credited with the revival of yoga in the modern world. Krishnamachariya was teaching in the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore and invited Iyengar to stay with him and use yoga to cure his ill health. It was out of this illness that Iyengar Yoga was born.

In this style of yoga, the students hold postures for a long time and focus minutely on the anatomy and alignment of the body. Many props are used to help the student find the correct alignment and allow them to go deeper into the asanas. The slow practice and the use of props make this a challenging form to practice but also make the style accessible to those who are not physically fit and to older students.

I like to think of Iyengar yogis as the Ph. Ds of the yoga world. What they do doesn’t look fun, seems really intense and a little boring, but their knowledge is essential to all other yoga students. I would go out on a limb and say that there is no yoga teacher in the modern world who has not been influenced by the teaching of Iyengarji.

Iyengar passed away at the age of 94 on August 20 this year. Although I once had the privilege of hearing him speak, I have never practised with this legend, but after one short encounter with him and the vast knowledge he has passed on to me through his books, I feel like he is my guru.

It was a hot day during the monsoons when we gathered in a new yoga studio in Thane, waiting for Iyengar to arrive and inaugurate the space. He seemed small and frail as he entered but when he began to talk, he captivated the entire room. His voice was strong and powerful. He didn’t need the cushions placed on the divan behind him, as his spine was perfectly straight and erect. He sat in complete stillness; only his head moving as he scanned the room, eyes sparkling. He was in his late 80s at the time.

He laughed as he looked around the fancy studio and began to tell us stories about the less-than-fancy places he had, in his youth, given yoga demonstrations. Remembering with clarity the dates from over half a century ago, he recalled the names of schools, homes, halls and other places he had given demonstrations, calling our attention to a particular school where he was forced to demonstrate in front of the door to a smelly toilet. “Always practise,” he chided us, “even if you have only the space in front of a dirty toilet.”

As he spoke, I recalled a quote from one of his books: “Everything cannot be observed by our two eyes. Each pore of the skin should act like an eye. Your skin is the most sensitive organ.”

Observing him that day I understood what he meant.

Today I scanned through his books before I began to write this article, re-reading the parts that I have underlined.

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”

“The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”

“A yogi’s brain extends from the bottom of the foot to the top of the head. A crooked body means a crooked mind.”

My mind constantly goes back to that day thinking of this man who had transformed himself from a boy with thin arms and spindly legs to the strong, alert Yogi I saw that day. Iyengarji continued to practise yoga well into his 90s and his life has become all the proof I need to believe in the power of yoga.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 6:19:28 AM |

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