To be honest, without this most recent training, I do not know if I would have much to say about the passing of Sri B.K.S. Iyengar. Yet, throughout last week, his name was brought up probably ten times per day. For the training, I read and had on hand at all times Light On Yoga and Tree of Yoga, one text more seminal than the other. Light On Yoga is the classic textbook for almost every single yoga teacher. Iyengar’s then young and lithe body broke down every pose that would naturally come to mind (and many that seem quite unnatural) using photographs of himself and precision of language and cuing. His body was truly his laboratory as he twisted and turned in a myriad of ways that beforehand most people did not know a human body could twist and turn into. Then, as I am now learning, he realized that his ways of moving were not accessible to all (nor to his aging body) and thus Iyengar Yoga was founded and continuously re-appropriated to fit new back-care populations in the West.
My first experience of Mr. Iyengar was through Iyengar yoga classes that I took and honestly disdained. The precision just got to me and felt like an uncomfortable authority figure, like a parent who says that the towel was hung askew in the bathroom even though you, the teenager, think that if the towel is hung up that should just be good enough. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that Mr. Iyengar himself found props after he found hot, heated, fast, and challenging yoga. And that is the way it goes for many of us anyways…speed tends to lead to a tender sort of slowing-down.
Since arriving in Portland, I have taken two classes at the BhaktiShop where we chanted the Guru Mantra in honor of Iyengar’s passing. Every second of each class was wholly dedicated to him, taking us through sequences that he thought up. Last night, over beers at Victory Bar, I met a girl who does yoga at Reed who said that she gets frustrated by the “misappropriation” of yoga in the West. Today, I picked up Light On Yoga and found my many answers to that one question that stumps those who seek to find authenticity in a practice they feel they cannot own. He writes,
Bhauma means the world; ‘sarva’ means all. Yoga is a universal culture. Just as it works on the whole of the individual, so it is meant for the development of the whole of mankind on the physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual levels. Two thousand five hundred years ago Patanjali did not divide East from West. Why should we do so today?
And speaking of bringing East to West and West to East. I highly recommend the New York Times’ obituary published the evening of Iyengar’s death. It gives a beautiful historical context as well as photographs that document the sheer santosha (contentment) this man had for life and living.