Practice,” said renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away on Wednesday, “is my feast.” It was a testament to his will and determination that he could continue to practice the form of yoga named after him even into his 90s. And it is, perhaps, that promise of longevity that continues to draw acolytes to Iyengar Yoga, considered the most widely practised form of yoga, with over 100 institutes, and teachers and associations across the world. With its emphasis on asanas and pranayama, focused on teaching students to precisely align their bodies and use proper breath control, Iyengar Yoga is touted by converts to be a more therapeutic and inclusive style than newer, more vigorous and fast-paced alternatives, like Bikram Yoga or power yoga.
The spread of Iyengar Yoga, setting the discipline on its path of current global faddishness, is attributed to a fortuitous meeting between Iyengar and violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1952. The virtuoso reportedly complained that he didn’t have time to relax and couldn’t sleep well, which was fixed by “Guruji”, as he was known to his followers. Menuhin found that yoga helped him control stage fright and improved his concentration, and so he became a committed practitioner and introduced Iyengar to a more global stage.
Iyengar travelled to different countries, propagating yoga as an art and a science. For all that, he disdained the yoga entrepreneurship that has come to characterise the discipline’s newish global popularity, though, in many ways, he had paved the way for it. Yoga in the West — and increasingly in India — is concerned more with the purely physical aspects, in terms of both methods of practice and expectations of results, than with the more encompassing process embraced by Iyengar. For him, perfection remained a stretch away.