During an Idea Exchange in September 2011 at The Indian Express office, Yoga guru B K S Iyengar had said Yoga was a spiritual subject and should not be mixed with politics. Stating that he did not fear death, Iyengar deciphered the nuances of Yoga and revealed how as a young man he had defied medical science with Yoga. Excerpts:
Yoga has become commercialised these days. Everyone seems to be packaging it.
People want to stay fit and healthy and everyone is trying to take advantage of this. In a democratic country like India, you cannot do much to stop it.
As far as the practice of people making money out of Yoga is concerned, I say, let them make money but they should be honest and ethical and give 10 per cent more than what they get. If you charge Rs 1,000, you should give knowledge worth Rs 1,100.
Is Baba Ramdev’s Yoga ethical? You have criticised him in the past.
He is a sadhaka and I am also a sadhaka. I have not criticised him. It’s the newspapers who have done this. Recently, when a reporter asked me, ‘Can kapalbharti and mastika cure all diseases?’, I just laughed. You cannot say that one part of Yoga is enough to keep you healthy. We are made up of 700 muscles and 300 joints. Body is mind, body is intelligence, body is conscience, so we have to train all the parts. Then how can you say that one part of Yoga has all the remedies. If you have knee problem, bhastrika will not help… If you have gout issues, pranayama cannot treat it.
Do you think a Yoga exponent should come into politics?
No, Yoga is a spiritual subject and should not be mixed with politics.
What is the kind of message that goes out about Yoga when a Yoga guru observes a fast and becomes physically unwell, critical within six days?
That means the energy was not there. You do not know what is in store for you; work from now on, this is what Yoga-sutra teaches you.
With so many people teaching different Yoga techniques, how does a layman identify the correct way?
When I started Yoga in 1934, there were no qualified teachers of Yoga because of which people had a casual knowledge of the subject. My Guruji was the kulguru of the Maharaja of Mysore and was a great Sanskrit scholar. He had moved from Nepal to Mysore. I went to him to learn Yoga, as I was suffering from tuberculosis, malaria and typhoid. I had been born with influenza fever. I could not complete my education due to health problems. When I was 17-year-old, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and the doctors had said that I would not survive. For several years, my head would hang down – I could not hold up my head. So it was a paralytic life and I thought it is better to die but someone introduced me to a few asanas and I started practising them.
Today, I am 93 and my lungs have been examined in the USA and Switzerland and they say my ribs are like that of a child. It took me eight years to understand what health was. All my diseases were cured through Yoga.
You spoke about how ill you were as a young man. So you managed to defy medical science with Yoga?
It happened that way. But things would have gone wrong if I had practiced some wrong asanas. Having gone through so much suffering, I was extra cautious when I came to teach Yoga in Pune…If something goes wrong, what happens to Yoga? These fears guided me to be extra cautious while teaching. Today, you find Yoga centres in every corner, but in those days, we could not earn even a single meal by teaching Yoga. No one had respect for it during the 1930s. That’s when I thought I had to transform people’s attitude towards Yoga and give it the respect it deserved.
In the past few years, the concept of power Yoga has gained popularity. What is your take on this?
Power Yoga is nothing new. It is something that I used to teach in my early days in various schools and colleges. It’s just a methodology that I used to give the students for them to recollect the positions and the movements related to various asanas. In fact, if you read the Yoga magazines of UK, you will know how I was attacked for this practice and how I survived the attack.
What are your eating habits and routine?
I sleep three hours a day and practise Yoga for four hours. I also work on my books from 2 PM to 6 PM. I am a vegetarian and eat thrice a day but within limits. My meal comprises chapatti, vegetable and some rice. I drink tea too. In fact, when I visited the US in 1954, I would survive only on bread and coffee, as it was hard to find vegetarian food. The very people who called me a grass-eater then and who would drink a lot, took to vegetarianism. They were shocked to see how I could work 10 hours a day without fatigue. Their way of living went through a complete change.
Is Yoga thought-driven?
I do not teach Yoga psychologically. I teach neurologically and biologically. The elixir of life is hidden inside, you have to tap it more and more. That is what Yoga teaches you. It does not give you medicine to treat diseases.
Does Yoga help in losing weight?
Yoga is not a weight-loss programme. It helps you to live a natural life. It gives you a fresh mind. What more do you want?
Two names in Pune have always attracted foreigners -Rajneesh and Iyengar.
I knew Rajneesh even before he became popular, his father was my student. He used to come to Pune from Jabalpur once a year for Buddha Jayanti. He was the orator of the 20th century. Once, someone told me (referring to Osho and me) that there are two bhagwans in Pune. I said, we are not bhagwans, we are bhagvatas, servants of God.
You are known to be a stern teacher.
No, I am not a stern teacher. I am just an intense teacher. I guide my students to use their intelligence in the right direction.
When you introduced props, you were criticised a lot saying it is not pure form of Yoga.
Now all the centres are using it and they are still criticising it. That’s what makes me laugh.
Can Yoga work for someone who is not willing to take it?
That’s why the props are there.
Yoga helps alleviate pain, but patients of chronic back pain continue to suffer.
Yoga teaches how to release the mind from contact with other parts of the body. Yoga provides a way to make you live a natural life. Scientific research has also proved that Yoga is helpful in relieving pain.
There have been experiments such as including Yoga in the routine of jail inmates.
I am not a publicity seeker, but I was the first person to teach Yoga in Manchester jail and I succeeded. I did the same in the USA in 1956.
The government wants to copyright 13,000 asanas. What is your opinion on this?
They have not done it yet. But who are we to copyright them? We are not the originators of these asanas, age-old rishis are. The royalty should go to them, not us. Secondly, I feel that knowledge should be open to all so copyrighting asanas is something I don’t agree with.
After your recent China visit, you said you will no longer travel to another country.
From 1954 to 2011, I have travelled the world over around 50 times. That was required to spread the knowledge about Yoga. I have done my job.
During your China visit, you also said China may overtake India in Yoga.
The Chinese are deep into Yoga. The contact that was lost between India and China for the last 1,500 years has got renewed now. This meeting was supposed to be government-to-government to celebrate 60 years of the relationship between the two countries. The Government of China wanted something educative and interesting like Yoga. Our government suggested someone’s name but the Chinese insisted that they wanted only me. They also issued a stamp on me, though the Indian government has not done so till now.
Is there a connection between vegetarianism and Yoga?
Not at all, it’s a misconception. But once you get into Yoga, you may not want to eat non-vegetarian food. These days, people eat through their brains and not through their stomach. Yoga transforms the system.
How come you never thought of expanding your institute in all these years?
Even though I am known as a Yoga practitioner, my idea is to propagate Yoga and not build a centre and spread my name. I have been doing a lot of philanthropic work but I don’t want any publicity. There was no primary school in my village Belur (Karnataka), children used to smoke beedis as their parents used to smoke and drink. I built a school there in 1968. In the year 2007, I built another school that has 350 students. This year, many children said Bangalore was too far for them to attend college, so I am building a college now.
What is the story behind adopting a tiger?
My villagers wanted me to celebrate my 90th birthday with them, to which I agreed. From there, I was invited to Mysore zoo. The authorities told me there were two tigers, Brahma and Anusuiyya, who were very ferocious and hadn’t been adopted by anyone. They requested me to adopt them as it was my birthday. It takes Rs 1 lakh a year to maintain a tiger. I agreed.
You have a list of celebrities as your students. Are cricketers also on that list?
Yes, I have also written a book on Yoga for cricketers but I don’t know why they have not published it. The book was written around three years ago. They had requested me to write this book. I have included asanas for cricketers that will keep them be alert and fresh on the field.
Is it that the West is taking more to Yoga than Indians now-a-days?
It became international only after renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin started practising and gained from it. The violinist had several neurological problems and he could not play the violin. I worked on him and he improved. He invited me to Switzerland to teach Yoga to other musicians. Even J Krishnamurti learnt from me.
Do you fear death?
No, not at all. God has given me a 70-year bonus, why should I fear death?
(Transcribed by Garima Mishra)
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