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‘Yoga is a spiritual subject and should not be mixed with politics’

In this Idea Exchange,93-year-old yoga guru BKS Iyengar speaks about Baba Ramdev,copyrighting asanas,and the ethics involved in yoga. The session was moderated by Resident Editor,Pune,Sunanda Mehta.

Sunanda Mehta: 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. People who go to such institutes should be able to judge whether they are getting the right knowledge or just a pleasing methodology wrapped in nice and kind words. Honest and sincere people who have been practising yoga for ages know how difficult it is. As far as people who are 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.

Manoj More: 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 kapalbhati 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 parts of the body. Then how can you say that one part of yoga has all the remedies—yoga would then be a short and easy path. If you have knee problem,bhastrika will not be able to do anything. If the problem is of the knee joint,you need to work on your knee joint. If you have gout,pranayama cannot treat it. You have to make the blood in the knees circulate. Yoga is such a huge science.

Sunanda Mehta: Do you believe a yoga exponent should come into politics?

No,yoga is a spiritual subject and should not be mixed with politics.

Manoj More: 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 going to be in store for you; work from now on,this is what yoga-sutra teaches you. Yoga creates a defensive strength in you,so that offensive forces will not affect you.

Sunanda Mehta: Have you ever met Baba Ramdev?

Several times,he has also visited my institute. He calls me Bhishmapitamaha of yoga. He has high regard for me.

Nisha Nambiar: 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 because my mother had it when she was pregnant. I could not complete my education due to health problems. When I was 17 years 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. That was my condition. 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 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 because of and through yoga. When I started practising yoga,Dr V B Gokhale,a surgeon from Belgaum,came to see my demonstration in 1936. He said he had not seen this range of body movements in the anatomical world. He was impressed and said that once he retired,he would call my guru or his followers to Pune to teach yoga. When he retired,he approached all educational institutions in Pune and requested them to contribute Rs 8 a month. The total collection was around Rs 60. Classes began in Pune with this money. The institutions carried on teaching yoga for three years but later stopped,saying they had no funds.

Manoj More: 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 practised some wrong asanas. Having gone through so much suffering,I was extra cautious when I came to teach yoga in Pune. What is good and what is harmful? 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 to yoga and give it the respect it deserves.

Sunanda Mehta: Why doesn’t Iyengar yoga believe in having franchises?

In my institute,I have got students of five generations. I am not a preacher,teaching students here today and then going elsewhere the next day. By the time I come back,students would have forgotten whatever they have learned. What I am creating is for generations.


Garima Mishra: In the past few years,the concept of power yoga has gained popularity.

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.


Nisha Nambiar: What is the utility of shirshasana? Can it be practised by anyone?

The basic utility is that it supplies blood to the brain. But I would be a fool to teach shirshasana to a person without checking if his body is ready for it or not.

Manoj More: 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 p.m. to 6 p.m. 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.

Ishfaq Naseem: Is yoga thought-driven?

I do not teach yoga psychologically. I teach neurologically and biologically. I don’t induce peace of mind through words and language; I say,do it. Biological changes take place and these changes are permanent. 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.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: 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?

Sunanda Mehta: 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.

Sunanda Mehta: 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.

Pranav Kulkarni: 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.

Sushant Kulkarni: Can yoga work for someone who is not willing to take it?

That’s why the props are there.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: Yoga helps alleviate pain,but patients of chronic back pain continue to suffer. Apart from yoga,do you also advise other therapeutic forms like pilates? Is the institute involved in conducting clinical research with hospitals?

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 is a compilation of scientific evidence on the therapeutic efficacy of Iyengar yoga.

Sushant Kulkarni: 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 USA in 1956.

Sunanda Mehta: The government wants to copyright 13,000 asanas. What is your opinion on this?

They have not yet done it. But who are we to copyright them? We are not the originators of these asanas. Old-age rishis are the originators,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.

Nisha Nambiar: 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.

Anuradha Mascarenhas: 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. 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.

Pupul Chatterjee: 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.

Sunanda Mehta: 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.

Pranav Kulkarni: 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.

Sunanda Mehta: You have a list of celebrities as your students. Are cricketers 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 alert and fresh on the field.

Nisha Nambiar: Is it that the West is taking more to yoga than Indians nowadays?

It became international only after renowned violinst 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 too. Even J Krishnamurti learnt from me.

Manoj More: 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

First published on: 04-09-2011 at 01:18 IST
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