Shri Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar

Yogacharya B.K.S.Iyengar Guruji is a living legend who has taught yoga in a unique way to all his students. He finds the meaning of the yoga sutras by his practical search and regular practice of yoga. Thus, he has helped all to experience the wisdom of the yoga sutras. His style of teaching yoga is called "Iyengar Yoga" and is now being followed by certified teachers across the world. Let us see some glimpses of his life.

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (BKS) Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918. His father Sri Krishnamachar was a school teacher.

At the age of 16, he was introduced to yoga by his Guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya. At the age of 18, he was sent to Pune, Maharashtra by his guru to teach and preach yoga as he knew some English. This missed his opportunity to learn a lot about yoga directly from his guru.

Guruji is a sincere and committed practitioner. His own practice has helped him to explore and achieve perfection in yoga asanas. This is reflected in the depth of his teachings over these years.

B.K.S.Iyengar taught several eminent personalities such as J. Krishnamurti (philosopher and teacher), Jayaprakash Narayan (freedom fighter), Achyut Patwardhan (commandant of National Defence Academy) and also many physicians and industrialists.

Guruji's practice and teachings were well appreciated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad (First President of India), Dr. Mohammad Hatta (ex-Vice President of Indonesia), Pope Paul VI and also by other eminent personalities from different countries.

On 26th January 1973, Guruji laid the foundation of Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, named after his wife Smt. Ramamani Iyengar. The institute was inaugurated on January 19, 1975.

Guruji's teachings were first published in 1966 as Light on Yoga . This book has been translated into 18 languages. Today, he is the author of 14 books.

Guruji was the first person to teach large group of students. He lays great emphasis on precision and alignment which is followed by his students. He gets students achieve levels of practice which had seemed to be beyond their abilities. He brings about an automatic transformation in the mind and habits of people. He is the only person to teach the highest aspects of yoga — Atma Darshan — through asanas.

In 1998, he taught 800 of his students for a week on the occasion of his 80th birthday at Pune. Again, in the year 2000, he conducted a special course for senior "Iyengar Yoga" teachers from nearly 40 countries.

Even today, at the age of 87, he continues to practise. While practising, he is an artist at work. He is always at ease in any posture he performs. Precision and beauty mark the asana, and the regular practice he advocates integrates the body, mind and emotions.


Iyengar Yoga

Perform each Asana as a Mantra and each pose as a Meditation then the light will dawn from the centre of your being


Sage Patanjali, who has written on this subject in his treatise Yoga Darshana defines yoga as chitta vritti nirodha. Chitta is the consciousness which includes the mind, the intellect and the ego. Yoga is a method of silencing the vibrations of the chitta.

The eight aspects (astanga) of yoga are: Yama and Niyama, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana,  Dhyana,  Samadhi.

Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar with his intellectual and spiritual practices has masterminded the techniques which can be used by all practitioners of yoga. "Research based experience" and "experience based research" has helped him in evolving this technique which is now known as "Iyengar Yoga". He has therefore made it possible for ordinary human beings to experience the wisdom of the yoga sutras.

Iyengar yoga is meant for all and is a way of life. The use of props, designed by Guruji , such as wooden gadgets, belts and ropes helps the practitioner to achieve perfection in any asana. Regular practice of 'Iyengar Yoga' definitely integrates the body, mind and emotions.

Iyengar Yoga can be practiced by all.

The emphasis is given to precision and alignment in all postures. An "Iyengar Yoga" practitioner is also aware of the sequence in which different groups of asanas have to be performed. 


Be a Sadhaka!

Speech by Dr. B.K.S. Iyengar Guruji

3rd January 2011 at Patanjala Yoga Kendra, Rishikesh


Happy to see you all. It’s a great joy. Actually it’s too late, because we left (Haridwar) too late. But your affection made me come to meet you all, then proceed to the airport. I’m very, very happy to see you all full of joy, gay! It touches me. I don’t know what you want me to talk about. Yoga is like an ocean. An ocean cannot be grasped in a few minutes. It is the same with yoga.

As you are all sadhakas (spiritual adepts), don’t be abhyasis (practitioners). There is a vast difference between a practitioner, known as abhyasi, and a sadhaka. You should be a sadhaka and not just an abhyasi. Even though Patanjali (Yoga Sutra 1.12,13) starts with the word abhyasa (practice), which is mechanical, because he wants people to get mechanically accustomed to the subject, but then he says that we cannot remain an abhyasi (practitioner) forever. You have to go further and become a sadhaka. A sadhaka needs sadhana (inner practice). Abhyasa does not need so much effort, but a sadhaka has to make a great effort to reach there, to achieve through Sadhana what it gives to us and not what we want. Therefore, let me tell you the quality of a sadhaka.

When we practice yoga, we should see if whatever we perceive through our vision, have we understood that very clearly. For example, when I see my toe, I should question myself, Have I seen my toe very clearly? It means, probably you may not understand me, but even if the nail takes a tame shape from this end to that end, or if there is a crest in the nail, it means that your sadhana is wrong. That is called unattended sadhana. So to become a sadhaka he needs to do shodhana kriya (searching practice). Sadhana starts with shodhana kriya. First, you have to search what is perceivable in you, you have to see and find out whether each and every part of what you see, have you really attended it with your mind and intelligence. As long as the intelligence is not felt, I don’t call that a sadhana. You know, medical science tell us that in this body there is a nervous system of 16,000 kilometres, which I do not believe, because they say that there is about 96,000 kilometres of blood circulation. Each pore of the skin is a nerve end. Therefore, if there is 96,000 kilometres of blood circulation, then there must be 96,000 kilometres of neural system as well. It cannot be shorter. If it is shorter, there is a short circuit. That is a disease. A short circuit means we get a disease.

So when we practice, we have to think with a totally free mind, with an open mind; where is my attention, where it is not? Where is my mind aware, where my mind is not aware. It should be aware in its own frontier of the body. The mind has no other frontiers. Similarly, the Self's frontier is the body. Shariri (master of the body) is this soul and sharira (the body) is its temple. The soul has to penetrate each and every cell of your body, and allow this Self to rest on that cell. This is known as shodhana kriya (searching practice).

If this doesn't happen, then the next step is that you have to make your intention successful by shoshana kriya (cleansing practice). What is missing for the Self, for the intelligence to return there? What am I to do? In which way, if I present the shoshana kriya, the cleansing process takes place, so that the impurities in the body are removed, so that the Self can move without interruption according to the way you present it? The Self has to follow your presentation.

Then comes shobhana kriya (beautifying practice). When shoshana kriya (cleansing practice) and shodhana kriya (searching practice) get together, the mind becomes auspicious. The auspicious state is felt, but not just with the mind. Please don’t think that I am peaceful. I want each and every part to be peaceful. I want even the tip of the skin to become peaceful. That is known as shobhana kriya (beautifying practice). There the entire frontier of this Self feels the auspicious state.

Then after that state comes shamana kriya (pacifying practice). This shamana kriya is nothing else but what we call shavasana or samadhi. Shavasana and Samadhi are identical, provided we understand the depth of the subject. Please don't think Shavasana is just lying down. Shavasana is to see that your mind stretches like water and finds its evenness. So shavasana makes this Self to float evenly, to rest on its surface evenly, on the surface of the entire human body, even though there is so much tension in the body. This is what I call sadhana.

So please watch yourselves when you practice and ask – am I penetrating all these areas? For example, you must have been doing shirshasana. How many of you ever thought that your big toe is active, but the little toe is not active? Can you tell me that all my five toes are active?  See that is known as unattended sadhana (spiritual inward practice). There the intelligence has slipped. You were not able to keep the intelligence there. Watch your sarvangasana, the little toe is active, but not the big toe. Asanas are identical, all are inverted, but we don't know the difference. So, to follow the mind or to follow the dictations of the body is not spiritual sadhana. You can call it skeleto-muscular physical exercises. But if you change the avenue of your body according to the intuitive knowledge, then I say, that leads automatically to your spiritual life. For me asana is a prayer, because I have completely sunk into it. So when I am filled with the literary meaning and the literary feeling of that asana, I am in the bhavana (reflection), not in the Asana. Bhavana means to be completely engulfed in that presentation of watching, not as an actor, but as an observer. The body acts, but the Self observes. If you practice in this way, you will experience a very different transformation in yourself.

So it is good what you are all doing, but do not be satisfied in what you do. Use that doing as a spur to prick your intelligence, to activate it in your body. The intelligence has to be pricked second to second, moment to moment, so that it doesn't go to sleep; so that the intelligence becomes one, a single unit, from the skin to the Self and from the Self to the skin. This union is yoga. In whatever step you are today in the field of yoga, you will reach that level.

For example, I’ll give you an example. We all speak of bahiranga, antaranga and antaratma sadhana, or external, internal and innermost sadhana. But how many people know that ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth), the first two yamas and the first step of yoga in "ahimsa-satya-steya-brahmacharya-parigrahaa yamaah" (non-violence, truth, abstention from stealing, continence, and absence of greed for possessions beyond one's need are the five pillars of yama, Yoga Sutra 2.30), are external and not internal. They are external because himsa (violence) and asatya (lie) only come into existence when you come in contact with the other person. Only then these two act. If you are alone, there is no himsa (violence), there is no asatya (lie). So that is the external part of yama.

What is the internal part? asteya (abstention from stealing) and brahmacharya (continence). See the interesting way in which Sage Patanjali presents it. These two are individual. They have nothing to do with the object. They are within you. Therefore internal cleansing is essential. Then innermost is aparigraha (absence of greed), freedom from greediness, covetousness. This is all internal, not external. Only those two, ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth), are connected to the external world. The others are connected to the internal world of the human being. Similarly, if you take the niyamas, shauca (cleanliness) and santosha (contentment) are external, tapas (religious zeal) and svadhyaya (self-study) are internal. Ishvara pranidhana (surrender of the Self to the supreme Self) is innermost.

Similarly, let us consider the asanas. You all talk of comfortably doing an asana - "sthira-sukham asanam" (asana is perfect firmness of body and benevolence of spirit, Yoga Sutra 2.46). That is not correct, you have to read it the other way. "Prayatna-shaithilya-ananta-samaapattibhyaam" (perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached, Yoga Sutra 2.47). You have to keep on doing a great effort till you reach that infinite state of quietness. That is known as an external approach.

"Tato dvandva-anabhighatah" (From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities, Yoga Sutra 2.48) talks of an internal approach. When I'm doing an asana or pranayama, my mind is not oscillating, my mind is not vacillating. There is no oscillation and vacillation. This is referred to by "sthira-sukham asanam" (asana is perfect firmness of body and benevolence of spirit, Yoga Sutra 2.46). You should have interpreted it the other way. Then your mind is in poise, your body is in peace. So as the body and mind meet in peace, there is no movement at all. This is antaratma sadhana (innermost sadhana).

Similarly in pranayama, I could go on and on explaining. Even in dhyana (meditation), there is external and there is internal. For example, Patanjali (Yoga Sutra 3.4,7) calls dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (absorption of consciousness in the Self) - antaranga samyama (internal integration). But nobody knows what is bahiranga samyama (external integration).

So yama-niyama is character building. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara (internalization of the senses towards their source) - is science connected with yoga. Because scientific research can be done only in these three areas. Do not believe that science can study meditation. It's impossible to understand a man that has entered the state of samadhi (absorption of consciousness in the Self). What happens to him, no science can touch. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara are bahiranga samyama (external integration), of which a scientific study is possible.

This is why yoga is an art, science and philosophy. Yama - niyama is art. Asana pranayama and pratyahara is science. Dharana dhyana samadhi is darshana (philosophy). This is how yoga is divided.

The, you have to conquer annamaya kosha (skeleto-muscular body), pranamaya kosha (physiological or vital body), manomaya kosha (mental body), vijnanamaya kosha (discriminative intellectual body) and anandamaya kosha (blissful body). These are the five koshas (layers or sheaths), all of you may be knowing. Tejas tattva (fire element), in the form of manomaya kosha (mental body), is in the middle. Manomaya kosha (mental body) controls both, the prithivi tattva (earth element) and the ap-tattva (water element) on one side, and the sukshma (subtle) elements, vayu tattva (wind element) and akasha tattva (space element), on the other side. So in our practices we have to measure these four elements controlled by this scale of justice, the manomaya kosha (mental body). So how much you have to utilize your mind, how much you have to purge your mind, how much you have to purge your intelligence, so that prithivi (earth), ap (water), the sthula bhutas (gross elements) on one side, and the sukshma bhutas (subtle elements) on the other side are balanced in our presentation, so that one is not above and one is not below. This is how the asanas have to be done. If you do that you will experience the One, which, as I often say, others do not know about. That will bring this soul, which is imprisoned in a cave - in fact, in seven caves - into freedom.

I hope you have understood me. Anandamaya kosha (blissful body) is not Atmamaya kosha (abode of the Soul), actually it is chittamaya kosha (abode of the chitta - mind intellect and ego). After that comes dharmamaya kosha (sheath of conscience), what we call antah-karana (inner organs - mind intellect and ego). After antahkarana (inner organs - mind intellect and ego) is atmakosha (abode of the Soul). So there are seven koshas (layers, sheaths), even though we only know of five koshas (layers, sheaths).

When the consciousness becomes quiet, then it rests in its own abode - Yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah (yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness, Yoga Sutra 1.2), tada drashtuh svarupe-vasthanam (then, the seer dwells in his own true splendour, Yoga Sutra 1.3). That is anandamaya kosha (blissful body). But it belongs to chittamaya kosha (abode of the chitta - mind, intellect and ego), not atmamaya kosha (abode of the Soul).

This body is known as panchabhautika sharira (body produced of five elements), so anandamaya kosha (blissful body), which is akashamaya kosha (sheath consisting of the space element) belongs to the panchabhautika sharira (body produced of five elements). Atma (the Soul) in not included under the panchabhautika sharira (body produced of five elements). Atma is separate. Therefore there are seven koshas (sheaths, layers), there are seven states of consciousness.

You should know that the last two have nothing to do with the pancha bhutas (five elements). The last two are known as atma-jnana (knowledge of the Soul). When that atma-jnana (knowledge of the Soul) comes together with sharira jnana (knowledge of the body), or in simple language when instinct and intuition both come together, that is yoga.

Instinct only flashes, but you don't know the time when it flashes. But if you are alert, that instinct makes you to light the lamp of your soul. Before that it does not allow the light of the lamp, of the soul, to shine. So, please, be watchful at what time the Prakriti (nature) flashes! We call it the mother earth, Devi or Kundalini (divine power). Kundalini is nothing but Prakriti (nature) according to Sage Patanjali.

Therefore, the instinct which comes from Prakriti, has to be caught by the Self and the Self has to make use of it. Patanjali says, sva-svaami-shaktyoh svarupopalabdhihetuh samyogah (the conjunction of the seer with the seen is for the seer to discover his own true nature, Yoga Sutra 2.23). sva (one's own) means the Prakriti (nature) which shows or throws the light, svami (owner, master) has to make use of it. So that he can experience this state of his Self. This is what Patanjali says. So keep this in mind and practice. God will bless you. Patanjali will bless you all.

Even today I practice six hours a day. Keep that in mind. I'm not at all an armchair yogi. If I stand here, I will be like fire. The mind is tejas tattva (fire element). That Tej (fire) is still simmering in me. Thank you very much. Practice regularly. Love...Labour with love and laugh in failures. Don’t feel alone or dejected. Accept that failure as a light for you to make another attempt so that you will reach what you have wanted to reach. So laugh in failure, cry in success. Don't accept success too soon.


B.K.S. Iyengar

Edited from a speech delivered by Dr. B.K.S. Iyengar "Guruji"
at Patanjala Yoga Kendra, Iyengar Yoga Centre, Rishikesh, Uttarkhand, India