This August, one of yoga’s great teachers passed away at the ripe old age of 95.
B.K.S. Iyengar popularized yoga in the West beginning in the early 1970s. He is the author of the seminal text, Light on Yoga, and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and other books familiar to serious yoga students and to most yoga teachers instructing today, no matter what style they teach or yoga lineage they follow. His daughter Geeta Iyenar, also a yoga teacher, says of her father, “Like rain, he touched all of us equally.”
When I started practicing yoga here in Rhode Island in the early 1990s, there were very few yoga teachers and even fewer yoga studios. Teachers made themselves known through flyers, and it was in a little natural foods market in Newport where I met my first Kripalu-trained teacher, Amy Weintraub. It would not have mattered what style she taught, I just wanted what she had. A healthy physical body goes hand in hand with a healthy spiritual body and yoga is the “yoke” she shared with me that is between the two.
I remember learning my very first “asana” or “seat of the soul,” also known as posture, from Amy. It was mountain pose, “Tadasana.” Seemingly static, it is anything but, and I will never forget B.K.S. Iyengar’s teachings on Tadasana that I later read that night from his book Light on Yoga: “It is essential to master the art of standing correctly. One thousand things that apply to Tadasana apply to every other pose. See how much your intelligence has to peep in, has to go in, even to understand Tadasana. When truly in Tadasana one feels light in body and the mind acquires agility.”
In this current age, with yoga teachers, studios and teacher trainings being very popular, the opportunity for a student of yoga to become a teacher of yoga is much more readily accessible, and so it is that in honor of this great master of yoga’s passing, I’d like to bring to light a few of his pearls of wisdom here on the pages of RI Fit magazine. Chances are his take on fitness of the physical body being one with the spiritual body will ring true if not to the many yoga teachers out there, then to anyone who’s ever felt more connection to their soul after exercise
BKS Iyengar said, “The human being is divided into five: the physical, the physiological, the psychological (the mind), the intellect, the spiritual. There is no spiritual joy (ananda) unless all is united and happy.
He also said, “In my book, Light on Yoga, I divided the body into three parts: the head: yoga of knowledge; the chest: yoga of love; the limbs: yoga of action. How can you say that one is higher and the other lower? These three parts makes a whole.”
How we get there, to the “whole,” depends on what we have accessible to us, or to what we need, like, or are enjoying in the moment. Many people like different styles of exercise, yoga, and spirit lifting practices. As long as they get there – to all over health, to Samadhi – it does not matter. A fit body and diminished spirit is not health.
When I moved out west, my personal yoga practice transformed and I became addicted to the flowing meditative practice of Ashtanga yoga under the great tutelage of Tias Little in Santa Fe, NM. Focused on moving from one perfected asana to the next, I remembered Iyengar’s words on Tadasana, making my body light and mind agile to encompass every aspect of my being in every aspect of every pose. I loved the sweat and physicality of my flowing practice, and rarely stopped the pace of my busy life long enough for an Iyengar alignment-based class. But then in1998, I audited a summer’s worth of Iyengar yoga classes as taught by Judith Laseter at the San Francisco Iyengar Yoga Institute. It was here that I took liberal notes and was imprinted with some of the linages’ master’s wise incites and strict discipline. One of my favorite stories is from a memoir of one of his students, titled Sparks of Divinity:
“You should be like a farmer: the day he sows, he is happy not because he is thinking of the future harvest; he is happy to have made a beautiful planting and to have sown well.
The day the first leaf arrives, he is happy with the little leaf; the day there are ten of them, he is happy with the ten leaves, but he is not happy because he is thinking of the fruits; he does not know exactly what they will be like. It is the same for us: we know that one day we may realize ourselves, but it will happen when the Divine blesses us.” BKS Iyengar
In 1999, I was fortunate to attend one class with Mr. Iyengar while he was visiting the US. It was in a large community center in the heart of Tucson, AZ. There, as he sat in lotus in the center of a room of over 500 people, in a voice barely louder than a whisper, and with hand gestures accentuated by very, very long fingernails, he told a story from the Upanishads about two birds:
“One sits motionless in the top of a tree, and the other tastes any fruit he can find on his way up to meet the first bird. Of these fruits, some are bitter, some good, but he tries everything and goes from experience to experience without stopping. He reaches the top of the tree and then forgets everything and stays there.” He ends the story with, “How can you say that one way is better than the other if both reached the same point.”
Ahh…yes, how can we say one form of yoga, or exercise, or movement, or even spiritual practice is better than any other if we all catch glimpses of, or practice catching glimpses of, the bliss that comes with how wonderful we feel, and actually are when all the parts of who we are come together and say YES to life?! This is how I want to feel all the time.
Rebecca Briggs, RYT, CN is founder of hOMnaturale.com. She teaches yoga and organic, whole food nutrition classes, programs and private sessions at The Sari Sanctuary and The Well Cooperative (facebook.com/TheWellLLC), Mama Bird (www.mamabirdri.com) and River Bend Athletic Club (www.riverbendac.biz) in Wakefield, RI, all places she can walk and bike to with ease.