B. K. S. Iyengar

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B.K.S. Iyengar
BKS Iyengar.jpg
Iyengar on his 86th birthday in 2004
Born (1918-12-14)14 December 1918
Bellur, British India (present-day Karnataka, India)
Died 20 August 2014(2014-08-20) (aged 95)
Pune, India
Cause of death
Renal failure and heart attack
Occupation Yoga teacher, author
Known for Iyengar Yoga
Spouse(s) Ramamani
Children Geeta

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014), better known as B. K. S. Iyengar, was the founder of the style of yoga known as "Iyengar Yoga" and was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world.[1][2] He has written many books on yoga practice and philosophy including Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Iyengar yoga classes are offered throughout the world. Iyengar was one of the earliest students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as "the father of modern yoga".[3] After modern yoga had arisen from the teachings of Krishnamacharya, it was Iyengar who established it. As he revealed in an interview in the documentary Breath of the Gods, he struggled in the beginning to make a living as a yoga instructor because he was confronted by a great deal of prejudice. He has been credited for establishing and popularizing yoga firstly in India and then around the world.[4]

Iyengar was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014.[5][6] In 2004, Iyengar was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.[7][8]

Early years[edit]

B.K.S. Iyengar was born into a poor Hebbar Iyengar family[9] (a priestly Brahmin caste)[10] at Bellur, Kolar District,[11] Karnataka, India. He was the 11th of 13 children (only 10 of whom survived) of father Sri Krishnamachar, a school teacher, and mother Sheshamma.[10] Iyengar's home village of Bellur, in Karnataka, was in the grip of the influenza pandemic at the time of his birth, leaving him sickly and weak. Throughout his childhood, he struggled with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and general malnutrition. When he was five years old, his family moved to Bangalore and within four years his father died of appendicitis.[10]

Education in yoga[edit]

In 1934, his brother-in-law, the yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, asked Iyengar, who would have been 15 years old at the time, to come to Mysore, so as to improve his health through yoga practice.[10] There, Iyengar learned asana practice, which steadily improved his health. Krishnamacharya had Iyengar and other students give yoga demonstration in the Maharaja's court at Mysore, which had a positive influence on Iyengar.[10] Iyengar considers his association with his brother-in-law a turning point in his life[10] saying that over a two-year period "he [Krishnamacharya] only taught me for about ten or fifteen days, but those few days determined what I have become today!"[12] K. Pattabhi Jois has claimed that he, and not Krishnamacharya, was Iyengar's guru.[13] At the age of 18 (1937), Iyengar was sent by Krishnamacharya to Pune to spread the teaching of yoga.[10][14]

Though BKS Iyengar had very high regard for Krishnamacharya,[15] and occasionally turned to him for advice, he had a troubled relationship with his guru during his tutelage.[16] In the beginning, he predicted that the stiff, sickly teenager would not be successful at Yoga. He was neglected and tasked with household chores. Only when Krishnamacharya's favorite pupil at the time, Keshavamurthy left one day, did serious training start.[17] Krishnamacharya began teaching a series of difficult postures, sometimes telling him to not eat until he mastered a certain posture. These experiences would later inform the way he taught his students.[18]

Teaching career[edit]

With the encouragement of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar, aged 18,[9] moved to Pune in 1937 to teach yoga. He spent many hours each day learning and experimenting with various techniques.

He taught yoga to several noted personalities including Jiddu Krishnamurti, Jayaprakash Narayan and Yehudi Menuhin.[19] He taught sirsasana (head stand) to Elisabeth, Queen of Belgium when she was 80.[20]

International recognition[edit]

In 1952, Iyengar befriended the violinist Yehudi Menuhin.[21] Menuhin arranged for Iyengar to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere. The popularity of yoga in the West has been attributed, by some, in large part to Iyengar.[8] In 1966, Light on Yoga was published. It eventually became an international best-seller and was translated into 17 languages. Light on Yoga was followed by titles on pranayama and various aspects of yoga philosophy. In total, Iyengar authored 14 books.[22]

In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his late wife. He officially retired from teaching in 1984, but continued to be active in the world of Iyengar Yoga, teaching special classes and writing books. Iyengar's daughter, Geeta, and son, Prashant, have gained international acclaim as teachers.[8]

In 2005, Iyengar visited the United States to promote his latest book, Light on Life, and to teach a special workshop at the Yoga Journal conference in Colorado. 3 October 2005 was declared as "B.K.S.Iyengar Day" by San Francisco city's Board of Supervisors.[2] Anthropologist Joseph S. Alter of the University of Pittsburgh stated "He has by far had the most profound impact on the global spread of yoga.[2] In June 2011, he was presented with a commemorative stamp issued in his honour by the Beijing branch of China Post. There are over thirty thousand Iyengar yoga students in 57 cities in China.[23]

The noun "Iyengar" is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as "a type of astanga yoga...", named after B.K.S.Iyengar, its deviser.[24]

Personal practice[edit]

Iyengar reported in interviews[15][16] that, at the age of 90, he continued to practice asanas for 3 hours and pranayamas for an hour daily. Besides this, he mentioned that he found himself performing non-deliberate pranayamas at other times.

Approach to teaching[edit]

Iyengar attracted his students by offering them just what they sought – which tended to be physical stamina and flexibility.[16] He conducted demonstrations and later, when a scooter accident dislocated his spine, began exploring the use of props to help disabled people practice Yoga. He also drew inspiration from Hindu deities such as Yoga Narasimha and stories of yogis using trees to support their asanas.[18]

Recognition by Krishnamacharya[edit]

In an interview to Namarupa Iyengar said of Krishnamacharya’s endorsement of his teaching style:[15]

"He [Krishnamacharya] never taught me much about teaching, but he saw me teach. In 1961, he came to Pune and was teaching my daughter and son. He taught them for many hours, but unfortunately they could not get what he was trying to show them. When I came up and asked what was wrong, my daughter told me what she did not understand about a posture. So, I explained to her, "You must stretch from this end to that end". And immediately when Krishnamacharya saw this, he gave me a gold medal known as Yoga Shikshaka Chakravarti, which means "Emperor of Yoga Teachers, Teacher of Teachers". He said I must teach like this and not just in private, but in public".


In 1943, Iyengar married Ramamani, to whom he had been introduced by his brothers. Together they raised five daughters and a son. Both his eldest daughter Geeta (born in 1944) and his son Prashant have become internationally-known teachers in their own right. The other children of B.K.S. Iyengar are Vanita, Sunita, Suchita, and Savita.[25] Geeta Iyengar is the author of Yoga: A Gem for Women (2002), and Prashant is the author of several books, including A Class after a Class: Yoga, an Integrated Science (1998), and Yoga and the New Millennium (2008). Geeta and Prashant co-direct the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune.[26]

Philanthropy and activism[edit]

Iyengar supported nature conservation, stating that it is important to conserve all animals and birds.[27] He donated Rs. 2 million to Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, Mysore, reckoned to be the highest amount donated to any zoo in India.[27] He also adopted a tiger and a cub in memory of his wife, who died in 1973.[27]

Iyengar helped promote awareness of multiple sclerosis with the Pune unit of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India.[28]


Iyengar died on 20 August 2014 in Pune, India from heart problems and renal failure, aged 95.[29]


Iyengar published his first book (Light on Yoga) in 1966. The book has been translated into 17 languages and sold 3 million copies.[2]

  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1966; revised ed. 1977). Light on Yoga. New York: Schocken. ISBN 978-0-8052-1031-6
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1989). Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 0-8245-0686-3
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1985). The Art of Yoga. Boston: Unwin. ISBN 978-0-04-149062-6
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1988). The Tree of Yoga. Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-464-X
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (1996). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. London: Thorsons. ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4
  • Iyengar, B.K.S., Abrams, D. & Evans, J.J. (2005). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Pennsylvania: Rodale. ISBN 1-59486-248-6
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (2007). Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. New York: Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 978-0-7566-3362-2
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (8 Vols, 2000–2008). Astadala Yogamala: Collected Works. New Delhi: Allied Publishers.
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (2009). Yoga Wisdom and Practice. New York: Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0-7566-4283-3
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (2010). Yaugika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind. Mumbai: Yog. ISBN 81-87603-14-3
  • Iyengar, B.K.S. (2012). Core of the Yoga Sutras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. London: HarperThorsons. ISBN 978-0007921263


  1. ^ Aubrey, Allison. "Light on life: B.K.S. Iyengar's Yoga insights". Morning Edition: National Public Radio, 10 November 1995. (full text) Accessed 4 July 2007
  2. ^ a b c d Stukin, Stacie (10 October 2005). "Yogis gather around the guru". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Iyengar, B.K.S. (2000). Astadala Yogamala. New Delhi, India: Allied Publishers. p. 53. ISBN 978-8177640465. 
  4. ^ Sjoman, N.E. (1999). The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace (2nd ed.). New Delhi, India: Abhinav Publications. p. 41. ISBN 81-7017-389-2. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Padma Awards Announced". Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  7. ^ 2004 TIME 100 – B.K.S. Iyengar Heroes & Icons, TIME.
  8. ^ a b c By B.K.S. Iyengar. "Yoga News & Trends – Light on Iyengar". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "B. K. S. Iyengar Biography". Notablebiographies.com. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Iyengar, B.K.S. (2006). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. USA: Rodale. pp. xvi–xx. ISBN 9781594865244. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Iyengar, B.K.S. (1991). Iyengar – His Life and Work. C.B.S. Publishers & Distributors. p. 3. 
  12. ^ "3 Gurus, 48 Questions" (PDF). Interview by R. Alexander Medin. Namarupa (Fall 2004): 9. 2004. Archived from the original on 7 March 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Sjoman, N.E. (1999). The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. New Delhi, India: Abhinav Publications. p. 49. ISBN 81-7017-389-2. 
  14. ^ Iyengar, B.K.S. (2000). Astadala Yogamala. New Delhi, India: Allied Publishers. p. 57. ISBN 978-8177640465. 
  15. ^ a b c [2], BKS Iyengar interview in Namarupa
  16. ^ a b c "Being BKS Iyengar: The enlightened yogi of yoga(part1-2)". YouTube. 22 June 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  17. ^ Pag, Fernando. "Krishnamacharya's Legacy". Yogajournal.com. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  18. ^ a b "Being BKS Iyengar: The enlightened yogi of yoga(part2-2)". YouTube. 22 June 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  19. ^ "Life is yoga, yoga is life". Sakal Times. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  20. ^ "Light on Iyengar". Yoga Journal (San Francisco): 96. September–October 2005. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  21. ^ SenGupta, Anuradha (22 June 2008). "Being BKS Iyengar: The yoga guru". IBNlive-CNN-F¨sÀt. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  22. ^ NAUS Accessed 16 September 2006[dead link]
  23. ^ Krishnan, Ananth (21 June 2011). "Indian yoga icon finds following in China". The Hindu (Chennai, India). Accessed 22 June 2011
  24. ^ Dictionaries, Oxford. "Iyengar". Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  25. ^ BKS Iyengar Archive Project 2007. IYNAUS. 2007. 
  26. ^ Biography: Geeta Iyengar
  27. ^ a b c "Zoo felicitates B.K.S. Iyengar". The Hindu. 10 June 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2013. 
  28. ^ "BKS Iyengar to participate in multiple sclerosis awareness drive". The Indian Express. 22 May 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  29. ^ "Yoga guru B. K. S. Iyengar passes away". The Hindu.com. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 

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