Light on Yoga

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Light on Yoga: Yoga Dīpikā
Light on Yoga 1st Edition Cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorB. K. S. Iyengar
SubjectHatha Yoga
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin
Publication date

Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika (Sanskrit: योग दीपिका "Yoga Dipika") is a 1966 book on the Iyengar Yoga style of hatha yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. It describes more than 200 yoga postures or asanas, and is illustrated with some 600 monochrome photographs of Iyengar demonstrating these.

The book has been described as the bible of modern yoga.[1][2] It has been translated into at least 17 languages and has sold over three million copies.


B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014) was born in a poor family of Brahmins in Karnataka, India. In childhood he suffered from diseases including typhoid, malaria and tuberculosis, and became extremely stiff. At the age of 18 he decided to spend his life doing yoga, and by 1938 he was already performing the asanas fluently. The violinist Yehudi Menuhin became his pupil in 1952 and then invited Iyengar to teach in Europe, which he did from the 1960s.[3] Iyengar made yoga popular, first in India and then around the world.[4]



Light on Yoga was first published by George Allen and Unwin in 1966, with a foreword by his pupil, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Revised editions were brought out in 1968 and 1976. A paperback edition was published by The Aquarian Press in 1991 under the Thorsons imprint. The book became an international best-seller; it has been translated into at least 23 languages including Chinese, Czech, and Russian,[5] and has sold over three million copies.[6]


The book has three parts, a technical introduction to yoga, in which hatha yoga is explained to be one component; a detailed illustrated description of the asanas (some 200 postures, illustrated by some 600 monochrome photographs of Iyengar); and an account of pranayama, yoga breathing. An appendix defines a set of asana courses, i.e. which postures to do each week, building up in difficulty, in courses structured to last up to 300 weeks. A second appendix defines the asanas supposed to be "curative" for a range of diseases and conditions from "Acidity" to "Varicose Veins". The book has a glossary of all the Sanskrit terms employed.


Utthita Trikonasana, the extended triangle pose, an innovation[1] basic to Iyengar Yoga

Each asana is named in Sanskrit with its etymology, graded, and described separately with two or more pages of text and monochrome photographs of Iyengar. For example, Utthita Trikonasana, the extended triangle pose, is stated to be at grade 3 out of a possible 60 in terms of difficulty. The technique for going into the triangle pose, performing it, and returning from it, is described in eight steps. The technique is written as a set of instructions, such as "Inhale deeply and with a jump spread apart the legs sideways 3 to 3½ feet". Its claimed effects on the muscles and body are described in a concluding paragraph. The three photographs show Iyengar in a preparatory pose and then in the triangle pose itself from front and rear.[7]


Light on Yoga has become known as the "bible" of yoga;[1][2] Publisher's Weekly wrote that it "set the standard" for books about yoga, with instructions and illustrations of the poses.[2]

Yehudi Menuhin, in his foreword to the book, wrote that "Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr Iyengar's attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created — unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation — in the Garden of Eden".[8]

Michelle Goldberg, in The New Yorker, states that the book "remains unparallelled as a guide to asana practice", and quotes Yoga Journal as saying "when 'teachers refer to the correct way to do a posture, they're usually alluding to the alignment Mr. Iyengar instructs and expertly models in his book.'" She notes that while Iyengar attributes the asanas to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, he was being "too modest. It was he, not any ancient sage, who figured out how to show people the world over the safest way to stand on their heads." For example, she explains, the triangle pose and the sun salutation "don't appear in any ancient yogic text" but were put together into a method by Iyengar's brother-in-law and first teacher, Krishnamacharya.[1]

Derek Beres, writing in Big Think, called the book "wildly popular" and "essentially the bible for yoga practitioners." He describes some of the science that Iyengar claims for yoga as suspect: "Iyengar had a habit of calling things proven even though no actual scientific research had been conducted."[9] Beres tried Iyengar yoga alongside the "more aerobic Vinyasa" style, and "always appreciated [Iyengar yoga's] anatomical focus and the emphasis on breath before anything else."[9]

The yoga teacher Bernie Gourley notes the book's strengths, the asanas "with his perfect alignment", but also that the book does not "systematically address contraindications" to each asana, nor does it provide evidence for the claimed benefits.[10]

The Light on Yoga project by the yoga teacher Jack Cuneo and the photographer Rick Cummings has attempted to photograph all the yoga poses in the book, to be followed by restating all the instructions in Cuneo's own words.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Goldberg, Michelle (23 August 2014). "Iyengar and the Invention of Yoga". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom". Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  3. ^ Chaplin, Penny; Blondel, Nathalie. "B.K.S. Iyengar – Life of a yoga master". Iyengar Yoga Institute London. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  4. ^ Sjoman, N. E. (1999). The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace (2nd ed.). New Delhi, India: Abhinav Publications. p. 1. ISBN 978-81-7017-389-2.
  5. ^ "Light on Yoga Iyengar". WorldCat. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  6. ^ Stukin, Stacie (10 October 2005). "Yogis gather around the guru". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Iyengar, B. K. S. (1991) [1966]. Light on Yoga. London: Thorsons. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-00-714516-4. OCLC 51315708.
  8. ^ Iyengar, 1991. p. 11
  9. ^ a b Beres, Derek (20 August 2014). "B.K.S. Iyengar". Big Think. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  10. ^ Gourley, Bernie (1 June 2014). "Book Review: Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar". The !n(tro)verted yogi. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Welcome to the Light On Yoga Project!". Jack Cuneo Yoga. Retrieved 20 November 2018.