Iyengar Yoga

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was the founder of Iyengar yoga. He was born on December 14, 1918 as a very ill and sickly baby. Iyengar suffered many diseases as a child. He had gotten malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid by thirteen. Because his father passed away when he was nine years old, the family was left with a large financial burden and Iyengar was sent to live with his brother in Bangalore. During this time, his health kept getting worse, making his attendance at school very poor (Iyengar, 2007).

In 1934, Iyengar was invited by his sister to stay with her and her new husband, Professor Tirumalai Krishnamarcharya. It was here that yoga would become part of B.K.S. Iyengar’s life. Krishnamarcharya, a gifted man who was very advanced at yoga, ran a yoga school where Iyengar was invited to attend and learn yoga asanas (Iyengar, 2007). At first, Iyengar struggled and found the asanas to be very painful and difficult to complete, not only due to the limitations of his body but also mind, as well. His mind was not yet ready to let go of certain thoughts during meditation and he struggled when he had to clear his mind to concentrate. However, with his determination and his guru’s strict ways, he gradually mastered some of the asanas. While he was mastering these poses, he realized that his health was improving (Iyengar, 2007).

The Start of Teaching

Seeing how well he was advancing, Krishnamarcharya asked Iyengar, who was at this time eighteen years old, to start teaching. Iyengar did not know how to speak Marathi, which was problematic, because Marathi was the only language his students knew how to speak. He had never been explained the techniques for the asanas by his teachers, which caused him to struggle as a teacher. To overcome this, he practiced persistently in hopes of gaining an in-depth knowledge of each posture and the movement of each body part (Iyengar, 2007). The accuracy he established was later reflected in his teaching. By working as a teacher, he had also become fluent in Marathi, as well as English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, and Kannada, which enabled him to communicate with all of his students.

With a growing reputation as a successful teacher, more and more people of all ages and abilities started coming to him, including many people with ailments. Since yoga had improved his health, they thought it could do something for theirs (Iyengar, 2007). Iyengar “developed the use of props, such as ropes, belts, wooden blocks, and bolsters to help the elderly, weak, and inflexible experience the therapeutic effects of yoga” (Iyengar, 2007, p. 12). He would come up with different asana patterns for people with different ailments (Pilkington, Kirkwood, Rampes, & Richardson, 2005).

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