Yoga guru BKS Iyengar helped share ancient Indian practice with the world

BKS Iyengar developed methods using props to help people learn poses as novice practitioners

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:39pm


BKS Iyengar, the yoga guru who helped take the ancient Indian spiritual practice to the rest of the world, died yesterday aged 95, his website said.

Iyengar started his yoga school in 1973 in the western city of Pune, developing a unique form of the practice that he said anyone could follow.

He trained hundreds of teachers to disseminate his approach, which uses props such as belts and ropes to help the novice practitioner to achieve the poses.

He wrote many books on yoga, a practice that dates back more than 2,000 years in Asia, but has in recent decades become hugely popular around the world.

He attracted many celebrity followers, among them the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who came across Iyengar before he became famous, during a trip to Mumbai.

"Perhaps no one has done more than Mr Iyengar to bring yoga to the West," The New York Times wrote in a 2002 profile of the guru.

"Long before Christy Turlington was gracing magazine covers, decades before power yoga was a multimillion-dollar business, Mr Iyengar was teaching Americans, among others, the virtues of asanas and breath control."

US model Turlington famously graced the front cover of Time magazine in a cross-legged pose for a 2001 report on the explosion in yoga's popularity.

Critics say the global expansion of yoga into Western gyms and fitness centres has taken the practice too far from its spiritual origins.

But Iyengar said it was unfair to blame yogis. "It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga," he said last year in an interview with the Indian newspaper Mint.

"For the aberration, don't blame yoga or the whole community of yogis."

Iyengar died early yesterday in hospital after suffering kidney failure, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

His website carried a picture of Iyengar's smiling face beside a message that read: "I always tell people, 'live happily and die majestically' 14-Dec 1918-20 Aug 2014."

Despite suffering a heart attack at 80, he had continued to practise yoga into his nineties.

He suffered from ill health as a child, but found that he could improved his strength by practising yoga, which he took up as a teenager.

When he was 18, his guru sent him to teach in Pune because he spoke some English. There, he developed his own form of yoga, eventually opening his own institute. There are now more than 100 Iyengar yoga institutes around the world.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a yoga lover, tweeted that he was "deeply saddened to know about Yogacharya [yoga teacher] BKS Iyengar's demise".

Agence France-Presse