The Man, the Method, and Me

My life changed the moment I stepped onto a mat in my first Iyengar Yoga class. Although my college roommate, Diane, had attended yoga classes when we were in pharmacy school, I was more interested in riding my bike, studying, and partying. Almost a decade later, I found myself (literally and figuratively) in a yoga class here in Asheville, North Carolina. A decade after that, I found myself in Pune, India studying with the legendary B.K.S. Iyengar. 

His death, in his ninety-sixth year of life, on August 20, 2014, affected me more than I anticipated. I knew he would die. Duh. So will I. Out of all of his teachings, what I carry with me most is his on-going curiosity. Like a young child, Mr. Iyengar explored his surroundings, both inside and out. His system is not about What to do, but about When and Why. 

I find myself explaining Iyengar Yoga to friends and family. Misconceptions about the system abound. Let me list a few of the myths about B.K.S. and Iyengar Yoga:

  1. It is very, very, very hard, and no one smiles in class… ever.
  2. You have to be able to stand on your head for 15 minutes.
  3. This approach is only for advanced practitioners or very weak ones.
  4. It’s fine for old people, because it’s so safe… it’s actually boring.
  5. It’s all about doing the poses perfectly and never smiling… ever.
  6. BKS is still alive and can be found hanging out with buskers in downtown Asheville.

Here is what I know to be true based on my experience studying, practicing, and teaching Iyengar yoga for the past 25 years:

  1. My body has become stronger, more flexible, and more intelligent.
  2. While on the mat and off, my mind is able to become clearer, steady, and calm.
  3. This style of yoga is a great complement to any style of yoga, but its method really teaches you the poses.
  4. I have laughed quite a bit in class…mostly at how lightness of spirit allows me to enjoy my life more fully.
  5. Iyengar yoga truly is for EVERY BODY at EVERY AGE.

When I reflect on all of the above, I realize that what I have learned is to pay attention with light-hearted awareness. The poses have been a doorway into the ever-changing subtleties of body, breath, and mind. Eventually, yoga and life are not about what we do, but about when, how, and why. B.K.S. Iyengar taught that no pose can ever be done “again” because every day in every moment every body changes. With the same curiosity, child-like enthusiasm, and wonder that he modeled, now is the perfect moment for you to step onto the mat and into your life.

Toward the end of his days on earth, Mr. Iyengar said, “I used to play. Now I stay.” 

May we all play and stay as youthful and vibrantly alive as the Man we called Guruji.