BKS Iyengar, the man who brought yoga to the West, has just died

August 20, 2014
August 20, 2014

Yoga guru Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as BKS, died at a hospital in Pune, India today after suffering kidney failure. The 95 year-old yogi is often called the father of modern yoga and is credited with bringing the practice to the West, where it quickly grew from a spiritual practice to a commercial industry.

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The yoga that many in the West are familiar with, which focuses on body alignment and breath control, and often uses props like blocks and belts, began with Iyenger who began his own yoga training as a sickly teenager, after being afflicted with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid and influenza throughout his childhood.(Doctors had predicted he would not live past the age of 20.) After regaining his health, he taught in India and in the 1950s befriended the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who became his yoga student and brought Iyenger to Europe where he began teaching other musicians.

When he traveled to the US for the first time in 1956, he was asked to let the white patrons off the plane first, but by the time he returned in the 1970s, he was already a celebrity. In the city of San Francisco, October 3 has been deemed, “B.K.S. Iyengar Day.” His book “Light on Yoga,” detailing over 200 poses, has been translated into 17 languages. There are some 72 schools teaching his style of yoga across the US and Europe, southern Africa, and China.

Despite his celebrity status, Iyengar lived a simple life, practicing asanas for hours a day and teaching at his school in Pune. (None of the other 72 Iyengar schools are required to share part of their profits with Iyengar’s institute in Pune.) On the explosion of the yoga industry in the West—Americans spend as much as $27 billion a year on yoga products—he told the New York Times in 2002, “I think many of my students have followed the advice I gave years ago, to give more than you take.” He added, “The commercialism may wash off sometime later.”

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