BKS Iyengar by MC
This is not an on-demand blog. Occasionally though, friends and readers do request me to write about a particular subject. B K S Iyengar is one such subject. I hesitate to write about someone who more than any other single individual in the last seven or more decades became yoga himself.
I know nothing about yoga, I do not practice it. I do not indulge in anything that requires my body to do more than what it has to do in the course of living. In short, I have no right or qualification to write about him. That said, Iyengar or guruji’s cultural influence for nearly six decades in the West remains unrivaled. In many ways, Iyengar was to yoga was the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar was to Indian classical music. They both found their eventual iconic status in the country of their birth via the West. Both benefited greatly from the uniquely American enterprise of scaling an idea up.
For many Americans that I know, especially here in the Midwest, yoga meant Iyengar. They pronounce his last name with such visceral delight that you might think he was a particularly delectable culinary accomplishment. The visual that Iyengar presented fit perfectly with the average American’s idea of a deeply informed and eventually unknowable Eastern mystic. The spread of yoga in America, not just as an effective health and spiritual regimen but as a cultural force, can be significantly credited to Iyengar.
For the better part of the last two decades Iyengar had become a yogic pop star who could just stand in front of a large audience without moving a muscle and still send them into rapturous joy. Of course, that he moved more than a muscle was obvious. One of his many charms was his remarkable ability to appear, in the midst of a particularly exacting asana, completely emptied out of existential concerns. For someone who introduced America to hatha yoga, which is a famously tough routine supposed to have been pioneered by no less a personage as Shiv, Iyengar managed to infuse it with his charisma without in any way diluting it.