An interview with Yoga guru BKS Iyengar

An interview with Yoga guru BKS Iyengar - IBN Live

Part one

You’ve credited the fact that you are a healthy 90 today because of yoga.

Your first book, Light on Yoga; your latest book, 'Light on Life', these two titles personally sum up your changing attitude to Yoga, isn't it?

Yes, you are right. See, what happened was, as I was practicing, something started striking me, how my body functions, how my nervous system functions, how my mind functions, how my intelligence reacts, how my consciousness behaves, so as the stages developed, I had to add when people asked me what more have you learned. That is how from 'Light on Yoga' to 'Light on Life' I wrote four-five books. Light means because the light which dawned on me, and that's why I gave the title 'Light'.

You started practicing Yoga purely for its physical benefits...

...For gaining health.

...For gaining health, then as a means to a livelihood...


...And then to a higher...and you keep stressing this to people. Isn't it?

Yes. Life is like that. Somebody masters something. Then after mastering they like to share with somebody. So naturally, earning starts. Then afterwards, they want to get better. To explain better than what they knew. Then the last stage is how to experience the self which is hidden within oneself.

At various points of time in your life, you have lost your hold or mastery over Yog. 1956 was one such point. Why do you think you lost it?

I was no doubt practicing very badly. I myself did not know what happened to me. But I was not getting any feedback of my presentations. No imprint on my mind. And I was worried, that what is the use of doing when nothing is coming to me to feel. So I was becoming discouraged. I was disappointed, frustrated.

But I thought, should I just continue or should I work up? So I had to purge my body, I had to purge my mind. So, why not the mind penetrate further (what I am missing) in order to get the connection between the mind and the movement of the asanas. At that time I was in Switzerland. I was teaching there. I said, ‘No. Whatever happens, I should not get disappointed. I will work out and find the reason for it.’

So I wrote a letter to my guruji. I wrote a letter to Swami Shivanand I said, ‘You have to give me the reason why I am feeling this emptiness!’

They said, ‘You were young then. You are married and have children now. It was different then.’

I could not believe it. Art cannot be disturbed. Art is art. I said, ‘I will not stop.’ But, let me see, how long it takes for me to come back to that state where my mind can communicate or my body can communicate.

How long did it take?

It took me about a month. And, not only that, while I was doing, I was getting blackouts. Then I started doing backbends. The moment the blackout was coming, I said, ‘Let me continue with one or two.’ When there was a complete blackout, I used to stop. Then I used to increase to two-three. Then I was getting the blackout after five or six…

Like this when I continued, both, the blackout also disappeared and the emptiness also disappeared!

Basically, you just kept at it?

At it.

You’ve credited the fact that you are a healthy 90 today because of yoga? You’ve lived. Yoga’s given you the gift of life?

Yes. That is why I am continuing practice. That is the one that gave me life. That is the one that gave me intelligence. How can I stop it?

So, the fact that yoga is accepted today for its therapeutic value, does that give you the greatest satisfaction about what you’ve managed to do with yoga?

When I started teaching yoga, in India it was not respected at all. …Even in the western countries.

It so happened, that classical yoga was not attractive to the people. Nobody was interested. Because they were all saying, ‘I am healthy, I am healthy.’ So in order to make yoga attractive I had to take more on the remedial side. So I started working on asanas which work on various ailments. And then I started giving them their pros and cons. And later, started succeeding very fast by giving them relief faster than allopathic treatment.

They had lots of money those days so they knew only wine and women and wealth. So, how to transform them? It was not so easy. So, I used to tell them in their own language, ‘If you want to enjoy, enjoy. But have the power to enjoy! You have no strength. What is the use of simply tempting yourself?

In order for them to listen to had to speak their language?

I had to go to their current.

I have read that you’ve said somewhere that, because there such a desire at that time in these countries to enjoy life, to look for maximum pleasure, that you started giving them asanas for sensory and sexual pleasure.

Yes. I don’t deny that. I thought that unless and until I win them, there’s no other way. So I thought, ‘Let me go with them.’

But, what happened was, that these strong people could not hold the class even for 45 minutes, but I was doing six hours, seven hours, conducting classes in addition to my practice.

My food was coffee, bread and fruit. And they said that, ‘this man eats this!’ In those days they used to call this grass. ‘He’s a grass-eater and this man has got such energy!

I said, ‘Live like me. Practice like me. You will also have the energy.’

This way I started transforming… And today, I can tell you that in the western countries, the way I live was an example to them to turn to vegetarianism.

End of part one.

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