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Aug 2014

Greetings yoga friends -

So many of us are moved by the death this last week of a man who was - well, not in honesty my teacher, nor even really my hero, for he was too complex and many-sided a person.

B.K.S. Iyengar

'Guruji' to many of his dedicated followers, he was also derided by a few as the creator of 'furniture yoga', subtly pigeon-holed by more as the teacher of beginner yoga to those needing modifications and props. His reputation was one of fierceness, even harshness to his students, and from a distance it was hard to tell if his stern authority was in service to his own ego or to yoga as a transformational path.

Yet looking back now on his 95 years of life, it is clear that this is a man who lived out fully the intention he set himself. 

To be a true yogi. 

In the 1950's yoga was a rather circus-like exotica of tantric practices pulled back from the brink of extinction as India struggled into independence. B.K.S. set out to bring yoga not just to the west, but also to its native land, to relevance in the modern world. He appropriated everything at hand - cinder blocks from his garden, yoga mats from discarded carpet-backing strips brought by Angela Farmer's dad, rope walls from British gymnastics left over from the Raj. He made outrageous claims for the healing power of yoga, and outrageous demands on his own body, converting his weak youthful frame into a powerhouse of breath and movement and balance.

He seems now larger than life, and yet there was clearly something about the man that was more than hype. Those who try to describe his teaching style always seem to end by admitting that their own words fall short. It was more than the details other teachers carefully copied into notebooks. More than the pithy quotes. (My own favorite - "How can you know God if you do not know your big toe?")  There seemed to be something magical in his ability to bring focus to the minds of a packed hall of nervous and over-striving students.

When in 1966 he published his comprehensive guide on 200 primary yoga postures, using himself as model, the title brilliantly captured his life intention - Light on Yoga.

By performing asanas, the student first gains health, which is not mere existence. It is a state of complete equilibrium of body, mind and spirit - Iyengar.

I remember that, as a kid, such characters seemed the stuff of legends. Figures in a story, gods on a page. I now find that part of growing older - as we accumulate our own stories and battles and scars - is watching them emerge from myth and become...just people. Like us. And yet...not like us. And in this connection to their humanity, find so much more genuine inspiration. 

Inspiration not to be perfect. Rather, perhaps, to live our own lives with a touch of such noble ambition.

(Image of Buddha from my mum's Church in Cambridge - photo by Andrew Brown)

Namaste - Eugene