Yogacharya Sri BKS Iyengar is a true yoga luminary. One of the first yoga teachers to introduce yoga to the West, his teachings have ignited a burning zeal for the practice and study of yoga in students worldwide. He is perhaps best known for his seminal book Light on Yoga, which can be found on the bookshelf of almost every serious yoga student and teacher, regardless of whether they are a student of Iyengar Yoga. It is a true modern classic of postural yoga. His subsequent books, such as Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Life, continue to be lanterns of sorts, providing students of yoga with invaluable illumination as they try and find their way through the challenging landscape of a life-long practice.
BKS Iyengar, along with Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar, were all students of Sri Krishnamacharya. All three became world renowned master teachers with their own unique approach and methodology. These lineages, emanating from Krishnamacharya and his teacher, approach the practice of yoga with the intention of integrating the various limbs of yoga (the ethical, postural, breathing and meditative practices) into a coherent whole. BKS Iyengar is especially renowned for his wholehearted attempt to teach all the limbs of yoga concurrently. He is also known for his inventive and creative use of props to enhance the learning and healing aspects of yoga.
The practice of Iyengar Yoga is not formulaic, but rather requires a willingness to explore. A certain freshness, curiosity, and open mindedness are essential as students continue on their paths of yogic practice and inquiry. The yoga practice then becomes like a partner or friend in one's journey through life itself. And since life is always changing and challenging, so the practice itself must change, challenge, adapt, support and grow along with the student.
Those who have studied with the Iyengar family in Pune, India know how BKS Iyengar has changed and grown over the years and how his practice continuously reflects this evolution. I have witnessed this personally in the many trips that I have made to Pune to study with the Iyengar family. And his children Geeta and Prashant have continued this on-going process of evolution in their own practice and teaching, each bringing a unique perspective and their own luminous qualities to what is best described as the vast and infinite study of the human mind and heart.
I think what initially drew me to yoga was a fascination with embodied experience and a genuine love and appreciation for the artistic and poetic expression of the human body. Poetry and devotion both in motion and in stillness, with the body as the instrument for this expression. I have always been a kinesthetic learner, have always been inclined to learn through my body. The study of yoga has given me a forum to go deeply into this type of learning process, and to live the big questions of existence with the whole of my body participating in the inquiry. And it brings me immense joy to help facilitate this type of learning process in others.
Many years ago I had the good fortune to have studied movement analysis at The Laban Institute of Movement Studies in New York City. Studying at there was a natural progression and evolution from several years of working for experimental and movement theatre companies in New York. I was beginning to discover yoga at that time as well.
What is Laban Movement Analysis and who was Rudolf Laban? The description below was written by Irmgard Bartenieff, from her book Body Movement - Coping with the Environment.
"Rudolf Laban was an artist and scientist, architect choreographer philosopher, and movement educator. He was extraordinarily innovative and charismatic. Born in Austria, he traveled widely and participated in the major European artistic activities of his time, especially the development of modern dance. He was in Germany during the Bauhaus and Expressionist periods, initiating and developing theatrical and recreational dance programs, schools, and publications. In 1936, the Nazis forced him to stop, and he went to England, where he adapted his movement theories to wartime studies of factory workers, helped establish new schools for movement education, and continued to publish his works...Laban observed movement process in all aspects of life: from the martial arts to spatial patterns in Sufi rug weaving, factory work tasks, rhythmic patterns in folk dances, crafts and the behavior of emotionally disturbed people. It was the process itself that compelled his attention, not just the end points or goals of the action, and he, with his colleagues, refined movement observations into an exquisitely precise method of experiencing seeing, and recording them so that body movement functional and expressive implications became increasingly apparent."
Barteniff was a physical therapist and dancer who collaborated closely with Rudolf Laban for many years. She was an innovator like Laban (and BKS Iyengar, for that matter) and contributed immeasurably to the development, evolution and dissemination of Laban Movement Analysis, but also to the study of non-verbal communication, the body/mind relationship in dance and in therapeutic contexts, as well as the integration of body and mind in all aspects of life. The descriptions below are also from her book Coping with The Environment.
"The principle objective of this book is to suggest additional modes of perceiving oneself, other people, and relationships to the world around one, using the live body totally - body-mind-feeling - as a key to coping with the environment. In the process of extending the quality and range of one's body movement options, the experience can extend the quality of functional and emotional life as well. The possibility of moving in new ways with less risk strengthens courage to tolerate continuous movement and change with stability and delight. One can learn to recognize where on is caught in private chauvinisms or value judgments that diminish the values of other uniquely dynamic behavior and art...What is critical to the comprehension of these perceptions is that they be understood as a whole - without fragmentation. Change in any aspect changes the whole configuration. Obviously, the experience of self as a whole, to enliven its mobility, and to play harmoniously with a continuously changing environment."
My studies at the Laban Institute continue to inform my practice and teaching of yoga. Yoga is about the integration of one's entire being, as well as the integration and connection with all of life and its mysteries. There are many disciplines in which we find human beings absorbed in the ongoing process of continuous inquiry. Innovation evolves naturally and spontaneously from the depths of such inquiry - the inquiry and the innovation in service of integration. We are reminded again and again of our inherent wholeness and connection to all of life. This is an aspect of the deeper lineage.
In Light on Life, BKS Iyengar writes: "While I continuously try to improve my practice, I do my best and am contented with what I am able to attain. Even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body."