iyengar

BKS iyengar

BKS Iyengar

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar also known simply as BKS Iyengar, or Iyengar has been one of the foremost teachers of yoga in the 20th and especially in the 21st century. He is the founder of the style of yoga called Iyengar Yoga and passed at the age of 95 on August 20th 2014. He was also one of the students of Krishnamacharya who is considered the father of modern yoga.

He was born in 1918 in Bellur, Karnataka. Iyengar had a tough childhood; he was often sick with various illnesses including: influenza, malaria, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and was generally malnourished. His family was a part of a priestly brahmin caste and when he was five he moved to Bangalore. About four years later, his father died.

Iyengar’s life shifted when he was 15 and his brother-in-law Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya asked him to come to Mysore to improve his health through yoga practice. This steadily improved his health until he was 18 and Krishnamacharya asked Iyengar to move to Pune to continue to spread the teachings of yoga. During the

krishnamacharyas yoga school in Mysore
krishnamacharya’s yoga school in Mysore

three years that he studied with Krishnamacharya he had a troubled relationship with his brother-in-law; he was forced to do household chores and wasn’t treated as a serious student at first. Occasionally Krishnamacharya would tell Iyengar not to eat until he finished a series of complex postures. These experiences vastly impacted the Iyengar style of yoga and is one of the reasons it is so different from the semi-traditional Ashtanga that Krishnamacharya taught Pattabhi Jois (the age of the modern ashtanga practice is questionable). Pattabhi Jois also claimed that he, not Krishnamacharya, was BKS Iyengar’s guru though this was refuted by Iyengar. Together, they are the most prominent teachers in the lineage of Krishnamacharya.

Iyengar moved to Pune at the age of 18 to begin his teaching career. He spent hours each day practicing, learning, and experimenting with different techniques. He taught several celebrities and even taught the queen of Belgium Sirsasana (headstand) when she was 80.

Yehudi Menuhin was the one that brought Iyengar to prominence in 1952. He asked Iyengar to teach him yoga and believed that yoga helped his violin playing, which he was very good at. After receiving instruction, Menuhin brought Iyengar to Switzerland and afterwards Iyengar taught regularly in the West. Now hundreds of Iyengar style yoga centers are located around the world.

Iyengar wrote 14 books, the first of which was “Light on Yoga” which is one of my favorite references for pranayama, asana, and principles of yogic philosophy. His book on the yoga sutras is excellent as well and I highly recommend them to teachers and students of yoga.

Iyengar’s style is gentler than most others, focusing on alignment and the use of props to assist in yoga poses. This is likely due to his interactions with Krishnamacharya. He also injured his spine in a scooter accident, which is likely why he often made use of props for his students. Iyengar had a profound personal practice and even at 90 would practice yoga for up to three hours per day. He was also a regular practitioner of Ayurveda.

Iyengar won several awards before his death in August 2014 from heart failure in Pune, India. This included a gold medal from Krishnamacharya called Yoga Shikshaka Chakravarti, which means “Emperor of Yoga Teachers, Teacher of Teachers”. In 2004 Iyengar was called one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world and received the fourth, third, and second highest civilian award in the Republic of India. Most importantly, he is largely credited with popularizing yoga around the world and being one of yoga’s foremost teachers.

Iyengar will forever be remembered as a father of modern yoga. His teachings are useful to students of all styles and his unique approach to each student should be remembered by all teachers of yoga. He is a person that forever will be remembered for having a profound effect upon the world.

I would love for you to add any personal experiences or any impersonal experiences that you have gleaned from Iyengar’s life to this. I am very sad that I did not get to meet him or learn from him when I travelled to India. But his books will always be my favorite resources.

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ashtanga yoga creator Krishnamacharya

Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga’s Modern Lineage

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga sequences are a tradition expounded by Pattabhi Jois and is currently taught by teachers in different forms across the world. It is most likely that these sequences were originally created by Krishnamacharya for Pattabhi Jois, using knowledge he obtained from his guru, Brahmachari for short, who lived in a cave with his family in isolation. Krishnamacharya created the sequence for Pattabhi Jois who claimed that the yoga koruntha (which explained the yoga system) was written on a palm leaf that was eaten by ants. This tradition was passed orally from Krishnamacharya to Jois and Iyengar, and Jois used it to create the Ashtanga system. The existence of the document is questioned and although Jois claims to be Iyengar’s appointed guru, Iyengar claims no such relationship. The modern lineage of yoga is an incredibly interesting a complex series of relationships and history.

 Here is the known lineage of the originators of Ashtanga Yoga:

Students of Pattabhi Jois include Bryan Kest, Iyengar, Larry Schultz, Richard Freeman, and Chuck Miller. BKS Iyengar was a student, but they were in disagreement whether Pattabhi was his appointed guru. Both were called Guruji.

The Ashtanga yoga lineage has expounded yoga into the west, but its traditional original can be questioned. Many of the exercises seem extremely gymnastic to be so ancient and many people discuss where the influence of the postures and sequence really come from. However, one thing is certain; Surya namaskar

krishnamacharyas yoga school in Mysore
Ashtanga Yoga School of Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India

is an incredible movement pattern that is excellent for your body’s health if properly aligned. There are also transitions in the ashtanga series that create incredible concentration and focus, but it is certainly true that no series is perfect for every skeleton. Ashtanga yoga, while exemplary, is no exception to that rule.

Balancing the intense yang posture of Ashtanga with Yin postures that counterbalance the spinal twists and shoulder openers of the primary series is completely necessary to progress properly in the primary series. This requires responsibility over your own body. The combination is powerful and relatively unexplored, but there is no reason to spent only 5 breaths in each pose and to continue to practice the exact same way, without variation.  I think that the pattern of 5 breaths for many movements is great, but some poses can be held for much longer and indeed have expanded benefits from being held.

Yoga is not a religion. There are no rules. Attempts at trying to organize it are a joke. It is a system for learning about the self and the limitations and delusions of consciousness. Rules in regard to yoga are silly, because at its best it needs to be completely personalized. Therefore its leaders are simply the people with the most experience in the field through their own practice and assisting the practices of others. This is why it takes so long to become a true guru.

ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya
ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya

I think it is important to realize that yoga has been passed father to son in many generations before a system like Krishnamacharyas was expounded and spread to the West. He even spent many years in poverty teaching before befriending the Maharaja and gaining the raja’s patronage for his yoga shala. It’s popularity was in decline up until this point, but Krishnamacharya would make demonstrations on his days off work, and would eventually travel with his students to demonstrate asana, then send students to become teachers in other cities. Jois and Iyengar were two of these students and both learned different lessons from Krishnamacharya because they studied with him at different times in his life.

To think you have to practice with a certain guru is silly. To think you “have” to practice Ashtanga is silly. The energy of India is great, but the primary series is the same no matter where you do it. Ashtanga yoga should absolutely be supplemented with other activities. The tradition of Pattabhi Jois is continued by his daughter, Saraswathi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Jois, both studied under his guideance in the same sequence as all other practitioners. Both

Ashtanga Yoga Propogators K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois
Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois

are currently teaching in Gokulam, Mysore (links to when I went). It is interesting to know where styles of yoga come from, so you may want to continue by reading Krishnamacharya’s, Pattabhi Jois’, and Iyengar’s books about yoga. Iyegnar’s book is particularly interesting, though Krishnamacharya are much more detailed in interesting ways and somewhat cryptic and mysterious. Krishnamacharya’s guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari and Krishnamacharya are the only ones that we can credit with the creation of modern yoga, though it many poses from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are much older, such as shoulder stand/sarvangasana, headstand/sirsasana, sun salutations, spinal twists, and lotus poses  They all make for very fun and interesting reads, I’m sure. Many are available online, I’ve found a bunch by searching in Wikipedia.

Modern Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Shala –

The K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Research Institute in Mysore, India http://kpjayi.org/

 

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yoga styles_krishnamacharya

The Different Styles of Yoga

The origins of yoga date back to the beginning of civilization (read my article here)

We live in a world that is highly evolved and diversified; yoga is no exception. Yoga has evolved rather quickly, since Krishnamacharya trained Iyegnar and Jois in the 1930s and 40s. With the astounding rise of the popularity of yoga, combined with the lack of organization, clear history, and methodologies, many individuals and groups of people have developed methods for specific purposes, or to target certain systems in the body.

Patthabi Jois and Iyengar were two students of Krishnamacharya that developed their own specific styles. Jois developed a gymnastic, cardiovascular and demanding practice with strict guidelines called Ashtanga; Iyengar deviated from his teacher, Krishnamacharya’s demanding practice and developed a softer, knowledge and alignment based style of yoga named after him. Ashtanga, in particular, is the building block for all vinyasa yoga in the west; but Hatha yoga shares many of Ashtanga’s principles and esoteric philosophy. There is even more overlap as the yoga becomes more diversified and dispersed throughout the globe.

This list is very short compared to the amount of styles that have been developed to practice yoga. Yoga is something that is personal, so multiple interpretations of the same truths was inevitable. There is no one style that is better than another, though there are definitely discrepancies in difficulty, objectives, anatomical focuses, and mental effects. The things to remember is that yoga is not dogmatic, or canonical; there are only guidelines and yoga is a technology for unlocking the mind and body through control of the nervous system with breath and respiratory manipulation and it should be personalized.

I think this is the biggest reason why yoga is so challenging for many people to wrap their heads around. 30 million in the US people practice yoga now, but that is only 10% of the total population and in reality, everyone can benefit from meditation, stretching, and movement based breathing exercises. I am absolutely missing some styles (let me know in the comments!), but these are the styles of yoga that are most popular and used in the US right now.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is the system of yoga developed by Pattabhi Jois that is thought of as a lineage of classical indian yoga. The eight limbs refer to Patanjali and the 8 limbs of yoga which are spiritual yogic practices. There are six sequences designed to be practiced over 6 days, with Saturday off and a day off for the full moon. This is a controversial form of yoga that tends to have high injury rates, but also many highly dedicated yogis. Kino MacGregor is a modern teacher of the system with more of a inspirational view on her own practice to emphasize the incredible intensity and reward of the daily Ashtanga practice.

Hatha

Supposedly founded by Shiva, the Hatha yoga asanas are the basis for yoga in the world today. Usually, it refers to the text written by Yogi Swatmarama written in the 15th century that expounds details of yoga philosophy and physical aspects of the postures. Hatha yoga is often used to mean physically oriented and static yoga postures. Hatha tends to be a broad category and oriented towards mostly physically oriented asana.

Yin

Yin yoga has an extremely interesting lineage, grounded in Taoism and founded by Paulie Zink, but is popularized because of Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley. Yin yoga emphasizes longer stretching and the connections of joints through ligaments and tendons and a more passive side of yoga. The flow of qi through the meridian centers is increased according to the Chinese philosophy of the practice and the practice is more focused on regeneration and acceptance into the union of the universe. Yin yoga is traditionally meant to compliment traditional yang yoga, though there is a lot of work being done to widen the spectrum between the extreme lows of 15 minute stretches and then adding more and more movement. Bernie Clark is an excellent propagator of the practice and I highly recommend his videos for beginning a Yin oriented practice. It is a great way to wake up and fall asleep.

Bikram

This style is named after Bikram Choudhury and 26 poses that he developed at the yoga college of India, where he was also the world champion for 3 straight years. Bikram yoga has concepts taken from Hatha yoga, which Bikram used as an influence to create his 26 postures. One of the great additions Bikram has made to the yoga community is the heat of the room; this heat can help to remove toxins from the body and the increase the metabolic speed and rate at which the body replenished tissue. The Bikram practice is powerful, each posture is done twice and there are two great breathing exercises as well as a lot of balancing work. However, you won’t find many arm balances, or inversions, which are a cornerstone of many of the more traditional systems of yoga. Tony Sanchez is a teacher to pay attention to, though I don’t have any personal experiences with his asana practice, though he trained with Bikram for 20+ years.

Vinyasa

Vinayasa yoga is oriented around the practice that was propagated by Patthabhi Jois as classical Indian yoga, involving sun salutations, jumping through arms, gymnastic oriented exercises such as handstand, forearm stands, and arm balances. All vinyasa yoga is adapted from his method, because of the foundation of sun salutations in the West, but movement aligned with breath is a far older meditational practice than Jois’ practice based on Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Vinyasa is now a broader category, and emphasizes cardiovascular and single breath movements.

BKS Iyengar

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar played a huge role in bringing yoga to the West.

BKS Iyengar_Light on Yoga

This is the man to learn from, he was one of the original students of Krishnamacharya along with Patthabhi Jois. Practiced, knowledgable, but unfortunately, he passed in 2014, right before I was able to make it to India in 2015. However, his source book is incredible and I have used it for literally hundreds of hours of asana. He describes poses with full depictions where he demonstrates the hardest and most dedicated of yoga postures. He is an incredible teacher who split from Patthabhi Jois’ Ashtanga method, instead creating his own style after deciding to go solo when Krishnamacharya would not help him to customize his own practice to suit his body type and needs. His practice is personal, fulfilling, gentle, mentally brutal, and extraordinarily fulfilling. His softer, gentle, and customized approach will continue to spread throughout North American for the next decade.

Anusara

Anusara is classified as a type of Hatha yoga, originally started by John Friend in 1997 who was heavily influenced by Iyengar. The practice emphasizes universal principles of alignment and is grounded in tantric tradition. Friend explained the name of the practice as “flowing from grace”. John was involved in a scandal in 2012 that led to him stepping down from Anusara after admitting affairs with teachers and allegedly founding a wicca coven where he would engage with the women of the coven sexually. Suffice to say I don’t practice Anusara, but I do take significant influence from Iyengar, who influenced friend. Anusara has some great concepts of alignment, but the practice doesn’t resonate with me personally.

Jivamukti

This is a style of yoga developed by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984. It combines elements of Hatha, Ashtanga with emphasis on moral alignment in tune with vegetarianism, animal rights, social activism, and adherence to five central tenets: shastra, bhakti, ahimsa, nada, and dhyana. I am not at all familiar with the method, but each month there is a new theme with new chanting and practices, with an emphasis on progression in the yoga practice. This type of yoga tends to be popular among celebrities and can have focuses on having a personal teacher that massages during Savasana and a whole host of other assistant type activities.

Kripalu

Kripalu is a non-profit based retreat center in Massachusetts. The 16,000 square foot building in Stockbridge is the largest holistic center in the country and can hold up to 650 people for a single night. This style of yoga concentrates on inner focus, meditation, breath work, and development of a quiet mind. Amrit Desai is the founder of the method and center and began it to provide yoga classes and teacher trainings. He named the Kripalu system after Swami Kripalvananda whom Desai met in India. However, in 1994 Desai resigned after admitting to sexual intercourse with followers.

Kundalini

Kundalini is based on a 1935 treatise with Sivananda Saraswati and is heavily influenced by tantra and Shakta schools of Hinduism. The practice combines prana-yama, asana, meditation, chanting, and meditation to excite the nervous system to extraordinary levels. This is a type of yoga that you should absolutely try if you are at a good level of health. It is called the yoga of awareness and aims to cultivate the creative and spiritual potential of the yoga by focusing on truth-speaking, karma, and spirituality.

Power

Power yoga is the adapted version of Ashtanga to fit the Western practice of yoga, Bryan Kest is currently advertised as the founder, though I am really not sure who is. I like to think that Kest is, because he practiced with David West in Hawaii and was a student of Patthabhi Jois, which Baptiste was not. Though I honestly have no idea where it came from, but today it is a popular term for intense vinyasa yoga, sometimes occurring in a heated room. The primary propagators of this practice are Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, Larry Schultz, though it really refers to the style of yoga propagated by Bryan Kest and Baron Baptiste focusing on Ashtanga based meditational yoga. Bryan Kest is far and away my favorite teacher of this type of yoga, though the practice is certainly rewarding in and of itself.

Bhakti

Bhakti yoga is traditional and devotional by tradition, but is being grown into a specific type of vinyasa (power yoga) by Rusty Wells with a focus on spirituality, love of god, and devotion. It is also described as a path of yoga, different from Raja yoga from which Ashtanga is derived and doesn’t necessarily involved asana, but incredible amounts of time in prayer and meditation. This type of yoga focuses on a personal god and aspires to unify each step along the path of Dharma with the divine. practices include chanting and meditation with an emphasis on love. This is a growing style that I have really only seen on the West coast, but has ancient traditions in Hinduism.

Mysore Style

Mysore style is personal practice of the Ashtanga primary series, with a focus on individual asana performance and the warm-up of the primary series. Daily practice with a day of rest on Saturdays and for the full and new moon. This is the practice I will be learning a lot more about in India when I travel to Mysore, with an emphasis on the Ashtanga method.

It will be interesting to see how this article might change over the next few months and years, I will likely rewrite it later.

Notable Yogis: KrishnamacharyaPatthabi Jois, BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, Tony Sanchez, Bikram Choudhury, John Friend, David Life, Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, Rusty Wells, Kino MacGregor

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Samadhi

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 8: Samādhi | समाधि)

Samadhi is the 8th and final limb of yoga. Samadhi is a state of concentrated meditation that transcends the intellect, mind, and body and complete detachment from the physical world (meaning consciousness becomes detached from the body). This final stage of yoga is also known as enlightenment and can be achieved in Corpse Pose, after meditation involving Dharana and Dhyana. In this state, the yogi can suspend consciousness away from the body, being at one with the environment and surroundings while not being limited to physical restraints of the body. Samadhi represents a state of enlightenment and over time the yogi obtains a ceaseless state of transcendent bliss.

In Buddhism, Samadhi is known as the 8th wheel of the eightfold path referring to right concentration. Buddhists believe that this right concentration leads to extraordinary intelligence and even superpowers. But these are simply distractions for the practitioner from the goal of Moksha, or liberation. Samadhi leads to a pleasantness in your current life, knowledge of the divine third eye by concentration on light, clear comprehension of the fluctuations of feelings, perceptions, and thoughts through mindfulness, and the elimination of the 5 Skandha’s (attachments to matter, sensation, perception, mental habits, and discernment). In Buddhism, Samadhi does not refer to enlightenment, rather a state of concentrated meditation that leads to enlightenment. Nirvana is enlightened freedom from attachment and Samsara through Moksha.

Samadhi is a state of supreme detachment, where consciousness is free to leave the body and can expand beyond the borders of the physical corpse of the consciousness. It is a supreme state of bliss that is experienced in Savasana, or in meditation after a yoga practice is completed. This is why you don’t skip Savasana! Meditate after your yoga practice, it is far more powerful after the body has been tempered. The sensations and insights that flow during these meditation can alter your perspective and even mental processes that can change. It is integral to the yoga practice to rest in Savasana and meditate; they are the most important things you can do to amplify the healing and regenerative qualities of yoga.

Samadhi is intricately related to consciousness. It can be described as full awareness, perfect concentration, or an altered state of consciousness characterized by ananda and sukha (bliss and joy). Vyasa, one of the authors of the Mahabharata, said ‘yoga is Samadhi’. It is ultimately complete control over the fluctuations of consciousness including distractions and normal functionality of the nervous system and conscious experience.

Patanjali said that Samadhi has three different aspects: Savikalpa, Asamprajnata, and Nirvikalpa. In Savikalpa the mind is still conscious and the imagination is active and the state can be described as holding onto the imagination with effort. Asamprajnata is a step forward from Savikalpa and is not quite gross awareness, but is a heightened state of conscious awareness. Nirvikalpa is the highest transcendent state of consciousness, the highest of the heights of yoga. It is an engrossing awareness where all things are one and pure unadulterated bliss, wholeness, and perfection are experienced. It is pure joy, freedom, and steady bliss in the knowledge of awareness.

Samadhi is like balancing blocks on top of one another, where it takes years to learn all of the nuances of each block and how they work together. Simply allowing the body to meditate is not enough; full concentration and focus is required to obtain the state of pure freedom.

The final liberation of the yogi comes at the time of death, known as mahasamadhi and is a controlled exit of the consciousness from the body to merge consciousness with the divine. Maha means great.

I would like to dedicate this post to BKS Iyengar, who died this morning, one of the greatest (yoga) teachers the world has ever known. My hope is that he found mahasamadhi in his last hours and that he has found the freedom and peace beyond. He brought yoga into the west and gave everyone seemingly limitless knowledge on even the most minuscule and minute details. He gave us in the west the opportunity to scale the heights of Raja yoga and changed the world for the better. Thank you.

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