Light on Iyengar: Talk on his legacy at Harvard

I know this sort of goes against our Ashtanga focus, but this video — up just a week or so — from the Harvard Divinity School is worth a watch, if you have almost exactly 90 minutes to spare. Here’s the description so you know what you’re in for:

This panel was held on October 20 in honor of the passing of BKS Iyengar, considered to have been one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. Panelists included scholars and friends of Iyengar: Stephanie Corigliano, PhD candidate, comparative theology, Boston College; Francis Schussler Fiorenza, Charles Chauncey Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies, HDS; Seth D. Powell, PhD candidate at Harvard; Zoe Stewart, yoga teacher and student of BKS Iyengar for 30 years; Patricia Walden, director, BKS Iyengar Yogamala and student of BKS Iyengar for over 30 years.

And the video:

I checked around, but can’t confirm that the Stephanie Corigliano is related to Certified teacher Dominic Corigliano, although my suspicion is they are. (They’re friends on Facebook, at least.) We all know Patricia Walden.

Posted by Steve


Iyengar: ‘Krishnamacharya was the only person who gave Ashtanga yoga’

I think I got that quote right, from about the 45-second part of this short video of BKS Iyengar talking to a group of students. He seems to describe it as the “same as I’m teaching.”

For all you history buffs:

Sort of a throwback Thursday. Maybe other quotes jump out at you?

Posted by Steve

An issue for Ashtanga practitioners: Namarupa remembers Jois and Iyengar

A new Namarupa magazine is out, and it looks like one that all Ashtanga Yoga practitioners will want to get.

It’s all about the lives and legacies of Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar. Click here to get to the page and how to download/order it. Here’s what is inside:

  • FRONT Sri B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
    ©Mike Hill.
  • Legends & Legacies Translation of conversation by Sunaad Rhaguram and photographs by Mike Hill
  • 3 Gurus 48 Questions Matching interviews with Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Interviews by R. Alexander Medin
  • Sketches Sri B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by Keshav
  • Traditional Yoga An informal talk by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
  • Next Generation Interviews by R. Alexander Medin: Prashant Iyengar & R. Sharath Jois
  • Hoysala Brahmin Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by Eddie Stern
  • Sri B.K.S. Iyengar Photographs by Martin Brading
  • Surya Namaskar Sri K. Pattabhi Jois interviewed by Sunaad Raghuram assisted by John Campbell
  • Aditya Hridayam from the Srimad Valmiki Ramayana
  • The Yoga of Krishnamacarya Eddie Stern
  • Masters in Focus Sri B.K.S. Iyengar by Kofi Busia
  • BACK Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, R. Sharath Jois and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois ©Mike Hill.

Some of that sounds familiar (the three questions piece), so my guess is it is a mix of previously published material , but all bound up into one convenient package.

One convenient package that sure looks worth having.

Posted by Steve

Iyengar and the dawn of modern yoga

OK, so this will, I hope, be the last link to a piece on Iyengar we post. Bobbie told me today — while, I suppose I can “boast” we climbed Runyon Canyon in LA after our regular Ashtanga practice, a thoroughly LA experience that only could be made more so had we definitely seen a celebrity or it had been January, and most of our fellow Ashtangis freezing cold in the inhospitable climes of some place like New Hampshire or Boston — that she has a post percolating about Iyengar.

This post may be in part to pressure her to write it.

Anyway, if you otherwise don’t see it, the New Yorker — and, yes, you’re forgiven if you’re surprised we’re in LA and not NYC — has a remembrance of Iyengar that situates him (and to a lesser extent Pattabhi Jois) within the creation of modern yoga. Here’s the link and a little taste:

When Iyengar was sixteen, in 1934, he was sent to live with his sister and her husband, Krishnamacharya, in Mysore, a green, temperate city not far from Bangalore. He arrived at a time of enormous ferment in the development of modern yoga. Indian nationalists were particularly taken with the global vogue for “physical culture,” in part because British domination was often justified in terms of physical superiority. As the nationalist movement gained steam and Indians turned away from foreign imports— replacing Western clothing with homespun khadi cloth, for example—nationalists found in the old hatha yoga the basis for a physical culture that was distinctly Indian. Krishnamacharya, a brilliant scholar who had sacrificed respectability to pursue the outré path of hatha yoga, was at the forefront of this renaissance. At the invitation of the progressive Maharaja of Mysore, a patron of traditional Indian arts and an avid sportsman, he ran a yoga shala at the palace, where he taught yogic physical culture to royal boys.

The piece calls Iyengar the most influence of Krishnamacharya’s students. I suppose I ought to argue that point, but I don’t think it is arguable. It also neatly sums up how hatha yoga was treated before Krishnamacharya’s effort to revive it or, perhaps we could say, revise it.

For those keeping track at home, if you read the New Yorker piece, check out the way Mark Singleton’s scholarship is couched. Pretty interesting for those in the know.

Oh, and I hope you enjoy your Moon Day.

Posted by Steve

NYT asks: ‘What’s so special about Iyengar yoga?’

Midweek, the New York Times’ Well blog — which is a nice source of occasional mainstream yoga-related stuff — followed up BKS Iyengar’s passing with a post about what made his particular style of yoga so special. It spoke to Carrie Owerko, an Iyengar teacher in New York.

Post is here. An excerpt or two:

I think one of his main contributions was making yoga accessible, but also the degree of attention he gave to the practices of asana, or postural yoga, and to pranayama, the breathing exercises, was immense. He was also an amazing communicator. He was constantly finding new ways to help his students increase their capacity to be aware of what was going on in their bodies and minds.

Iyengar is a lot of the yoga people experience in the United States. The teacher may not be teaching Iyengar, but that teacher has been influenced by Iyengar yoga in some way.


Take the yoga block. Everybody knows a yoga block. It’s something you can get at Bed Bath & Beyond. The prototype of the yoga block was actually a rock or cinder block from B.K.S. Iyengar’s garden. When he was teaching students, he would sometimes place students over his knee for a supported back arch if they couldn’t support themselves. The story goes that he asked his daughter to go in the yard and bring this cinder block to help. That was the beginning of the yoga block. He would use whatever was in the environment -— tables, chairs, ropes. The more common props — belts, straps, blocks and chairs, this is the type of equipment that was not really used in the practice of yoga. Now everybody is using them. There are never enough props to go around.

Again, as a reminder: We tend to post NYT takes on yoga because a lot of non-yogis will see it and, perhaps of equal importance, other non-yogi media people will — so it can influence the perspective on things, especially here in the U.S.

Although it’s influence fades every day…

Posted by Steve

Are you misusing yoga?

Pegged to BKS Iyengar’s passing this week, the Washington Post — which we link to far less than the New York Times or even the LA Times — has a religion column online that makes a very NYT-ish claim: That Iyengar’s passing “revives a debate about whether most Western practitioners are misusing yoga, misunderstanding it as primarily a way to firm their bodies when the physical practices traditionally are just a segment of what is meant to achieve a transformational world view.”

Here’s a link to the column.

As best as I can tell, the “debate” the WaPo mentions is based on one Iyengar teacher who put out a “release about Iyengar’s passing and sought to emphasize the late guru’s spiritual focus.”

I can tell you, as someone who follows and watches way more of the Western yoga world than I ever thought I would, I haven’t noticed this as a trend at all. I’ve seen some concern about the nature of Iyengar’s passing (in a hospital versus what people would like to be a more peaceful setting) and I’ve seen a lot of people passing on quotes from him. Mostly, I’ve seen people thanking Iyengar for helping spread yoga to the West — specifically, for helping bring yoga to their lives. (Oh, and it has given occasion for the NYT’s William Broad to get on mainstream news programs, including one here in LA — in fact, broadcast out of Santa “Yoga” Monica, and repeat his broad claims about yoga, which never fit with my knowledge and understanding, and to talk about how dangerous yoga can be.)

I haven’t seen any debates about whether we are misusing yoga. This week, anyway.

Posted by Steve