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B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga Innovator, Dead After Long, Influential Life

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

The man credited with bringing yoga to the West died of heart failure Wednesday in the southern Indian city of Pune. He was 95.

As the founder of Iyengar Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar gave vast numbers of Americans and Europeans throughout the 20th century and up through the present an opportunity to experience physical health and a sense of profound spiritual wisdom, peace and relief from anxiety.

Born in the midst of an influenza outbreak, Iyengar was no stranger to physical illness. Three of his siblings died before reaching adulthood, and his father, a teacher, died of appendicitis when Iyengar was 9 years old. He was “painfully frail” by age 16, when he began studying yoga, The New York Times reports.

“My arms were thin, my legs were spindly, and my stomach protruded in an ungainly manner,” the paper quotes him as having written. “My head used to hang down, and I had to lift it with great effort.”

The paper continues:

After surviving tuberculosis, typhoid and malaria as a child, Mr. Iyengar credited yoga with saving his life. He spent his midteens demonstrating “the most impressive and bewildering” positions in the court of the Maharaja of Mysore, he later recalled.

A meeting in 1952 with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, an early yoga devotee, proved to be a turning point, and Mr. Iyengar began traveling with Mr. Menuhin, eventually opening institutes on six continents.

Among his devotees were the novelist Aldous Huxley, the actress Annette Bening and the designer Donna Karan, as well as a who’s who of prominent Indian figures, including the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and the Bollywood siren Kareena Kapoor. He famously taught Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, 85 at the time, to stand on her head.

In a brief video report published on the Times’ website, reporter William J. Broad said, “Part of his great, great creativity was wrestling with the dangers of yoga. Some of these positions can really hurt you badly. Iyengar had the wherewithal to come forward and design all kinds of clever ways to make the posture fit the body, rather than having people try to adapt themselves to these idealized postures. … It helped modify his style and create a much safer experience. With his death yoga loses one of its all-time great innovators.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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