A Tribute to the Master

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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—and so famed yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar receives that ultimate compliment just about every time a yoga class is taught in the United States. His impact on styles like Anusara and prop-assisted yoga has been so deep and pervasive that it’s hard to imagine what yoga in the West would look like without his influence.

This July, Iyengar and his contributions will be honored more formally with a weeklong Yogacharya (or yoga master) Festival in Santa Clara, California, and by the simultaneous publication of a book of essays titled Iyengar: The Yoga Master (Shambhala). Both the volume and the conference have been spearheaded by Iyengar’s longtime student Kofi Busia, a renowned teacher in his own right. “As we started the eighth decade since Guruji began teaching,” Busia says, “I was thinking of the enormous sense of gratitude I have for learning yoga from him. I know so many others who feel similarly, and I wanted to help us express that gratitude.”

Contacting established yoga teachers around the globe—John Friend, John Schumacher, and Patricia Walden, among others&mdsah;Busia invited each to write an essay as a gift to Iyengar that expresses what they’ve gained through his teachings and from the whole of the yoga tradition. The essays in this tribute volume are thought-provoking and varied. Some honor Iyengar’s life and work by exploring technical matters like the effect of arterial blood flow in the legs during standing poses or the way yogis shift their attention and effort in balancing poses. Not surprisingly, many essays address the best-known features of Iyengar’s teaching, including the rigorous precision of his asana instruction, the use of props to make the benefits of poses accessible to all, and his therapeutic application of yoga to medical conditions. Most important, the book provides moving personal reminiscences of the impact Iyengar has had, as a man and a teacher, on each writer.

Busia’s invitation also resulted in a two-part festival offering a range of classes. To kick off the celebration, which runs July 9-15, a five-day intensive will feature sessions with many of Iyengar’s earliest students, providing a rare opportunity to study with esteemed teachers—like John Leebold, Agnes Mineur, and Maxine Tobias—who seldom appear in the United States. Although classes will be taught by senior Iyengar-certified teachers, the intensive is not limited to Iyengar Yoga students. “Guruji has always wished to make yoga available to everyone,” notes Busia, so there will be classes for experienced practitioners from other traditions, a beginners’ track, and classes that focus on the details of Iyengar’s methods. Of course, many classes will focus on asana, Pranayama, therapeutics, meditation, and chanting, but others include a look at other aspects of yoga, such as its intersection with writing.

The festival wraps up with a three-day weekend of classes offered by a who’s who of American and international teachers, including David Life, Dharma Mittra, Rodney Yee, and more than 30 others. Some presenters are Iyengar certified, many are not, but all feel a strong debt of gratitude for what they’ve learned from the master and his lineage.

The book and the conference will also serve a project dear to Iyengar’s heart: Profits from both will be channeled to the Bellur Krishnamachar & Seshamma Smaraka Niddhi Trust, a charitable foundation created by Iyengar to improve the educational, health, and employment conditions in his native village of Bellur, India, and the surrounding areas.

For more information on the Yogacharya Festival and Iyengar: The Yoga Master, go to www.yogacharya.org.

Todd Jones is a former editor at Yoga Journal.