Those who studied directly with B.K.S. Iyengar say he didn’t want to separate his practice from other types of yoga. “He always said, ‘Don’t call it Iyengar Yoga. It doesn’t have to have my name on it. It’s just yoga,’” recalls Angie Woyar, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and office manager at Iyengar Yoga Center of Denver.
So when the news broke that B.K.S. Iyengar had died last week, it seemed especially appropriate that yoga students from all traditions and backgrounds gathered together to celebrate his life and mourn the loss. Studios and individuals have begun paying tribute with classes and practices dedicated to the man credited with popularizing yoga and making the practice accessible to all bodies through the use of props and a meticulous focus on body alignment.
The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the U.S. (IYNAUS) is calling on its members (approximately 1,000 certified teachers in the U.S., a small percentage of the more than 50,000 teachers currently registered) across the country to “hold Guruji in your hearts” and practice a sequence together in his memory on Tuesday, August 26 at 8:30 pm EST. “We started it with Tadasana, because it’s the most accessible pose,” says Sharon Cowdery, the general manager for IYNAUS. “Anyone, wherever they are—whether they’re on the subway or in a class—can do Tadasana.” If they are in a place they can practice, the students can then complete the rest of the sequence, chosen from Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga. See the full tribute sequence on the IYNAUS Facebook page here.
Those within the Iyengar community are giving the family some time to mourn before they plan in-person events, Cowdrey says. But she expects there will be many more events in honor of Mr. Iyengar in the weeks and months to come. Over the weekend, people packed into the Yoga Center of Denver for a silent practice, group chant, and reading. In that community, B.K.S. Iyengar’s passing seems to have created a renewed interest in his school of yoga. “People are really coming out of the woodwork,” Woyar says, noting that she’s seen an increase in both former students and students who study other traditions visiting the studio. “He did a lot for yoga—and not just Iyengar Yoga.”
More than 50 people came together at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco to honor B.K.S. Iyengar on Friday. Additionally, IYISF has set up an altar in the lobby and opened its doors to anyone who wants to stop by to pay their respects. “He touched so many people’s lives—and we’re now seeing just how many,” said Cynthia Bates, an Iyengar teacher and marketing director at IYISF. IYISF is also planning to hold a bigger gathering in December on what would have been Iyengar’s 96th birthday.
No organized memorial event near you? Yogis anywhere can dedicate their daily practice to honoring his memory and vast contributions to modern yoga, such as the invention of the yoga props neatly stacked on the shelves of practically every yoga studio in America. “Every time you pick up that block and you use it in your practice, you can give a little thanks knowing it was Mr. Iyengar’s vision,” says Loryn Riggiola, co-founder of JaiPure Yoga, a vinyasa and Iyengar studio in Monclair, New Jersey.
That vision of making yoga accessible to all will live on through his students and yoga practitioners worldwide. “I think it’s going to be really important for us to find a balance between grieving and continuing on with his legacy and teaching,” Woyar says. “There’s a fine line. You have to honor yourself and take the time you need, but there are still a lot of people who need this yoga now.”
Beyond the sadness, we hope Iyengar’s passing brings inspiration to those who haven’t had the opportunity (or, perhaps, the patience) to study his detailed-oriented style of yoga. There’s no time like the present to take a second look at the discipline and its enormous impact on how we all practice yoga today.
—Erica Rodefer Winters