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The generation of American and European yoga teachers who began studying with B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1970s had their lives transformed by the great teacher—and in turn profoundly affected the practice of yoga in the West today. Here, they reflect on the personal wisdom they received from Mr. Iyengar.
“I met Mr. Iyengar when I was around 25, when I was not in a good place in my life—I was suffering from depression. My first class with him, he made a statement that I’ll never forget. We were doing Tadasana, and he said, ‘If you open your armpits, you’ll never get depressed.’ And lots of people thought, what is he talking about? But of course what he meant was that if you stand straight and your armpits are lifted, which helps you open your chest, it will affect your mental state—it was the idea that what you do with your body affects your mind. That was my first introduction to yoga being about more than just the body. That’s what hooked me.”
Patricia Walden teaches Iyengar Yoga in Boston and holds an Advanced Senior I teaching certification. She traveled to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar every year since 1976, when she first met him.
Bring the Pose to Life
“In one class, Iyengar asked me to demonstrate Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) at the front of the room. I was balancing there, and he said, ‘See this fellow—his legs are stretching, his chest is stretching open.’ Then he swatted me on the side of my head and said, ‘But the whole pose is coming from his head. He has to bring the pose to life from his cells, from his body.’
I realized then that a lot of my poses were coming from a thinking and analytical place rather than me inhabiting the pose with all of my being. I was able to change, but
it was a process of changing how I’d been taught and learning to come from a more organic place.”
John Schumacher is the founder and director of the Unity Woods Yoga Center in Washing- ton, DC, and holds an Advanced Junior I teaching certification in Iyengar Yoga.
Don’t Get Stale
JUDITH HANSON LASATER
“We were at an invitation-only yoga workshop in 1976 with a group of very serious students who were totally immersed in yoga—even after dinner we would hang out in the lounge and talk about yoga. One night, Mr. Iyengar came in and said, ‘Come on, we’re going out. We’re going bowling. You can’t do yoga all the time.’ He was horrible at bowling, throwing gutter ball after gutter ball, and we laughed hysterically. Yet it was also a lesson: Here was this master who practiced for years, for hours a day with great devotion, saying, ‘Live your life; don’t just do yoga. You’ll get stale.’”
Judith Hanson Lasater studied with Iyengar for 25 years after meeting him in 1974. She’s known for systematizing and popularizing Restorative Yoga. She is a co-founder of
- Yoga Journal
Have No Fear
“In the late 1980s, Mr. Iyengar told us about a passage in the Bhagavad Gita that says that the soul never dies. You wear your embodiment like clothes and take off those clothes when you die, but your soul keeps going. Something in me resonated with this. So often, death is conveyed as fearful, unknown. But the way he presented it removed my fear. He said this is what the texts tell us, this is what I believe. You can accept it or not. It was a pivotal moment for me because my mother was ill then.
I felt a burden lifted. He was such a positive human being. Recently, he said he wanted to die happy, and he did. He fulfilled his mission to bring yoga to the world.”
Joan White teaches Iyengar Yoga in Philadelphia and holds an Advanced Junior I teaching certification. She began studying with Iyengar in 1973, and traveled to India 27 times to study with him.
No One is Invincible
“Iyengar told me to help an injured mountaineer in his medical class who was partially paralyzed. He said to get the man into a backbend 10 times, to benefit his circulation and nerves. I tried putting his hands on blocks and using straps. Finally, I slithered underneath him and lifted him into the pose. Afterward I was resting, exhausted and in pain. Iyengar came up and asked me how I felt. I said, ‘Tired.’ And he said, ‘Now you know how I feel.’ He’d always seemed invincible, but he was human and gave of himself in ways that stressed his body. He gave all he could to his students.”
Angela Farmer teaches yoga with her husband, Victor van Kooten, in Lesvos, Greece. They studied extensively with Iyengar in the 1970s and ‘80s before developing their own style of teaching.