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What is Yoga?

 BKS Iyengar
Iyengar Yoga - Downward Dog

Yoga is a philosophy, a science and an art that has been practiced in India for over two thousand years.

Yoga means union. It is a process of self discovery which unifies the human body, mind and spirit. Yoga practice increases our awareness of the world within and around ourselves.

Yoga asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breath control) teach us techniques of alignment and self observation. Studying the actions of the body help us to learn to self discipline and to focus the mind.

Regular practice of yoga benefits the practitioner in many ways. Asanas relieve the joints from stiffness and improve the whole posture. Muscles gain strength and flexibility. But the real significance of Yoga is in the interface between body and mind. As confidence and sensitivity grow, freedom is found in the body and stillness in the mind.

Balance, stability and flexibility are the practical skills, which we develop in each posture. These skills can be transferred and used in our daily lives. Through observation of the effects of our actions, we learn to adjust ourselves on physical, mental and emotional levels. When we adjust our posture, breath and mind we can find peace and contentment within.

Iyengar Yoga

YOGACHARYA BKS IYENGAR 14th December 1918-20th August 2014

Affectionately known to his students as "Guruji", BKS Iyengar studied and taught Yoga for over 80 years. His dedicated practice and teachings continue to inspire pupils of Yoga all over the world. He is widely respected for his achievements and is recognised as the most influential Yogi of our time.

BKS Iyengar
Edgar Stringer and BKS Iyengar

He was born in 1918 and was the 11th of 13 children. He suffered from malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis as a child. His sister married Shri Krishnamacharya, a Yogi who taught in the palace of the Maharaja in Mysore. Aged 15, Iyengar learned Yoga from his brother-in law and soon found that his heath was improved. 

Guruji began teaching classes in Pune 1936 and later taught yoga to Yehudi Menuhin, who famously called him his “best violin teacher”. Menuhin invited Iyengar to London in 1954. Despite being confronted by racial prejudice and ridicule Iyengar succeeded in impressing students with his extraordinary demonstrations and teaching. His zeal and understanding of Yoga was inspirational. His passion for the subject ignited interest in his methods and he was invited to teach all over the world.

At that time Yoga was not taught in large groups and women were rarely permitted to learn. Iyengar made Yoga accessible to all and now women massively outnumber men as yoga practitioners. Guruji pioneered the use of Yoga equipment to extend the benefits of Yoga asanas to people with ailments. He innovated extensively in the field of therapeutic yoga. He believed Yoga was for everyone irrespective of gender, caste, class or creed. he said:

"Yoga is for all of us. To limit yoga to national or cultural boundaries is the denial of universal consciousness."

The wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras permeates his teachings. His book “Light on Yoga” has sold over 3 million copies and is translated into 18 languages. He created his Yoga Institute in 1975 in Pune. When Guruji died in 2014 his son Prashant and daughter Geeta continued to teach. Sadly Geeta died in 2018 just a day after commemorating her father's 100 year anniversary. Today Prashant and Guruji's grand-daughter Abhijata continue to run his yoga institute with great skill and dedication. 

Patanjali and the eight limbs of yoga

Yoga is an ancient system of personal development for body, mind and spirit. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali originate in India more than 2000 years ago and are one of the key texts for the study and practice of Yoga. Patanjali clarified all aspects of Yoga, which provides a path of self-discovery using the Ashtanga, eight limbs of yoga, to attain realisation:


1. Yama (5 moral precepts: truth, non violence, non-stealing, self-restraint, non-covetousness)

2. Niyama (5 ethical codes: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study and faith)

3. Asana (Culture of yoga posture)

4. Pranayama (Cultivation of yogic breath)

5. Pratyahara (Involution of senses)

6. Dharana (Methods of concentration)

7. Dhyana (Meditative awareness)

8. Samadhi (Absorbsion in a unified state)

Yogis through the centuries have helped to interpret and offer commentary on this very concise source of spiritual wisdom. Most influential of these was the commentary given by the Vedic philosopher and author of the epic Mahabharata, Saga Vyasa in the 14th century.

Thanks to the dedicated work of generations of Yogis, the methods of Yoga described in the Sutras have continuously evolved to become contemporary knowledge, which is relevant to the lives of people all over the world.

Shri BKS Iyengar stands among the great Yogis of India. He exemplified devotion to the pursuit of Yoga. Through his distinctive teaching and numerous books he has propagated and demystified the art of Yoga, enabling millions of people worldwide to discover good health and spiritual evolution.

Iyengar garlands
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