Yoga Rockford: The gift of a guru: A tribute to BKS Iyengar

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Aug. 19, we had to finally say goodbye to renowned yoga teacher BKS Iyengar at the age of 95. To all his students around the world, he was called “Guruji,” and it could be easily argued that the fact so many of us are practicing yoga today is the great gift of this guru of our age.

BKS Iyengar, along with his daughter, son, granddaughter, and countless students and teachers under his tutelage, shed light on a subject that once was relegated to only a small section of Indian society. In truth, without BKS Iyengar, the world of yoga would not be what it is today — accessible to almost every person from every background imaginable.

BKS Iyengar was a student of T. Krishnamacharya, as were other well-known teachers of our time, such as Pattabhi Jois of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage and TKV Desikachar. But it was Iyengar, in particular, who continued to evolve the practice of yoga over his 80-plus years, making yoga accessible and available to larger and more diverse populations all over the globe. No longer was yoga just for men, just for the spiritual recluse, or postures even just for the young and fit. To Iyengar, the subject of yoga was universal, and his passion for teaching was the spark that led so many to practice.

BKS Iyengar published his first guide to the practice of yoga in 1966, the book Light on Yoga. Even today, Light on Yoga stands out with its comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of yoga, a thorough demonstration of asanas from the simple to complex, and examples of practice sequences from basic learning to specific ailments. But reading it now, you also see how far Iyengar progressed with teaching and describing, with refining and adjusting, with becoming aware and alert to how the practice of yoga not only changes one’s body, but also one’s life. His evolution of practice and knowledge can be followed in the evolution of his books covering all aspects of yoga: from Light on Pranayama to Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to Light on Life.

Out of a past in which yoga was quietly taught from male teacher to male student on a one-on-one basis, BKS Iyengar endured ridicule and mocking when he was sent as a young man to teach classes full of women. Being sent away from his guru also forced him to look at poses through his own practice and through his own students. Having originally been taught to “just do” a pose — and suffering injuries in the process — he wondered “how” and “why” poses were to be done to achieve the real purpose of yoga, a quieter mind and a lighter spirit. For Iyengar, a pose is not a pose unless the mind can be quieted in the process.

But then, what of yoga in the modern age of cars, couches, phones and computers: all inventions that disconnect us from our own original form and being? How does an ancient art form and spiritual practice like yoga get taught to bodies that don’t move with ease and minds that wander too easily? Iyengar found a way. If you have done any yoga anywhere with a block, a strap, a chair, a wall or a rope, you have benefited from the teaching of BKS Iyengar. Through innovation and instruction, playfulness and genius, Guruji brought the light of full awareness, the true gift of yoga, to so many people who may never stand on their shoulders or get their foot behind their head. He knew we all have the capacity of yoga within us, and he gave us all the tools and instructions we need to get there.

Traditionally, the “gift of the guru” is to “bring the light of knowledge to a subject, dispelling the darkness of ignorance.” In his lifetime, BKS Iyengar was a fire that burned passionately in every moment for the subject of yoga, shedding light on its depth of art, science and spiritual awakening. His gift has been given, the light has been shed, and “Now the practice of yoga begins” (Sutra I.1).

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Sept. 24-30, 2014, issue

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