Iyengar was born in Belur, India in 1918. He was born into poverty but later triumphed, revolutionized yoga and popularised it in the western world. He recently died in 2014 at the grand age of 95.
As a child, Iyengar was often ill. In 1934, he moved in with his sister and her husband, who was a respected yoga scholar. His sister’s husband, Krishnamacharya, told Iyengar to practice yoga to improve his health. After three years, Iyengar noticed a distinct change in his health for the better. It was this that started Iyengar’s passion for yoga. By the age of 19, he had started teaching his own classes.
Iyengar started to look at asanas scientifically. From personal experience, he had learned that going straight into a challenging pose without preparation can cause injury, so he created sequences that started off simple and led up to more of difficult asana practice. Iyengar was also careful to look at the alignment of asanas, making sure that he aligned himself safely so that again, no injury was caused. He also categorized asanas by the effects they have on the body and mind. Iyengar wrote all of this down in a book called ‘Light on Yoga.’ It has since been translated into many different languages and is popular in the whole world.
During the 1950s and ’60s, Iyengar came to teach yoga in Europe. It was not always easy for him; at first, he started demonstrating in bars or anywhere where people were gathered. In 1958, he was invited to teach yoga to the Queen of Belgium, who at the time was 85 years old. She took an immense interest in the headstand, and with Iyengars help, she learned to do her own. It took many years, but eventually, Iyengar gained respect and recognition from Europe and the USA. Iyengar yoga has now developed.
Iyengar yoga very much focuses on the principles of precision alignment and balancing the energy within. In an Iyengar yoga class, you can expect to use a lot of props. Iyengar started to experiment with props after he was involved in a scooter accident and dislocated his spine. He then went on to study anatomy and began the evolution of modern yoga therapy. He uses bolsters, blocks, blankets, stools, benches, and chairs. These all provide the student with invaluable amounts of support in asanas. It helps to keep the alignment of the body perfect, and therefore, the student will gain the most benefit from them. Iyengar was a big believer that yoga is for everyone, no matter how old, stiff, or tired.
Iyengar built a yoga school in Pune, India in honor of his late wife. She died when she was just 46. He called it The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. Today, two of Iyengar’s children, who have also become international yoga teachers, help to run this school. People from all over the world come to study here. Classes are often booked up to a year in advance.