A communal dedication to Guruji tomorrow evening at 8.30pm.
Along with similar tributes in the United States, Iyengar yoga practitioners in the UK and Ireland are invited to take part in a communal dedication to the memory of our Guru, BKS Iyengar, on Thursday (28th August) at 8.30pm.
Yogawest will be open at 8.30pm and all our students and friends are welcome to come and practise together for around half an hour. The same sequence will be done throughout the UK and Ireland at the same time in other studios and practice spaces.
Lizzie will be teaching her 7–8.30pm class as normal, although she plans to finish 5 mins early so we can filter in to start the group practice at 8.30pm. Lizzie has kindly offered to guide the practice.
Should you not be able to attend, here is the list of asanas (as illustrated by Bobby Clennell). We ask you to hold Guruji in your heart as you practise.
Tadasana – 3 minutes
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Utthita Trikonasana to the right and to the left
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tadasana – 3 minutes
5 minutes seated quietly
Overseeing the vastness of the Mexican Pacific Ocean, I am left with a sense of grief and disbelief. How could Guruji (BKS Iyengar) our beloved teacher die?
I had hoped in the silence of my heart that something unexplainable would happen and keep him alive forever and ever, like a yoga pose –asana- out of time. I never allowed myself to accept that death would knock at his door.
My story about Guruji began in 1996 in London with a set of innocent coincidences. Guruji found me in a bookstore during the darkest time of my life (and later saved me), as I stumbled across his masterpieceLight on Yoga. How could this small man much older than me do all these pretzel asanas so gracefully? For the new few days and months, I self taught myself some asanas, following his sequences and trying to replicate to the best of my ability the LOY pictures. And there I stood in a crossroads: How could something so simple make me feel better and lighter in body, mind and soul each time I practiced? I went back home to Mexico and the second coincidence was that I came across –fate being on my side again- with the only Iyengar trained teacher in my country. I studied with Herta Rogg for close to a decade.
I was hooked and transformed, and today I can say with no doubt that Iyengar yoga has re-shaped me into who I am becoming. Luck again on my side, I came to meet my Guruji at the Institute in Pune on two occasions and through a series of letters that we exchanged over a few years that I will cherish forever.
Some people say there are no coincidences in life. If we follow and listen to our heart attentively we follow our life mission Darma in Sanskrit.
I feel uniquely blessed by all these life choices I have followed, but today I feel saddened by the vast feeling of loss.
May you live forever through our practice, search and understanding of yoga.
An Iyengar teacher and good friend of Yogawest has been in Pune in August and had the extraordinary experience of being at the Institute when Guruji died. She has kindly shared her story with us:
Aug 21st 2014
Dearest friends and family, and my dear teachers to whom I am so grateful,
I was lucky enough to be present here in Pune yesterday for the passing of our dear Guruji. I wrote a few words describing the momentous event that I would like to share with you. I only ask that you don’t share this (for instance) on social websites without my permission.
I heard through an Indian friend very early in the am of Aug. 20 that Guruji at the age of 96 had passed on in the early hours of the morning at the hospital where he had been for a week. We all knew that his health was deteriorating and his heart and kidneys were failing. But it still came as a shock. It seemed impossible that the inevitable had finally happened. And right when we happened to be visiting the Institute. That night I had several dreams, where Guruji was dying, and both times I awoke with a start, taking several seconds to remember where I was. These dreams happened to several other practitioners who were visiting.
When we arrived at the beginning of August we started our classes at the Institute and for the first few days we could hear chanting coming from the main house where the Iyengar family lives. It went on for hours. The house is only a few paces from the institute so the chanting was quite clear and loud. It had an urgency and emotional quality to it that left me feeling uneasy. Along with the mens voices I could hear a woman, and I thought it sounded like Geeta, Guruji’s eldest daughter. Later I found out that the family was chanting for Guruji’s health, as he was already starting to fade.
During the early wet monsoon weeks of August he came out twice during a rare dry moment after we had finished class. He sat in his wheelchair and looked at each of us and smiled as we one by one greeted him and paid our respects. It has taken me years to feel comfortable with the traditional Indian way of greeting a guru, bowing to the ground and touching his feet. It just isn’t in my culture and somehow I always felt a bit insincere to do it but this time I bowed to him naturally and immediately, without even thinking about it. He smiled angelically at each of us, looking at me right in the eyes, but he looked frail and tired and I started to fear the worst. The second time it even felt more portentous, as Abhijata, his granddaughter was there as well assisting him. I was able to give him a small gift I had brought from Korea, some Korean red ginseng tea, which i thought might give him some strength. I had met up again with some Japanese friends, an old and very dear friend of Guruji’s and her daughter, they had invited me to their house for lunch and all the way home they cried. It all felt very ominous. She later told me at lunch that the woman who makes tea for the house had told her that morning that Guruji told her that he doesn’t want to suffer anymore. That he was ready to go.
Then of course the inevitable happened, we heard that Guruji was admitted to hospital. At first everyone tried very hard to tamper down the news and we were told that he was fine, just some routine tests etc. But the news in the papers was increasingly dire, heart failing to sufficiently pump, breathing difficulties, kidney failure, and then 3 failed rounds of dialysis. Guruji hated hospitals and tried very hard to resist but in the end the family could not manage on their own.
It was to be his first and last hospital visit…
The day after Guruji went into the hospital Abhijata taught the women’s Wed morning class. It was a great class, so strong and confident and intelligent. We were all quite amazed at the power of her teaching. I felt quite proud of her, like she was coming into her own. Later we found out that Guruji had just told her that he had taught her everything, and she had to make it hers now.
So when we finally heard about his passing it was not a surprise but it was still a big blow. We got ready and went to the Institute at about 8 am. It was already filled with people and the shoes left at the gate were starting to spill out onto the sidewalks. We were told we could go into the house to view Guruji and pay last respects. As I entered the house I became utterly overcome and started crying helplessly. In the living room sat Geeta and all her sisters. I turned to Geeta and told her how sorry I was, through an avalanche of tears. She looked at me and said, “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.” I was immediately struck by how, in her moment of grief she was taking care of me, a total stranger. What generosity and compassion.
We walked to the left through the tiny living room and saw Guruji lying on the floor in the next room, wrapped in cloth, with white paint on his face. It was so humble and simple. There was the family priest performing last Hindu rites and Prashant, his son, knelt at his feet, holding vigil. He had probably been sitting for hours by then and it was so touching to see the son sitting at his fathers feet. He looked grief-stricken, like a bereft young son. We bowed and touched Gurujis feet and walked out. People gathered at the grille window to look some more and others moved back into the courtyard.
We were then told we could go upstairs to the big yoga hall to wait as the body needed to be dressed again for the afterlife, after which we could view it again and then we would all go to the cremation. I was continually struck by the difference in this funeral and funerals in the west. It was so open and generous, everything happening in front of us and the foreign students invited to everything. After the body was dressed again long time student and teacher Raya came upstairs to tell us that we could now go in again, (again they were always aware of the foreign students and helped us every step of the way that day) and then there was a virtual second wave avalanche of people who wanted to go in. During the time of the 2nd dressing there was a continuous flow of dignitary after dignitary arriving in big fancy cars amidst a police presence to pay last respects. I had decided that I didn’t need to go in again but at the last minute I did and almost immediately the door was closed behind me and the second viewing time was over. Guruji by this time was covered head to toe with flowers and the body had been turned 180 degrees in the room; toe to head. There were now many more priests dressed in traditional clothes and chanting loudly in the room and the atmosphere was tense and electric. I exited the room and they prepared to take the body out. Somehow, because of my late entry I was right beside the Iyengar family behind the body. We all stood together in a large group of extreme mourning, the communal grief was overwhelming. I felt so sad for Geeta and her sisters, the day was extremely hot and steamy and we all stood and cried and chanted. The body was then carried aloft amidst a swirling cloud of incense onto the street outside where it was loaded onto an ambulance. We were then invited to go to the cremation ceremony some distance away. So we all found our various modes of transport and made our way there.
When we arrived the ceremony had already begun. The crowd was very large but for a man of Guruji’s stature it was very small. This was due to the very expedited nature of a Hindu cremation ceremony where the body is cremated only hours after death. So almost no time for anyone who was not local at the time to attend. The ceremony took place under a very large covering; under which was a large cement slab with several other pits filled with ashes. It was in a large park with huge tall trees, a very peaceful setting. The chanting kept going non stop and everyone stood around the pit. People were taking pictures and there were what felt like hundreds of photojournalists.
Traditionally only men are allowed into the cremation site but we were told that Geeta had requested a change in the rules so we were all allowed in. Many rituals took place that were hard to see but at one time Prashant held a large container that was spilling out water through 2 holes and walked around the body 3 times and then broke the clay vessel on the ground. The priests passed around large pieces of sandlewood and pressed cow dung patties for us all to touch and mark with our love and devotion before they were laid on the pyre. Guruji was then placed on the sandlewood logs and then covered with dung patties. The priests then lit the pyre and continually fed the flames with camphor and bags of ghee that were opened and poured onto the fire. I was told that these four items; sandlewood, dung, camphor and ghee are used only for the funeral of a saint. The flames were carefully controlled and apparently the burning goes on for four hours. The priests were alternatively solemn, stern, jovial and even joking at times during this process. The whole thing was very serious and ritualistic yet somehow had also a strangely casual feel. There wasn’t the solemnity, privacy of the family and formality that I associate with western funerals. The family left shortly after and many of us stood around and talked and shared afterwards. Besides all the hundreds of students from almost every country on earth including Indonesia, Russia, every country of Europe, China, Japan, USA, etc. there were so many friends there, people I have seen for years. It was moving to see for instance Raju the incense man and Mr. Wagh the family jeweller standing with tears in their eyes. I felt lucky to finally speak to Father Joe, one of Guruji’s long time students who was close to Guruji like a son and founder of the Kripa Foundation, the legendary addiction and HIV clinic that finally brought great help to a stigmatized population. I did acupuncture volunteer work at Kripa in 2009 and 2011 without meeting him. We spoke and digested the day for some time and he kindly invited me to the 30 year anniversary party of Kripa on Sat night, but unfortunately I am leaving before then.
Today we are all still slightly shell shocked…all day we keep meeting students on the streets around the institute, still ruminating and digesting. The day is again warm and sultry and the monsoon downpour has begun again. Miraculously there was no rain all day yesterday…
(Strangely in July 2009, the first time I came to Pune during the warm monsoon rains of summer, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, another huge iconic figure, died, also at the glorious age of 96. These two giants have had a huge influence on the arc and direction of my life and I will always be immensely grateful to both of them.)
Today I am filled with wonder at the gift of being present for such a momentous occasion. And the opportunity to say a final goodbye to one of the most innovative and creative minds of our time. Our Guruji, who brought the gift of yoga as we know it to the west. Yesterday Geeta said so poignantly;
“Only his body has ended. One person’s efforts from inside out, changed the acceptance of yoga throughout the world. Nothing was hidden, from the time he began to practise, to his illness and death. Even last night he was telling Abhijata, ‘I have shown you all these things, now realise them for yourself.’ What he has given cannot be encompassed by words. If a disciple is more developed, then that person will understand. What can be said in words, is that he was precious to us.”
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, yoga master, born 14 December 1918; died 20 August 2014
Our guru BKS Iyengar (Guruji) died on August 20th in Pune, India. One of the greatest yogis of the modern age, he revolutionised the practice and teaching of yoga throughout the world.
Every yoga teacher at Yogawest is trained in the Iyengar tradition and we owe the Iyengar family a great debt of gratitude. Following Guruji’s death, the Iyengar family will continue teaching Iyengar yoga teachers at the Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune.
Guruji leaves in his wake an outstanding legacy of thousands of teachers including his own children Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar and his granddaughter, Abhijata.
At his cremation, Geetaji said:
“Only his body has ended. One person’s efforts from inside out, changed the acceptance of yoga throughout the world. Nothing was hidden, from the time he began to practice, to his illness and death. Even last night he was telling Abhijata, “I have shown you all these things, now realise them for yourself.” What he has given cannot be encompassed by words. If a disciple is more developed, then that person will understand. What can be said in words, is that he was precious to us.”
Lizzie taught her women’s class in Guruji’s honour the day after he died and it was a beautiful tribute to him, including time at the end of the class to reflect on how yoga has added to our lives, and the influence Mr Iyengar has had on the yoga world.
See pics below:
Larissa McGoldrick, a friend of Yogawest, was in Pune in August and sent us a wonderful letter about her experience there the week of his death. Read it here
And Indira Lopez-Bassols, who teaches workshops here, has written a moving account of the influence Guruji has had on her life, read it here
Bobby Clennell (next at Yogawest in May 2015) has written a wonderful memoir in YogaDork – read it here.
Here are a selection of obituaries and tributes from the press:
Mark Tully Tribute, The Guardian
PUNE, INDIA: Yogacharya BKS Iyengar performing Yoga at his Yoga Institute in Pune, Maharashtra. (Photo by Bhaskar Paul/India Today Group/Getty Images)
When BBC Radio 4 celebrated the 80th birthday of the internationally renowned yoga teacher BKS Iyengar, who has died aged 95, the programme started with him answering questions standing on his head. Guruji, as he was known to his followers, said the position was as natural for him as standing on their feet was for others. This was only one of the yoga asanas he taught the pupils from all over the world who flocked to his school in the Indian city of Pune, to the south-east of Mumbai.
More than any other practitioner, Iyengar was responsible for the spread of interest in yoga in the west over the last half-century, having originally introduced the violinist Yehudi Menuhin to the art in the early 1950s. Iyengar used to say “my body is my temple and asanas are my prayers”. He lived up to that maxim, keeping himself supremely fit. Yet during his childhood he was, in his words, “a creature of contempt for my people” because of his constant ill-health.
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born into a family of 13 children, only 10 of whom survived. His father came from the village of Bellur, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Iyengar retained his ties with that village and later established education, public health and other social projects there. When Iyengar was five, his father left the village and his job as a primary school headteacher, moving to Bangalore, where he worked as a clerk.
Iyengar was introduced to yoga by one of his brothers-in-law, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who ran a yoga school supported by the maharaja of the southern princely state of Mysore, and when Iyengar was 19 sent him to Pune. That city was to become his home for the rest of his life, but his early days there were not auspicious. He was employed by the Deccan Gymkhana Club. The staff there were jealous of his success and one night burned all his equipment. After three years, the club asked Iyengar to leave. Sometimes he could only afford a plate of rice every two or three days. But gradually he came to be better known and more secure.
The break that transformed Iyengar from a comparatively obscure Indian yoga teacher into an international guru came in 1952, when Menuhin visited India. Because Iyengar had taught the famous philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, he was asked to go to Bombay to meet Menuhin, who was known to be interested in yoga. Menuhin said he was very tired and could spare only five minutes. Iyengar told him to adopt a relaxing asana, and he fell asleep. After one hour, Menuhin woke refreshed and spent another two hours with Iyengar. Menuhin came to believe that practising yoga improved his playing, and in 1954 invited Iyengar to Switzerland. At the end of that visit, he presented his yoga teacher with a watch on the back of which was inscribed, “To my best violin teacher, BKS Iyengar”.
From then on Iyengar visited the west regularly, and schools teaching his system of yoga sprang up all over the world. There are now hundreds of Iyengar yoga centres. During his early travels, he had to face misunderstanding and racism. British immigration officers thought he was some sort of magician and asked him whether he could walk on fire, chew glass or swallow razor blades. A London hotel once refused to accept him as a guest until Menuhin intervened. Even then, Iyengar was told he could not eat in the dining room, and his meals were sent to his room.
Iyengar always insisted that yoga is a spiritual discipline, describing it as “the quest of the soul for the spark of divinity within us”. He used to tell his pupils to “be aware that the current of spiritual awareness has to flow in each movement and in each action”. As to its wider benefits, he maintained: “Before peace between the nations we have to find peace inside that small nation which is our own being”. He regarded much of the yoga that became popular in the west as “nothing more than physical exercise”. Unlike western keep-fit exercises, he insisted, yoga must not put any strain on the heart.
Iyengar appeared daunting with his leonine head, mane of hair and formidable eyebrows, which, as he used to say, went in two directions. He had a reputation as a stern teacher, and would insist on his pupils copying his asanas with absolute accuracy, achieving perfect balance. But he also patiently helped those who were having difficulty with their asanas and designed special exercises and equipment for pupils with physical problems. He studied anatomy, psychology and physiology to pioneer modern therapeutic yoga.
He cured one of his pupils, Nivedita Joshi, from a slipped-disc condition that had left her unable to move her hands and legs; she now runs the Iyengar centre in New Delhi. But Iyengar never sought publicity for his achievements and lived a simple life, unmoved by his international renown. Earlier this year he was awarded a state honour, the Padma Vibhushan.
Iyengar’s marriage to Ramamani was arranged by his family, and was very happy. He said: “We lived without conflict as if our two souls were one.” She died when she was 46 and Iyengar called his yoga school in Pune after her. His son, Prashant, and daughter, Geeta, are now the principal teachers in the Pune yoga school, and his granddaughter, Abhijat, has also taught there. He is also survived by four other daughters.
Book one place on a foundation course for £49 and add extra people for just £30 each.
Foundation Course at Yogawest
A 5 week course of 1-hour classes for complete beginners or people wanting to revisit the basics. The course will introduce you to the fundamental poses and principles of yoga practice. Courses start regularly throughout the year and must be pre-booked, they cost £49.
Find out upcoming dates and download booking form here.
A whole day of yoga can sound daunting: Indira and Diana will help you discover what a beneficial thing it is to do, whatever level your practice is. The day is designed to prepare your mind and body for the change in season ahead. You can work at your own pace and gentler poses can be given at any point.
Diana and Indira teach yoga holidays and workshops together in Turkey and the UK; students say they enjoy the joint energy of their teaching, which combines sound yoga knowledge with a humorous and compassionate delivery.
Date: September 21
Time: 10–4.30 (Tea will be served during a midday break.)
Level: All levels from beginner to experienced students. (Complete beginners may be given alternative poses if necessary.)
Cost: £50 (£5 early bird discount before Sep 5)
Yogawest are once again a venue for the Bristol Yoga Trail on Saturday September 13th 2014.
There are free taster classes throughout the day, starting with the 11.30am general, and 30-min tasters in the afternoon including a children’s class and a gentle class, so do tell your friends. And there’ll be plenty of tea, cake and an opportunity to chat to the Yogawest teachers in the garden (we hope!).
Yogawest timetable on the day
9.45-11.15Intermediate class as normal – usual fees apply 10-11.15Beginner class as normal – usual fees apply 11.30-1 general class – free, all welcome 1.30-2 taster class, all welcome 2.30-3 children’s taster class, age 6+ 3.30-4 taster class, all welcome 4.30-5 gentle class, all welcome, especially those who think yoga is not for them!