BKS Iyengar was a complex and richly textured man. While he had a difficult early life, surviving that no doubt gave him his sense of self-reliance and strength. In India he was considered an outsider in the traditional world of yoga teachers. He honored his teacher, but struck out on a new path of self-study and a new style of teaching yoga. He did the unusual thing of teaching group classes and having men and women in the same class, for example. He always treated all students, regardless of class, caste, title or gender the same way.
He had a great passion for life and yoga, which he saw as one. One day in class he gave us a very stern look and moved his incredibly bushy eyebrows up and down. He said, “God gave me these eyebrows to frighten you”. I replied cheekily, “It’s working”. He roared with laughter as did we all.
Mr. Iyengar, or “Mr. I” as we affectionately called him, was deeply human. He wanted a family and had one; he loved people and was insatiably curious about the world. He once said humbly to me and a few others gathered in a private home in 1974, “anyone can do what I have done”.
Maybe so, Mr I. But I am not alone in believing what he did was extraordinary. He gave us so many things: his knowledge, his warnings about not making his mistakes in our own practice, his full attention. But mostly he honored us by holding us to the highest of standards. He did not suffer fools lightly. In fact, he did not suffer fools at all. Above all else, he helped us find our best selves, and I am not sure he could have done it any better. We already miss him deeply.
Published in 2014 online by Elephant.