Indian yoga guru BKS Iyengar has died in the western city of Pune, aged 95. Mr Iyengar was admitted to hospital last week and died early on Wednesday following kidney problems, doctors treating him said.
Mr Iyengar was credited with his own brand of yoga, and taught author Aldous Huxley and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, among other celebrities.
Iyengar yoga is now taught in more than 70 countries and the guru’s books have been translated into 13 languages.
One of yoga’s finest teachers, Mr Iyengar practised what he called an “art and science” for more than eight decades and ran one of India’s top yoga schools in Pune.
He continued to practice – “practice is my feast”, he once told a correspondent – in his old age and could still do the sirsasana – or the headstand – for half an hour until last year.
He used around 50 props, including ropes and mats, to align and stretch the body.
“When I stretch, I stretch in such a way that my awareness moves, and a gate of awareness finally opens,” Mr Iyengar told the Mint newspaper last year.
“When I still find some parts of my body that I have not found before, I tell myself, yes I am progressing scientifically… I don’t stretch my body as if it is an object. I do yoga from the self towards the body, not the other way around.”
When he first met Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist complained that he never had time to relax and never got a good night’s sleep.
“Within one minute Iyengar had him snoring happily away. But Guruji did warn me: ‘Relaxation doesn’t mean yoga is a soft option. It’s a disciplined subject – a casual attempt only gains casual results’,” Mark Tully, former BBC correspondent in India, wrote after meeting Mr Iyengar in 2001.
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (BKS) Iyengar in Bellur in the southwestern state of Karnataka in 1918 and in 2004, was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.
He was the 11th of 13 children and multiple childhood illnesses led him to begin yoga when he was 16. His teacher was his brother-in-law and the man dubbed the father of modern yoga, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. At 18 he began to teach yoga and in the subsequent decades developed his personal philosophy, which became Iyengar yoga.
The practice, devised from astanga yoga, added props such as wooden blocks, belts and rope to assist practitioner in their postures.
Iyengar wrote books on yoga, including Light on Yoga, which became an international best-seller translated into 17 languages, but his influence in the west was thanks largely to his friendship with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who brought him to London and Europe to teach yoga in the 1970s.
Yoga’s popularity in the West is due to Iyengar, and Iyengar schools are now found in 40 countries. Of 2000 qualified Iyengar teachers globally, 200 are in Australia.
He counted author Aldous Huxley, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and assorted Hollywood actors among his disciples and even taught the Queen Mother of Belgium to do a headstand when she was 80.
Iyengar retired from teaching in 1984, having founded a yoga institute in Pune in 1973, but even in his 90s continued to practice for 3 hours daily.
Two of his children, Geeta and Prashant are internationally renowned yoga teachers.
He is survived by six children.
Iyengar’s website pays tribute to him with the saying “I always tell people live happily and die majestically”.
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