"I always tell people, 'live happily and die majestically,’” said yoga master Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar – and by all accounts, he followed his own advice. Courting an energetic devotion to his yoga practice well into his 90s, the guru died at a hospital in Pune, India, after being admitted for the undeniably poetic condition of "breathlessness."
Newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted:
Generations will remember Shri BKS Iyengar as a fine Guru, scholar & a stalwart who brought Yoga into the lives of many across the world.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 20, 2014
Born on Dec. 14, 1918, Iyengar started practicing yoga after childhood malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis left him weak. He moved to Pune, India when he was 18 and began teaching yoga, eventually opening a yoga institute there in 1973.
In 1952, he began an acquaintance with violinist Yehudi Menuhin that led to a lifelong friendship. Menuhin said that Iyengar’s yoga improved his playing, which brought awareness to Iyengar and set the stage for his teachings to reach the West. Iyengar’s 1966 book "Light on Yoga" brought yoga to an international audience – and it was especially well-received in the United States, eagerly adopted by a culture seeking wellness and an alternative lifestyle. Eventually, thanks to Iyengar, yoga became accepted as a mainstream practice in the West.
In 2004, Time magazine included Iyengar as one of the year’s most 100 influential people. Actor Michael Richards described Iyengar yoga as a way of lavishing attention on the body with the goal of attaching the mind to the breath and the body, not to an idea.
“The beauty of Iyengar yoga in particular is the revelation that there is a living architecture hidden in all of us that only needs unveiling. Like any architecture, it demands diamond-like precision,” Richards wrote. “In fact B.K.S. Iyengar teaches that the body should flow into a yoga posture the way light fills a well-cut diamond.”
Iyengar leaves a deep and lasting legacy. Through a trust he set up using his book royalties, he financed the construction of schools, a water and sewage system, a community hall, a yoga center, a junior college and an outpatient hospital in his home village of Bellur. But he also leaves the profound impact of introducing an ancient tradition to cultures that may not have embraced yoga otherwise. In a 2005 interview with The New York Times, he said, "I am leaving everything for posterity, as a guide for generations to come. If they read my books, their confidence will grow so that none can shake them."
You can watch part of a CNN interview with Iyengar here:
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