BKS Iyengar was born in India in 1918 and died in 2014. Throughout his life he practiced and taught Yoga opening his Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune in 1975. His daughter Geeta and son Prashant continue to teach.
Iyengar founds his work on that of Patanjali. Patanjali is the author of the Yoga Sutras, which is widely viewed as the central text in Yoga. A practice based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is referred to as traditional Yoga from its classical period.
In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali defined 2 sets of Yoga practices:
- Abhyasa & vairagya - Action & dispassion
- Kriyayoga - made up of practice, self study and surrender
By applying the Yoga practices we can achieve a level of integration to counter the alienation and fragmentation that we experience in our lives.
Patanjali goes on to define the 8 disciplines (astanga Yoga) made up of:
- Yama. Yama comprises - truth, non violence,continence, freedom from avarice, non-covetousnes
- Niyama. Niyama comprises- cleanliness, contentment, practice, self study and surrender
- Asana. Study of postures
- Pranayama. Study of breath
- Pratyahara. Internalizing the senses
- Dharana. Concentration
- Dhyana. Meditation
- Samadhi. Merging
BKS Iyengar makes the following statement
‘The yoga I teach is purely astanga yoga, known as the eight-limbed yoga, expounded by Patanjali in his 196 terse sutra, each of which reflects profound experiential knowledge. These are supplemented with hatha yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita and others. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra have attracted considerable attention and there are many commentaries on them. Most commentators have seen the subject of yoga objectively or from an academic angle. On the other hand, I have responded to it subjectively. Through my uninterrupted practice and its refinement I have compared my experiences and feelings with the original text’ (Astadala Yogamala Volume 2, Yoga Drsti page 25-26)
Iyengar accepts and applies Patanjali’s Yoga practices within the practice of Asana and Pranayama. Asana and Pranayama are 2 of the 8 disciplines but each have specific daily routines. Iyengar asserts that Patanjali's Astanga Yoga need not be a sequential set of 8 steps each practiced individually but can be applied concurrently. In the passage below he states
'In each posture, in each action, you should be able to find yoga in its integrity according to Patanjali’s explanations ...... Patanjali has not said: ’Eight steps;’ all these put together are Yoga. But unfortunately people who have not practised at all say: ‘This is physical’. Yama and Niyama: when you are doing the posture, the ethics of the right foot, the ethics of the left foot, are they even or not? If you let loose, that is untruth. If the palms are not joining (Parsvottanasana), that is Himsa (violence): you are showing violence on that palm which is not working at all. Because your intelligence has not touched there, so the truth is unknown. […] So please learn that these poses have been given to know whether in any posture whatever we do, whether you can follow the eight steps or not. [...] All the postures contain all the eight steps.'
This focus on a practice in which each asana contains all the 8 steps holds a recognition that asanas be practiced with deliberate intention and ethics, details in performance and will generate specific outcomes in the body and mind. That the asanas deliver an experience of integration. This integrated practice of asana is referred to as Yogasana.
The term Yogasana refers to the internal state contained within an Asana. In his book Alpha and Omega of trikonasana Prashant Iyengar writes
‘Once the body is positioned in the Asana… create a ‘condition’ in the embodiment which is the next step and the most vital, as it is in this internal conditioning which makes an asana a ‘Yogasana’. Here the sadhaka learns to unite one part of the body with another part of the body, the body with the mind, the body with the breath and senses, also the breath with the mind and senses and this takes one into the inward journey which makes the practice of Yoga a Svadhyaya (self-study). It is this unification which justifies the definition of the word Yog which means, ‘to unite’. Merely doing an asana by the body, through the body and for the body is not Yog. Yogasanas are to be done by the body but for the mind, for the psyche, for the consciousness and for the culturing and refinement of a human being.’
That an asana might be done by the body but for the mind, for the psyche and for the consciousness and refinement of a human attests to the ability of a practice based system to deliver us to a state of integrated awareness.
BKS Iyengar notes
‘Mahatma Gandhi did not practise all the aspects of Yoga. He only followed two of its principles — non-violence and truth, yet through these two aspects of Yoga, he mastered his own nature and gained independence for India. If a part of Yama could make Mahatma Gandhi so great, so pure, so honest and so divine, should it not be possible to take another limb of Yoga — Asana — and through it reach the highest goal of spiritual development’
Watch a 20 minute audio visual presentaion on Yogasana below