B.K.S. Iyengar remains one of the most globally recognised authorities on yoga. During his lifetime, Iyengar was respected worldwide for his approach to holistic therapy and his technical accuracy. On the anniversary of his birthday, we're revisiting Mr. Iyengar's practice with this thought provoking message written by Iyengar himself as part of his introduction to B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health.
We are instinctively caught in a web of violence, anger, and greed. It is natural then that these instinctive weaknesses lead us to act violently, directly, indirectly, or because of the pressures of society. The practice of yoga transforms or changes these instinctive weaknesses. They are not eradicated at once, but they are certainly minimised. It is then that a person’s life changes for the better in the art of living. He looks in a different direction, from the direct perception of growth, both mentally and intellectually. Yoga allows us to reach the goal of life that is to live worthily.
I was not an educated person. I was educationally, financially, and emotionally poor. When I was born, I was nowhere in this world. I came from an impoverished family. In my early days, I was attacked by bouts of diseases. I suffered from tuberculosis, influenza, malaria, and typhoid. Somehow I survived. However, my physical body was in a zero state of development. This state did not allow me to develop my physical or mental power. As a result, there were a lot of disturbances in my life, a lot of emotional restlessness. It did not allow me to think of a future. It did not allow me to live a present life.
Yoga brought me to this level of inner bliss through practice, though I was not taught anything theoretically. Whatever I speak and teach today is from my experienced knowledge. It is more stable, because I speak from the intelligence of my heart.
Today, children are highly educated and qualified. Unfortunately, however, there is carelessness in the younger generation because they live intellectually, neglecting their foundation – the body that supports the intelligence within. Their brawn is neglected while their brain is developed to a great extent. So, naturally, there is a tremendous disparity within each individual, which creates psychological and emotional problems.
The practice of yoga builds the inner strength needed to endure problems experienced in today’s age. Stress, a common factor today, doesn’t come into the field of yoga at all. Negative stress is an enemy, but positive stress is growth. The word stress can be used to describe a person who is negative and sees everything negatively. That person is bound to suffer a great deal. There is another form of stress, where the brain proudly functions while neglecting emotional intelligence and the power of the body’s strength. That stress is an enemy, too. Yoga nullifies these two types of negative and hyper-tensed stresses. It balances the person and harmoniously blends the intellect of the head and the intelligence of the heart. This brings poise and peace to each individual.
Those who practise yoga must understand that we may know the external world, but we don’t know the internal world. Yoga teaches us about the internal world, about the contents of our body – the liver, spleen, pancreas, respiratory system, neurological system, and so forth. It helps us understand how they function and at what time they cause disturbances within us. Yoga makes us realise the upheavals of day-to day living and creates balance in our body and mind through its practice.
There are many ways in yoga and each can be adapted to suit the need of the day. There are yoga positions that work purely on the physical level. There are positions that stabilise a person emotionally. lf a person feels that there is restlessness in the brain, then yoga has poses that can help him gain restfulness immediately. However, people have to know what they need to do according to their individual environment. This is what the practitioner gains from yoga, but only if it is practised honestly, with integrity and sincerity. People believe that the body is finite, so they begin the search for the infinite. However, there is no need to hunt for it – it’s not outside but inside us. Yogic practice helps one see the infinite in the finite. When one recognises all the contents of the body, from the cells of the skin to the self, the finite dissolves and what remains is the infinite self.
I never stop learning, never stop thinking of the practice of yoga. I don’t think of my body when I am practising. I only think if I can expand myself to each and every corner of my body. I ask myself, do I exist there or not? I observe myself during my practice. I see where there is dormancy in my body and where there is fullness. I ask myself, why is there fullness or dormancy in that particular area. I question every second and see that the mind is spread evenly everywhere. For, when the mind is spread evenly through my body without any deviation or refraction, then the mind dissolves. It is like a silence in the ocean. I am completely silent in the ocean of my body. Only the self exists. And that is what yoga teaches. We can learn objective knowledge through books or from contact in society. But subjective knowledge can only be learned through the contact of your self. That is why it is called samyoga, which means the oneness of the body, mind, and intelligence with the self.
In one way, yoga is the golden key for golden health. But health is not just physical fitness. There are seven stages of health: physical, physiological, mental, intellectual, conscious, conscientious, and divine. When all the seven stages of health are in harmony in a person, then, I say he is a worthy human being. This is my message.
Learn more about the B.K.S. Iyengar approach to yoga in B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, an accessible illustrated guide to Iyengar Yoga.