BKS Iyengar, Indian guru who sparked global yoga craze, dies aged 95
He developed unique form of ancient practice he said anyone could follow, leading to a huge expansion and celebrity fans
BKS Iyengar, the Indian yoga guru credited with helping to fuel a global explosion in the popularity of the ancient spiritual practice, has died aged 95.
Iyengar started his yoga school in 1973 in the western city of Pune, developing a unique form of the practice that he said anyone could follow.
He trained hundreds of teachers to disseminate his approach, which uses props such as belts and ropes to help novice practitioners achieve the poses.
He wrote many books on yoga, which has been practised in Asia for more than 2,000 years, and has in recent decades become hugely popular around the world.
His insistence on perfecting the poses – or asanas – won him a huge following, among them celebrity fans ranging from the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to the writer Aldous Huxley.
It was an encounter with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who came across Iyengar during a trip to Mumbai in the 1950s, that prompted him to take his practice global.
“Perhaps no one has done more than Mr Iyengar to bring yoga to the west,” said the New York Times in a 2002 profile of the guru.
“Long before Christy Turlington was gracing magazine covers, decades before power yoga was a multimillion-dollar business, Mr Iyengar was teaching Americans, among others, the virtues of asanas and breath control.”
US model Turlington graced the front cover of Time magazine in a cross-legged pose for a 2001 report on the explosion in yoga’s popularity.
Critics say the global expansion of yoga into western gyms and fitness centres has taken the practice too far from its spiritual origins.
But Iyengar said it was unfair to blame yogis. “It all depends on what state of mind the practitioner is in when he is doing yoga,” he said last year in an interview with Indian newspaper Mint.
“For the aberration, don’t blame yoga or the whole community of yogis.”
Iyengar died early on Wednesday in hospital after suffering kidney failure, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
His website carried a picture of Iyengar’s smiling face beside a message that read: “I always tell people, ‘Live happily and die majestically.’ 14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014.”
Despite suffering a heart attack at 80, he had continued to practise yoga into his 90s.
He suffered from ill health as a child but found that he could improve his strength by practising yoga, which he took up as a teenager.
When he was 18, his guru sent him to teach in Pune because he spoke some English. There, he developed his own form of yoga, eventually opening his own institute.
There are now over 100 Iyengar yoga institutes around the world.
The Indian information minister, Prakash Javadekar, said Iyengar had “made Pune the capital of yoga and spread it all over the world”.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, a yoga lover, tweeted that he was “deeply saddened” by the guru’s death.
“Generations will remember Shri BKS Iyengar as a fine guru, scholar and a stalwart who brought yoga into the lives of many across the world,” he said.
Iyengar is survived by a son and a daughter. He will be cremated on Wednesday afternoon.