On Wednesday evening, in a church hall in north London, I sat surrounded by a dozen or so men and women, of various ages, head bowed, in a moment of silence. It was our regular weekly yoga class, only this one was different: that morning, the founder of our particular school of yoga, B K S Iyengar, had passed away. He died aged 95, at a hospital in Pune, western India. Arguably, his death marks the departure of the last great yoga guru.
Of course, the practice of yoga dates back thousands of years, with some placing its origins as early as 3,000BC. It permeated the West in the 1890s, when a Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, toured Europe and the United States, delivering lectures and private classes. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century, however, that yoga went truly global.
Iyengar played a significant part in this. Born in 1918, the 11th child of a schoolteacher from Bellur in south-west India, he took up yoga as a teenager. He had previously suffered malaria, TB and typhoid fever, but, as he practised, he rapidly became stronger. At 18, he began teaching. He developed his eponymous system, which revolves around more than 200 central poses, teaching across Europe in the 1950s, and published Light on Yoga, an international bestseller, in 1966. Continue reading >>