(9) The beginning of “Iyengar yoga”

When BKS Iyengar arrived in Pune to begin his new life, he had no family around him, no friends, and no money. He was now 18 years old. His grasp of English, the one factor supposedly in his favour, was very shaky to say the least! Due to the fact that his ill health had made him constantly miss classes, he had ended up failing his matriculation examination in English by three points. He was doubly disadvantaged in that he also could not speak Marathi, the local language. Never having finished even his High School education, he was acutely aware that he had no real skills. It was make or break time for the young man. Either he began making a living from this opportunity to teach yoga, or he return to the Yogashala penniless and without any real prospects for an independent life. He had but one thing going for him … his immense dedication to his daily practice routine.

Although India was the home of yoga, it was still a minority interest. Only those with a sufficiently large surplus of funds to devote to such an interest could possibly afford to attend a yoga class. Having come from an extremely impoverished background Iyengar therefore found himself mixing, through his work with the Gymkhana, with a wordly and accomplished group of people, all with a far higher educational level than his own. None of them, furthermore, had had to contend with the problems of malnutrition, illness, and weakness of health that he had had to contend with. Iyengar therefore found himself teaching yoga to people who were not only wealthier and better educated than he was, they also tended to be bigger, stronger, better fed and healthier. The Deccan was, after all, a very serious sports club that regularly produced national and international champions and had a membership to reflect this. It was humiliating to him that some of his early students, particularly those coming from the Deccan Gymkhana’s famous gymnasium, seemed to have a native talent for doing the asanas, and so could do them better than he could even though he was supposed to be the teacher. They could also sometimes even correct his faltering English while outperforming him in the postures.

Iyengar had an additional problem. His own guru, Krishnamacharya, had never really divulged any systematic techniques for achieving the postures. So Iyengar did not know how to transmit the techniques effectively. He realized for himself that there were only three ways out of this particular difficulty. His first option was to consult his Guru regularly. His second was to read many books, to memorize their contents, and then to divulge them to his students. His third was to instruct his students from a direct personal experience. As to the first option, since Krishnamacharya was now hundreds of miles away, this was not possible. In any case, their personal relations had never been of this cosy nature which is why Iyengar had come to Pune in the first place. As to the second, Iyengar did not know where to get such books ... and even if they could be obtained, such was his character that he was not prepared to pass on second-hand information. So only the third option remained. Iyengar therefore opted to practise with renewed vigour so that he could gain as much first-hand information as rapidly as possible so that he could then pass it on to those who came to study with him. With a zeal and an intensity unmatched virtually anywhere in any discipline, BKS Iyengar set about gaining the first-hand direct experiential information that he needed in order to fulfill his new responsibilities as a teacher of yoga.