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Yogi's Yearning (Interview with B K S Iyengar)

Yogi's Yearning (Interview with B K S Iyengar)

Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 1, 2004
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/398781.cms

Introduction: He has become a legend in his lifetime. B K S Iyengar , or "Guruji", has played a key role in putting the ancient art of yoga firmly on the global map. He has helped separate the physical aspect of yoga from its spiritual side, taking it into a secular space beyond the boundaries of  India .

The man who allowed yoga to be branded, albeit reluctantly, in his name spoke to Rohini Nilekani on the eve of his 85th birthday.

Q.: Looking back at your life and accomplishments, how does it feel?
A.: I feel really happy and satisfied that I succeeded in my mission to make yoga respectable. Now, when I see the wide reach of yoga, I sometimes forget the desperate struggle and the hard work. I remember only the love and affection I have received from all my students.

Q.: How do asanas help a student to realise his inner self?
A.: There are gradations in asanas , starting from the gross, crude method. Then you refine it and bring it to a point where the various aspects of the consciousness are made to unite into a single entity.

Then you go to the source of the consciousness - the epicentre. In the epicentre, there is no feeling of the past or the future. Though time is linked with the future, the mind, the consciousness - everything remains in the state of the present. That is the highest practice of asana .

But there is a hierarchy in the progression of an asana , which cannot come in a day. There must be sadhana . Just abhyasa or doing asanas day in and day out is not sadhana . You have to search, you have to filter and you have to reach a tranquil state - that's sadhana , the light of gyana or knowledge.

Q.: Haven't you come full circle in your teaching? You started with emphasising the spiritual aspect, quickly realised that people needed to train their bodies first, and concentrated on asana practice, even at the risk of being called the physical yogi. Now you are going back to explaining the spiritual moorings of yoga practice.
A.: It is all about the hierarchy of practice. Do you think all are fit to understand the atma ? Naturally, I had to start with what people can see and feel. And then guide them from the body to - in that order - the sense of perception, to mind, to intelligence, to ego and, finally, to consciousness and atma .

Q.: But if many more students have to be guided down that path, a lot more work needs to be done and again we come back to the question of creating teachers for the millions of people in India.
A.: That, my friend, is not possible. If you read the Mahabharata, Krishna was the only Yogeshwar, though there were so many dharmik people at the time. But who gave the knowledge? Only  Krishna ! The art of teaching is very refined. So how can you produce thousands of teachers, when even in the Mahabharata there was only one Krishna ?

Q.: What then is the future of yoga?
A.: The future of yoga, I am sure, is very bright. For one, there is a new health consciousness in  India . Yoga did not become popular on account of my teaching of classical methods. It became so popular in the West because I took the therapeutic value of yoga and through that propagated yoga.

Here too, life is becoming very costly. Medical treatments are expensive, and people are not always in a position to afford them. The only preventive is yoga. Patanjali says " Heyam dukkham anagatam " (The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided).

Why do you allow your body and mind to become a victim? Begin your work today so that you won't become a victim at all. People cannot afford medicine but they can afford yoga in their own homes. They used to call me furniture yogi.

But the props that I founded are the equivalent of the ICU in yoga now. My radical methods have been proved right. Now yoga has been accepted in the medical field. Through my cassettes and books and CDs, I have tried to present a theory of asanas - how to understand  asanas by balancing the elements and taking the asana to the spiritual level.

I have spelt out the philosophical background of asanas . By reading, listening and practising, even a common man can save time and learn to experience this art.

Q.: Is any part of your mission is still pending? Or do you feel a sense of completion?
A.: I feel a sense of completion, but I want to maintain it till God calls me or till my last breath disappears. I have to establish what I have given.

Q.: Finally, what is your message for this country which is so troubled by disharmony and stress?
A.: In India , there was spiritual satisfaction, peace and happiness in the days before the invasion of Alexander. You must know the difference between 'before invasion' and 'after invasion'. Indians developed poverty in intelligence, poverty in material as well as spiritual wealth after the invasion.

But if you practise yoga; if you start, then the self goes on progressing and then the self becomes like Brahma and starts reflecting the character of brahman and then the whole of India will be in a state of prosperity - not just material prosperity but auspicious prosperity and I am hoping for that - that India should come back to the glory of what it was before Alexander's attack.

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