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A life of reawakening: Lillah Schwartz shares the blessings of yoga qrandfather BKS Iyenqar.

There are moments in the lives of those of us who seek truth and beauty that leave us forever changed. For yoga enthusiasts, one such moment was the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, CO. in September 2005 where BKS Iyengar began his teaching and U.S. tour for his new book Light on Life.

As a yoga student, I was first introduced to the Iyengar method in 1977. The intelligence behind the practice gave me support, stability, and freedom from nagging back and shoulder pain. BKS Iyengar was a student of Sri Krishnamacharya, the man who revived the teachings of Astanga Yoga in the Twenty-first Century. The Astanga yoga path has at its base the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the guiding principles on the path of yoga, or Union.

Mr. Iyengar shares this lineage with other notable teachers such as Patahbi Jois, T.K. Desikachar and Indra Devi. BKS Iyengar's outstanding contribution is how he has codified and refined the practice of asana (poses) and pranayama (breath control) to reflect the whole of the Yoga Sutras. Mr. Iyengar's methods have been recognized the world over. In 2004, the Indian government crowned him the Emperor of Yoga, a prestigious education award, and the BBC has hailed him as "the Michelangelo of yoga."

At Estes Park in September 2005, 800 of us stood on our mats inside a perfectly designed rectangle to define our personal space. We waited patiently chanting the Yoga Sutras and reviewing our Sanskrit on the overhead projectors. Then like a single organism, we were drawn to the stage anticipating the appearance of BKS Iyengar. The applause began the moment his face appeared and continued seemingly forever until every cell of our bodies were filled with gratitude for this great man and his life's work. And then class began. Each senior teacher took turns teaching a yoga pose to the crowd and, after giving their best instruction, the master would take over the teaching. Famous for offering slight adjustments to increase body consciousness in his students, he would say to the crowd, "Observe your mind ... what is its state? Now (in tadasana), bring the inner skin of the big toe mound down onto the floor. Observe, did your mind become quiet? Peaceful? Yes or no?" Invariably, the answer would be "yes." And so it went, pose after pose, pearls of awareness that expanded and tied together our consciousness into a seamless strand of action, peace, and poise.

Mr Iyengar began life as a sickly child in 1918. At the age of 15, he was invited to Mysore to stay with his brother-in-law, the scholar and yogi Sri T. Krishnamacharya. "Seeing that the general state of my health was so poor, my brother-in-law recommended a stiff regime of yoga practice to knock me into shape and strengthen me up to face life's trials and challenges as I approached adulthood." Then in 1937, he was asked by his Guru to go to Pune, India to teach yoga. Never having finished school, Mr Iyengar used his own body as a living laboratory to explore how different yoga postures can alleviate health problems. He used props like ropes, belts, and bricks to help even the elderly, weak, and inflexible experience yoga's therapeutic effects. Iyengar's teachings were first published in 1966 as Light on Yoga. This book turned out to be an international best seller that continues to be reprinted in several languages all over the world.

Mr. Iyengar has systematised over 200 classical yoga asanas (poses) and 14 different types of pranayamas (breath control) with variations of many of them from the simple to the incredibly difficult. These practices have been structured and categorized to allow a beginner to progress surely and safely from basic postures to the most advanced as they gain flexibility, strength, and sensitivity in mind, body, and spirit.

In his new book, Light on Life, Iyengar reminds us that yoga goes beyond the physical motions: "The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. While this is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end ... Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing the three levels of quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit."

I have never been disappointed by Mr. Iyengar, but rather awed by his simple yet profound teachings, his keen observations, and his deep sense of compassion and wisdom. In my personal practice, I am still reflecting on how to embody his comment that we either breathe and draw oxygen from our brain or breathe and draw oxygen from our lungs.

Mr. Iyengar is a living master who has reached out and touched so many, often giving them back their fives after illnesses and injury. For those of us who have seen him in action, he has awakened in us a deep sense of compassion and a desire to learn. Those yoga students who had the great good fortune to study with Mr. Iyengar have had a glimpse of the light, wisdom, truth, and the vast possibilities yoga has to offer. To quote the master himself, "The Light of yoga, which once lit will never dim: the better your practice, the brighter the flame."


Tadasana the Iyengar Way

By investigating a simple foundational pose like Tadasana we can see how Mr. Iyengar, can inform the yoga practitioner and lead them toward integration and peace.

To stand in Tadasana bring your feet together, big toe mounds touching. Spread the sole of your foot to make the broadest possible base. Bring your weight back to the front rim of your heal bone. Now lift the front of your thighs up to the top front hip bone, descend your tail bone and stand erect. Observe the affect of these actions on your spine. Observe any feelings of pressure or drawing on the back of your neck, head or eyes. Also observe any gripping in your buttocks, how long are the sides of your waist? The most common misperception of Tadasana results in the bulging of the inner groins and consequential tilt of the pelvic floor. Which pulls the energy of the spine and consciousness downward. Mr Iyengar guides us to move the inner groins deep inside (meaning back to the center of the leg) and lift the back thigh equal to the front. To extend your back thigh think of pulling up from the hamstring tendon of your outer back knee to your buttock. Observe the automatic lift of your chest as the energy of your spine moves from heaviness to lightness and optimism.

Lillah Schwartz is a certified Iyengar Instructor and "s celebrating the 25th anniversary of her studio, Lighten Up Yoga in downtown Asheville. She is available for private consultations,
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Title Annotation:breathe in
Author:Schwartz, Lillah
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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