My heart is heavy at the news of the death of B.K.S. Iyengar (14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014). His wisdom, knowledge and teachings have been a big part of my yoga journey, both spiritually and tangibly. Although my Guru was / will always be Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, and I feel very lucky and grateful for the time I spent studying with Guruji in Mysore, India, I feel a sense of loss that I didn’t make it to Pune, to meet Iyengar. Iyengar was the first style of yoga class I attended with my mother, as a teenager in Auckland, New Zealand. Ashtanga hadn’t made it to New Zealand then (it must have been the early 90s), and I remember the discomfort in my hamstrings as the teacher saw I could go further and urged me on, and held us for what seemed like an age in the forward bends. Later, when I discovered ashtanga yoga in London, I fell in love with the notion of a daily ‘self-practice’ and ‘vinyasa’, and forgot all about Iyengar. It was not until decades later, that I came back to it, searching for precision and refinement in the advanced postures I’d been practising in ashtanga, and a yearning to hone into the more subtle aspects to enrich my ashtanga practice, and to gain a deeper connection to pranamayakosha (the subtle body of vital airs, breath). My link with Iyengar is one of gratitude and respect, acquired through the teachings of his senior teachers in London, whereas with Guruji (Shri K. Pattbhi Jois), it was personal and experiential, and his passing was a much deeper loss. When the news broke of Guruji’s (Pattabhi Jois’s) death in 2009, I was immediately on the phone in tears with my two best friends in London whom I’d spent a lot of time with in Mysore, India. I felt a deep sense of sadness, felt the loss of my teacher, and Guru. There was no question whether to go to India or not – within days we were on a plane to Mysore, where Guruji’s old students from all over the world had come for his memorial service. The atmosphere was solemn, with much sadness and gratitude, but also one of solidarity and community. There was something so refreshingly down to earth in the way the service was held, with a big tent with trestle tables set up on the street outside the yoga shala, and inside it, a big photo of Guruji propped up on his chair, surrounded in flowers and offerings, in the middle of the room. He died in May, and the preceding January I had visited him, as he lay almost motionless in his bed, a shadow of the teacher I had known, so gaunt and frail and suddenly, elderly looking. It was painful seeing him like that, dying, but I am eternally grateful to have thanked him for what he had given me, and to have said goodbye to him in private. In the tent outside the KPJAYI shala during his service, eating a thali off banana leaves on a long trestle table packed with a mixture of Indians and yoga students, coming and going as different people came to pay their respects at different intervals, I was struck by the acute sense of the end of an era, and the passing of a great spiritual and cultural icon of our time.
Apart from Krishnamachary’s son T.K.V. Desikachar, who continues to teach and uphold the parampara, B.K.S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois were the most famous direct bearers of the Krishnamacharya lineage. Krishnamacharya was part of the explosion of the cultural physical movement that happened on the Indian subcontinent during the early 20th century, and was instrumental in the pioneering and development of yoga as a healing force that could be practised more inclusively by a wider demographic. Instrumental in bringing yoga to the west, today sees the passing of another true yoga great of the 20th century. My heart goes out to the Iyengar community who are experiencing the loss of their Guru.