BNS Iyengar is a living legend, probably the most senior practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the world, direct disciple of the great yogi Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (18.11.1888 - 28.02.1989) and a master of not only the physical aspects of yoga but also of philosophy including Yoga Sutras, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Beginning of last year I had the opportunity to interview two well respected Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teachers in Mysore, Ajay Kumar of Sthalam8 and MV Chidananda of Mysore Mandala. Although their teaching style is quite different both of them are direct students of BNS Iyengar.
At that moment I didn't know anything about BNS Iyengar but after witnessing the devotion and respect that both of his students, Ajay Kumar and Chidananda, have for him I felt inspired to meet their teacher and learn something from him.
The day of the interview
I was a bit nervous before the interview, I had heard stories about his strong temperament. "Sometimes you can hear him shouting at his students," a friend, who had stayed in a room at Mysore Mandala where BNS Iyengar teaches, said to me. Another friend who had practiced with him said, "Sometimes after shouting at you he says, 'I do it because I love you'."
For some reason many of these great yoga masters seem to have or have had a strong temperament, such as Krishnamacharya and BKS Iyengar. BKS Iyengar was known as "The Lion of Pune." Probably is part of their teaching style, a way to train and purify our big egos.
"Maybe he will loose his temper with me" I thought before the interview, but he appeared very calm and welcoming. He took his sit and got himself ready for the interview.
The interview started
Just when I started my first question his assistance asked me to wait, guruji wanted to start the interview with aprayer. He then chanted:
Hari Hi Om
asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
mrityormā amritam gamaya
Oṁ śhāntiḥ śhāntiḥ śhāntiḥ
Lead me from the unreal to the real,
from darkness to light,
from death to immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
Right after the prayer I continued with the interview questions
For how long have you been teaching yoga and what aspects of yoga do you teach?
I've been teaching yoga for 32 years. Now I am 88 years.
I teach all the branches of yoga: asana, pranayama, hatha yoga kriya, neti, dhauti, kapalabhati, meditation and different types of realization according to darshana. Dharshana, the six schools of thought, includes Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.
According to these systems of philosophy I teach, classically as well as systematically, with the help of sanskrit books, which were revealed to the great rishis 5 lakhs years back, not the commercial books that people use to learn asanas these days. Those books lack authority.
When did you started to practice yoga and how did you meet your guru Krishnamacharya?
I started yoga at the age of 13. I met then many great scholars and yoga teachers. Finally, at the age of 28, I found Krishnamcharya, the guru for this Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system.
Krishnamacharya was a professor at the Sanskrit College of Mysore, under the sponsorship of His Highness the Maharaja. He accepted my application and he taught me all the secrets of this system of yoga.
It was a home stay learning, not a school. There were no timings, no schedules. Whenever he had time during the 24 hours of the day he would teach me, according to Patanjali Yoga System.
After several years Krishnamacharya traveled to Madras, Chennai. I asked him with whom I should continue my education and he directed me to his disciple Pattabhi Jois.
Pattabhi Jois was very senior to me, that's why he became my second teacher. I practiced with him for four years, from1954 till 1958.
Krishnamacharya had learned thirteen languages. He is responsible for having established yoga in Karnataka; systematic yoga, vinyasa yoga. Of the practical field of knowledge, hatha yoga and pranayama and other subjects related to yoga as per sutras, Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois are the authorities.
Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
I had no intention to promote myself to the public as a yoga teacher. I was only focused on the study and realization of the Vedas, of all the 108 Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita and so on, in connection with Yoga Darshana, the practical philosophy, which is based on personal experience. Conviction and believe comes from whatever you experienced in your own practice.
I was appointed a research scholar on this subject. I had no intention to teach but Sri Sri Sri Abhinava Ramanuja Maha Desikan called me to teach in his institution. So I joined in 1984. After that it was advertised to the public and disciples from all around the world started to come. I began then to teach a complete yoga education in a systematic way.
What is the biggest lesson that you learned from Krishnamacharya?
Yoga for health, longevity and peace of mind.
In yoga there are physical or external exercises, and mental or internal exercises. Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara are the external exercises, physical exercises; dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the internal exercises.
More than that, the exercises which are in connection with self realization are secret, they must be learned from the guru.
The physical yoga exercises give health and longevity. They keep the body healthy, that is important. Development through asanas prepare one for pranayama. Pranayama leads to internal exercises.
This is all a step by step process. Develop your knowledge, develop your metaphysical status of thoughts. This is the purpose of man, to attain realization.
What is the main lesson that you want to teach your students
Man was born to attain realization, the very purpose of this humanity is to attain realization, that is the highest knowledge. So the purpose of the yogi is the development of society, development of humanity. Sacrifice and dedication are required.
The purpose of yoga is to get power and to conquer time. Time means dead. The purpose of humanity is to not get rebirth.
What do you think about all the different forms of yoga that exist nowadays?
In this age, our system is the only proper pure system of yoga, it is non commercial. Krishnamacharya is the root guru and after him his son Deshikachar, his grandson Kausthub Desikachar, his son in law BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. I'm the disciple of Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois.
Apart from these people, apart from this system all others are fake because they cannot argue up to the abode of knowledge. They can teach physical exercises for few months or few years but no mental exercises.
See, you have come to the market to purchase vegetables. Whatever you want you can buy, whatever others want they can buy, eat and become healthy. There are so many ways, but there is no proper direction for these minor gurus.
That's why people are confused. Foreigners seeing that there are so many demigods believe that there is no union, "It is not the dogmas, it is not the system," they say. Their view is confused.
Only one God can give realization, Narayana.
atha purusho ha vai narayano ‘kamayata prajah srjeyeti
narayanat prano jayate manah sarvendriyani ca
kham vayur jyotir apah prthivi visvasya dharini
The supreme person Narayana willed to create beings
From Narayana emerged the life principle
From Narayana emerged the mind and all the senses
From Narayana came the wind, the light, the water and the Earth,
which became the constituents of the Universe
Narayana is the one and only God for Indians. Demigods are there to protect the society, to protect the good people, they help in the development of the society. That's their purpose, but they cannot give you a realization. Realization means not to get rebirth.
In the path of this tradition, in the path of this realization first you must know all the dogmas, know all the gods, merit of gods, prestige of gods, powers of gods. Whatever you want in the material world, you go to the demigods but if you want realization you go to Narayana.
So demigods means getting rebirth. Therefore you must very carefully select your aim. Wether you are traveling by train, by car, in a moppet or in a jet select your aim first, then direction takes place.
That's why a proper guru is required, that's why it is said guruve pranamas kritya mano buddhi samadhi. Three types of restlessness: manas, mind, buddhi, intellect, samadhi, realization. What is samadhi?
tadeva arthamātranirbhāsaṁ svarūpaśūnyam iva samādhiḥ Y.S. III.3
When only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form, that state of deep absorption is called deep concentration or samadhi, which is the eighth rung.
You are doing this exercises through this body but in samadhi you forget this body.
There is a vessel, in that vessel there is water. Water must be separated from the vessel through heat. Similarly, water is the soul and the vessel is the body. Through heat the steam-soul separates from the vessel-body, so the steam goes to heaven but the body remains here. There is no rebirth.
That's why you have to select the guru, select the teacher that will lead you to realization, non commercial.
jātasya hi dhruvo mrtyur
dhruvam janma mrtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ’rthe
na tvam śocitum arhasi
BG Chapter 2 verse 27
One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.
One day or another every man who has taken birth must go to dead. That's why conquer of dead is the purpose of a yogi.
Can you tell us what is the meaning of yoga and what is its message to the world?
[He answers "Shanti mantra" and then continues:]
Om pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate,
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.
That is whole; this is whole;
From that whole this whole came;
From that whole, this whole removed,
What remains is whole.
Om peace, peace, peace.
This world is emerged from the unknown. We must go to that unknown, that is our purpose, that is yoga.
The unknown may be God, Superconsciousness, the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient. We have to reach that goal. That is the purpose of the practice of yoga. Yoga means yuj, union with God.
Jivatma Paramatma Yoga SamaThat is the purpose and the message of yoga to the world.
(the individual soul and Universal soul are the same)
Samatvam Yoga Ucyate
(samatvam is yoga, equanimity is yoga).
I hope you've enjoyed reading this interview. If you want to hear and see BNS Iyengar himself and learn more from him you can watch this great unedited interview that my friend Federico from Argentina made to BNS Iyengar in 2011.
|Video Interview of BNS Iyengar by Federico|
Suggested further reading:
To have a different perspective of BNS Iyengar you can read the interviews that I did to his students Ajay Kumar and MV Chidananda:
- Interview with MV Chidananda, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore, India
- Interview with Ajay Kumar, Owner of Sthalam8 and Ashtanga Yoga Teacher in Mysore
- What to Pack for Your Next Travel and Yoga Adventure to India
- The Best Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore, India
BNS Iyengar teaches full time at the Mysore Krishnamachar Yoga Shala and he serves as a visiting lecturer at Mysore Mandala.
Mysore Krishnamachar Yoga Shala
490, Devamba Agrahara
Phone: +91 9986390093 (for any queries you can contact Kanchen Mala)
Mysore Mandala Yogashala
#897/1, Narayan Shastry Road,
Landmark : Near Vatsalya Hospital
Phone no: +91 8214256277