The Lion of Yoga By Marlene Smits

BKS Iyengar

The Lion of Yoga

B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga

14th of August would be the 99th birthday of world-renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar who left this world in 2014. Among his students were celebrities like Donna Karan and Annette Bening. He taught Sirsasana (head stand) to Elizabeth, queen of Belgium when she was 80 years old.

Iyengar yoga is a very specific type of yoga that is not always available at all yoga studios and often relies on specialized rooms with specific Iyengar Yoga equipment. Like hot yoga is mostly found in hot yoga exclusive yoga studios, you probably need to go to an Iyengar specialized studio for Iyengar yoga. The reason is that Iyengar yoga uses as lot of props, most impressive of which are the ropes, called Yoga Kurunta.

B.K.S. Iyengar’s Life

B.K.S Iyengar became a student of the father of yoga as we know it: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya at the age of 16. Krishnamacharya was also his brother-in-law as it happens.

Iyengar wasn’t in great shape as a child, suffered from several serious illnesses. When he began his yoga journey he became stronger and healthier over the years. After a scooter accident years later, Iyengar began to use props more and more and this is how the Iyengar style came about. Most forms of yoga ask the students to perfect the asanas over time through practice. Iyengar yoga allows you to get into the perfect asana through props and over time you learn to use less and fewer props. For me, the benefit of this is that your body doesn’t create bad alignment habits that you need to unlearn later.

Iyengar yoga

There is a great emphasis on alignment in Iyengar yoga with great very detailed and specific cues. Therefore Iyengar yoga teachers ask their students to wear shorts or very tight yoga wear so that they can determine whether correct alignment is practised. Especially important is the visibility of the knees. I personally consider Iyengar yoga of very great value even if you prefer another style of yoga, because it can give you more body awareness and insight, better alignment and therefore better injury prevention. So I would highly recommend trying a few classes for a deepening of your physical yoga practice.

There is little to no mention or practice of meditation in the Iyengar style of yoga. The classes are taught without music. But this does not mean that Iyengar was not a spiritual teacher. He has written wonderful insightful books like Light on Yoga and Yaugika Manas: Know and Realize the Yogic Mind to name a few. But he was a very strict yoga teacher, teaching his classes with a stick and could be verbally fierce. Which is why he was nicknamed The Lion.


B.K.S. Iyengar has made a great contribution to the world of yoga and continues to do so through his legacy and his teachings.