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Yogi Iyengar, Who Helped Bring Yoga To The West, Dies At 95


The man who helped popularize yoga around the world has died. BKS Iyengar died earlier today in India - he was 95. Iyengar was born into poverty and was sickly as a child, and he credited yoga with improving his health. He went on to create his own brand of yoga called Iyengar, and here he is speaking about it in 2005 on the Charlie Rose show on PBS.

BKS IYENGAR: It is the integration of body with the mind, mind to the consciousness and consciousness with the intelligence itself.

SIEGEL: Judith Hanson Lasater is a cofounder of the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco. She has been teaching yoga and writing about yoga for many years and joins us now - and help us put BKS Iyengar and his form of yoga in context. There's lots of young out there, a lot of teachers. Where does he fit in?

JUDITH HANSON LASATER: He fits in uniquely. He created an approach to yoga that made it wonderfully accessible to the westerner. He did not see the different practices of yoga like meditation or breathing or poses or self-study - he saw them all as integrated into one.

SIEGEL: He wrote a book in 1966, it was published "Light On Yoga." I've seen it referred to as the Bible of yoga. How important a book was that?

LASATER: It was seminal. It was both clear and exhaustively broad. But he would say when you studied with him and you would say but in your book you said - he'd say that's a dead book, I'm a living teacher. So he was always evolving, creating, open to learning new things - he practiced daily. He called himself a student of yoga.

SIEGEL: Well, for those of us who don't to yoga or don't a lot about it, described what it looked like when he practiced and what might seen Iyengar doing when he practiced yoga.

LASATER: You would see him practicing, and at first you would almost not notice him. It wasn't flashy and show-offy the when he was doing his practice.

SIEGEL: You say he wasn't showy - looking at a photograph of him standing on his head without any support from his arms and his - his body is ramrod straight - head on a matt - looks awfully demanding.

LASATER: Yes, he was a great showman when he was on stage, But when he did his own practice, he was a disciple of yoga.

SIEGEL: How did he take his brand of yoga outside of India?

LASATER: I believe that it started with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who became his student. And Yehudi Menuhin is famously quoted as saying Mr. Iyengar was my best violin teacher. And he became known in Europe that way, then he was brought to the United States for the first time in 1973. I remember his second trip in '74 - I was in his class and there were 50 spots and it wasn't even full. But by the time he came back two years later, there were hundreds of people to study with him. So it grew quickly once he came here.

SIEGEL: Can you imagine what the practice of yoga in America would be like had there never been BKS Iyengar?

LASATER: I would say it would be exclusively physical. There would be less emphasis on the awareness part and more emphasis on the doing part.

SIEGEL: Well, Judith Hanson Lasater, thank you very much for talking with us about your teacher - I guess you mentor would be...

LASATER: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: Judish Hanson Lasater is cofounder of the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco and she was remembering BKS Iyengar who was the inventor of Iyengar Yoga, and he died today in India at the age of 95. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.