IYIMV Blog

IYIMV Blog

BKS Iyengar’s speech at opening of Maida Vale Institute – November 1997

This talk was given by Mr BKS Iyengar on Saturday 15th November, 1994 at the official opening of the new Iyengar Yoga Institute building at Maida Vale. Here he expresses his hopes for the first London Institute and clarifies confusion around the term ‘Ashtanga’ yoga.

 “Fare you well in Yoga”

I have been coming to this country continuously since 1954 but, for several years was unable to get the opportunity to present my art. Destiny made me wait with patience until 1961, giving one or two performances a year for people to see what Yoga is. The very first demonstration I gave was at the University of London. Many of you may not be aware of this. I asked Mr Menuhin to introduce the event because I thought his name would attract a larger audience to see the Yoga demonstration since I was still unknown at that time. He agreed and graciously spoke for about 10 to 15 minutes on his experiences with Yoga and widespread interest was kindled as a result. I should like to express gratitude to Mr Menuhin, who is also my student.

I am happy to see now that the new building is completely white and I want you all to remain in your minds as white as the walls so that any taint in your mind will be quickly washed away as soon as it appears! Many of you may not know that I have also contributed a great deal financially to the Centre. As I have contributed a great deal to the Centre since its very beginning, I feel I am part and parcel of this building – from my heart, my head and my soul! There is no need therefore for me to be welcomed!

I hope that the many of you who have seen me before and who have benefited from my work, my affection and my devotion to the work of this place, will recollect and come back as guides as well as advisers since there is a growing generation gap. Many of the youngsters have not seen me at all. I have become a myth for them although I am still living.

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I am a practical man, living according to the philosophy of Yoga. Had it not been for all the hard work of my old pupils also, this building would probably not have come into existence. I should like them all to come back and teach the youngsters and close that gap. As I have re-appeared in front of you today, I want my old pupils to re-appear here and to rebuild that congenial attitude which existed at the Institute for years. You, as old students are mature and understanding . Please come back and guide the youngsters with first hand knowledge of Iyengar Yoga’s methods of teaching. Otherwise, it may fade quickly. The thread has to be kept. The chain cannot hold if one link of the chain is weak. I want those links to be strengthened so that a new life, a new light, a new understanding, a new knowledge, a fresh feeling sets back in you all again. Although they are my old pupils, I am requesting them to do this. I am not ordering them. I quote the sutra of Patanjali, so that we can learn:

“Maitri karuna mudia upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavantah cittaprasadanam” (Yoga Sutra 1.33)

The cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference in the spheres of pleasure, pain, virtue and vice respectively is given to keep the mind in a gracious and cheerful disposition’. Be friendly, be compassionately disciplined, be friendly with firmness, be glad if others are progressing, be indifferent if they do not pick up. The past should be forgotten. I should like you all to work with unison. The past and present generations should associate to maintain that thread of Yoga so that it percolates into the new generation without a break. Please maintain that association and strengthen the links which have been weakened in our chain of practitioners so that we can rebuild that chain for it to be strong enough to withstand any amount of emotional and intellectual pressures and carry on Yoga.

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I do not listen to hearsay. I only react to what I am directly in contact with. God has given the grace to my ears not to Listen to the words of others. Whatever people may say, they may think Mr lyengar is listening. They do not know that my ears are blocked. Because I am silent, they think I have accepted something. That is why none can influence me unless I see myself. The reason why I am saying this is because all are saying to me that they are doing ‘Ashtanga Yoga’. First of all you should know that ‘Ashtanga’ is the word used only by Patanjali in the text:

“Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhaya, Ashtau Angani” (Yoga Sutra, Ch 2.29).

‘Ashta angas’, eight angas of Yoga is Yama to Samadhi. Can anyone claim that they are teaching this Yoga from Yama to Samadhil Wrong names are given and wrong words are coined to attract people. Ashtanga Yoga is my Guruji’s Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga. ‘Jumpings’ are not Ashtanga Yoga. Rather, they form part of Vinyasa Yoga or sequences followed to achieve a final pose of an asana People say that these sequences of Yoga are nothing to do with Mr lyengar. Read Light on Yoga (p 468): No 1: Tadasana, inhalation, 2 Uttanasana, exhalation and inhalation and jump to, 3 Chaturanga Dandasana, exhalation, 4 Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, inhale, and go back to 5 Chaturanga Dandasana, exhalation, inhalation, 6 Adho Mukha Svanasana, exhalation, and from here jump to 7 Uttanasana, inhalation, and then back to 8 Tadasana, exhalation. Is this not jumping?

An institute may be called an Ashtanga Yoga Centre, but not ‘jumpings’. I am not an Ashtanga Yogin because I have only reached five or six Angas of Yoga. I am not a Samadhist. I am only in the stages of Yoga so I cannot teach Ashtanga Yoga, only Sadanga Yoga, or the six paths of Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranana, Prathyara, Dharana. I can teach up to this point without doubt, full of clarity and illumination. The other two subtler aspects of Yoga have to be experienced, hence I cannot teach all eight aspects or Ashtanga Yoga.

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Distinguishing between the discipline and the wealth of yoga
Ethical practices are explained through objective knowledge which is gathered by the senses of perception, and through these means one weighs the character of people. This weighing is ethics. Non-weighing is unethical, immoral. Measuring is ethical, hence the terms Yama and Niyama. These cannot be taught by practical experimentation, but by means of ethical stories. Asana, Pranayama, one can experience and can explain. One can get students to read the writings, one can express one’s experiences verbally, advising how each method should be carried out. However, there is no explanation or expression for the final two aspects of Yoga. They can only be experienced. Dhyana and Samadhi are the wealth of Yoga, not the discipline of Yoga.

Read the third chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Vibhuti Pada. Patanjali states that these last two aspects are the wealth of Yoga, the others are the means to derive that wealth. Today you see in the streets people advertising that they are teaching Dhyana and Samadhi and people rush to them. They promise peace of mind. You are in peace of mind in Halasana. You do Setu-bandhangasana with some bolsters, have you not experienced silence? This is a serene state of mind. Why has Dhyana been introduced at a later stage? According to the Yoga Sutras it is the PhD course in Yoga. The Primary School course are the Yamas and Niyamas; Secondary School consists of Asanas, Pranayama and Pratyahara; College course is Dharana, and PhD is Dhyana. By meditation, or Dhyana, one learns how to sublimate the ‘Ahamkara’, the pride or intoxication of I or ‘Me’ and ‘Mine’ through the practice of Yoga.

How much we have ridiculed this greatest subject by coining this vulgar term in the field of Yoga, confusing ‘jumpings’ with Ashtanga Yoga when the whole of Yoga is really meant to enlighten the practitioners. The reason why I am mentioning this is because people talk as though there are different ‘schools’ of Yoga followed by students of Guruji Krishnamacharya. Guru T Krishnamacharya taught all the same way but never made everyone do these jumpings. His was an open class which was taught to one and all,

Confusion between ‘jumpings’ and Ashtanga Yoga
When I was teaching ‘jumping’ when I came to this country in the 1960s, they said this is all physical Yoga. I struggled from 1960 to 1997 to enlighten people how Yoga is a great deal more than merely the physical. And what has happened now? People are returning to the 1960 course which I started. Now people say, ‘lyengar Yoga is quite different. It is nothing compared with this jumping’. They only need to look into ‘Light on Yoga’ printed in 1966 to see that these sequences were all there.

So the question arises, why did my Guruji stop teaching this form of Yoga in the 1950s? If a man is suffering from heart disease, if jumpings are introduced, what happens to his heart? If a person is suffering from migraine, if I make them jump, what will happen to the state of that person? For healthy, martial people, this form may be suitable. My Guruji was teaching Yoga in the palace of the kingdom of Mysore. The Maharaja wanted my Guruji to teach his clan, well known as a ‘martial1 race from which, traditionally, soldiers were drawn. The king wanted the royal family to be fit for any necessity which might arise. My Guru was a great philosopher, he was a professor of Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Nyaya, Tarka and Vedanta. He therefore thought carefully, and realised that the King would not be interested in a philosophical approach. The King wanted his royal entourage to be made fitter and stronger and so my Guruji introduced ‘jumpings’ to build up their physique, to remove their inertia and to develop their martial prowess. This, special situation, therefore, made my Guruji adapt his method of teaching and, hence, introduce these ‘jumpings1. Some of his students continued teaching in this style, while some evolved further from this physical level.

Jumpings are nothing more than conative actions. Do people really examine what is happening inside the body in each pose? So these jumpings are conative actions performed by the structural body. They have nothing to do with the organic body. I am sure you are all aware of Nirbija Samadhi (seedless Samadhi) and Sabija Samadhi (Samadhi with seed). In the same way there is Savinyasa Yoga and Avinyasa Yoga. If you accept the former, you should accept the latter. Patanjali has used the terms Nirbija and Sabija but not Savinyasa and Avinyasa. But you should understand that, in some places, he has mentioned an aspect which must be taken into consideration and which also applies to the other limbs of Yoga. He is the codifier of Yoga. If he has used one sentence on one subject, we should know how this can touch the other aspects of Yoga. Then only can we develop the totality of the harmonious growth of the philosophy on the subject of Yoga.

When you are in one particular pose, such as Ardha chandrasana, your inner legs are active, and then you do another pose, eg Uthita Parshva Konasana, your outer edges of the legs are active. So Sabija and Nirbija means from one support going to the other, what do I learn in between? That is why the link was given which is what is wrongly called Ashtanga Yoga while, in reality, it is no more than Vinyasa Yoga. To achieve a final pose some supportive or intermediary introductions are given. The body is limbered to learn the effect of the final pose. But in jumpings we do not use our intelligence to such an extent. One can practise several asanas, eg Uttanasana, Adhomuchashvanasana, Prasarita Paruttanasana, in which the position of the legs are ‘blended’ in order to achieve perfect Sirsasana. Standing on the head is not Sirsasana. If this jumping is Ashtanga Yoga, why did the Yogis give individual names such as Chaturanga Dandasana, Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana, AdhomukaShvanasana, etc. to each Asana not to the sequence?

Asana means ‘sthira sukham asanam’: posing and reposing to get a perfect balance of challenge and counter-challenge so that there is no difference between them and, at the same, time finding the base and sitting on that base with the right mental and physical attitude which should not vary at all. This is Asana. There should be no change between the intelligence of the body and the intelligence of the mind. To balance the sheaths of the body, one has to find a foundation upon which one can ‘float’. This is the definition of an Asana. We need to find that foundation, that base where the challenge and counter-challenge co-exist. In psychological language this is referred to as a split personality, a split mind. If one’s body or mind is split, how can one say that one is working with joy and happiness?

Many of you complain that when you are practising, that your right leg may be hurting while the left does not hurt. Is this not a split in body and personality! Challenge and counter-challenge are brought together so that these divisions disappear. We do not attend to this when we practise an asana by means of jumping. We should investigate how our ligaments behave in the various different poses, why there is a different feeling. For example in Chaturanga Dandasana, (which means balancing on the four angas of the body, two feet and two hands) how did the ligaments of my right left behave? How did they behave on the left side? How did the ligaments behave in Pascimottanasanal Why is there a different feeling? You have to think. This thinking is known as cognition.

Developing discrimination
Cognition brings objective knowledge. When conative action is connected with the senses of perception there is a fusion between the organs of action and the senses of perception. This fusion allows the mind to feel the messages which are sent from the organs which may be healthy or not healthy and which can give rise to pain and sorrow. This faculty of mind causes one to discriminate. If both sides of one’s leg, for example, are equally painful, I can understand this, but if one side hurts while the other does not, I wonder why this can happen. So a ‘split’ mind, a ‘split’ personality begins from there.

We are all mentally split inside. Yoga teaches us how to bring these two minds, the outer and the inner minds (the painful and the pleasure mind) together so that we know what Yoga is. We are only on the surface of the outer mind. In jumping, only the outer mind works because the mind is closer to the senses of perception and receives the messages very quickly. In ‘jumpings’, you are ‘warming up’ the system. You call them ‘warm up’ exercises. Jumpings are warming up exercises. Beyond that they have no value at all.

Please do not get carried away by the trigger of the peripheral nerves in ‘jumpings’. I have done all those things. All my performances were with jumpings. This was exhibitionism. I had to attract people. If I were to stay in Paschimottanasana for ten minutes, you would all go away. So different kind of jumpings created an interest. They used to call me a contortionist. Thankfully, now this word is no longer used. Even medical people no longer refer to Yoga in this way.

Precision through corrections
What I am saying is that jumpings only warm your body. The inner body becomes slightly vibrant. Beyond that, they do not guide you. You have to stay in a pose when the body and the mind are warm. When the mind is warm then you can reflect on the pose you are practising. In that reflection, you re-think and in that rethinking you learn corrections. When you learn corrections, you come to precision. In olden days, this precision was called ‘divine’. We have to learn to understand each and every asana to such an extent that there is a balance between the intellectual and physical aspects of our practice. This is the height of the wall. Can you paint only half a wall and leave the other half? How will it look? You again repaint, don’t you, so that no patches remain visible? How many of you do asanas where there are no inner patches? And these fast movements cannot cover. If the brush is no good, the paint will not stick to the wall. When you are doing* the asanas you should know that the body is the frame or the ‘wall’ of the intelligence. Can my intelligence be latitudinally and longitudinally sufficient to cover the frame of the body which also has a latitude and longitude? How many of you contract the triceps in Chaturanga Dandasanal Please look at my pose. My upper and forearms are parallel from the shoulder to the elbow. Please take your photographs and check whether your own poses are even or uneven.

I am discussing this subject because wherever I travel, whether in France or in Spain, this is being raised as if it were a new thing. But it is as old as civilisation. There is nothing new.

When I was called to instruct Mr Menuhin, for a violinist, if I teach him jumpings, will he be able to play the violin? Can he hold the violin? Just think, a cancerous patient, if they jump, what happens to the blood circulation? Yesterday I met somebody who had written a letter to me in India asking for advice on what to do as she had breast cancer. I suggested a certain set of practices. She approached me at the end of my talk and said Thank you for your teaching’. I did not recognise her but she explained what had happened. She had been following my advice and the doctor said that there had been some change. If I had suggested these jumpings, what would have happened to these cancerous cells? Would I have helped to spread them or to control them? Do we give thought to these things? So please think over.

Asanas are meant to interpenetrate, to go from the periphery towards the core of the being. Jumpings cannot teach you that otherwise I would have continued even now. If I stay in Sirsasana, all of you can compete with me. My legs will not drop even for one second! In 30 or 40 minutes, your legs will drop hundreds of times. My neck will not collapse. My arms will not collapse. But you try, then you will know. Why? Because at the age of 80 I am still learning the meaning of ‘sthira sukha asanam’. How long I can stay comfortable in each pose? At what point the pose becomes uncomfortable? How to change that uncomfortableness into a comfortable pose without coming out of that pose? Does everybody think like this? So don’t take it as a major movement. Take it as a secondary movement, to internalise your attention from the periphery, from the senses of perception which is the inner layer of the skin, to move deeper and deeper so that the intelligence of the right side of the wall and the intelligence of the left side of the wall are brought closer together so that you join or associate the right and the left of the body. This is the effect of asana which Patanjali has explained in the Sutras as:

“Tatah dvandvah anabhighatah” (Yoga Sutras Ch 11.48)

The dualities disappear. Jumpings do not make them disappear. I have practised for 60 years. For me, this is just a child’s action. It is how you play with children. If a child is lazy, you say “Why don’t you go and play with a neighbour?1 Then you have to go to the college of the asanas, to the college of pranayama and then to the university of asana and to the university of pranayama, then only do you understand something of Yoga. So make up your mind to build up a new way of thinking. Don’t fall back. I have done these things. They have come from my Guru. My Guru also stopped practising these jumpings in 1947. and we still speak of them in 1997. I am not criticising but test yourself. Is it internalising the intelligence? What is the difference between a weight lifter showing the various muscular systems and what ‘jumpings’ are doing?

For example, Power Yoga has come. Do you not see power in my muscles when I practised poses such as Simhasana? But I changed power into elegance and they have stayed with power. What is this? It is a calisthenic movement with no cognitive action. Yoga is not just meant to display the joints and the muscles. It is meant to make the muscles fan inside and outside, what is called abduction and adduction. This fanning is nothing but a means to release the blood and to attract the blood towards the bone so that the marrow can absorb this blood for its nourishment. This is how the asanas have to be taught and to be practised. In jumpings, what happens? We wear out. Is wearing out Yoga? Then where is serenity? Why do we speak of tranquillity in Yoga?

Training the intelligence of head and heart
Asanas are meant to train the intelligence of the head and the heart by using the biological brain and the old brain which has the imprints of all our previous actions. Patanjali has used the words ‘Savitarka’ and ‘Savicara’ . Analyse, but after analysis, reflect and put into practice the back brain. Sometimes you say ‘I don’t think I can answer you1, then you go on internally thinking. That is the back brain which works and brings you a suggestion that you have found out something. This analysis and this reflection of the back brain, when they work together, this is the real presentation of the asana. The brain is channelled in the right direction to understand the various hundreds of joints in the body, the thousands upon thousands of muscles. They say that there are 300 major joints and 700 major muscles, what about the supporting muscles? So, to appreciate why asanas are so important, consider how all these 700 major muscles with their supporting ones, and the thousands of cartilages etc, have to be thought of and taught and balanced. How they have to be exercised and created in a springy action. In your car, if the shock absorber is broken, can you drive with comfort? These cartilages are like the shock absorbers in the joints, like the vibrators and lubricators, and we learn through Yoga asanas. the art of lubrication and vibration of these cartilages so that no injury takes place. In jumpings, you do not know which cartilage is moving in which direction.

So, devote your time in such a way that the intellectual wall is as tall as your physical body in each asana. It should be concentrated to fill the intelligence in the whole area covered by the asana, not a little here and a little there. You should percolate that intelligence to proceed further until you feel it right to the tip of the ear, to the very tips of the fingers. Then, I say that you have matured in asanas. That is why Patanjali says:

“Prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam” (Yoga Sutras, Ch 11.47)

This quality of the right asana will come when the effort becomes effortless. When that state of effortless arises, then your finite body becomes one with the infinite body. These are not my words, they are the words of Patanjali when he explains the effect of asanas. Can we achieve this merely by doing jumpings? We can feel for ourselves.

So please give a little thought. As a goldsmith burns the gold several times to create 24 carat gold, so your body has to be purified like the goldsmith purifies gold. That is why so many asanas have been given to allow the blood to reach that smallest, darkest part of your body. So, how much discriminative intelligence is needed to do the right asana? You can guess. I have also done jumpings. I stopped when people with injuries and diseases came to me. If I had given them jumpings I would have created a lot of problems. They would have complained the following day that something had happened. As Lord Christ said, ‘If people come to you for bread, do not give them stones’. This is what I have learned in asanas, when I should and should not give bread and when I should and should not give stone.

So please remember that the philosophy of asana is to interpenetrate, not exhibitionism but inhibitionism. The practice of asanas should inhibit not exhibit. I hope from now on you will learn to develop, to go from the external to the internal not just remaining externally, internally empty. Don’t remain internally empty but make the internal body as full as the external body and the external body as full as the internal body. That is the way the asanas should be practised according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. May God bless you.