The Path of Yoga. An Interview with B.K.S. Iyengar

While going through boxes of old files, I came across a Spring 1991 newsletter from the Iyengar Associations of Greater New York and Massachusetts in which they published an interview of Mr. Iyengar conducted by Margot Kitchen on Thursday, July 5 1990 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton during the Canadian Iyengar Yoga Conference. The following article was transcribed and prepared for publication by Jennifer Rischmiller and Shirley Daventry French.

Margot Kitchen: Welcome, Sir.

B.K.S. Iyengar: Thank you very much.

MK: Perhaps we could start at the beginning with a definition of yoga. What is yoga?

BKS: The traditional meaning of yoga is to unite the individual soul to the universal spirit, which is rather abstract and difficult for the common people to understand. So the simple definition is that yoga is to unite the body with the mind to the level of intelligence of the mind, and then take the body and the mind, which becomes vibrant, to come in contact with the serene spirit within.

MK: Yoga has escalated in the last decade or so in the West. Why? What are we searching for?

BKS: For the simple reason that all the technical growth and material comforts, have not brought mental peace or physical freedom. When people started practising yoga having experienced freedom of the body and lightness of the mind, the interest has come, because they are seeking something which can be eternally blissful. Where material benefits are concerned they have reached the zenith.

MK: But the restlessness is there.

BKS: Yes, the restlessness is there, so they are turning to the East because the East is known for the relaxation of the very self itself.

MK: Popularity, though, can sometimes damage the true nature of a subject. Has this happened to yoga in your estimation.

BKS: Well it is true that it does happen, for the simple reason that we try to improve ourselves physically, morally, mentally, intellectually and spiritually; but when people come in contact with their human being, pride sets in, name and fame come in. They forget the essence for which they practice; then the mind jumps immediately that “I want to be popular” — like film actors, film actresses, personality cults. When the personality or individual wants to develop, then problems do come, however true, however real it may be.

MK: People have many misconceptions. For example, is there any religious dogma attached to the practice of yoga?

BKS: You know, the meaning of religion is realization. Realization of what? Of the self. You get involved in a righteous life, a virtuous life; so the moment virtuousness is introduced, it appears as a religion.

MK: But it is spiritual as opposed to a religion.

BKS: Yoga is a self-culture, and has no denomination of religion.

MK: Ah, one myth dispelled! But there are other myths! I think a lot of people associate walking on coals and pretzel-like behaviour as the aim of yoga. That is not the aim. What is the true aim?

BKS: Again, that is exhibitionism. The aim of yoga is to develop humility with perfect intelligence. According to Patañjali’s yoga sūtras, one has to purify the intelligence to such an extent that by continuous practice of yoga the light of yoga goes on progressing without arrogance.

MK: People are afraid of change.

BKS: That is true.

MK: Can people practice yoga as you have described and still live in our western society as a householder?

BKS: In a higher sense it is difficult to transform soon. But yoga has two aspects. We use the term bhoga. Even to enjoy the pleasures of the world one should have good health; without health they can neither enjoy the fruits of the world nor can they think of God. So from the sense I think there is nothing wrong to begin yoga to have perfect health and mental harmony.

MK: So one does not have to live in solitude?

BKS: Not at all. One can remain in Piccadilly Circus or anywhere downtown and be peaceful. A man in a cave may appear serene, but what about his inner mind? How does it toss? How do we know?

MK: So those of us who are staying in society just have it a little more difficult perhaps?

BKS: It is not difficult. Our intellectual exposure is always to the external world. Yoga can be practiced in the middle of town or in a crowded place. The moment you begin yoga, the direction of the mind goes inward toward itself. You are cut off, at least for the time being, from the external world. So is it not something to be in contact with your own body, your own mind, your own self? That way, I think yoga can be done anywhere.

MK: So you can be in contact with your own mind, your own self, and be at a cocktail party?

BKS: Yes.

MK: There are many interpretations of yoga that have come to the West. How do we discriminate, and find the true practice?

BKS: It is very interesting because the fundamental principles of yoga are unknown. I wrote a book on yoga to which I gave the title Light on Yoga. Somebody else writes a book and they call it, say, “Yoga for Enlightenment“. The titles differ but, if you observe the contents, the contents cannot differ because they have to go to the origin and the origin is the same.

The yogis when they studied all these things, gave only four pathways for self-realization. One is the path of action, the second is the path of knowledge, the third is the path of love, and the fourth is the path of yoga. This yoga, as you put the question before, gradually got polluted to such an extent that one started calling it mantra yoga, laya yoga, rāja yoga, hatha yoga, tantra yoga, mantra yoga. These words came later, but yoga is one where it is to associate oneself with one’s own higher self. You cannot call hatha yoga physical yoga and Patañjali’s yoga mental yoga. Only the definitions vary: one book says control the mind, the other control the body and the mind so you will be one with God — but the aim is the same.

We have been given arms, legs, an emotional center and an intellectual head. The path of action has to be followed by the organs of action and the organs of perception, arms, legs and so on. Knowledge has to be gained from the head so that is jnana marga. God has given all three paths to each individual: hands and legs for action, brain for knowledge and emotional center for affection and love. Compassion, friendliness, do not come from the head, they start from the heart. So these three are already given, blessed by God, to each individual in order to develop purity in action, purity in intelligence, purity in love. The fourth path, yoga, becomes the instrument to develop or to gain control over these three paths. In that way, yoga becomes the fountain for the other three paths. These were the only paths given by the sages of the early days, but naming them differently is the will of each individual.

MK: There are many books on yoga that are available nowadays. Does one need a teacher?

BKS: No doubt at all subjective knowledge needs the help of an experienced teacher. But there are lots of books. As you put your question about the purity of the work — a good book is better than a bad teacher! If a good book is available, then I would have to say is a better guide than a bad teacher.

MK: Then the next question has to be, what are the qualities of a good yoga teacher?

BKS: I would not say only a “yoga” teacher. The quality of a teacher is that the teacher has to study the calibre of the pupil. The teacher has to climb down to the level of the pupil and gradually bring the pupil from that standard to his standard. If the teacher can do this then I say he is a top class teacher.

MK: There are many “India returned” teachers. Is it necessary for one to go to India to be a good yoga teacher?

BKS: If you have a good teacher available here, there is no need to go to India to learn. If you cannot get a good teacher, and they are rare products nowadays, then it is worth going to India; not just going and coming back as “India returned” without getting the best from the teacher.

MK: So the student must be very discriminating, ask questions, com-pare and not just accept the first “India returned” teacher?

BKS: Yes, definitely. What has happened, yoga being a subject from India, is that if a teacher announces “I am India returned”, then people think oh, they have gone to the source. So this illusion should not be created just to build up their egos and pocket books, more than yoga.

MK: The word “guru” has been used indiscriminately here in the West…

BKS: The word guru means: “gu” — darkness, “ru” — knowledge. One who removes the darkness of the pupil and enlightens with the light of knowledge, he is a guru.

MK: Sir, you are called Guruji. When is it appropriate for one to call you Guruji?

BKS: People never called me Guruji. I have been teaching yoga since 1936 and people started calling me Guruji only a decade ago. Even today, people call me Iyengar, some people call me Mr. Iyengar, but those who have experience staying with me and learning the light which came to them, then they automatically call me Guruji. I don’t tell them to call me guru.

MK: So it comes from the heart?

BKS: From the heart. It means some light has come to them, otherwise they should not call me Guruji. Yesterday some people addressed me as Iyengar. I never asked them why they are calling me Iyengar without even adding Mr. We are told we are dust in the eyes of God, but if a student feels that I have the light and calls me Guru, then of course it’s alright. As I say, I am a rare product.

MK: Yes, that’s true!

BKS: Out of two thousand million population, I don’t think there is another man in my field who has drunk the depths of the good and the bad of each posture or each breath.

MK: Do you have an understanding of why you have become so revered throughout the world?

BKS: For the simple reason, I think, of my sincerity, integrity, honesty and dedication to the subject.

MK: Yes. I have read that your early life was very difficult.

BKS: Yes.

MK: Would you tell us how you came to be on this yogic path?

BKS: In the early days, I had a tough time. I could not find even one meal per week. I was living on water. I don’t know what made me do yoga. I had no interest to do yoga. I was suffering from tuberculosis; I had no health at all. There was no penicillin or injections available in those days, so my sister’s husband, who is my guru, said: “Why don’t you do some poses for gaining health?” I thought, instead of living a parasitic life, why should I not try? When I tried I never got healthy for another two or three years.

In India, the ladies were not mixing with men in those days, and if they wanted to learn they were not willing to learn from a grown up man. I was only sixteen years old, so the ladies told my Guruji — we don’t want to learn from you, but if the young boy teaches well, we’ll learn from him, but we don’t want to learn from any of your senior students or you. We are interested in yoga — solve the problem. So Guruji said, they want you to teach. I said, I don’t know anything! He said, whatever you know, you teach. That’s how the life began for me. And I developed. I had not mastered the poses. I used to refer to lots of books, all yoga books. Knowledge was very little at that moment. All the books were filled without experiences. I would look at the illustrations: they would write something, the figure was different. I said, this is not yoga. Then I took a challenge.

MK: I’ll say!

BKS: I said, no, these illustrations which I see in the books, they are not in alignment to one another. Some people keep their head on one side, some to the front, some to the back. Some people throw their legs backwards, some forwards. Then I thought, let me do this, let me do that, and find which would give serenity in the pose.

I started searching for serenity in each pose, from restlessness to restfulness. All poses were restless, no matter which method I tried. Then in a flash, I would feel the restfulness. I struggled to find out how did I get this restfulness.

I developed, and the colleges in Pune invited me to teach and whether it could be taught in mass. In those days Yoga was only taught on an individual to individual basis and not at all in a group. I said, I can teach one individual or fifty people at the same time. I was young and ambitious, and whatever chances came to me I accepted. Whatever disease came to me, knowing very well that I did not know anything about yoga, I said — let me try! It was bearing fruit, and poses were not coming to me. When I did the pose I was unhappy because it was not coming. I was restless, and as I let go, within five minutes my inner voice would say, do it again, try again, try again. This voice, which was coming from inside, made me continue yoga. So though I was not attached to yoga, yoga was attached to me then. Now I am attached to yoga (Laughter). That’s how we two got married, the subject of yoga and me (More laughter).

MK: I have read that at the beginning of this period of trial and error, when you were teaching you would take the pain of the students into your own body to better help them. How?

BKS: Yes. Even now,I have got that character. If I see a person, the way they walk, the way they stand, I create that same kind of crookedness in my body and I walk. Then I understand that these are the muscles that need work.

MK: But now,though,you can just look at someone…

BKS: Well, fifty five years of non-stop practice…

MK: …and lots of bodies that you have seen.

BKS: My fingers have touched be- tween one hundred and two hundred thousand people. By touch, I can say what happens — my skin is so sensitive, my eyes are so sensitive, that by just touching the idea comes to me. You can call it the insight of yoga.

MK: You demand a great deal of your students and your teachers. In your own words you are an “intense” teacher. This is sometimes misinterpreted as aggressiveness or even violence, and I think it is time to dispel that myth.

BKS: My friend, even Patañjali has used that word. He says there are four types of teachers and four types of students. Mild teachers, mild students. Average teachers, average students. Keen teachers, keen students. Intensively intense teachers, intensively intense students. Now, if I belong to that quality of intensity as a teacher, then I will want all my pupils to be intense. If I am mild, I will definitely introduce mildness. But I did not learn anything in mildness; I had to work so intensely that I realized it is only by intense sadhana that it is possible to get the benefit of yoga, not otherwise.

MK: So when you are teaching and you touch your students, that is just to bring their consciousness to that area?

BKS: Yes. Consciousness exists everywhere, but it is hidden, dormant. So when we practice the asanas, we have to remove that dormancy of the consciousness, which is even at the bottom of the foot. If I say, feel the toe, consciousness rises there, otherwise it does not rise. So why not keep the consciousness in an even state over the entire frontier of the body. That is known as intensity, because to keep the consciousness not in compartments but in an absolute state of oneness in whatever position you may be in, demands intensity. Intensity appears aggressive sometimes, but intense is intense! (Laughter)

MK: I’ll quote you a lot because I have read your book Iyengar – His Life and Work, several times. I can remember you saying that a parent has to be stern, but it is done with love. That’s what I understand from you.

BKS: This morning I was in a class, and I told them that when I look at a person, if the brain does not take the message, I am aggressive to the brain, but I am compassionate to the body which is affected. If the knee is bad, I am sympathetic to that knee not to the head.

MK: You have just struck a nerve. I remember that very well! (Laughter) I would like to talk a little about health and yoga. You have said that yoga is a way towards integration of body, mind and spirit. Where does our disintegration come from? We have spoken about that as far as the aim of yoga is concerned, but if you could elaborate a little more on how we got to this state of disintegration that we are in.

BKS: You know the health is dependent upon the cellular system because trillions and trillions of cells take birth and die in a split second. Our everyday life today is like a stillborn child. The delivery was healthy but the child was still. Similarly our cells, to a great extent, are stillborn cells. The practice of yoga, whether asana or prāṇāyāma, is the gateway to see they generate full of life and die after serving the needed ingredients of the body. I consider this supreme health.

MK: So it is very important to the asanas. For someone who is not aware of yoga, how do they differ from other exercises?

BKS: Other forms of exercise work on the structural or physical body; the muscles and the joints. But the yogi says, this is not the end, only a peripheral part. What about the physiological organs, like the liver, the spleen? What about the respiratory system, the circulatory system? How does the liver work, how does the pancreas work? So this is the difference between other exercises and yoga.

Yoga mostly begins from the physiological level not the physical level, but until the physical organs are made to function well they will have no affect on the physiological organs. We have to build up together the physical and the physiological body, which are so near to each other; unless they are exercised through the simple basic poses, then we cannot go towards the mind. Between the physical body and the mental body there is a physiological body which cannot be forgotten. The physiological body, being the bridge between the mind and the outer outer body, has to be built; that is known as integration. The body has been integrated to the mind through the cellular system which is the physiological body.

MK: Have these aspects been recognized by the medical profession?

BKS: I think they have just begun — within ten years you may hear about results from the good practice of yoga. For example, you know the yamas, the ethical disciplines of yoga? The scientists recognize these now: do not smoke,do not drink; so part of the ethics of yoga have already been accepted by scientists in just about ten years. Slowly, as they have accepted this, soon they will also accept that chemical changes take place in the brain when the asanas are done, which may be of great help to the future generation. The load is on them, no doubt, but they have to keep their eyes and ears open. Unfortunately today, the scientists have their own dogma and they want the experience of the yogis to fit their dogma. But keep the eyes and ears open, and let us see what comes of their practices.

MK: So all your pupils, just by their example, can keep spreading the word?

BKS: Yes. Recently in San Diego, there was a pulmonary test of the yoga students conducted by some doctors. The result was that the pulmonary system of all the yoga students was healthy, because they blow out beyond their capacity. They take breath in beyond the capacity of their instruments.

MK: What about cardiac function? The West is obsessed with aerobic activity, and the first question that I am very often asked is, is there an aerobic benefit to the practice of yoga?

BKS: l don’t think so, because aerobic movements are strenuous. There are two types of exercises: one is irritative, one is stimulative. Yoga is stimulating not irritating to the nerves. For example, there is a feeling that if you do jogging or aerobics your heart starts pumping more so it supplies the blood. But at what cost? What irritation is caused? We say do setu bandha sarvangasana where the cardiac nerve which begins from the thoracic dorsal spine is made to exercise passively, and takes the blood towards the heart for the rhythmic control of the beat and there is no strain at all. It pumps the same way. I take cases where the left ventricle is almost one hundred percent closed, and today they are doing all the work even though they have reached the age of seventy. Dr. Karandikar is doing the same work on cardiac cases at the Pune Institute with the help of two eminent cardiologists. Yoga is introduced the results are very good and will be published in a few months. The patients came to Pune from America for treatment. I told the doctors not to come out too soon that he patients are improving. I said let us take another five or six cases, now we will take twenty more so that we can be sure of the results when we tell he world what has happened.

MK: I hope it comes soon.

BKS: I hope here (in Canada – ED.) also Dr. French and Dr. Carruthers will take, because today I have shown them through yoga what forward traction means, what neck traction means. It is completely logical and scientific.

MK: And practical! Would you give us some examples of specific medical problems that you have been able to help?

BKS: I have worked with polio patients.

MK: Post-polio syndrome is something that has just come to light in the past few years.

BKS: Yes. I have given life; they can walk, they do not have to depend upon others. They ask if they will come to a completely normal life. I tell them, no; but I have given them some control and self-confidence that they can lead a natural life. I have taken some heart cases; they can even do head balance. In the Institute I have handled three or four cases, and it took me two years for them to do head balance. I didn’t do that straightaway. I toned their bodies, and it took two years for them to keep the head down — forget about going to sirsasana. Some of the doctors who come from Europe who have seen him before, ask how is it that this man can stand on his head. In addition to the heart problem, one person had Parkinson’s disease, and he couldn’t even interlock his fingers.

MK: So you take these people and do a form of therapeutic yoga?

BKS: I will give you another example of my daughter. When she was to deliver her baby, she was under the care of a doctor who comes to my class. The doctor told me that somehow the foetus was not moving to the centre, that time was up and they would have to do a caesarian. The doctor asked me to do something. Today or tomorrow? That’s all I said. She said, I’m not sure whether you can do it in one day, and
I told her, don’t do your class today, be with my daughter. Then I put my daughter into setu bandha sarvangasana which you all know is a back-arch in shoulderstand on a bench, and revolved the bench three or four times from side to side, keeping each time to two minutes. Next I made her do baddha konasana in setu bandha sarvangasana:and rolled the bench from left to right, right to left. Then I had my daughter stand up, and asked the doctor to examine her. The doctor said, it has come to the centre, and the doctor took my daughter to the hospital for delivery.

MK: That’s a wonderful story. Have you treated any patients with AIDS?

BKS: Yes. One was in a very bad condition. He was from San Francisco. He was in Pune for one month, and I taught him. The first thing, perspiration stopped within one month. Water was just dripping from the body, and this stopped. The wetness of the generative organ was there, and for that I had to work very, very hard. I said to him, if you have willpower it can be done, not other wise. The person showed willpower only for a few days, and from the periphery the generative organ began to dry out He returned to the U.S., and the doctors when they tested him said, your T-cells have tremendously built up in your body, more than before you went to India.

In some of the hospitals in San Francisco, some of my pupils are teaching AIDS patients. There is a very interesting case in France also, where a man developed AIDS about six years ago. For the last five years he has been doing yoga. Last year he developed pneumonia; the doctors thought he would die. They called me and asked me what to do. I immediately wrote, having seen this patient when he was recovering, defensive strength in this body is very good now; he must have done a lot of back bends. Find out whether he has devoted his time to back bends? The answer came back, yes he has. I immediately said, stop. Ask him to do stimulative poses: head balance and neck balance, one hour in the morning, forty five minutes in the evening. No other poses. The doctor who was observing him every two or three days was so impressed at how quickly his pneumonia went away. He asked his patient how this could be, and the patient told him, my guru told me to do these poses and I’m doing what he told me to do. Not only that but he couldn’t eat any normal food for five years. Now, within six months, his diet is normal. Now he says, I am normal. But will the patience be strong enough to dry the generative organs from such poses. It’s very, very hard.

MK: A woman who is a friend of mine went to you in Pune with a respiratory condition, and she followed to the letter what you asked her to do. Now she is working with doctors in Calgary with people who have respiratory problems. It is very exciting; the doctors are amazed at the difference in the patients when they are doing the practice that you showed Erin.

BKS: Yes, I remember. I only gave stimulative poses to stimulate the inner systems.

MK: The practice you gave her was completely passive. It’s amazing.

BKS: I am teaching hundreds and hundreds of students, but the doctors have to change their way of thinking. There is one good thing, the change is now to preventative medicine, alternative medicine; they are coming in place of conventional medicine. So at least, there is a slight change; people are realizing conventional medicine is not such a help and are turning their minds towards alternative healing methods. I have attended two or three international conferences on the subject. I went to Russia on the same subject as a guest of the Russian government. Yoga was banned in Russia until 1988. It was only opened up last year, and the first conference was held by the government of U.S.S.R. not the people. When I went there I was surprised to know that my book Light on Yoga in the Russian language had been distributed underground for practitioners.

MK: When you went to Russia, you went to a conference on health and preventive medicine. What did you do at the conference?

BKS: I gave a demonstration. I told them how to prevent disease, how to increase health. Health is a dynamic process. As the cells improve, as the body improves, health also improves. Health is definitely dynamic, not just a static “I’m alright”. Negative health has been taught up to now by the medical people. Nobody has taught a positive way to health. All our systems are joined, we don’t allow the calcification to form, we do not allow the arteries to get blocked by various positions, so naturally the health is to be gained by keeping each and every part as it was when we were born. This helped them to understand more and more.

For example, take sports medicine. I have attended three or four sports medicine clinics. Even the German doctors were impressed. Once I told them, the good athlete is there: he has to run and gets a cold, what do you do? Just with an ordinary cold his vitality is sapped. You can dry the running of the nose, but will you give the needed vitality? The pills are there, but do they build the inner strength? I took two or three athletes on the platform, and asked them: do you have a runny nose? Some lifted their hands, and I put them in halasana. They said, now I feel the passage is clear. After five minutes they came down and said, I feel very light. I said, that man is fit to run. Now do you understand? So yoga is going into sports medicine this way.

MK: And hopefully it will influence athletes so that, rather than taking steroids for their outer strength, they will work on their inner strength and have an edge in that way.

BKS: You may not know that John McEnroe came back through Iyengar Yoga; that’s what he says: “it’s a very rigorous method but I practice Iyengar Yoga.” I read, in some magazine, that he does yoga for his backache. Now the test match cricketers in India are all coming to Pune and undergoing training. They say their fielding has improved, their bowling has improved, their batting has improved.

MK: As you know, the Olympic Games were held in Alberta in 1988 and I had an occasion to talk to some of the coaches of some of the international teams, and they were using an aspect of yoga — visualization but they were not, as yet, using the posture. So that is where they need to be educated, to use the posture.

BKS: Slowly this is coming. That is what I am interested in.

MK: Another aspect that we are very involved with here is stress. Could you explain the ancient art of relaxation, savasana, and how it could help us with modern stresses?

BKS: It is an interesting question. In the yogic field stress comes by tension. Tension comes from the nervous system. When it comes from the nervous system, the energy which has to flow in the nerves cannot flow, it gets blocked. So when you do the asanas, forget about savasana. Even when you do sarvangasana or back arch, what do you do? You extend the nerves, the entire nervous system is extended so that the block which has taken place due to stress is removed. The nerves are dilated in the poses so that the energy will flow uninterruptedly and there will be no stress at all.

MK: So poses are the antidote to stress?

BKS: Including savasana, but only a person who knows how to stretch fully knows the art of full relaxation. A casual stretch only brings casual relaxation. so to enjoy savasana, I say try to get the full extension of the system so that in savasana it is extended like a river where the flow of water is uninterrupted by any obstacles. Keep your system in such a way that the energy in savasana flows uninterruptedly and supplies energy. With stress we create a bottom on the ends of the nerves. Yogic practice makes the nerves to remain bottomless so that you can take any load. (Laughter)

MK: I have quite a few students with multiple sclerosis, and we are working with yoga. That is one thing I am going to tell them, because they are really involved with their nervous system. Are there specific poses that you would give to someone who came to you who was hypertensive?

BKS: Yes. You know, when we use the word “hypertension” the stress is on the brain, so how to make the brain “hypo”? Sometimes we keep weight on the floor of the brain, which is an aggressive brain. Due to the weight the student cannot think so the brain becomes hypo in certain poses: halasana, viparīta karani, setu bandha sarvangasana. Keep a little weight and then the nerves that get inflated inside get deflated and calmness comes.

MK: And breath plays a very important part?

BKS: Normally each inhalation is a stressful action, each exhalation a non-stressful action. Normal inhalation is not done by the lungs, but by the brain over the entire body. In normal breathing the entire body inhales, the entire body exhales; but in yogic breathing the brain and the extremities of the body are made to remain passive, only the lungs are used. So in normal breathing, the blood has to be sucked by the brain. By the force of inhalation not only does the brain draw the energy, but also sucks the blood, and in exhalation the brain releases the blood. So inhalation/exhalation is nothing but the pumping of the blood in and out from the brain. Because of this inhalation is a stress on the brain, so the yogis say — normal inhalation, soft exhalation, so that there is no load in the cells of the brain.

MK: So paying more attention to a quiet soft exhalation?

BKS: Yes, so that the stress is taken off once and for all. If the scientists explain the pressure of inhalation on the brain and the pressure of exhalation on the brain, then we and the scientists can meet very fast and show the way for the common people to relax.

MK: Another area which is kept very tightly is the diaphragm which is the main breathing organ. How could the layman get in touch with his diaphragm?

BKS: It is very interesting, is it not, that when you get a fright, where do you hold first? That is why I always use the words that the diaphragm is the medium between the mind and the soul, or between the physiological body and the mental body. Learn to release the diaphragm, then the tension in the brain also disappears.

MK: So how would you tell a student how to release their diaphragm?

BKS: When we do setu bandha sarvangasana, what happens? The diaphragm is extended towards the side. Medical science knows only up and down, but the yogi also knows horizontal movement of the diaphragm. The moment we give a lot of stretch on the horizontal aspect of the diaphragm, then the brain becomes quiet.

MK: So you would use props, bolsters and so on.

BKS: Yes, so that the diaphragm does not move up and down but sideways — like viparīta dandasana, setu bandha sarvangasana, even urdvha dhanurasana on a rolled stool or drum, so that the diaphragm is kept stretched from one extreme of the floating ribs to the other.

MK: And that will keep it naturally softer?

BKS: Yes. In all cardiac diseases the first indication is if the diaphragm muscle is tight and their breathing is shallow. Nature has sent a warning that this is going to be a problem for their heart later. Anyone who opens their mouth to breath, the first warning comes from nature that your heart is going to be affected; that means your diaphragm is very tight The moment you make the diaphragm more elastic, naturally the breathing is deep and the strain on the heart is less.

There is an inter-connection between the diaphragm and the heart which I think the doctors have to explain so that the common man who practices yoga can understand the value faster than the yogi who cannot explain the inner functioning of the body as clearly as doctors and scientists. I think that the scientists should work with the artists o yoga, and the artists of yoga should work with the scientists.

MK: And it is coming!

BKS: Slowly coming — in ten years time we may find a lot of improvement and mutual understanding between the two.

MK: But the more information we can get out, and the more myths we can dispel, the more quickly it will happen.

BKS: Yes, you are right.

MK: I would like to talk a little bit about yoga and meditation. Perhaps you could define meditation, and tell us how it fits into the system of yoga?

BKS: My friend, meditation is yoga, yoga is meditation!

MK: Definition done! (Laughter)

BKS: Yoga is known as samadhi, samadhi is known as yoga. The seventh aspect of yoga is dhyana, meditation. Meditation is not a separate subject beyond the yogic principles. Yoga has got eight aspects: yama, niyama, asana, prāṇāyāma, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. If people say, and it is a common way of telling, I will teach you meditation — where is the asana? Why did Patañjali use that word “asana” as a third step and “dhyana” as a seventh step? A perfect body is needed for the mind to be free from the contact of the physical body. Patañjali says, do the asanas. When the mind is freed from the contact of the body, then it is fit for meditation.

MK: So start from the periphery and work from there?

BKS: Yes, and that is not a different subject. It is all intermingled in yoga. But the definition of dhyana is to bring the complex mind to a state of simplicity, and to live in a state of innocence is the quality of medication.

MK: That dispels the myth that hatha yoga is physical only. Each asana is a complete meditation.

BKS: Yes!

MK: I have been listening to you as you have been talking with your teachers, asking them to keep the purity of your work in the poses. Is it possible to keep the purity of your work and still be an individual within your system?

BKS: Certainly. You can go to the station several ways, but you reach the station, don’t you? Similarly, I say, go anywhere but come back to that point. Many of them forget that they have to come back to that original point.

MK: Is there the possibility, though, that a teacher in trying to adhere to the purity could become very rigid?

BKS: No! Rigidity will not come. Purity is not rigidity.

MK: Ah! (Laughter)

BKS: It appears rigid, but it is not that. Purity means the presentation and language becomes simple. That is what I wanted in the class, for the teacher not to use words which cannot be understood by the doer, but to use simple words and stop in between so the students understand what you have said before you go further. Then the purity is maintained. If you have been in the class, you have seen that for many I have built up from where they stopped; for some I have destroyed so that they can relearn; for some I have constructed — I know that you cannot understand further, now I will guide you from there. I have done all these methods, but it is for people to understand how I guide them.

Yesterday in one class I destroyed a person so that they could relearn. Destroying means destroying their old thoughts. The presentation was very bad, so naturally I had to destroy that habit. I have to be strong so that they can learn fast, forget that habit and start in the right method.

MK: Get them thinking very quickly.

BKS: Yes. (Laughter)

MK: Could you give some advice to people who might be sparked to begin a yoga practice?

BKS: It is very simple. I will say, don’t go to the depth of yoga. Your body is your capital. God has given this body as capital or a bank to start anything. Take care of this divine capital which God has given to you. Look after yourself. See that your joints, your muscles, your nerves, your blood current run rhythmically in the body. Please learn so much. Then I say, the other parts will automatically take their sadhaka to follow.

MK: When it is time.

BKS: One should not say the body is the temple. Make the body a fit temple for the soul to live in. Make the body purposeful the the intelligence and the heart to do good work.

MK: Sir, it has been an honour to speak with you, and I thank you very much for being with us.

BKS: Thank you. You are all so very kind to me. God bless you.

About the Author

Christine completed her studies in 2019 under the guidance of Louie Ettling and Patricia Fernandes at the Yoga Space. She first discovered yoga in early 2000. Since then, she’s tried various forms of yoga but none captured her interest as much as Iyengar Yoga.

The discipline and knowledge is what keeps her coming to her mat every day.