Accomplished yoga gurus are unlikely to have enemies, but the legendary BKS Iyengar has one: aging.
"Nonsense!" That’s been his standard, typical one-word response whenever someone has tried suggesting that he should take it easy because he was getting old. "When you are young, the body has tremendous strength. As you grow old, vitality drops and fear complex sets in. But why should one stop doing what one has been doing for years just because of age? I fought the fear complex and I won," declares Iyengar, the Pune-based yoga guru who will turn 92 in a few months.
The victory is written all over his face: not a single wrinkle, even though the flowing hair is silver. The spine is straight and the chest spread wide. Even today, he devotes four hours daily to yoga practice.
"I wake up at six, and 6.30 to 7.30 I do pranayama. Then I read the papers to know what’s happening in the world. From 9 to 12, I do asanas non-stop. Earlier I used to more asanas, but now I do less asanas but hold them for a longer time, till I am able to penetrate into my inner self and realise that my body is getting refreshed," says the yoga legend, who began his yoga pratice in 1934 in Mysore.
It was strict discipline and commitment to yoga that saw him through the vicissitudes of life, including those initial difficult years in Pune when schools or colleges would make him wait for hours and finally ask him to come some other day. Salvation came in 1954 when Yehudi Menuhin, the renowned violinist and conductor who then on a tour of India, was overcome by a nervous attack. Iyengar set him right in a matter of hours, after which Menuhin invited him to teach in Switzerland. The rest, as they say, is history.
But unlike many yoga gurus of today who use their Western connection to make money, Iyengar remains humble and committed to his practice. He still does the headstand for 30 minutes, besides the shoulderstand and other inversions -- these are the poses that postpone the onset of old age. "Even today my feet don’t oscillate even a bit when I do the headstand," says Iyengar.
Post-yoga, it is time for bath and lunch, after which he heads to his yoga institute where he sits in the library to work on his new book. Iyengar has authored a number of books, including the Light On Yoga, often considered to be a Bible of yoga. "The new book will decode Patanji’s yoga sutras for the common man, especially the younger generation. The depth of the sutras shall be retained, but the words will be simple," he says.
At six he heads back home. Time to watch TV. "Sometimes I watch movies, sometimes serials. I also like watching National Geographic," says the guru. His favourite movies include "CID movies" and comedies. Nine-thirty is dinner time, followed by some more television. By 10.30 pm, one of the world’s most famous yoga gurus is asleep. Iyengar’s guru, the revered T Krishnamacharya, had lived till the age of 100. He died in Chennai in 1989. Another disciple of Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, who found the ashtanga yoga and was teacher to stars like Madonna and Sting, died in Mysore last year at the age of 94.
Iyengar’s precription for staying young even at 91, apart from regular yoga practice: "I never think of the past. I live in the present. I live moment to moment. I reflect. I reflect when I am holding my poses. That keeps me refreshed."