“Live happily and die majestically,” Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja “BKS” Iyengar said.
The world-renowned yoga guru died on Wednesday at a private hospital in the western Indian city of Pune, according to the Times of India. There is disagreement over his age — the Times of India and India Today both say 96, but his Web site lists his birth date as Dec. 14, 1918, which would make him 95.
His passing was confirmed to The Washington Post by the Light on Yoga Research Trust, a charity founded by students of Iyengar.
Iyengar was suffering from kidney failure and was in critical condition on Tuesday, according to the Times of India. He’d been sick for several weeks and was being treated by a family doctor. He initially refused hospitalization, a doctor told the newspaper, but was finally admitted on Aug. 12 at his family’s urging
Iyengar is credited with helping to spread the practice of yoga to the Western world. Iyengar himself attributed this to a “fortuitous meeting” in 1952 with the famous American-born violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, who credited him with transforming his playing. Menuhin practiced yoga daily to help control his stage fright and improve concentration, and introduced the guru to other musicians abroad.
“Perhaps no one has done more than Mr. Iyengar to bring yoga to the West,” the New York Times wrote in 2002. “Long before Christy Turlington was gracing magazine covers, decades before power yoga was a multimillion-dollar business, Mr. Iyengar was teaching Americans, among others, the virtues of asanas and breath control.”
Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga,” published in 1966, has been translated into 18 languages. His described his style of yoga as an art and science. It emphasizes integration of the body, mind and emotions and focuses on precision and alignment.
Here is a video of him demonstrating various poses in 1977:
Iyengar was introduced to yoga at age 16 and began teaching at 18, according to his Web site. He opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute, named for his wife, in 1975. He retired from teaching in 1984 but continued to practice daily well into his 90s.
“Practice is my feast,” he said.
Iyengar is credited by some with introducing the use of props – such as blocks, belts and ropes – into the practice of yoga “to guide practitioners to get a sense of right direction so that they do not commit mistakes,” he explained to Beliefnet. Props can make yoga more accessible to “those who are stiff, confused, physically shaky, or who have disabilities and cannot perform independently,” he added.
Iyengar’s credits yoga for his long life, according to the New York Times:
The young Iyengar would hardly have been voted most likely to become a world-famous yogi. He was born poor in Karnataka during the global influenza epidemic, which afflicted his mother. His childhood was plagued by illness after illness: malaria, typhoid, influenza, tuberculosis.
His education finished at 16 or 17 when he failed his matriculation exam in English by three points. What did it matter? Doctors predicted he would not live past 20 anyway.
Yoga, he observed wryly, ”has given me a bonus of 65 years.”
Iyengar had five daughters and one son with his wife Ramamani Iyengar, whom he married in 1943 in an arranged marriage. He described his wife, who passed away in 1973, as ”my only friend … my only sharer, my partner, my guide, my philosopher.”
On Twitter, people expressed their condolences immediately following news of Iyengar’s passing:
#BKSIyengar was such a legendary man! Though I never had the pleasure of meeting him, his lessons and spirit will live on in my practice.
— Afsha (@FidgetyFsh) August 20, 2014
Generations will remember Shri BKS Iyengar as a fine Guru, scholar & a stalwart who brought Yoga into the lives of many across the world.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 20, 2014
Not much of a yoga guy myself. But saddened by the passing of BKS Iyengar. He made yoga world famous ! — Varun Manian (@Varunmanian) August 20, 2014