BNS Iyengar was part of the peer group that developed in Mysore in the formative years of Ashtanga Yoga. Under the tutelage of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois, he developed an alternative form of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga that is accessible to all. Today, he remains the eldest living master of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga living in the world. At age 94, he continues to teach daily classes in yogasana, mudra, pranayama, and philosophy in Mysore, India. Portrait by Dallos Paz.
"One day, a yogi goes to the market for lunch. At his favorite food stall, he orders chapati. Separately, he also orders a bit of ghee to put on his chapati. After receiving his food, he decides he wants a chai as well. He orders one, but realizes his hands are full. So he sets his food down on a bench as he blows on his chai to cool it off. Just as he takes his first sip, a stray dog sneaks up, grabs his chapati, and flees with it. He quickly runs after the dog, chasing it all through the market yelling, 'Wait! Wait! You forgot your ghee!!!' This must be the yogi's attitude towards every living being."
-BNS Iyengar on karma yoga
April 2013, Krishnamachar Yoga Shala. 1st trip to India
"For the common man, time depends on the movement of the sun. For the yogi, time depends on the number of breaths. It is under your control. We cannot control the movement of the earth or sun, but we can control the breath. This is how the yogi conquers time."
In September 2013, Guruji traveled from Mysore to Norman, Oklahoma for a week-long workshop at Ashtanga Yoga Studio. It was his first visit to the United States, at age 86. Students (L-R): Kanchen Mala, Lea Miller, Allison See, Andrew Eppler, Erin Fore, Eduardo Mateo, Aaron Varela, Stephen Deckard, Joey Paz, Bryce Delbridge.
"Long breathing, long life. Short breathing, short life. A dog breathes 80 times per minute and lives to be 20 years, maximum. But, a tortoise breathes only 4 times per minute and lives 400 years."
Demonstrating Padangustasana at Ashtanga Yoga Studio, Norman, OK w/Joey Paz & Aaron Varela, Sept. 2013.
In August 2015, I took my 2nd trip to Mysore after spending a summer in Thailand to undertake a 200 hour mudra, pranayama, asana, and philosophy training with Guruji. I have fond memories of this time in Mysore training with Elsa Sunita of Happy Shala in France and Nivram Cooper of Nivram Yoga in Germany. We didn't get a lot of photos during this trip.
"To build the steps from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor of a building, materials are required - water, cement, brick, stone, and so forth. Like that, principles are required to properly practice pranayama. Asana is the ground floor of yoga practice. It must be strong before you begin to build on top of it. Pranayama is the stairway to the higher states of yoga."
May 2016, 3rd trip to Mysore. It was during this trip that we filmed the documentary "Mysore Yoga Traditions," getting our deepest glimpse thus far of the history and social fabric of Yoga in Mysore. On the left, Kelly O'Roke and I conclude our course of pranayama and philosophy with Guruji. On the right, Andrew Eppler presents him with a traditional fruit basket after an in-depth 2 hour interview with him on camera. We had to sift through so much amazing history and wisdom to pare it down to just a few minutes to fit into the documentary. What an adventure!
"The purpose of asana is development of the body so that you can sit in one place and do pranayama - that is all. If you focus exclusively on asana, exclusively on mastering the body, it is like spending hours washing vegetables. No... how will your hunger be subsided only by washing the vegetables? You must wash and then cook them. Only then will your hunger be subsided. Washing the vegetables is asana. Cooking the vegetables is pranayama."
Feb. 2019, 4th trip to Mysore, during the first annual Mysore Yoga Traditions Retreat and Conference. During my free time from co-hosting the conference, I spent as much time studying with Guruji as possible.
Guruji gives a philosophy lecture at Krishnamacharr Yoga Shala, where he was teaching at the time. Pictured here with Mariee of Lumira Yoga.
We even talked Guruji into letting us film an entire primary series asana class with him! Yogis, from front to back: Sydnee Kirkman, Dallos Paz, Joey Paz, Anton Buhler, Nicolette Ereñeta, and Yen Belarmino.
Above and left, Guruji addresses the students at Windflower Resort, the site of the 1st annual Mysore Yoga Traditions Retreat & Conference in 2019.
Above, an amazing moment at our conference as Guruji meets Sri TRS Sharma face to face for the first time in decades. Both men were young students of Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early days of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in 1940s Mysore. They were chatting excitedly in Kannada, I only with I could have understood what they were talking about! They were thrilled to be seeing each other for the first time in ages.
In 2020, Guruji was teaching at Mysore Mandala Yoga Shala. Between my duties co-hosting the 2nd annual Mysore Yoga Traditions Retreat and Conference, I was spending as much time as I possibly could studying with Guruji.
This was a momentous and historic occasion in the annals of Yoga history. For our conference, we arranged for Guruji to come give a lecture at Maharaja Sankrit College in Mysore. The significance of this place in the history and development of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and thus the majority of Yoga practiced in the west today, cannot be overstated. It was in this building where Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois are said to have first developed and fine-tuned the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga. In the above left photo, Guruji stopped to pay his respects to the very room where Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois was teaching him and other students, known then as the "Department of Yogasana." The room sits empty and filled with dust now, but the energy in the air was electric as Guruji toured the grounds and gave anecdotes and stories of his time learning yoga there as a teenager. Below, Guruji concludes his lecture and poses for a photograph with the attendees of our conference, a group of yogis from around the world. Photo by Mark Farbin.