B.K.S. Iyengar Dies At 95; Sickly Child Became Yoga Guru

Commentator Sandip Roy, an editor with Firstpost in India, has an appreciation of yogi B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar, who died on Wednesday, helped to introduce the practice of yoga to the Western world.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The man who helped popularize yoga in the West, B.K.S. Iyengar died yesterday in India. And commentator Sandip Roy has this appreciation.

SANDIP ROY: I learned more about B.K.S Iyengar in California than in Calcutta. India is the birthplace of yoga, but like many Indians, I didn't really grow up with the practice. B.K.S. Iyengar was the pilgrim father, bringing ancient Indian art to American shores - an unlikely on yoga pilgrim father. He came from a very poor family - a sickly boy who suffered from malnutrition, tuberculosis and malaria. He learned yoga for his health - not because it was cool. When he met violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin in 1952, he taught Menuhin to stand on his head. And Menuhin opened doors for him in the West. The Western acclaim helped bring yoga back home to India, Iyengar said in the documentary "Enlighten Up!"

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENLIGHTEN UP!")

B.K.S. IYENGAR: It has come back to India. The wind is blowing. It didn't blow here for years.

ROY: Iyengar became one of India's first great entrepreneurs, showing off poses in a 1938 film, writing books like "Light On Yoga," systematizing hundreds of classic poses and breathing exercises - branding it all as Iyengar yoga. His great success also helped turn yoga into a multimillion dollar industry of mats, unitards and beach retreats. But yoga today sometimes feels unmoored from its spiritual roots - a dog-eat-downward-dog business where yoga gurus chant on but sue each other. Perhaps, that's why, as an old man, Iyengar spelled out yoga's goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IYENGAR: Goal - one to be free from the afflictions of body and mind. So when the afflictions are gone, one is in heaven.

ROY: The day he died, his website posted a picture of the man looking like Gandalf, a wizard with bushy eyebrows and white curling locks, smiling. Underneath it says, I always tell people live happily and die majestically - signed B.K.S. Iyengar.

GREENE: Commentator Sandip Roy is an editor with First Post in India, and his upcoming book is called "Don't Let Him Know." This is NPR News.

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