"Go practice! Or I cannot practice . . ."

By: Chris Briney, C.I.Y.T. Intermediate III

3 August of 2014 was the last day I spent at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India on my first (and only, thus far) trip there. I feel very fortunate I got to see B.K.S. Iyengar on that day, not just because I hadn't seen him all that often during my month in Pune, or because that was the day I was to leave, but also because, just seventeen days later, he passed away . . . 

On 14 December this year, B.K.S. Iyengar would have turned 100 years old. From what I have come to know about him, this was a goal he had in his life. Unfortunately for us as his students, he didn't make it. However, considering the number of illnesses he survived--his mother was ill from the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 while pregnant with him, and as a boy he suffered from malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and general malnutrition--as well as the fact that Indians born in the early 20th century have about a thirty percent shorter life expectancy than their U.S.counterparts, it can surely be said he lived a long life.

Shortly after his death, Abhijata Sridhar Iyengar, granddaughter of Mr. Iyengar (affectionately known as Guruji), shared her experience of being with him in the final weeks and days of his life. She said that he underwent the whole experience in a profoundly tranquil and balanced manner. "There was not a single episode of panic--at home, at the hospital, or even at the time of death," she recounted. Could this have been the fruit of a life spent in the practice of yoga? The Yoga Sutras (see II.2 - II.11) indicate that the practice of yoga can reduce the "instinctive fear of death" (known as abhinivesa), among other afflictions (kleshas). In his final days, according to Abhijata, "[Guruji] practiced day and night. Literally day and night." She said that she and a few other family members would be nearly constantly close to him, watching over him, waiting for any sign that he needed any assistance or attention. Often it seems, they would simply linger, wanting to be near him. Sensing this, he would say, "Go practice. Don't waste the time." If they would hesitate or dawdle, he would say, "Go practice! If you don't practice, I cannot practice here!" 

Abhijata went on to say, "A student's inactivity was a great cause of concern to him."  Even though he virtually lay dying, and even despite the subtle (or not so subtle) longings of his loved ones to skip their practice and be near him, it was not acceptable to him that they should miss their practice time.  To me, this speaks volumes about the importance he placed upon practice, and is quite consistent with the spirit I have encountered in his prolific writings. Practice is much more than a refreshment, a diversion, or even a blow for self-care. Practice is imperative. Practice is life!

So, as we approach Guruji's "centenary," it strikes me that the best way to honor the memory and legacy of B.K.S. Iyengar is to bring our practice to a fervent pitch. Such a intensity of devotion requires some important qualities in us. Of course it requires a certain kind of zeal, known in yoga philosophy as tapas. It also requires a certain decisiveness: a decision to accept the challenge of maintaining a practice, day-by-day, amidst the upheavals and vicissitudes of life. B.K.S. Iyengar made this decision more times than most human beings on the planet (and perhaps throughout history). It can also involve a decision to participate in the "100 day challenge," and practice yoga, everyday for at least 15 minutes for the next 100 days (and perhaps, even beyond!). Finally tapas, by it's very nature requires action. That means actually  practicing our asanas or pranayama, or both. Such actions which will reinforce the decision to practice. Such actions have the power to transform the very fabric of a life and, in some cases (like Guruji's), even save a life. For a man who practiced yoga for nearly eighty years, and with such depth and fervor as B.K.S. Iyengar, I can think of no more fitting a tribute . . . 

So, what do you say? Let's "Go Practice!"

[To aid you in your 100 day challenge, we offer the following worksheet to help you keep track of your practice and, we hope, inspire you to do it!] 

100 Day practice challenge tracking sheet

Andi Mahoney