Prashant Iyengar: Yoga cannot be learnt in an academy

One of the things that brought Pune into the limelight in the early years was yoga. Yoga in the city became synonymous with Iyengar. The late B K S Iyengar became one of the pioneering masters in the field as he was known for his unique style. In a tête-à-tête with Pune 365, his son Prashant Iyengar talks about his father’s legacy, his teachings and how he has come to develop his own style over the years.

What are the teachings your father, B K S Iyengar, has left behind that you continue to use till today?

Well, he left a legacy and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt. So what a teacher teaches and what a student learns are two different things.

Does your teaching style differ from his?

Yoga is like an individual art. You have to go within the potential embedded in yourself and then try to draw from it. It’s not like the gharanas in classical music that can be carried forward. We have to take a dip into our core consciousness and perceive the subject from our own understanding and intelligence. My father’s consciousness lake is different from mine. So what he gets from within is completely different from what I get. There is a difference between his approach, practice and learning from mine. So, it is a very individualistic thing.

How do you think the practice and approach to yoga has evolved over the years? Has it evolved for the better?

Commercialisation has surfaced to a very great extent. One of the reasons for this is that the masters have encouraged young people to take up yoga as a profession. Yoga cannot be a vocational profession because if that’s the case then you have to be ready by the age of 25 to teach. That is one of the flaws.

Yoga has always been popularised but it has taken a wrong turn. In the propagation of yoga, we are trying to churn out teachers, rather than churning out students, which is very unfortunate. In the present situation, I am seeing that government has come in a big way to promote yoga schools, colleges and other institutions. This means that they are going to have to churn out teachers on a very big scale. In all probability, we will have premature teachers. This is going to be a problem when it comes to issuing certificates, diplomas, etc.

Yoga is a way of life. It is not a subject that you can learn in an academy. It involves the dynamics of life which you cannot understand at the age of 25. They are too young. Yoga has become a profession and that is dangerous. The approach is now materialistic as it has become something very market-oriented. Yoga has been popularised for a long time and it doesn’t need to be anymore.

The government should take steps in a way that they ensure that yoga is taught in a classical manner rather than making a street show of it. You can’t learn it in a class, at weekend workshops or even retreats. Today India is looking at yoga as a form of physical fitness but that isn’t the case with the rest of the world. The West is looking for the mysticism and philosophy behind yoga and certain things that cannot really be practised.

Yoga has so much to offer. But these days, people take what they want from it. Some want peace of mind and some want health. These things have become commodities.

In your book, Alpha and Omega of the Trikonasana, how do you look at one asana to represent the entirety of yoga?

There are various levels in yoga. When you perform the Trikonasana for the first time as a raw beginner, then it is performed more for the purpose of physical fitness. But as a regular, when you perform this asana, then you get into a meditation because you’re so comfortable in that posture.

Trikonasana is a very popular asana in the Iyengar community because of its unfathomable depth because you are on your two feet and there isn’t much body contortion. I have shown it for a beginner, intermediate and an advanced person.

You’ve always stressed on the importance of breath. How can we be conscious about it in our daily lives?

In yoga, breath has a great meaning. The body and mind are in a lot of shackles because of various genealogical and physical backgrounds. Breath comes from the exterior. It does not have any genetic background. The breath has no shackles and is always fresh. It doesn’t stay in you forever. Breathing is not merely a respiratory process. Every action in the body is impacted by our respiratory action.

We don’t live by breath merely. We become by our breath. A normal person only knows deep breathing and shallow breathing but yoga makes so many modifications in the breath. That’s the magic!

You were born and brought up in Pune. How do you think being in this city has helped further your cause of spreading the teachings of yoga?

My father was 17 years old when he came to Pune in 1937 and this city became his home. It is my home now. We’ve got the best infrastructure here. It is an advantage that I have inherited and there is no need for me to really move around.

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree.
Vijayta Lalwani