B.K.S. Iyengar was born in India in 1918 and has been teaching yoga since of the age of 17. He has been one of the world’s leading teachers of yoga for over 70 years and is internationally recognized as a leading authority of hatha yoga. His own style of teaching, “Iyengar Yoga”, is followed by certified teachers across the world. Iyengar was the first person to teach yoga to large groups of students; he lays great emphasis on precision and alignment, a style that is faithfully followed by his students. He is also the only person to teach the highest aspects of yoga – Atma Darshan – through asanas. Through his work, Iyengar has established the relevance of yoga to the treatment and cure of many illnesses, and has received a Doctorate from the United Nations Charter for Peace. At the age of 90, Iyengar still practices and teaches yoga, and also travels the world teaching and lecturing.
Whether you are looking for a physical improvement or a mental one, Light on Yoga will give you what you need. Each asana is accompanied by at least one (usually more) photographs to illustrate the proper technique, a synopsis on the effects, and details instructions that anyone can follow. Breathing, focus, position of each limb and which muscles to focus on are all covered thoroughly. When applicable, there are even variations that can be applied, depending on the student’s comfort and skill level, so that no one need skip an important technique just because he or she is starting out and has no outside help.
Iyengar then further assists the beginning student with a list of which poses to start with and add each week, for a comprehensive schedule that will keep you improving for years. Also included is a list of common ailments and asanas that can relieve these ailments.
Anyone interested in strength, flexibility, balance, and inner peace should have at least this one book, Light on Yoga.
This is the definitive text on hatha yoga. This is the book, Light on Yoga, you want if you are serious about beginning your yoga practice. This is also a text of reference for professional teachers used throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say that all yoga instructors in the United States know Light on Yoga, and most of them own a copy and refer to Light on Yoga regularly.
Iyengar’s text is characterized by a thoroughness of content, a detailed, precise, step-by-step “how to” for instruction in asana and pranayama. There are 602 photos of Iyengar himself demonstrating the poses with extraordinary flexibility and precision. I have an early, hardcover edition with the photos collected together at the back of the book. The newer editions have the photos spaced appropriately throughout the text.
The 34-page Introduction entitled, “What is Yoga?” is a concise overview of the nature, aim and extent of yoga as gleaned from the ancient texts, in particular Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and Swatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika (from which Iyengar gets his Sanskrit title, Yoga Dipika). These are the three great texts of yoga and Iyengar knows them well. This Introduction rewards patient study, and is the kind of pithy text that needs to be returned to again and again, and yet it is written in an accessible, inspired, and inspirational style.
Iyengar emphasizes precision and careful technique and a whole body mindfulness as prerequisites to success in hatha yoga. From my experience this mindfulness is absolutely essential for two main reasons. One, you will surely strain or pull a muscle, usually several little ones, if your mind goes astray or if you practice with your attention elsewhere. Count on it. Two, the full import and effect of asana cannot be appreciated, nor the psychological and spiritual lessons implicit within the practice be understood without a deep and continuous concentration–the mindfulness leading to meditation.
The technical instruction of the poses includes some commentary on beneficial effects. It should be noted that according to tradition there are 84,000 poses known (or perhaps the number is 840,000) of which about 84 are said to be necessary for health and the progression to samadhi. It is also said traditionally that a cat was the first yoga teacher. I want to note that only a gifted person with a natural suppleness can hope to master all the poses that Iyengar demonstrates. So don’t despair. Most authorities will tell you that a dozen or so will suffice.
Even though detailed instruction is given in only three pranayamas, the subject is nonetheless throughly introduced and explained in the twenty-five elegant and succinct pages that constitute Part III of this book. Included and noteworthy is Iyengar’s well-know warning: “Pneumatic tools can cut through the hardest rock. In Pranayama the yogi uses his lungs as pneumatic tools. If they are not used properly, they destroy both the tool and the person using it.”
There are two appendices, one on “Asana Courses,” which may be useful for teachers or for those who like a highly structured approach. The other is on the curative effects of asana for various disorders including arthritis, asthma, diabetes, flatulence, etc. I take this second appendix with some reserve and note that a comprehensive study of the curative effects of asana awaits its great genius. Nonetheless, the traditional experience, which Iyengar relies on, is part of the ancient practice of ayurvedic medicine, one of the great healing traditions of the world, and as such commands the highest respect. Personally, it is obvious to me that certain asanas facilitate certain natural bodily processes, and it is well know that a concentration of attention and blood flow to an effected part of the body can assist the body’s healing mechanisms. Asana, properly understood in this context, is part of a maintenance program for a healthy body.
Iyengar’s is preeminently a practical approach seeped in the ancient traditions of India. As such there is a distinctive, but unavoidable Hindu cast to his instruction. (Separating yoga from Hinduism is like trying to unscramble an omelette.) Nonetheless Iyengar strives for a universal approach and does an excellent job of achieving it. Note this from the introduction: “Food, the supporting yet consuming substance of all life is regarded as a phase of Brahman. It should be eaten with the feeling that with each morsel one can gain strength to serve the Lord…Whether or not to be a vegetarian is a purely personal matter as each person is influenced by the tradition and habits of the country in which he was born and bred.”
–Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”