B.K.S. Iyengar, Indian yoga guru; at 95

B.K.S. Iyenger (right) demonstrated a stretching exercise to Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag ub 2003,
B.K.S. Iyenger (right) demonstrated a stretching exercise to Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag ub 2003,

NEW DELHI — B.K.S. Iyengar, who helped introduce the practice of yoga to a Western world awakening to the notion of an inner life, died Wednesday in the southern Indian city of Pune. He was 95.

The cause was heart failure, said Abhijata Sridhar-Iyengar, his granddaughter.

After surviving tuberculosis, typhoid, and malaria as a child, Mr. Iyengar credited yoga with saving his life. He spent his mid-teens demonstrating “the most impressive and bewildering” positions in the court of the Maharaja of Mysore, he later recalled.


A meeting in 1952 with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, an early yoga devotee, proved to be a turning point, and Mr. Iyengar began traveling with Menuhin, eventually opening institutes on six continents.

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Among his devotees were novelist Aldous Huxley, pop star Madonna, and designer Donna Karan, as well as a who’s who of prominent Indian figures, from cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to Bollywood siren Kareena Kapoor. He famously taught Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, 85 at the time, to stand on her head.

In a 2005 book, “Light on Life,” Mr. Iyengar mused about the vast changes he had seen.

“I set off in yoga 70 years ago when ridicule, rejection and outright condemnation were the lot of a seeker through yoga even in its native land of India,” he wrote. “If I had become a sadhu, a mendicant holy man, wandering the great trunk roads of British India, begging bowl in hand, I would have met with less derision and won more respect.”

The news about Mr. Iyengar — or “guru-ji,” as many called him, using a Sanskrit honorific — rippled through India on Wednesday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he was “deeply saddened” and offered “condolences to his followers all over the world.”


Mr. Iyengar’s practice is characterized by long asanas, or postures, that require extraordinary will and discipline. A reporter who watched daily practice in 2002, when Mr. Iyengar was 83, said that he held one headstand for six minutes, swiveling his legs to the right and the left, and that when he finished, “his shoulder-length hair was awry, he seemed physically depleted,” but he wore the smile of a gleeful child.

Sridhar-Iyengar said her grandfather recognized early on that yoga, up until then viewed as a mystical pursuit, “had something for everybody, not just the intellectually or spiritually inclined.”

“He felt satisfied,” she said. “Even at the end, even a few weeks before, he said, ‘I’m satisfied with what I’ve done.’ He took yoga to the world. He knew that.”

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar was born into a poor family in Karnataka.

He leaves a son, Prashant; five daughters, Geeta, Vinita, Suchita, Sunita and Savitha; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.