Years ago when I still thought yoga was for slackers, I decided to check out a studio in Toronto where they taught the Iyengar style. I was in for a surprise: the yoga was physical and demanding, and the teacher, drill-sergeant tough. Perhaps it was the stunned look on my face that led him to declare: “If it is gentle, it is not Iyengar yoga!”
Certainly, BKS Iyengar, one of the most influential teachers to leave India and propagate yoga in the West, is known as a stern, no-nonsense taskmaster with a passion for precision. That’s why I smiled to see the fiery guru looking so sweet and soulful on the cover of this book – though the photos inside reveal the intense, forbidding Iyengar of old.
Light on Life: the yoga journey to wholeness, inner pace and ultimate freedom is the culmination of the 86-year-old teacher’s work. Like any enthusiast, I was eager to read Iyengar’s insights as he neared the end of a lifetime of devotion to yoga.
He tells readers that his book “is an attempt to light the way for you and other spiritual seekers. It aims to map out a path that all may follow. It offers advice, methods and a philosophical framework at a level that even a newcomer to the practice of yoga can follow.”
In Iyengar’s 1966 classic Light on Yoga, he focused on the physical aspects of yoga, covering postures and technique in great detail. Now, with Light on Life, he builds on this, illuminating yoga’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual health benefits.
“The practice of yogasana [postures] for the sake of health, or to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. While it is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end….Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing three levels of the quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit,” he explains.
Chapters of the book correspond to “the map the ancients left us” of how to become truly integrated and increase physical stability, vitality and emotional stability, mental clarity, intellectual wisdom, and spiritual bliss. “The yogic journey guides us from the periphery, the body, to the centre of our being, the soul,” he says.
Iyengar’s vast experience and ability to convey key yogic concepts, often with the precision he’s known for in his postures, make Light on Life a wonderful read. For example, he provides a wonderfully lucid explanation of the “eight petals” of yoga (ethical disciplines, internal ethical observances, physical postures, breath control, sensory control and withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and blissful absorption). Overall, I found Light on Life a valuable synthesis of yoga as a spiritual path to health and integration.
*Light on Life: the yoga journey to wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom, BKS Iyengar, with John J. Evans and Douglas Adams, Raincoast Books, $34.95 (US publisher Rodale Press)