What a Yoga Legend’s Life Can Teach Us About Patience and Persistence
By Nancy Gendimenico
Last month, BKS Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga, passed away - at age 95 - after a life dedicated to teaching others the method he invented. As I read remembrances about him, I was reminded of the struggles and outright rejection he faced attempting to bring yoga to the West. Yet, Mr. Iyengar persisted despite a difficult and challenging childhood.
He was born into poverty in India and battled malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid. He lost his father at age nine and three siblings before their adulthood. Mr. Iyengar learned yoga as a teen and with rigorous practice noticed his health greatly improved. He then decided to begin teaching, and an encounter with Yehudi Menuhin was the catalyst for Mr. Iyengar to bring his yoga methods to the western world. But his attempt in New York during the 50’s generated little interest. Yet, he persisted despite the naysayers and it gradually took hold. Today Iyengar Yoga is practiced in 72 Iyengar schools across the globe and his book, “Light on Yoga” has been translated into 17 languages. His innovative ideas include developing yoga props, now widely used, which allow for adjustment in various poses.
"I learned one can be strong of mind and body, no matter what age. I wanted to be like that woman-fit and fearless."
My own discovery of Iyengar Yoga took place in the 90’s at Rancho La Puerta, a spa in Baja California. I am a visual learner, so demonstration of poses, clear instruction, and thoughtful, caring teachers appealed to me. The foundation of the Iyengar method is based on alignment of mind and body. It is progressive, requiring concentration, hard work, and regular practice. Various asanas or poses are broken down into steps, which gave me the courage to keep trying difficult poses. For example, a back-bend (bridge pose), can be done in stages rather than making a Herculean effort (and causing potential injury) to get into the pose in one movement.
As I came to know the method along with the community of yoga teachers and fellow students, I learned one can be strong of mind and body, no matter what age. I remember in my initial years of practice, a woman announcing her 70th birthday at a yoga class and then sprung up into headstand with little effort. I wanted to be like that woman-fit and fearless. A headstand was a pose I’d been trying without success because of fear that I would fall out of the inversion. My stress induced tight shoulders did not help.
Yoga infused calm into a then turbulent period in my late 30’s when I was facing my father’s terminal illness and a romantic relationship gone awry. I kept at it, tamping down on my impatience and slowly saw progress. Now I can balance in headstand away from the wall.
Over twenty years later, my yoga practice mirrors my other life pursuits, as a budding writer and as a business professional in a career transition. Make progress, hit a wall, (sometimes hard as I attempt handstand), and then summon up the courage and energy to start again and keep going. Like Mr. Iyengar. As he said to his grand-daughter in his last hours, “I have shown you all these things, now realize them for yourself.”
And I do one step at a time.
Nancy Gendimenico is a brand licensing professional in apparel and fashion and has developed product extensions for high profile brands including Champion and Hanes.
She blogs and writes about apparel and retail industry trends and special interest topics for women. Nancy is a candidate for an MFA in Creative Writing at Stoney Brook Southampton. She lives in New York City and can be reached at email@example.com