By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Mysore, India, is known for its friendly people, culture and ornate palaces. It also is the Ashtanga yoga capital of the world. Ashtanga synchronizes yoga postures with breath, creating internal heat that allows for deeper stretching and more flexibility.
Yoga students from around the world travel to Mysore each year to study from the master teachers who live there. Among the most respected of those teachers is Sri BNS Iyengar.
With more than 60 years of experience with yoga, Iyengar is one of the most senior teachers of Ashtanga in the world. He has students across the globe, including Andrew Eppler, owner of Ashtanga Yoga Studio, 120 E. Tonhawa St. in Norman.
Now, Iyengar is in Norman, lecturing and teaching. This is Iyengar’s first visit to the United States.
Eppler said he is humbled and honored that his teacher chose Norman as the place he would visit. The revered teacher receives dozens of invitations each year, and he has traveled to Europe to teach on previous occasions.
About a year and a half ago, Eppler extended an invitation to his teacher. After long and careful consideration, Iyengar followed his instincts and agreed to come to the Sooner state.
The humble yogi lives very simply, Eppler said, never seeking material wealth or fame. His gentle spirit hides a determined strength of character.
The Transcript was privileged to have an exclusive interview with the respected yogi from abroad. Iyengar is soft-spoken and recites Sanskrit Yoga sutras in a melodic voice before explaining the application of those ancient texts to modern life.
Q: Why did you choose Norman as your first American destination?
Iyengar said he came to Norman to propagate the traditional Indian system of yoga. He had been invited to the U.S. by many people over the years but never before felt the time was right. At age 86, he decided it was time to visit the U.S. and teach the proper principal of yoga. He thought the visit would also provide a good life lesson for Andrew (Eppler), his student.
Q: What is the proper principal of yoga?
Iyengar said yoga is not just a physical exercise. The commercialization of yoga in America is one reason why he decided to make his debut visit. Deep education in yoga practice takes time. For Iyengar, yoga provides the link — the yoke — between mind and body, spirit and soul.
“If you practice for a long time with earnestness, you can benefit,” he said.
Q: Why is the breath so important in Ashtanga practice?
“Man wants health, longevity and peace of mind,” he said. “Oxygen is health.”
A deficiency in oxygen creates an imbalance in the body and results in ill health. By adopting breathing techniques that infuse the organs with oxygen, you can rid the body of disease.
“Yogic breathing is much deeper than that of the common man,” Iyengar said.
There are many types of breathing in Ashtanga yoga. Only breathing through the nose doesn’t supply significant oxygen. Yogic breathing is slower, and more oxygen is converted.
Q: Is mudra more than just making a circle with the fingers?
Mudra is a basic part of yogic study and is used in conjunction with the breath to raise kundalini and to direct the breath to various regions in the body for physical purification.
“Mudra is very important,” Iyengar said.
Q: You are a vegetarian. How important is diet to yoga practice?
Food and rest are equally important components to life, health and yoga practice, he said. But whether one eats meat or does not eat meat is not important. When and how one eats is what matters.
While it is certainly advisable to eat healthy, balanced meals, eating slowly, avoiding overeating and allowing time for food to digest between meals is the most important.
“It takes four hours for food to digest,” he said.
Iyengar has never ingested alcoholic beverages in his life. He advises eating slowly enough to enjoy meals.
Q: What is the role of meditation in yoga?
“Certainly meditation is required,” he said. “Meditation is food for the mind. There is no mind at all when you meditate.”
He said meditation practice is part of the higher education of yoga.
“When your mind is working, you are not meditating,” he said.
Q: What is your mission as a yoga master and teacher?
Iyengar’s goal’s are the development of society and to serve the community by continuing to give even after his death. To do this, Iyengar said he must transmit the knowledge of the practice of yoga to others.
Every yogi has the job to share the message with their students, he said.
Eppler said Iyengar has hundreds of students all over the world. This teacher has never invested in the material world.
“He has taught for so many years quietly, never reaching for fame,” Eppler said.
Iyengar currently conducts yoga research and daily practice in asana, pranayama, yogamudra and philosophy in Mysore.
He encourages students to look beyond the physical practice of yoga postures into the more subtle practices of pranayama, mudra and meditation.
Iyengar teaches by chanting the yogic texts and by sharing the metaphors and stories from his life-long exposure to the ancient tradition of yoga.
For a schedule and description of classes, visit ashtangayogastudio.com or call Eppler at Ashtanga Yoga Studio, 503-7779.