What yogic practice allows us to do, he writes in his most recent book, "Light on Life," is to "rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit the broken pieces together." He describes yoga as an inward journey that can lead to happiness and inner peace. Corinne Schuman recently interviewed Mr. Iyengar via email for Beliefnet.
In "Light on Life" you write of the yogic system as a vehicle to enlightenment. Do you think yoga has something to offer people of any faith, even those who don't believe in and aren't trying to attain enlightenment?
Yoga has a lot to offer to people, whatever [their faith]. It has no geographical boundary, gender, caste, or religion. As each of us is susceptible to physical problems as well as mental, emotional, and intellectual problems, yoga can help us recover from these wants. It is an art to practice, a science to ponder over, and a philosophy that shows us the ways of right living.
Whether one believes or not, it enlightens one in giving physical health and lightness in mind, emotional stability, and clearness in thinking.
For many Hindus, yoga is a way of life. For many Westerners, it's often just a great way to stretch, strengthen, and relax. What is lost when yoga is stripped of its spirituality and treated like just another exercise class?
Life has two facets. One is the physical; the other is spiritual. The physical facet of life is a concrete visible part of the life force recognizable through the organs of action, senses of perception, and the mind. The other facet of life is the self or the soul, which is mercurial and abstract.
Naturally whether one is [Eastern or Western], he or she believes in what they see, and after grasping the visible sheath of the body he or she naturally tries to evolve to reach the source of all movements. [Then they can advance] by refining the intelligence to experience the second part of the facet of life. That is the core of the being, or the self.
I do not think that the essence of yoga which is meant to touch the self is lost in leading one’s life towards the core. For me the body is the concrete visible self, mind is the subtler self, and 'self' is the subtlest of the subtle.
This is the gradation or hierarchy in the field of yoga. Not all practitioners can jump to that highest level. They have to climb, step by step from the physical sphere to reach the spiritual sphere. If it is treated as exercise it is not the fault of yoga but of the practitioners.
Are there benefits people will get no matter where their minds are?