Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar’s childhood experiences of ill-health and deprivation have imbued his brand of yoga with a strong philanthropic element, reflected in his philosophy, ”Take an action, no matter how small.”
As well as being an inspirational teacher of yoga, Iyengar is also driven by an overriding desire to improve the lives of others. This desire can be seen not only in his innovative methods of practice, which benefit those with health problems, but also in his charitable ventures to improve the lives of the underprivileged in his home village of Bellur.
Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust (BKSSNT)
As an adult, Iyengar regularly visited the temple in his village, Bellur, and was always saddened at the plight of the children who lived without basic amenities. In 1967, Iyengar began to rectify this situation by building a primary school, the first of his many good works in Bellur. In 1998, having promoted yoga all over the world, Iyengar decided that he wanted to promote yoga in Bellur, saying that his “only desire now is to take yoga to the villages.” However, he knew that the basic needs of the villagers would need to be met before they would be willing to take up yoga.
In 2003, the Bellur Krishnamachar and Seshamma Smaraka Nidhi Trust was formed, in memory of Iyengar’s parents, to provide the village of Bellur with the basic necessities that would enable it to flourish. The Trust has four distinct objectives: to provide education, to provide health-care facilities, to improve social standards and living conditions, and to expand the cultural skills of the villagers. Land procured by the Trust has been developed and now houses a new road, the Trust office building, a high school, with all the teachers’ salaries paid by the Trust, a guest house, and a large building to be used for cottage industries. The Trust has also developed the infrastructure of the village, building roads and fences and establishing power supplies. It has opened a day-care hospital with surgical facilities, where services and medication are supplied free of charge to the villagers. The Trust now plans to build schools in other impoverished parts of India.
Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga Therapy)
Although Iyengar has retired from teaching mainstream classes, he continues to teach the special needs’ classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune. People with problems such as heart conditions, arthritis, diabetes, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and cancer continue to come to the RIMYI from all over the world to experience the therapeutic effects of Iyengar yoga.
As well as helping those with specific medical problems, Iyengar yoga has proved hugely beneficial in helping people overcome difficult addictions, or deal with severe trauma. A long-standing student of Iyengar’s, Father Joe Perreira, runs the Kripa Foundation De-addiction Centre in Bandra, Mumbai. At the Centre, drug and alcohol addicts are taught yoga, meditation, introspection, and group therapy alongside a 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous Program. The Centre has a remarkable recovery rate. A similar program is used at other addiction centers around the world.
In the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, Iyengar sent senior Iyengar yoga teachers to teach yoga to the survivors to help them cope with the tragedy. Iyengar once said that “giving does not impoverish and withholding does not enrich.”