IT IS very difficult to define art because it is a very subjective experience. An individual’s subjective experience may or may not be appreciated by all people in all times. Yet we all know that art touches one and all. Everyone possesses his or her own artistic side.
You watch a work of art by Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo and you are awed, inspired. Listen to a composition by Mozart or Beethoven, and it keeps you enthralled. Attend a Hari Prasad Chaurasia concert and you are struck by his sheer virtuosity.
Now imagine if the canvas of the artist was the human being himself, his life, his thoughts, his words and his deeds. If the composition and virtuosity required were the harmony between body, mind and soul to create the symphony of life.
Our Guruji, Yogacharya B K S Iyengar, is such an artist. All who have got a glimpse of Guruji’s life and work cannot but be touched by this overwhelming feeling. It moved renowned violinist, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, to write the inscription, “To my best violin teacher,” on an Omega wristwatch he presented Guruji. It inspired Robert Engman, chairman of the Fine Arts Department of the University Of Pennsylvania, to sculpt a unique monument — ‘After Iyengar’. It spurred E. Simmons, renowned American photographer, to exclaim, “Iyengar is to yoga what Renoir is to painting, Rodin to sculpture and Sterchen to philosophy.” With a performance record of over 10,000 live lecture-demonstrations throughout the world, he has earned epithets such as “An artist with no instrument” (Lord Menuhin), “A supreme artist” (Robert Engman) and “The Michaelangelo of Yoga” (BBC). And this coming from people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, countries and professions.
We, part of the global Iyengar yoga family, know the man and his art. Art we say, and yet what is the art practised by our Guruji which moved commoner and aesthete alike to proclaim him variously as ‘my best violin teacher’, ‘Michelangelo’ and a ‘supreme artist’?
Life – The Masterpiece
Arts are of many types such as basic arts, manual arts, fine arts, divine arts, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, prose, poetry, drama, so on and so forth.
And then there is yoga. Not for just one aspect but for transforming and perfecting the life of the individual wholly. It’s eighth-fold path lays down the artistic influence it exerts. It begins by enforcing the moral and ethical parameters (yama and niyama) which change the nature and character of the individual and then follows it up with purifying the body (asanas), breath (pranayama) and consciousness (pratyahara, dharana and dhyana). When these are achieved, what remains is the state of unalloyed bliss (samadhi). The practitioner then lives, breathes, thinks and sleeps in perfect art.
The art of yoga is as old as civilization itself. From time immemorial, human beings have aspired to transcend their human frailties and seek the highest state — become God-like. As the saying goes, “Nar ka Narayan ban sakta hai.”
The highly classical and esoteric definition of yoga means the communion of the individual self with the universal spirit. Many a times the novice in yoga, while practising the initial aspects of asana or pranayama, is confronted with these mystical queries – in what way is one connecting with the all-pervading divinity? What happens to the mind and body in meditation? When will I obtain samadhi? But this indicates that one is trying to produce a masterpiece without first learning the basics of drawing.
It was not until Guruji shed light on yoga, that the answers to the above became clear. Yoga is a science as well as an art. Guruji’s genius lies in being able to recreate and impart those rare moments of artistic poise repeatedly and, at will, to people of different attitudes and aptitudes. He has perfected and distilled his artistic experiences to such an extent that they have assumed scientific precision. His precise hits and kicks, as well as the props he devised, are like the master sculptor’s strokes, which are wrought to bring in symmetry, poise, precision, beauty and form in the practitioner’s life. That is why Iyengar yoga has potentials to transform each and every aspect of the practitioner’s life — from the physical to the psychological, physiological to the emotional, ethical to the spiritual.
And that is why people from different walks of life experience such profound and discernible results; Iyengar yoga thus makes a dancer a better dancer, a writer a better writer, a musician a better musician, an athlete a better athlete, a physician a better physician and above all, a human being a better human being.
Thou Art Immortal
It is said that art is immortal but life, mortal. Art is eternal, infinite and life, finite, limited. To capture the vast and infinite depth of art in a carefully cultivated, ephemeral moment of inspiration becomes the raison d’être of the artist. As the immortal lines of William Blake remind us, “To see a world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower, To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”
To get a glimpse of Guruji’s art is to see divinity in powerful perspective. To see the conjunction of the perfect art crafting the perfect life. Consider Guruji practising an asana, say Trikonasana. As he says, you have to sculpt yourself to become the asana, which is truth. So he, like a master sculptor, sculpts meticulously from the arch of the foot to the crown of the head. Is the physical body (muscles, bones, ligaments, tissues, joints, fibres, nerves) explored evenly everywhere? Is the mind a witness, or a participant, what about the emotions, what about the intelligence? Is the consciousness flowing equally in the back and front leg, in the back and front ankle, in the back and front knee and thigh, in the top and bottom arms, in the back and front lobes of the brain and the heart? One would have to constantly, moment-to-moment watch every nuance and move of the body, mind and emotions and set about purifying them.
This journey into the realms of one’s own inner being is the grandest and the noblest, yet one of the most daunting. For like the explorer, one never knows what to expect. And on the way, one would have to learn and imbibe skills as diverse as those of a physician and a poet, a scientist and a philosopher, an artist and a mathematician, a student and a teacher.
Seeing Guruji, is to see the realization of all the above. Hence through his life and work, he creates, elevates, inspires, reveals and illumines. To make us hear the ethereal music of thoughts, words, deeds and… life. It is a life where as Guruji says: “The body is the bow, asanas the arrows and Self the target.”
Guruji’s is the most basic art and yet the most difficult to master.
It is to align the billions of cells, nerves, muscles, ligaments, sinews, bones, joints, tendons, organs, glands, systems, humours and senses to produce perfect harmony in thought, word and deed, like a symphony orchestra under the baton of the inner, divine self;
It is to perform with no instrument, only what one was born with;
It is to express the highest art in the body, mind, intellect and emotions, through joy and sorrow, heat and cold, pleasure and pain;
It is to unstintingly pursue the divine discontent, channel talents and resources to it’s fulfillment, exercise physical, mental, emotional and ethical discipline and demonstrate skill, creativity, grace, elegance and balance required to produce that rare achievement — perfect life and a perfect art.
Becoming that incomparable artist is Guruji’s unique contribution to humanity. Guruji with his body as the canvas and the asanas as paints and brushes portrayed the ultimate freedom sought by mankind — health in the body, poise in the mind and beatitude in the self.
It took him a lifetime of unswerving dedication and zeal. Of patient and persistent effort. Of living, breathing, thinking and sleeping the eternal yoga.
To become that man mortally present but having caught and communicated a glimpse of the eternal… through his life and his art.