Ashtanga Vinyasa with BNS Iyengar – The lost Asana

I went to Mysore, India in 2010 to study with BNS Iyengar. I wanted to study with him because he was my teacher’s teacher (Sri V. Sheshadri), a direct student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois, and a local legend. He is also one of the few Indian teachers still teaching both the western and  Indian community. Plus, a few friends called him crusty and I found that appealing since so many Western teachers are like cheerleaders on ativan.

I was looking for roots and I was looking to learn. BNS teaches a little differently now than I had heard he taught previously. He taught Primary Series in a blazing 55 minutes as a led practice rather than the traditional silent practice I was familiar with. It was sometime brutal and primitive. The way I suspect it was taught 50 or 60 years ago, like I had heard  Sheshadri speak of in 2006.

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I liked that BNS’s  Primary Series was a little different. It was unexpected. When people think of Ashtanga they think of it in one way, never to be altered. I know a lot of people will scream that it IS only one way. I always found this attitude as surprising as I found the conservative and conformist attitude in the punk rock community disturbing. But remember that when Pattabhi Jois was asked by a student,  “you used to teach it this way and now you teach it different, which way is right?” he  said, “the way I teach it now is correct.”

Some differences I noticed with BNS:

On page 1 (above) you will see that the Namaskara A + B are shorter in repetitions than I had practiced with Sheshadri (I will post the Sheshadri cheat sheet from 06′ in the future) or Manju Pattahbi Jois.

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The differences I found on page 2  start with Janu Sirsasana B. It is replaced with what I have heard people call “Open Janu Sirsasana” or Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana nine were you stack the shoulders and open to the side like in Utthita Parsvakonasana. Most interesting was the first pose of column 5 listed as Supta Parivrtta Padangusthasana were you lie down put you right arm behind your head – or as BNS would say “surround the head” – and grab your right big toe on the bent leg that is across your chest. I hadn’t see this pose ever before in the 8 years I had been practicing yoga. When I Googled Supta Parivrtta Padangusthasana I got 18,000 results for the first pose you see on line 4 of page 2 (above)… not the pose I was looking for. When I couldn’t find it easily, I got very interested in this pose. After asking a couple of people who had studied with BNS longer than me and still getting no info, I found this pose listed as the last part of a three-part pose called Supta Padangusthasana Thirteen in BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” (BKS Iyengar is no relation to BNS, but both were students of Krishnamacharya). When I Googled Supta Padangusthasana Thirteen in quotes to limit the search to only this pose, I got only ONE result. It is on a page that lists a bunch of asanas (poses) and little else. When I Googled it as Supta Padangusthasana 13, I got 7 results, one of which was Polish and another in  Chinese. According to “Light on Yoga,” Supta Padangusthasana Thirteen is of great benefit for people with sciatica and stiffness in hip joints.

I LOVE that BNS is teaching this pose that the rest of the world has nearly forgotten. This is why I went to study with him To get to the unfiltered, non-westernized, un-corporatized yoga.

I learned a lot in my time with BNS, some good, some bad, just like life.  Like the dark and the light, I see with clarity through my practice ever-shifting  glimpses of samadhi समाधि and the terror of the veil of Maya माया being lifted.   BNS showed me a man who could be gentle and fierce in one movement and one breath.

“Do good, be good. Be good, do good.” ~ BNS Iyengar

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12 Comments

  1. August 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    […] went to Mysore, India in 2010 to study with BNS Iyengar. I wanted to study with him because he wassource This entry was posted in asia by poster. Bookmark the […]

  2. Nancy said,

    August 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Crusty like a day-old baguette but sweet like laadu (as opposed to gulab jamun… too syrupy). Love that guy.

  3. lilas said,

    January 29, 2014 at 8:32 am

    i did also study with BNS and i like your article

    • azzavara-am@yahoo.com said,

      February 22, 2015 at 1:07 am

      Interesting article and comments and I think it could learn a great deal if I could study with him next summer. Could you please tell me how to get in touch with him? Are his classes available to everyone? Thanks

  4. February 25, 2015 at 1:11 am

    […] You can read this blog written by Daniel Overberger to know a bit more about BNS Iyengar: Ashtanga Vinyasa with BNS Iyengar – The lost Asana […]

  5. Marco Pino said,

    April 2, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Hi Daniel, I hope you remember me, I added before a link to this blog of yours in my own blog.

    I just published an interview that I did to BNS Iyengar last September, I guess you’ll be intererested in it 🙂

    Interview with BNS Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher in Mysore

  6. Katia said,

    January 30, 2016 at 8:24 am

    I hesitate to write because I am still a beginner, having practiced Iyengar Yoga (with a student of BKS Iyengar) for just 3 years. I did want to point out that the “thirteen” is the (very subjective) level of difficulty from Light on Yoga, not part of the name of the pose. In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar discusses Supta Padangustasana not as a single asana, but rather as a cycle. Inside that cycle there are a number of points where you pause and inhale and exhale for a few breath cycles and also 3 poses that you might think of as “destinations” (my word, so if it is a poor word I apologize) where he suggests a timing in seconds. The pose that intrigued Daniel is the second “destination” in that cycle where you pause for I think 20 seconds. (The numbers of seconds in the pauses are not strict rules, but comparing asana to asana you get an idea of which asanas you might hold for longer times and which ones you might hold for shorter times. You learn from your teacher, and from paying attention to how the pose affects you, how this applies to you.)

    As a beginner I cannot reach the full pose yet in any of the destinations.

    My teacher uses elements from the Supta Padangustana cycle to teach us many things — it is endlessly rewarding and inspiring.

  7. mooktookie said,

    January 30, 2016 at 10:03 am

    “Surround your Head” lol I always chuckle when he says that!

  8. Erin said,

    July 6, 2016 at 8:55 am

    I enjoyed your article and wanted to share a few related resources:

    The cheat sheets to Iyengar’s Primary and Intermediate Series practices are near the bottom of this page:
    https://www.ashtangayoga.info/practice/downloads/cheat-sheets-pdf/

    Supta Parivrita Padangustasana is shown in Anthony Grim Hall’s “Krishnamacharya’s ‘Original’ Ashtanga Yoga” as the 10th and 14th vinyasa of Suptapada Parsvangusthasana:

    “In the 10th vinyasa, bring the foot that is being held
    against the ground back to the position in the 8th
    vinyasa and remain here.

    Without letting go of the foot, move it such that the leg
    (or calf) sits on the chest beneath the neck and such that
    the elbow of the arm holding the foot is behind the
    neck.

    Remain here. In this sthiti, the head must be raised
    slightly.

    That is, there should be 6 angulas of space between the
    ground and the head. Inside the matham, this is called
    sammukha parivrtasana.”

  9. Eva Luna said,

    July 10, 2016 at 12:03 am

    I am studying second series and have some difficulties with Eka Pada Sirsasana. So nearly after a year fois trying different asanas i came back to Sri BNS IYENGAR’s Parvritta Supta Padangustasana. At the time I learned il with him in 2013, i couldn’d do it and thought there was no use to practice it because it was not officially in Ashtanga First Series, I LEARNED IT IS A VERY USEFUL ASANA.
    The one i adopted immediately was PARVRITA JANU SIRSASANA, wonderful feeling, wonderful benefits. Thank you for your blog
    Eva Luna, Paris


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