In the “Hints and Cautions for the Practice of Asana” in Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar writes that the qualities demanded from an aspirant are discipline, faith, tenacity and perseverance. These are the very qualities that came to mind when I thought of what I admired most about BKS Iyengar.
The quality of discipline has many shades of meaning. While looking up synonyms for the English word, discipline, I found: control, training, teaching, instruction, regulation, direction, order, authority, rule, strictness. None of these words quite hit he mark, and for some people these words may strike a negative chord, based on their associations with these words. Although all these synonyms have their place in the discipline of BKS Iyengar, the Sanskrit word Tapas, based on the root Tap (तप्) meaning “to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn,” comes closer. BKS Iyengar writes:
It (tapas) therefore means a burning effort in all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self-discipline and austerity. The whole science of character building can be regarded as a practice of tapas. (p. 38 Light on Yoga)
Tapas, one of the five niyamas, is self-discipline with one’s highest aim always in mind. It is not a selfish quest, or a working to satisfy one’s desires in life, but a “conscious effort to achieve ultimate union with the Divine and to burn up all desires which stand in the way of this goal.” (p.38 LOY) Tapas means reflecting on one’s actions in body, speech and mind and refining one’s actions everyday.
The quality of faith in BKS Iyengar’s life is exemplified by his faith in his guru, T Krisnamacharya, faith in the practice of yoga, faith in himself to overcome all obstacles and faith in (or surrender to) the Lord, True Self, or Ultimate Reality (ishvara-pranidhana). Faith comes through very strongly in his personal religious devotion and his faith in the transformative power of practice which he worked hard to teach to his students.
Tenacity is linked to tapas and faith. Tenacity is putting the qualities of the heart (faith, devotion, tapas) into action until one’s ultimate aim is achieved. It is the unstoppable urge to reach perfection and freedom.
Perseverance is closely linked to tenacity. It implies that one continues in practice and faith even when times are difficult and obstacles (क्लेश, klesha) are many. BKS Iyengar has illustrated these qualities in his own life on several occasions: when he was young and overcoming tuberculosis and other health problems, when he failed for years to understand or properly practice pranayama, and when he lost most of his asana practice after a scooter accident. After all of these various setbacks, BKS Iyengar did not give up or become complacent. Instead, he applied more interest and application in his practice to overcome what stood in his way to reaching his aim. He was strict with himself, yet compassionate to his students. This is what made him a remarkable teacher and human being.