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History

Almost 50 years after it was first introduced in Edinburgh, Sue Cresswell, IYUK Archives Committee – Chair, takes us through the timeline of Iyengar Yoga in Scotland

Often credited with bringing the ancient art, science and philosophy of yoga to the modern world, BKS Iyengar is the author of the popular book Light on Yoga and inventor of the yoga props you see in studios of every style – sometimes to make asanas more accessible, sometimes more challenging. There are now Iyengar Yoga studios and associations in 77 countries around the world – and more than 1,200 qualified Iyengar Yoga teachers in the UK and Ireland, of whom 80 are based in Scotland.

Bruce Low, Elaine Pidgeon, Bob Welham, Meg Laing, Alan Cameron, Catriona Instrell, Gerry Chambers, Tom Yeudall, Jay Carlyl in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana at the demonstration
BKS Iyengar 1982 visit EIYC  – Yoga demonstration at the George Square Theatre
Left to right: Bruce Low, Elaine Pidgeon, Bob Welham, Meg Laing, Alan Cameron, Catriona Instrell, Gerry Chambers, Tom Yeudall, Jay Carlyl

It is one of the world’s most widely practised methods of yoga with a strong lineage going back to Krishnamacharya, where BKS Iyengar learned alongside Krishnamacharya’s son, TKV Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga.

In 1954, Yehudi Menuhin, the famous violinist, first brought Mr Iyengar to the UK. Amazed and inspired by his extensive demonstrations and teachings, many of those who saw him went to India to study intensively under his tutelage. In response, Mr Iyengar encouraged these students to teach back home and to train others to keep up with demand for classes. Two of the students who attended Mr Iyengar’s summer classes in London in the early 1970s, Bob and Kathy Welham, were approved to teach and later moved to Edinburgh. And so the story of Iyengar Yoga in Scotland began.

Amazed and inspired by his teachings, many of those who saw him [BKS Iyengar] went to India to study intensively under his tutelage

1974: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY YOGA SOCIETY (EUYS)

Set up by Bob and Kathy Welham, the EUYS is immediately popular with waiting lists for classes. The couple train many teachers, some of whom still teach today. The popularity of the classes spreads
beyond Edinburgh, sowing the seeds for rich communities in the future.

1975-77: RAMAMANI IYENGAR MEMORIAL YOGA INSTITUTE (RIMYI)

Bob and Kathy spend three extended visits at the newly built RIMYI in Pune, India studying under Mr Iyengar.

1979: THE PUNE INTENSIVES AND THE FOUNDING OF THE EIYC

A group of Scottish-trained teachers accompany Bob and Kathy to Pune for their first summer intensive. Several similar intensive trips follow in subsequent years. In October the couple purchase 195 Bruntsfield Place as the new home of the Edinburgh Iyengar Yoga Centre (EIYC).

1982: MR IYENGAR IN EDINBURGH

Honouring an earlier promise, Mr Iyengar visits and blesses the Edinburgh centre – an enormous thrill and privilege for all involved.

1984: MYSTIC EAST COMES TO EDINBURGH

At a second visit by Mr Iyengar, teachers perform a demonstration for him in front of a packed audience at the George Square theatre – a feat of organisation ably managed and produced by Bob. The Edinburgh Evening News features an article about the event under the headline
‘Mystic East comes to Edinburgh’.

1986: NEW BEGINNINGS

The Welhams leave Edinburgh for Bristol (where they set up another Iyengar Yoga studio, now Yoga West). Elaine Pidgeon takes over the day to day running of the EIYC. She subsequently buys the studio in 1999, and in collaboration with Meg Laing, trains many dedicated students to
become teachers.

2014: EVOLUTION OF THE EDINBURGH IYENGAR YOGA CENTRE (EIYC)

The EIYC becomes a community benefit society – bought by students and teachers and run ‘for the benefit of the community’ (as it still is today). A much-cherished place, with a good number of our students still attending from the 1980s. Youngsters and newcomers who come to classes often remark on the serene, special atmosphere: 40-plus years of yoga practice within the four walls of the main studio.

THE PRESENT DAY

Iyengar yoga in Scotland has grown over the years. The Glasgow and West of Scotland area now has 25 Iyengar teachers teaching through iYoga Glasgow. There is a strong link to the Western Baths, a sports club and pool in Hillhead, which all host Iyengar classes and there are two Iyengar studios in Glasgow, the Yoga Extension and the recently established Harmony Studio in Govan.

Meanwhile in Aberdeen, in 1985, Iyengar student Fiona Bochel jumped for joy to find classes by Anke Zanderbergen, who was working hard teaching all over the city. Anke spent time in India studying with the Iyengars before training a group of her own students to become teachers. The community of teachers grew and today there are Iyengar yoga classes all over the north of Scotland, especially in Aberdeen and Inverness.

More recently in Tayside, after about 20 years of teaching in the Scottish Borders, Julie Anderson moved to northeast Fife and opened an Iyengar studio, Yoga on Tay, which has hosted several guest teachers from the UK and abroad.

In Edinburgh, Iyengar yoga is as popular as ever with classes all over the city. Elaine Pidgeon still teaches at EIYC which is now a community benefit society, with more than twenty regular teachers holding daily classes – many in hybrid live/online form since the Covid 19 pandemic. YogaNow, founded in 2014 by Lucy Brownhall, offers another fantastic space with five Iyengar teachers including Katie Rutherford, who studied with the Welhams. Yoga Now and EIYC both host regular visits from national and international teachers. Katie and Lucy have recently returned from an intensive at Pune (October 2023) keeping our teachings fresh and vibrant as ever.

A SAD FAREWELL

BKS Iyengar died in 2014 at the age of 95 and his beloved daughter Geeta a few years later. Geeta lived just long enough to teach, with her brother Prashant, at Mr Iyengar’s centenary celebrations in 2018, which Sue was lucky enough to attend with fellow teacher Jane Walker. Sue described Geeta’s teaching as vital and inspired as ever, despite her ill health. Both teachers felt Geeta could see their every move – no mean feat in a sports hall of 1,500 students. Sadly, they learned of her death just two days after the final session, when their plane touched down in London.

ONGOING TEACHINGS

The teachings of BKS Iyengar still flow strongly. For students there is the added joy of regular classes from his son Prashant, daughter Sunita and granddaughter Abhijata, beamed directly into their living rooms via Zoom. And since the restrictions on travel have been lifted, teachers and students once again go regularly to Pune for a month-long immersive study at RIMYI. The links remain strong!The organisation is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024. With thanks.

Original article by Sue Cresswell, with thanks to Katie Rutherford, Fiona Bochel, Julie Anderson, Patrick Boase and in memory of Meg Laing. Published in Yoga Scotland Spring 2023

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