IYISF and IYANC: A History of Firsts
The history of Iyengar Yoga in Northern California began in 1973 with one of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar’s first trips to America. A yogini named Rama Jyoti Vernon was at the YMCA in Ann Arbor, MI where Mr. Iyengar taught. She flew home to California completely changed by the experience and determined to share her learning with others. The next year, Guruji (beloved guru; i.e. Mr. Iyengar) made his first trip to Northern California. Iyengar Yoga was still relatively unknown and he taught to a small group of students in Oakland.
The History of Iyengar Yoga
Momentum was building. Together with Mary Dunn, Felicity Hall (now Felicity Green), Judith Lasater, Glen Moyer, and others, Rama created a community of students interested in studying Iyengar Yoga. This group began the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education (IYTE), which operated under the auspices of the California Yoga Teachers’ Association. That comprehensive program, the first Iyengar Yoga teacher training program in the U.S., has been a beacon of light and learning for people all over the world. In March 1976 Ramanand Patel, who met Guruji in 1968, moved to California and joined this group. He was immediately welcomed as a teacher of teachers and helped fine tune the teacher training program by holding weekend workshops and classes at his South Bay home where the staff of the teaching program met regularly with both local and visiting teachers from around the world.
The First Iyengar Yoga Association
In 1976, the first Iyengar Yoga association in the U.S was established. Called the Light on Yoga Association, its early leaders included Mary Dunn, Keshava Kronish (the association’s first president), Larry Hatlett, Melinda Perlee, and other aforementioned founding members. The association was established primarily to promote yoga education in accordance with the techniques “evolved and developed” by Mr. Iyengar.
The articles of incorporation for the Light on Yoga Association listed 14 purposes, including reviving interest in the ethical and spiritual concepts of Indian philosophy, fostering and developing correct meditative practice, producing films for educational purposes, and training teachers. This association was the seed that eventually became IYNAUS.
The Association also brought Guruji back to the Bay Area in 1976. By this time, interest in Iyengar Yoga had grown considerably. Many people vied for a space in the picturesque Brazil Room at Tilden Park, located just above the UC Berkeley campus. That particular trip was seminal, forging a direct connection between San Francisco and Pune that continues to this day. Practitioners began to travel regularly to Pune, and Guruji visited the Bay Area on every U.S. tour thereafter. The teacher training program, intensives, and weekend workshops offered by the San Francisco Institute provided a setting in which what was learned from the Iyengar family could be disseminated more widely to students and aspiring teachers.
The Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California
In 1978, the Light on Yoga Association purchased the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education changing its name to “The Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco”. Guruji changed the name of the Light on Yoga Association to its present name, the Iyengar Yoga Association of Northern California, IYANC. The organization expanded its reach, offering yoga classes for beginners and other programs for the general public.
Yoga Teacher Training
Over the years, the Institute had several homes in different parts of San Francisco. The teacher training at the Institute became known as the Harvard of yoga teacher training programs. Packed weekend workshops and summer intensives offered teachers and practitioners opportunities to share ideas and learn from one another. These were incredibly important opportunities, as there were few Iyengar teachers in the US. They were a “shot in the arm” that helped many people go back to their own communities to teach, open studios, and conduct workshops.
Many of the founding members of the Iyengar Yoga community in the Bay Area supported Iyengar Yoga as leaders of the California Yoga Teachers Association. This association maintained yoga connections and communication by offering referral services for teachers and publishing a small mimeographed magazine called the IYTE Review, which later became the IYISF review.
The 1984 International Iyengar Yoga Convention
This convention proved to be another seminal event for Iyengar Yoga. Mr. Iyengar and teachers from around the world were welcomed by 750 enthusiastic attendees. Participants were thrilled, they said, to sit in Davies Symphony Hall not to hear the usual sounds of the orchestra, but to watch the dynamic movements of yoga. That convention served as a model and inspiration for the American Iyengar Conventions that have followed. After that, Guruji made many more trips to Northern California, including a 2005 appearance at Davies Symphony Hall for his Light on Life tour.
The Current State of Iyengar Yoga in Northern California
Yoga has changed with the years. Early on a majority of yoga teachers in the Bay Area were Iyengar Yoga teachers and the Institute was the only area yoga center. Today you can find yoga studios throughout the SF Bay Area and all of Northern California. Intermediate Senior and Intermediate Junior teachers from our region fan out to rural and urban areas across the US and the world to teach weekend workshops that bring Iyengar Yoga to interested students
The Iyengar Institute of San Francisco (IYISF) continues as a beacon of light, directly transmitting the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar. For 30 years (since 1983) the institute offered classes and teacher training programs at 27th Avenue and Taraval Street in the outer Sunset District. In March of 2014 the institute moved to its current location at the corner of Sutter and Pierce.
Today, IYANC’s mission remains to promote Iyengar Yoga. IYISF is an asset of the IYANC and is operated by it. IYISF offers public yoga classes taught by highly trained local Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers, workshops taught by both local and visiting teachers from around the world, and community events. The Institute offers the most Iyengar classes and workshops of any studio in San Francisco, including a teacher education program called the Art of Teaching.
As the needs of the Iyengar Yoga community change, the activities of the Institute and the association continue to evolve. A regional sub-committee, started in early 2017, is working with Iyengar Yoga Centers in the Northern California region to expand awareness of Iyengar Yoga and offers a website to share information about workshops, events, and activities from across the region.