LUCKY SEVERSON, guest host: One of the numerous ways that people in this country try to get fit these days is through the practice of yoga. There are many different forms of this discipline, but the most commonly taught is called Iyengar. Itís named for the Indian guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who teaches that yoga has a deeply spiritual component uniting the body, mind and soul. Kim Lawton reports:
KIM LAWTON: He's the man credited with bringing yoga to the West, and when Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar makes a visit to America, he is greeted like the conquering hero his followers consider him to be.
EDDY MARKS (Iyengar Archivist): They have benefited so much by his teachings, through his teachers, that when they see him they feel that love inside of their heart for the one who has given them so much.
LAWTON: Iyengar's impact on yoga is deep and wide. In 2004, TIME magazine included him in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. His approach is taught more than any other in the U.S. Iyengar stresses the physical as a bridge to the spiritual. His senior teachers say that holistic message and Iyengar's personal charisma play a key role in yoga's popularity today.
PATRICIA WALDEN (Iyengar Yoga Teacher): He's filled with life and power, and the light that's around him sheds on us. He lights us up with his light.
MANOUSO MANOS (Iyengar Yoga Teacher): This is the guy that started the yoga ball rolling in the West. He hasn't been given credit properly. But the times that he's touched the West and inspired these people and the offshoots that have come out of him have taken this most remarkable subject and made it explode.
LAWTON: Yoga is big business. According to a Harris survey, more than 16 million Americans regularly practice yoga. And they spend almost $3 billion a year on yoga classes, products, and conferences.
Fifty years ago, yoga was little known in the U.S. Then Americans started hearing about a guru in India who could fold his body in amazing ways. He said the benefits were spiritual as well as physical.
B.K.S. IYENGAR (On Video): Yoga is a union of the body with the mind, mind with the soul.
LAWTON: The 87-year-old Iyengar was sick and frail as a child, but he says practicing yoga for 10 to 12 hours every day made him healthy and strong. He began demonstrating his experience and writing about it.
In 1966, Iyengar wrote the classic book LIGHT ON YOGA. He drew heavily on the writings of the ancient sage Patanjali, who some 2,000 years ago compiled a philosophy of yoga called the yoga sutras.
John Abbott, CEO of YOGA JOURNAL, says Iyengar explained Patanjali's ideas in ways that were accessible to Westerners.
JOHN ABBOTT (CEO, YOGA JOURNAL): There's an intellectual aspect that runs through his teachings that I find have been extremely compelling and interesting to a whole segment of society, especially post-1960s, when people were looking so much towards the East for something new, something enlightening.
Mr. MARKS: What he did for yoga was revolutionize it by making the mysterious aspects of yoga understandable -- making them concrete, giving people concrete things to do with the physical body that started at the physical body but then gradually brought their consciousness inwards.
LAWTON: Iyengar inspires obvious devotion from his followers, who call him "Guruji," meaning the one who removes the darkness. On his recent visit to the U.S. to promote his new book, LIGHT ON LIFE, people revered him at every stop.
He has the reputation of being a demanding teacher who can give harsh corrections to his students.
JOAN WHITE (Iyengar Certification Committee): It's certainly a shock if you receive one of those slaps, but those slaps are very educational. And he doesn't do it with meanness. The man is truly a loving, compassionate person, and this is the way he shows his compassion.
LAWTON: Iyengar teaches that there are no divisions between the physical and the spiritual.