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Mary Dunn, My Teacher and Mentor

This is a tribute to Mary Dunn from her obituary in 2008.

Mary Dunn, a yoga teacher who guided thousands of students into the discipline known as Iyengar yoga beginning in Berkeley, Calif., in 1974.

The Iyengar method is based on the teachings of B. K. S. Iyengar, who is often credited with bringing yoga to the West. The method emphasizes strength, endurance and alignment, sometimes using props (blankets, chairs, ropes) to help achieve correctly aligned positions. It also espouses a detailed, verbal approach to teaching.

Ms. Dunn was a founding director of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States and a founder of the Iyengar yoga institutes in San Francisco, San Diego and New York. She was the primary instructor and senior authority for dozens of teachers at the New York institute.

Ms. Dunn was introduced to yoga through her mother, who had studied with Mr. Iyengar in India in the late 1960s and who was instrumental in bringing him to the United States in 1973. Ms. Dunn became his student the following year and discovered, she said, that his form of yoga offered more than stretching.

“We tend to cubbyhole the different parts of human experience,” Mary said in an interview in The New York Times in 1995. “‘Is it physical? Is it mental? Is it emotional?’ But here was a man teaching that all these parts are connected.” She eventually began traveling to India every year to study with Mr. Iyengar.


My meeting Mary was rather auspicious to say the least.

I started studying yoga from a book entitled Light on Yoga, by BKS Iyengar back in 1983. There were very few yoga teachers on Long Island in those days so the book was going to have to do.

A few years later I went to visit my sister in San Francisco who had been going to a local studio to practice yoga. She invited me to take a class with her, and to my surprise the sign on the studio said “Iyengar Yoga”! I explained to my sister that I had been studying yoga from a book that taught this method!

The class was wonderful and the poses were just like in my book.

I met with the instructor after class and told him I was visiting from New York. “You must find Mary Dunn and become her student”, he said. “She moved to New York from San Francisco recently, but I don’t have her contact info”.

Well without internet back then it was quite difficult for me to find a Mary Dunn in the phone book since she could be living anywhere in New York State.

A few months after I returned home from my visit in San Francisco, I attended a dream interpretation workshop with a friend who insisted on me going even though I protested.

Well at this workshop we sat on the floor in a circle and a woman I had ever met sat next to me and, out of the blue, asked if I practiced yoga. “Yes” I said. Her reply almost knocked me over. “You should join us for classes in East Norwich with a teacher named Mary Dunn who visits each month from Rye, New York to conduct classes. So, I did! and that changed everything.

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