BY ADITHI MATHEWS
“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.” – T. Krishnamacharya
For the modern practitioner, Yoga translates to purely Asana or the physical limb of the entire 8 steps which, leads to the state of Samadhi. T. Krishnamacharya, studied Yoga during his childhood from his father and is known to have emphasised his teachings around the physical limb of Yoga – which are Hatha Yoga postures; although he studied the philosophy and other aspects in great detail as well. Emphasising his teachings on Asana, is one of the reasons he is known as the ‘Father of Modern Yoga’. The second reason would be the fact that he was the guru of two of the biggest and most renowned Yoga legends – Pattabi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga) and BKS Iyengar (Iyengar Yoga).
For a Yoga aspirants, the story of Krishnamacharya is the stuff legends are made of and shrouded in mystery. There is no recorded data of how he found his path to Yoga or who influenced his study. Since most stories have traveled through word of mouth from well-wishers and students, there could be an element of imagination that has weaved its way through, to what we today know and understand about the legend Krishnamacharya. During his lifetime, he didn’t pen his own memoir which, if written would have been the beginning chapter of modern Yoga history.
Born into family of Bramins in South India, Krishnamacharya was schooled in Asana, Pranayama and the Vedas. After the passing of his father, Krishnamacharya spent some time working his way into becoming a scholar and he is known to have been an very gifted intellect, mastering many subjects as diverse as Sanskrit, Law, Ayurveda and Music. It is said that he gathered many accolades in these fields and could have worked his way to build a life of affluence, which he instead gave up to pursue his one passion – to teach and spread the light of Yoga.
During the time of the Colonial rule in India, the Royal family of Mysore patronised the efforts of Krishnamacharya by helping him open up the first ever Yoga Shala in the Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore. It is here where, he is known to have trained both P. Jois and BKS Iyengar. The Yoga Shala was eventually shut down after India became independent from the British rule – this made Krishnamacharya move to Chennai (then, known as Madras) where he spent the rest of his days innovating on the therapeutic aspects of Yoga.
Krishnamacharya is known as the pioneer of Vinyasa – linking of movement with breath and it is known that he personalised the yoga practices for his students based on age, gender, sex, body constitution and fitness level. Yoga practices that he taught were specific to his students and no two practices were alike. Today his teachings and work in Yoga therapy are still taught at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai. His son T.K.V. Desikachar and students S Ramaswami and AG Mohan are the one’s carrying forward his teachings and his tradition today.
The Yoga tradition according to Krishnamacharya is based on Vinyasa – corresponding each breath with movement. The specialty of this lineage is that the movement is a form of meditation itself and a class includes – postures, breathing techniques and ends in corpse pose.
If you are a Yoga practitioner, irrespective of the style or tradition of Yoga you may have practiced or currently practice, it is sure to have its origins from T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings and that is the true mark of a legend in this modern era of Yoga.
Know more about Krishnamacharya’s Yoga tradition in the book Zu den Quellen des Yoga (To the source of Yoga) published by Random House. Also included is an interview with S Sridharan, senior teacher at KYM, Chennai.
Adithi Mathews is a writer and yoga practitioner currently living in Germany. A former Radio Jockey, TV Journalist and Web Editor, she was introduced to the practice of Yoga at the age of 13, but settled into a serious practice only much later. Her thirst to learn, led her to The Sivananda Vedanta Danwantri Ashram in Kerala where she completed her Teachers Training and Advanced Teachers Training Course. Connect with Adithi via Facebook or Twitter.