You may never have heard of him but Tirumalai Krishnamacharya influenced or, perhaps, even invented your yoga… your practice stems from one source: a five-foot, two-inch Brahmin born more than one hundred years ago in a small South Indian village… He never crossed an ocean, but Krishnamacharya’s yoga has spread through Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Today it’s difficult to find an asana tradition he hasn’t influenced.
Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa yoga, Bikram, Kundalini, Yin, Anusara, Jivamukti, Hot, Swing, Power; all of these are the words that go hand in hand with the word “Yoga” in all literature, promotional material, and verbal discourse in the spiritual and enlightenment community. While the rise in yoga modalities implies the growing spread of this ancient transformative science around the world, it is also an indication of a worrisome phenomenon: the commercialization of yoga.
Just like anything that gets commercialized, Yoga has begun to lose its authentic essence, become a trend, as the world drowns in yoga collaterals, fashion, branded gear, and a misguided view of Yoga as a social symbol of enlightenment. More concerning is the constant flow of questionably certified teachers who sometimes seem more focused on the calorie burning benefits and the exaggerated creativity of postures than the mind-body-soul union the word ‘yoga’ actually means. The world today might be asleep to the fact that yoga is nothing short of a sacred tool prescribed in the ancient texts for sustainable mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
This phenomenon has inspired the founders of Mischkat to search for and identify a school of yoga that is considered the most authentic and true to its original form and purpose. One such school is the tradition of Krishnamacharaya Yoga. In this post, we aim to remind the world of this tradition that’s considered the source of almost all forms of contemporary Yoga, share most of its untold story, and reveal what makes it worth embracing as a path to wellbeing, and even healing.
WHO IS KRISHNAMACHARAYA?
Known as the “father of modern yoga”, Tirumalai Krishnamacharaya was born in 1888 to a long line of yogis. He lived as a yoga teacher, healer, and scholar in the Vedic darśanas (i.e. Indian Philosophies), logic, divinity, philology, and music, who is still considered as one of the 20th century’s most influential yoga teachers.
The architect of vinyasa (i.e. the combination of breathing with movements), the reviver of hatha yoga, Krishnamacharaya is author of 4 books on yoga (Makaranda -1934, Yogaasanagalu c. – 1941, Yoga Rahasya, and Yogavalli – Chapter 1 – 1988), which are considered as authentic recounts of the most ancient yoga scripts as well as the approach that he himself has learned and developed over his many years of dedicated study and teaching.
THE REVIVER OF THE YOGA TRADITION
Krishnamacharaya was born at a time when Yoga in India had been constantly and continuously falling into darkness. Hinduism had rejected Yoga due to its intense focus on the physical body as a tool to experience spirituality; this view has been seen as atheist. Since the arrival of Portuguese influence in the 1500s, Yoga has been treated as a heresy as it was seen as a threat to the wave of Christian conversion. Yoga was similarly unwelcome by the British between 1756 and 1947 as it was seen as a part of the Indian culture that needed to be replaced with British ways and lifestyles.
But Krishnamacharaya was not destined to yield, being born into a family with a rich legacy of yoga teaching and practice. At age 5, he began studying the ancient sacred texts in Sanskrit such as the Amarakosha and chanting the Vedas, and also began his yoga and ayurvedic practice, taught by his father, Sri Tirumalai Srivinasa Tattacharya. Krishnamacharaya showed such exceptional caliber in yoga that most of his teachers over the years would ask him to teach their own children.
By age 16, he went on a pilgrimage seeking yogi Yogeshwara Rama Mohan Brahmachari in the Himalayas. He spent 7.5 years in a cave with him studying the depths of yoga asanas, pranayama and vinyasa, memorizing by heart the Yoga Sutras of Patanjaili, and the Yoga-Kuruntha of Vamana Rishi, and discovering the therapeutic sides of yoga. He gave an oath to his teacher to devote his life to teaching Yoga to the world, and that he did.
Upon his return, word of his mastery of Yoga and healing started grabbing the attention of people in high positions of power, who tried his methods, and ended up supporting him in establishing his own school of yoga, encouraging him to write his books, and financially sponsoring his many tours all around India to demonstrate and teach yoga throughout the 1930s. During all that, he focused on transforming Hatha yoga from what once was a murky underground knowledge, into a mainstream contemporary practice that can be learned and practiced by the masses.
Krishnamacharaya taught and mentored many of the beacons of modern Yoga, who took his teachings and spread it in the West and beyond including Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, Krishnamacharya’s son, T.K.V. Desikachar, Srivatsa Ramaswami, and A. G. Mohan. One prominent example of the magnitude of influence his students had in spreading yoga worldwide is Indra Devi. She was his first and most faithful female yoga student, who went on to write the first best-selling book on hatha yoga, open the first school of yoga in China, and succeed in negotiating with authorities to make yoga legal again in the Soviet Union, establishing that it is not a religion. After moving to the US in 1947, she became the “First Lady of Yoga” in Hollywood, and became teacher of the celebrities, giving yoga its first true international spin.
Despite colonial Britain’s efforts to sabotage and suppress Indian practices by closing his school, and although he had to relocate and work jobs to sustain himself and his family, Krishnamacharaya persevered and continued to honor his oath to his Master. That’s why he is considered to date as the savior of the Yoga tradition, his gift to mankind, despite all the challenges he took on. He believed that yoga is universal, and he enjoyed introducing yoga and adjusting his approach to the faiths and backgrounds of his students, including Muslim maharajas, British soldiers, and Indians from all religions. This further contributed to the very fast and wide spread of his teachings.
Krishnamacharaya died at the age of 100. He remained focused and dedicated to teaching and healing until his death, with his mental capabilities fully intact.
KRISHNAMACHARAYA’S SCHOOL OF YOGA
It’s possible that no yogi before Krishnamacharaya developed yoga’s physical practice as purposefully and in full depth and details as he did. He developed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga by combining ancient yoga with Indian wrestling and gymnastics to cater to his young students’ physical fitness. He designed each movement to be performed in coordination with specific breathing techniques and “Gaze points” that induce a meditative state. It was his student Pattabhi Jois’s work and dedication that made this style of yoga one of the most popular yoga styles in the world to date.
Because he was primarily a healer, his take on studying and teaching yoga was very unique. The healer side of him pushed him to refine asanas and optimally sequence them, clarifying the healing value of each. He viewed every human as absolutely unique, and thus teaching or healing to him had to be delivered in a highly personalized approach that the person will understand and benefit from. He worked with his students and people who sought him for healing at multiple levels to arrive at the combination of diet, herbal medicine, and yoga postures that would yield the best results. He taught the necessity of combining postures with breathwork and meditation if one is to achieve the desired goal of wellbeing.
KRISHNAMACHARAYA YOGA TODAY
Seekers to learn and become teachers of this highly authentic school of yoga need to have tremendous patience and dedication, as the schools that offer teacher certification in the Krishnamacharaya tradition are characterized as being serious, thorough and diligent. Here’s a quick glance at some options:
Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (KHYF)
This is considered as the global Headquarters of Viniyoga® Tradition. Located in Chennai, India, it is the only international institute that was founded personally by TKV Desikachar, son of T Krishnamacharya, and prides itself for teaching holistic yoga in the classic tradition without short cuts, and that the lineage of teachers traces its ancestry back in an unbroken line to the eighth century Yogi Nathamuni. Check the official website: http://khyf.net/
Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM)
KYM is among the premier center of yoga and yoga therapy in India. It is recognised by Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga (MDNIY) as a lead yoga institutes in India, and also by the SIRO (Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), and by the Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Tamil Nadu; it also has the ISO 9001:2015 certification. Be it for general wellness, Yoga Therapy or Yoga Teacher Training Programs, or Vedic chanting, the KYM is well known for its holistic health promotive approach. KYM functions out of Chennai, Mandaveli and Kilpauk. Check the official website: https://www.kym.org/
Born out of 25 years of study practice and teaching in the unique tradition of Krishnamacharaya, YogaVahini is a center for specialized Yoga therapy, training and research, aiming to make the healing benefits of yoga accessible to the common man through teacher training programs, awareness and wellness workshops and personalized yoga classes. The uniqueness of each student is honored in terms of the strengths and challenges they have. The work of the center combines traditional wisdom with modern scientific inquiry to offer contemporary solutions to students. Check Official Website http://www.yogavahini.com/.
It is from this school that Mrs. Shravanthi, the yoga instructor in charge of Mischkat’s yoga programs, has graduated. At Mischkat, we pride ourselves to have contributed to bringing this authentic tradition to Dubai and the region at large.
Having taken a look at some of the schools that still honor and spread Krishnamacharaya’s tradition, we try to recapture here in few final words the magnificence of this great Master’s contribution in his lifetime: It was his unwavering commitment, open-minded inclusive approach, deeply rooted knowledge, and highly personalized teaching style, that Krishnamacharaya was able to offer the world the gift of an authentic yoga legacy that has later become expansive, adaptive and global. Yet, just like one would expect from a true master, he was overly humble; he never took personal credit for any of his ideas, whether original or borrowed. He attributed everything he knew during the full century he lived to ancient text or his guru. He believed that yoga belonged to God, a powerful reminder for anyone who takes it upon themselves to teach this sacred science, and is probably a much needed gentle invitation to the overly creative and commercialized to go back to the authentic.
About the Author: This article was written by Nour al Nahas based on a review of available literature online on the life and tradition of Krishnamacharaya across multiple sources including the Yoga Journal, Ashtangayoga, delightyoga, and Wikipedia to mention a few.