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Yoga : T Krishnamachaarya – A True Yoga Master and a Complete Teacher

Yoga : T Krishnamachaarya – A True Yoga Master and a Complete Teacher

Yoga Master Though his name is perhaps less well-known than his most famous students’, it’s not an overstatement to call T. Krishnamacharya Yoga Master  the father of modern yoga. His development of a unique approach to “Hatha yoga”, together with his tireless promotion and exceptional acolytes, led directly to yoga’s increased availability to western students.

If there is one name that can be considered pretty much synonymous with contemporary yoga, it is T Krishnamacharya who is well known the world over as the yoga guru of legendary masters such as Indra Devi, BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar. Among most contemporary styles of yoga, several trace their roots back to this legend, whose teachings remain the inspiration for thousands of yoga practitioners around the world.

T Krishnamachaarya - A True Yoga Master
T Krishnamachaarya

Krishnamacharya ( Yoga Master ) (1888-1989) was an Indian yogi and scholar.

Many may not even know it but Krishnamacharya’s legacy has influenced or perhaps even invented the present day yoga. He claimed to have received his training in hatha yoga during seven years spent with his guru, Ramamohana Brahmacharya, who lived in a cave in a remote region of the Himalayas. Krishnamacharya also spent many years studying, and then teaching Sanskrit, Vedic rituals, and philosophy.

Krishnamacharya remains a mystery, even to his family. He never wrote a full memoir or took credit for his many innovations. His life lies shrouded in myth. Those who knew him well have grown old. If we lose their recollections, we risk losing more than the story of one of yoga’s most remarkable adepts; we risk losing a clear understanding of the history of the vibrant tradition we’ve inherited.

A True Yoga Master
A True Yoga Master

With a proven ability to stop his heartbeat, being a teacher to none less than the King of Mysore, a ram-rod straight posture even as he neared a hundred years of age, a devoted bhakta who stood by his faith and yet encouraged others to seek and find their own anchor…in every way T Krishnamacharya was a remarkable man. He was an acclaimed master of asana, pranayama and dhyanam techniques, a seeker of knowledge, a prolific writer and orator, one of the pioneers of adapting yoga techniques for therapy, and an adept in Vedic chanting. The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram was established in 1976, by T Krishnamacharya’s son and long-time student TKV Desikachar to carry forth the invaluable teachings of T Krishnamacharya.

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. Many of his contributions have been so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of yoga that their source has been forgotten. It’s been said that he’s responsible for the modern emphasis on Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). He was a pioneer in refining postures, sequencing them optimally, and ascribing therapeutic value to specific asanas. By combining pranayama and asana, he made the postures an integral part of meditation instead of just a step leading toward it.

According to biographical notes Krishnamacharya made near the end of his life, his father initiated him into yoga at age five, when he began to teach him Patanjali’s sutras and told him that their family had descended from a revered ninth-century yogi, Nathamuni. Although his father died before Krishnamacharya reached puberty, he instilled in his son a general thirst for knowledge and a specific desire to study yoga. In another manuscript, Krishnamacharya wrote that “while still an urchin,” he learned 24 asanas from a swami of the Sringeri Math, the same temple that gave birth to Sivananda Yogananda’s lineage. Then, at age 16, he made a pilgrimage to Nathamuni’s shrine at Alvar Tirunagari, where he encountered his legendary forefather during an extraordinary vision.

As Krishnamacharya always told the story, he found an old man at the temple’s gate who pointed him toward a nearby mango grove. Krishnamacharya walked to the grove, where he collapsed, exhausted. When he got up, he noticed three yogis had gathered. His ancestor Nathamuni sat in the middle. Krishnamacharya prostrated himself and asked for instruction. For hours, Nathamuni sang verses to him from the Yogarahasya (The Essence of Yoga), a text lost more than one thousand years before. Krishnamacharya memorized and later transcribed these verses.

Innovative teachings

The seeds of many elements of Krishnamacharya’s innovative teachings can be found in this text, which is available in an English translation (Yogarahasya, translated by T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, 1998). Though the tale of its authorship may seem fanciful, it points to an important trait in Krishnamacharya’s personality: He never claimed originality. In his view, yoga belonged to God. All of his ideas, original or not, he attributed to ancient texts or to his guru.

After his experience at Nathamuni’s shrine, Krishnamacharya continued his exploration of a panoply of Indian classical disciplines, obtaining degrees in philology, logic, divinity, and music. He practiced yoga from rudiments he learned through texts and the occasional interview with a yogi, but he longed to study yoga more deeply, as his father had recommended. A university teacher saw Krishnamacharya practicing his asanas and advised him to seek out a master called Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari, one of the few remaining hatha yoga masters.

Brahmachari except

We know little about Brahmachari except that he lived with his spouse and three children in a remote cave. By Krishnamacharya’s account, he spent seven years with this teacher, memorizing the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, learning asanas and pranayama, and studying the therapeutic aspects of yoga. During his apprenticeship, Krishnamacharya claimed, he mastered 3,000 asanas and developed some of his most remarkable skills, such as stopping his pulse. In exchange for instruction, Brahmachari asked his loyal student to return to his homeland to teach yoga and establish a household.

A True Yoga Acdamy

Krishnamacharya’s Legacy ( Yoga Master )

From 1926 to 1946, Krishnamacharya ran a yoga school (mostly for young boys) at the palace of the Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar in Mysore, India. During that time, Krishnamacharya had three prominent students who would go on to play pivotal roles in popularizing yoga in the west.

Pattabhi Jois was a devoted, long-time student whose vigorous Ashtanga style of asana was closely based on Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Modern Ashtanga is the best window we have into Krishnamacharya’s yoga.

B.K.S. Iyengar, whose sister was Krishnamacharya’s wife, received his first yoga instruction from his brother-in-law before branching off to develop his own alignment-based style. Indra Devi, who became the yoga teacher to the Hollywood starlets in the 1940s and 50s, was Krishnamacharya’s first female student.

After his yoga school closed, Krishnamacharya taught privately from his home in Chennai. His method of tailoring a yoga practice to an individual’s needs and abilities influenced his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, who would eventually turn this method into ‘Viniyoga’.

Whether you practice the dynamic series of Pattabhi Jois, the refined alignments of B.K.S. Iyengar, the classical postures of Indra Devi, or the customized vinyasa of Viniyoga, 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. In fact, Krishnamacharya’s influence can be seen most clearly in the emphasis on asana practice that’s become the signature of yoga today. Probably no yogi before him developed the physical practices so deliberately.

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