The yoga of the Yogi is a tribute to one of the greatest yogis of the modern era: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, known as a “master of master.” In the early twentieth century, when India’s traditional teachings were in danger of being lost, Krishnamacharya revived the ancient practice of yoga for the modern world. He was a yogi par excellence, a dedicated healer, a ferocious debater, a master of Indian philosophy, and a talented poet and author. As a teacher, he as unsurpassed. The names of his most famous students-Indra Devi, Pattabi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar are today known all over the world. Yet the full promise of Krishnamacharya’s legacy unfamiliar to many in the west, is still waiting to be explored.
In The Yoga of the Yogi, Krishnamacharya’s grandson, Kausthub Desikachar, provides unique insight into the life of Krishnamacharya. He show us that yoga as Krishnamacharya approached it, is much more than asana, or physical postures, and in fact offers a wide range of tools for healing the entire human system in a compassionate and holistic way. He explores Krishnamacharya’s emphatic belief that there is no “one size fits all” Yoga, and how practice can and must be adapted to serve the changing needs of each individual students. And he includes photographs and archival materials, many from the personal collections of Krishnamcharya’s family.
For anyone interested in the heart of yoga, this book will become an invaluable resource.
Dr. Kausthub Desikachar, a son and student of T.K.V. Desikachar, began studying yoga when he was nine years old. After receiving a dual master's degree, he committed himself to becoming a full-time student and teacher of yoga. He recently completed doctoral studies at the University of Madras, where his topic of research was the effect of individualized yoga training on quality of life.
Kausthub is the cofounder of the Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (KHYF) and the chief strategic consultant to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYMI. where he is also a senior teacher and yoga therapy consultant. He is a patron of the British Wheel of Yoga, an adviser to the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and the founder of KYM-Mitra, a philanthropic organization that takes yoga to the differently abled and socially underprivileged.
Kausthub has written many books on yoga, including a biography of his grandfather the great yogi T. Krishnamacharya. He is also an accomplished photographer and poet and has published books in these areas as well.
A few months ago, I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to teach a workshop on Yoga Therapy. A nice mix of people from around the country were gathered together that first morning of the workshop in a bright, friendly space filled with the smell of incense. There were young people and elderly people, healthy people as well as people with health concerns. As is my habit, I asked each person to introduce themselves to the group and tell us a bit about their background and the reason why they had come to this workshop.
Finally, it was the turn of an elderly lady in the front row to speak. I guessed her to be in her late eighties. She was sitting up very tall, and her eyes were clear, bright, and calm. She was smiling kindly. I was very impressed with her already, and when she began speaking, my heart melted at her words.
"I am Virginia Hill," she said. "I was a student of Motoji Indra Oevi for many years, and I have come to meet you, the grandson of my teacher's teacher."
It was a humbling moment for me. I was overwhelmed that such an elderly lady had come all the way to this workshop to meet the grandson of her teacher's teacher. Such reverence for one's teacher and for the teachings is rare today. When I spoke with Virginia later, she told me how highly Motoji Indra Oevi had spoken about her yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya, and this was the main reason she had come to meet me.
I was both overjoyed and terrified at the lady's words. I was overjoyed for many reasons: for being born into such a distinguished family and for being a student of yoga. Above all, I was overjoyed to meet this woman, the student of one of my grandfather's most devoted students.
And I was terrified, because at that moment I realized what an enormous responsibility I had, not just as a yoga teacher, but as a representative of two great masters-my grandfather, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, and my father, TKV Desikachar. But as I thought about all of this and recalled the respect Virginia had offered me and the respect she had shown for the teaching tradition, I felt more confident and comfortable.
When I was younger, I was not interested in yoga. Probably, I was going through a bit of teenage rebellion. I wanted to do something different, something no one else in my family was doing. But my family's influence on me was strong, although very subtle. They never tried to force me to take part in their work, but I always knew the door to the world of yoga was open to me, if I chose to enter. Eventually, I decided on my own to look more carefully at what my family was offering me. Before long, I was a dedicated yoga student.
I have been fortunate to receive the teachings of yoga at home from my father, who is also my teacher. What a blessing to have this great teacher, who lives in my home, who is always close at hand. I never had to travel thousands of miles to learn, or work hard and save money to travel to a foreign land to pursue my practice. Nor did I have to make great sacrifices along the way. I was fortunate to have all the resources I needed right in my own backyard.
For this reason, I took it as my dharma [duty] to travel far away from my home and share with others what I have received from my teacher. My travels have taken me to almost every corner of the world. Along the way, I have met many people who share my passion for yoga, for whom its teachings are precious, just as they are to me. These are the people who inspire me every day to be a better student and a better teacher of yoga.
My travels have also opened my eyes to the confusion and discord that exists in the yoga community today.
"You have been talking so much about Patanjali. What is it, and how do you do that pose?"
I was teaching at a seminar in New Zealand, and it was the third day of our five-day session. The lady who asked me this question had been teaching yoga for ten years, yet she had no idea who Patanjali was. In her confusion, she had decided I must have been talking those three days about a posture. This was a shock to me. At that time, I thought every yoga teacher and yoga student knew of Patanjali, one of yoga's greatest teachers and author of the classic text, the Yoga Sutra.
On another journey that took me to New York, I was seated in a restaurant with some friends who were students and teachers of yoga. They had all learned yoga from different teachers, and so their practices differed considerably. When one of my friends ordered chicken for his lunch, two others pounced on him.
"How can you eat meat?" they demanded. "We are yoga teachers. We are supposed to be vegetarians."
When I asked them to elaborate on this theory that all yoga teachers must be vegetarians, they began to argue heatedly, Justifying their position based on the concept of ahimsa [non-violence].
After they had quieted down a bit, I asked them, "If ahimsa is truly your underlying reason for choosing to be a vegetarian, why are you being so violent towards this man? Is your behavior to him not contrary to aiumso]" I pressed on. "If all yoga practitioners are supposed to be vegetarians, what about people who live in places where It IS difficult to find vegetarian food all year around? Places like Northern Russia, north of Canada, north of Sweden, etc. Are the people who live in these places not allowed to practice yogaT This got them thinking.
On a recent flight to London from California, I was seated next to an outgoing elderly lady. Before long, I knew the history of her life and why she was traveling to England. After some time had passed, she seemed to realize that she had told me a great deal about herself, but knew nothing of me. So she turned the tables. "What do you do? Tell me about youself." she said.
When I told her that I was a yoga teacher, she immediately said, "So you went to California to learn yoga, right? I hear that it's the Mecca of yoga."
I smiled and told her that California is indeed a very popular place for yoga, but I had not gone there to learn, I had gone there to teach.
She was very surprised. "Are you telling me that a normal person like you can do yoga?"
Now it was my turn to be surprised. When I asked her to explain, she told me that she had always thought yoga was meant only for young, beautiful, flexible people. "This is why I never tried yoga, because I am not young and flexible. I can't think of myself in those strange poses," she said.
For the rest of our flight, I talked to this lady about yoga, and how it is open to everyone, regardless of age, flexibility level, or beauty. However, I was thinking as I explained all this to her, that her view was probably justified. Most yoga magazines, books, and videos showcase only the most beautiful people gifted with the most flexible, flawless bodies performing elegant poses against the most beautiful backdrops. While this presentation appeals to people on a few levels, playing up sex appeal and physical perfection against a background of serenity or natural beauty, it does not communicate the right message about yoga.
This IS ironic, considering that most of the ancient yoga masters were not considered the most beautiful people, at least on the outside. For example, Veda Vyasa, a great yogi and saint, is actually considered one of the ugliest, as well. Yogis lived simple lives, typically in the mountains, and they did not care much about how they looked. Instead of focusing on outward appearance, they worked on refining the subtler aspects of human behavior, like their own attitudes and perceptions. They were not trying to sell anything, and they were not trying to buy anything '; They practiced yoga, they taught yoga, and they lived their lives according to the teachings of yoga. To do this, they needed very little.
On a different journey, this one to Brazil, I was invited to attend a football match. Being a sports lover, I readily agreed. I assumed that I would be enjoying a match between two of the local football teams, until we pulled into a park instead of a stadium. Moments later, I found myself watching a football match between Iyengar Yogis and Astanga Vinyasa Yogis.
Intense rivalry is common in the sports world, but I had never seen anything quite like this. Players on both sides were aggressive and angry. They swore at each other frequently, and a fistfight nearly broke out at the end of the game.
Later, when I met with the team captains independently, I asked each one why the game had been so aggressive. They each gave me the same reply-the other team was "enemy camp."
Startled by this, I probed further. Did they know that both Mr. Iyengar and Mr. Pattabhi Jois Iwho are considered the pioneers of Iyengar Yoga and Astanga Vinyasa Yogal had the same teacher?
"It can't be the same teacher," I heard from one. "They teach so differently."
·What we do is so different from the other camp:' said the other.
These incidents occurred at different times and in different places over the course of my travels, but they all pointed me towards the same conclusion: there is a need to clarify many issues about yoga for this generation of students and teachers. There are serious students of yoga who do not know who Patanjali is or what the Yoga Sutra is. Most yoga students can recognize the names of four of the great yoga masters of this century-BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar-but they do not know that these masters share the same great teacher, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya,
I realized that by sharing the life of Krishnamacharya with a wider audience, I could help answer questions and bring clarification to some of the misunderstanding I have encountered in my work and travels. This book does not pretend to provide all of the answers to all of the questions, but I have attempted to address what I see as the core issues.
Also, rather than write a chronological biography, I sought to write ~ book that explores Krishnamacharya's life through the prism of his teachings. For this reason, not all events from his life are included here. At the same time, I believe everything important to understanding Krishnamacharya the Pratinidhi (torch bearer of the teachings] has been included. Hopefully, this book will inspire readers to delve more deeply into the teachings of yoga and the work of one of its greatest masters, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.
My intention as the writer of this book is to let Krishnamacharya's actions, his accomplishments, the choices he made, and the way he lived his life speak for themselves. As a dedicated student and teacher of yoga, I believe it is important for anyone who is serious about yoga to know who Krishnamacharya was and to connect with his teachings.
Fernando Pages Ruiz put it best, perhaps, in an article entitled "The Legacy of Krishnarnacharya." (Yoga Journal, May/June 2001):
"You may never have heard of him, but Tirumalai Krishnamacharya influenced or perhaps even invented your yoga. Whether you practice the dynamic series of Pattabhi Jois, the refined alignments of BKS Iyengar, the classical postures of Indra Devi, or the customized vinyasa [of Desikacharl, 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."
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