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Sri T Krishmacharya

The Master Yogi (1886 - 1987)

Shortly after my first teacher training I was standing in a book shop in Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas. As I browsed through the shelves looking for something that could further my understanding of yoga I was blessed to see a book with a picture of Sri Krishnamacharya on the front. His picture, the book and it’s title, “The Yoga of the Yogi”, jumped out at me. Before I knew it I was sitting by the banks of the Ganga river reading the book and becoming awestruck as I began to fathom the life and teachings of this great master.

Before long I had bought a couple of other books about him but most notable was ‘The Heart of Yoga’, written by his son, another great master, TKV Desikachar. In this book, the way of practicing yoga, according to this tradition was set out in great detail and I soon began to slowly realise it was different to everything I had practiced and learned so far on my journey.

This then lead me to Chennai, the home of Krishnamacharya in the latter stages of his life, and to the yoga school that was set up by his son named The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. I have been studying in the tradition ever since from teachers who studied both under Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar.

 

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Formally this is a very brief overview of Sri T Krishnamacharya:

 

He was an Indian yoga teacher, ayurvedic healer and scholar. Often referred to as "the father of modern yoga,” he is widely regarded as one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century. His yoga instruction reflected his conviction that yoga could be both a spiritual practice and a mode of therapeutic healing. His style of yoga is now known as Vinyasa Krama Yoga or Viniyoga. Krishnamacharya based his teachings on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, The Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni as well as other important ancient texts.

His students, including Indra Devi, Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar and his son TKV Desikachar, testify to the significance of his life’s work and to the breadth of teachings that he stood for. They underline his position as one of the most significant Yoga masters, teachers and therapists of the modern era.

HIS TEACHINGS

More important than all of this in many ways is what he taught and how it truly connects us to a traditional form of yoga. Not just for the sake of dogmatically saying it is traditional but in seeing that his method links all elements of yoga back to its most important goal. To establish the practitioner in a state of mental equanimity and peace. Not a ‘peace’ that arises from being so exhausted at the end of a practice but due to skilfully and methodically being able to guide ourselves to that place.

 

Asana/Movement:

 

His movement or asana practices were not aimed at seeking intensity and were not designed to be an integrated form of work out or exercise. Movement practice was aimed at becoming more sensitive and kinder to our bodies. To learn how to move in a way that was both stable and with ease at the same time. This was done by making the breath the central point of focus in the practice. The breath needs to be long and smooth. In order to achieve this we can’t exert ourselves beyond our capacity in that moment. When our movement practice is organised around our breath it changes everything.

 

Breath Leads The Movement:

 

So often today in modern yoga asana/movement we try to practice getting in to a form or posture. The reality is that we all have different bodies and as a result it is not possible for everyone to move in to a specific form. As a result of this our minds hold an idea about the form and then pushes our bodies to try and find that form. The result can be losing the function of the movement, injury and disturbance to the breath. Krishnamacharya taught that the breath should lead us in to postures not the mind. That means we feel in to the breath and let it guide the movement - this is a profound difference to the way a lot of modern yoga movement is taught.

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All Practice Prepares Us For Meditation:

 

Whether we are practicing movement, breathwork or chanting all of these practices can be utilised to help us develop a deeper meditation practice. In fact the practices in and of themselves should be thought of a meditations. This means when we are moving we are trying to develop our power of concentration by focussing on the breath, the movement and keeping the mind in one place. When we are doing a breathing practice we already have some experience with focussing on the breath but we also start to practice sitting still. Then, when we eventually reach a formal meditation practice, we have developed our concentration and ability to focus and to sit still to a level conducive to meaningful meditation practice.

 

All Practice Should Be Grounded In An Understanding of Yoga Philosophy:

 

Krishnamacharya’s teachings would not be complete without understanding the central importance he placed on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. An ancient text which sets out the goals, means and methods for our practice, it is THE text that underpins the practice of yoga.

 

Essentially the text provides us with an understanding not just about what we should practice but crucially also answers the why and how. In modern times many practices have become disconnected from their roots and as a result have been synthesised in to our modern culture. Our society currently tends to value material accumulation, speed, and intensity of experience more than anything else. If we don’t know about the traditional values of yoga we end up practicing in a way that strengthens our patterns towards the imbalances of the modern day.

 

His interpretation and teaching of the Yoga Sutras is one of his gifts to the modern world and to every yoga practitioner.

The above points are by no means exhaustive, I have barely touched on the vast depths of his knowledge or teachings. However, perhaps just from these few points, you can begin to see the potential and power of practicing yoga in this way.

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