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14 Interesting Facts about Tirumalai Krishnamacharya – Founder of Modern Yoga

June 24, 2019 |

Read Time: 13 minutes

Yoga as described in Indian scriptures is the spiritual path leading to self realisation. This self realisation is reached by complete stilling of the mind. The modern or present day yoga is mainly focused on asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breath regulation) and dhyana ( meditation). There seems to be a shift in how yoga is perceived in today’s times.  In the olden times, people were healthy and led a well-balanced life and followed the scriptures to a great extent and so over a period moved towards a spiritual pursuit.  But these days, most of us are having some health issue or the other and these ailments must be addressed first so that the mind can withdraw from focusing on the discomfort at the body level. Only then can one look to move inwards and seek spiritual goals. So, keeping in mind the reality and needs of the society today, yoga is primarily about asanas, pranayama and dhyana or meditation. These three tools enable one to move beyond one’s physical and mental discomfort and ushers in the mindfulness and awareness required to question and seek the true purpose in life.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

Krishnamacharya Style of Yoga
The present-day yoga is practised in numerous forms varying from Pattabhi Jois –
Ashtanga yoga to B.K.S. Iyengar style of yoga to Viniyoga to so many other techniques and styles.  But all these styles and forms emerge from a common root and that is Krishnamacharya yoga.

T.Krishnamacharya is the Father of Modern day Yoga. Every form or style of yoga practised today stems directly or indirectly from Krishnamacharya. He had also laid great emphasis on asana and pranayama as he firmly believed that unless the body is healthy and free of illness, there is no way the mind can transcend and move inward.

      Yoga Journal in its issue May/June 2001, in an article entitled ‘The Legacy of Krishnamacharya‘ says: “You may have heard of him, but Tirumalai Krishnamacharya influenced or perhaps even invented your Yoga. Wheather you practice the dynamic series of Pattabhi Jois the refined alignment of BKS Iyengar, the classical postures of Indra Devi or the customized Vinyasa of Desikacharyour practice stems from one source, a five-foot two-inch Brahmin born more than one hundred year ago in a south indian village.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was born on November 18, 1888, in Mysore. Tirumalai is the place from which his family hailed. Krishna was the name given by his parents and Acharya suffix was added as he was a great teacher who had thoroughly studied the scriptures, lived according to the teachings of the Vedas and his gurus and taught what he had learnt to others.

Krishnamacharya had his earlier education at his father’s Gurukulam. He lost his father at the age of 11 and continued his education at the Parakala Mutt, Mysore while simultaneously attending the Royal College of Mysore. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Benaras where he studied Sanskrit, logic and grammar at the University. Then he came back to Mysore and received thorough teachings into the Vedanta philosophy under Sri Krishna Brahmatantra Swami. He secured at least 5 important degrees in Vedic education. He went to the Himalayas (Kailash Manasarovar) and learnt yoga under Yogi Ramamohana Brahmachari, a learned yogi. Krishnamacharya’s guru entrusted him with the task of spreading the message of yoga and using his abilities to help and heal sick people. He got married and raised a family as per his guru’s direction. He established a yoga shala in Mysore. He migrated to Chennai in 1960s and spent his last days in Chennai. He passed away on February 28, 1989. One can trace Krishnamacharya’s spiritual lineage to the famous ninth century South Indian sage Nathamuni. Sage Nathamuni is the first teacher in the line of Vaishnava gurus and the author of Nyaya Tattva, Purusha Nirnaya and Yoga Rahasya. He revived the four thousand Tamil verses (divya prabhandam).

Class at KYM

Yogi T.Krishnamacharya composed many poems, hymns and commentaries in Sanskrit. Some of his important works are Yoga Valli which is a Sanskrit commentary on Yoga Sutra. The commentary on Chapter 1 of Yoga Sutra has been published by Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Then there is Yoganjalisaram which is a composition which praises Yoga’s role in providing physical and mental health. Then there is Dhyanamalika which is a composition on the practice of dhyana. These two books have also been published by Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. And then there are some unpublished works like a Sanskrit commentary on Brahma Sutra and collection of hymns on various dieties.

T.Krishnamacharya completely believed in the authority of Vedas and strongly advocated living according to the injunctions of the vedas to have a good, healthy and long life. He believed that yoga practice is essential for enjoyment in the material world and for seeking emancipation.

krishnamacharya yoga mandiram

Some interesting and exceptional aspects about Krishnamacharya and his life which throw light on his greatness are as follows:

  • Krishnamacharya came from a family tradition of pursuing academic excellence and the scriptures. And it would have been the most normal and expected thing to become a great scholar well versed in the Vedas. But he decided to become a yoga teacher as his teacher wanted him to spread the message of yoga. T.K.V.Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son, says in his book The Heart of Yoga that his father turned down many offers of professorships in Sanskrit, logic, Vedanta and many other subjects.
  • Krishnamacharya didn’t limit himself to what he had been taught by his teachers or his own tradition alone. He studied the writings of Alvars who wereextraordinary people and many times came from simple peasant families. He came to understand how yoga was perceived in South India. Desikacahar says that this is how his father could combine what he had learnt from his teachings in North India with those of South India.
  • Yoga was a spiritual journey for most people of Krishnamacharya’s time. But Desikachar says that yoga included other things as well for his father. Krishnamacharya was always concerned about the sick and ailing. Desikachar says that his father shared how he was called to help the British governor who was suffering from diabetes. He was able to help him and then went back to Mount Kailash to continue his studies.
  • Krishnamacharya had a great ability to heal people. Desikachar says in his book that maybe his father got tips from his father on treating illnesses. Krishnamacharya talks of the use of yoga in the treatment of sick people in Yoga Rahasya and the means of treatment varied from asana to mantra to pranayama to a change in diet.
  • Krishnamacharya’s quest for knowledge was endless and he was well versed in so many fields like the vast ancient scriptures, yoga, ayurveda, nadi pariksha(pulse reading) and many more such area of expertise.
  • Desikachar says in Heart of Yoga that Krishnamacharya gave advice on physical, mental and spiritual wellness which was based on sound diagnosis stemming from the scriptures and learning from his masters. So, it was not surprising that he sometimes performed real miracles.
  • Desikachar says in Heart of Yoga that what was unique about Krishnamacharya yoga was his insistence on attending to each person individually. He respected the uniqueness of each individual and accordingly addressed the issue resulting in healing. The focus was always on the person and the yoga practice must be tailored to fit that person instead of pushing the person to accommodate to an existing structure. Krishnamacharya had so many approaches to a person who came seeking help.He would adapt postures and breath according each student’s capacity and needs.
    Lecture at KYM
  • Krishnamacharya brought out the importance of utilising the power of breath to cure illness at the physical and mental level.
  • The Yoga Sutra was the seminal text as far as Krishnamacharya was concerned. Another text important for him was Nathamuni’s Yoga Rahasya. In spite of being such a great scholar, understanding the Yoga Sutra was a lifelong pursuit. Desikachar says that every time he read the Yoga Sutra with his father, he would come to know something new.
  •  Krishnamacharya developed the concept of vinyasa krama which involves having a well thought out sequence of asanas or postures leading to a pre decided goal followed by asanas to consolidate the positive impact of the asana sequence and countering the negative impact, if any.
  • Krishnamacharya did a lot to promote yoga for women. And his wife used to practise regularly. The Yoga Rahasya is one if the first books which emphasises on importance of yoga for women. The well-known American yoga teacher Indra Devi was a student of Krishnamacharya.
  • Desikachar has said that his father never experienced any contradiction between living with his family and practising the true spirit of sanyasin. A true sanyasi is one who surrenders whatever he does at the feet of his teacher or god. And Krishnamacharya was a true example of this.
  • Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S.Iyengar and Indra Devi are great teachers, who all have their distinct styles of teaching. They were students of Krishnamacharya at different points of time. This shows what an amazing teacher Krishnamacharya was and how his teaching changed with time. Desikachar also describes in his book as to how his father would come to his level and teach him. Krishnamacharya understood the different background of his student and adapted his teachings according to the student. He would always be encouraging and patient.
  • Krishnamacharya never said he was a guru. Desikachar has said that one of the qualities of a clear, wise person is that he won’t say he is clear and wise! Humility would be the quality of such a person and Krishnamacharya was very humble.

 

In the run-up to International Day of Yoga on June 21 st 2019, let’s not forget this great soul who can be credited for single-handedly popularizing Yoga in India and left behind a legacy for future generations.

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Founder, Managing Trustee and Sr. Yoga Teacher SKWC

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India