mark whitwell and tkv desikachar as krishnamacharya looks on

TKV Desikachar died on August 8, in Chennai, India. He was 78 years. May his family find peace in his passing.

His wife Menaka Desikachar has been a gracious tower of strength, nurturing her ailing family while strenuously upholding the continuity of teaching for us all. Desikachar devoted his life to studying and teaching Yoga that his father, Professor T Krishnamacharya had brought forth from the Great Tradition. Krishnamacharya was a renowned scholar and yogi in India. We would not have had access, however, or even been able to understand his teaching without the clear and precise interpretation for modern times from Desikachar. 

an auspicious meeting

At the tender age of 27, Desikachar witnessed a Western woman run across the front yard to hug Krishnamacharya with unusually (for India) profuse gratitude because he had healed her of a debilitating illness. To see a woman embrace an austere Brahman man in public was indeed a rare sight for India. That day, Desikachar gave up a bright engineering career with a German company because he had witnessed the power and importance of his father's work. Many years later, Desikachar visited this elderly lady, Kay Malvenan in Wellington, New Zealand to thank her for inspiring him to yoke to his father’s teaching. It was an auspicious meeting between dear friends.

“Yoga is the practical means by which the ideals of an inspired life can be actualized.” 

The hallmark of Desikachar’s communication is that there is a right yoga for every person. Yoga is adapted carefully to individual needs according to body type, age, health and, very importantly, cultural background. Then it is direct intimacy with life itself, reality itself, the power of this cosmos that brought us here in the first place and presently nurtures us as pure intelligence and utter beauty. 

“Anyone who can breathe can do yoga”, says Desikachar. “It is the practical means by which the ideals of an inspired life can be actualized.” 

Because of Desikachar’s  brilliance, yoga is now perfectly adapted to every kind of student. With his engineering science he refined the ancient teaching tenant that yoga must be made relevant to every student. He attributed his ability to understand his western students to the two Krishnamurtis — J and UG, his close family friends. 

Of Jiddu Krishnamurti who studied diligently with him, Desikachar said “his profound respect for the teaching and the teaching relationship helped me become a good student of my own father. He also helped me understand everything about the West. He helped me eat with a knife and fork!” 

a personal approach to yoga practice

These were important collaborations between sincere friends that will forever give the world a clear view of yoga, unhinged from yoga business, power structures and exaggeration. Desikachar, like his father, was a humble man committed to the accurate delivery of the Great Tradition without empire building that often clouds the picture in yoga and spirituality. He had an unique ability to truly respect all people and have each person actually feel respected and seen, another ancient tenant of yoga teaching. He allowed each person to feel the truth or the answers to their questions to come bubbling forth as their own experience and revelation, rather than confusing students with ideas and ideals that are not relevant or out of their reach. 

Desikachar was determined to communicate that in yoga there is not “one size fits all”. For him, there is only one brand of yoga and that is, capital Y, Yoga, adapted to the needs of every person. Krishnamacharya was a Yoga master and never a yoga entrepreneur. In 1998 Desikachar even dissolved the name ViniYoga that was forming around his teaching. He did not want his father’s scholarship to be identified as just another style. Because when the principles of the great tradition are added to the popular styles it makes yoga entirely your own, efficient, powerful and safe. All people can now be given a relevant yoga and the principles of practice can be included in all the styles that derived from Krishnamacharya and other systems. 

The Heart of Yoga

In the early 90’s, I had a book project for Desikachar to address the fact that his father's teaching was not available around the world and that yoga teaching had become depleted. I was calling the book The Art of Yoga. One day while walking on Adyar beach in Chennai, Desikachar suddenly declared, “The Heart of Yoga is the correct title!” 

He later explained that the heart of yoga is the relationship between student and teacher. The teacher is not a social or personal identity, it is a function — a natural function of nurturing between people in local community. The mutual affection between two actual people is the universal means of wisdom transmission, no more than a friend, no less than a friend — the main method! 

Desikachar would like this to spread throughout the world with the understanding that the best teacher is someone from your own culture because he or she understands you the best. When I showed him The Heart of Yoga in ‘95 there were quiet tears. He said, “I wish my father had seen this book. He did not see the worldwide effect of his work in his lifetime. But now he does.” This book is Desikachar's gift that includes his father's commentary on Patanjali's Yogasutra, the ancient text that defines yoga. The Heart of Yoga has been translated into many languages and has become a source text for yoga today. 

His life lives on. Desikachar is a treasure forever.

Mark Whitwell & Amy Bankoff

share on facebook