The Origins of Modern Yoga
The teachings of Prof. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his son T.K.V. Desikachar are based on the principle that yoga must be continually adapted to the individual’s changing needs in order to achieve the maximum therapeutic value. This is yoga adapted to the needs of the individual.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga includes attention to all aspects of practice: asana, pranayama, chanting, study of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, and lifestyle inquiries. Each student, ideally working one-on-one with a selected teacher, explores his or her own needs in each area of practice. The teacher-student relationship is highly valued: emphasis is placed on each student finding and establishing a close working relationship with a teacher. This is the heart of yoga. Finding a good teacher is key. The qualifications to teach are: one has a good teacher, one practices yoga, and one cares about people.
“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation and surrender to God.”
Since the practices are individually tailored, each application is somewhat different. However, there are some general principles of the technique. For example, asana generally includes great focus on the breath. Instead of aspiring towards idealized postures, poses are selected, sequenced, and modified to suit individual abilities, needs, and goals. The overriding principle is to stay with the breath, as it provides the method for the practitioner to realize his or her highest potential.
When appropriate, sound is used. Chanting can include the use of any sounds of cultural significance to the practitioner, in addition to the traditional Vedic chants, the ancient texts of India.
Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra, a complete summary from the ancient Vedas of the mind and its potential, provide a foundation for any yoga practice. The Yoga Sutra has stood the test of time and have been used for more than 2000 years. Krishnamacharya and Desikachar have developed a translation of this text, which forms an important part of Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga. The Yoga Sutra is indeed the heart of yoga, and is a tool for the teacher to communicate yoga to the student. The teacher brings the heart alive in making it relevant and useful to the student.
What follows is partial text written by Mark Whitwell, from an article entitled “Celebrating the Life of Krishnamacharya–the Teacher of Teachers–on his 108th Year.” Portions of this article appear in the October 1997 issue of Yoga Journal.
In a recent review of the video Conversations with Desikachar (available at the Heart of Yoga shop), Richard Rosen wrote of Krishnamacharya, “certainly one of the most influential though perhaps unrecognized yogis of the 21st century.” Professor T. Krishnamacharya has been an enormous influence on yoga in our contemporary world as the teacher of many dedicated yoga teachers: Indra Devi, B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and his son T.K.V. Desikachar to name a few. So many people around the world have been directly or indirectly touched by this great acharya, though relatively few have known of him.
Krishnamacharya lived for “100 useful years” and died in 1989. It is the 108th year of his birth, and his students are celebrating around the world his remarkable life and teachings, starting in Madras, India on his birthday in November 1996. In Europe, celebrations will occur in November of this year.
The Madras event beautifully transcended personality yoga and “style.” I felt this mood, of going beyond personality and standardized methods and styles, is growing in the yoga. It is allowing us to look deeply into the vast tradition of yoga and adapt the tools of yoga to individual requirements. Sri Krishnamacharya was an exemplary yoga teacher. He was a humble man with head bowed. He did his very best to transmit his great Vedic wisdom to the world, with the insistence that the only authentic yoga is a yoga that works for each person, and there is a yoga for every body.
Yogis in the west, many who have attained beautiful classical asanas and vinyasas, are now exploring these important matters. We are interested in getting it right for each student in the technical matters, such as the use of breath in asana, the relationship of asana to pranayama, and the relationship of asana/pranayama to meditation, and to life. For this we owe deep gratitude to Professor Krishnamacharya.