Whether you’re a yoga practitioner, teacher or otherwise, I hope you’ll pick up the book The Yoga of the Yogi*, about Professor Thirumalai Krishnamacharya, known as the “father of modern yoga.” I got a copy on inter-library loan!
Among the interesting-to-me history: Krishnamacharya found his teacher (in a cave!) & spent seven years living with him & his family (in a cave!) … he moved on to years of academic study in Vedic texts, philosophy, Ayurveda & more … & he practiced & revived almost-forgotten yoga practices & Ayurvedic wisdom, teaching seekers from all over the world.
Krishnamacharya’s influence was vast. Hatha yoga is mentioned in the book, & I look forward to learning how he influenced, or was influenced by, the tradition that I’m learning/teaching. If you’re an Ashtanga Yoga practitioner, you know that Ashtanga’s founder, Pattabhi Jois, was one of Krishnamacharya’s students. If you’re an Iyengar practitioner, well, BKS Iyengar was Krishnamacharya’s student too. And, if you’re female, Krishnamacharya was one of the few yoga teachers who advocated for women learning the practices once thought only for men. His female students included Mala Srivatsan & Indra Devi, whose biography The Goddess Pose is a book to pick up too (again, inter-library loan rocks!).
Here are some excerpts that I found helpful in my own practice & teaching:
–> From Indra Devi:
I remember in one of the classes in the beginning, everybody was doing Pascimatanasana, Well, most everybody. You know [the posture where your] feet stretched on the floor, and inhale — exhale you tough the toes. My hands were so far from the toes that I asked one of my co-students to push me from the back. Sri [Krishnamacharya] told me, “No, no, no! You can injure muscle. You can do it by and by.” And I remember I’m on the floor, looking up at him and saying, “[maybe I can do it] in my next incarnation.”
To me, this is a message at the heart of yoga’s teaching demonstrated here so simply and powerfully by Krishnamacharya.
“Yoga,” he always emphasized, “must be modified to fit you, not the other way around.”
–> “Teach what is inside of you,” [Krishnamacharya] always said, “not as it applies to you. But as it applies to the other [who is receiving it].
–> When asked hypothetical or esoteric questions, Krishnamacharya said,
“Let us first learn to be competent in those things that would be of direct benefit and immediate use for our people.”
What was “yoga” before the modern “exercise craze” took over the physical posture aspect of yoga? I don’t know if many of us will ever know … I teach asana, breathwork & relaxation practices in my classes, yet I’m afraid there’s so much more that we could be offering students on the path of healing & re-membering themselves. Ah to learn from teachers like Krishnamacharya!
If you pick up “The Yoga of the Yogi,” let me know what spoke to you (or didn’t) in the comments! May your practice bring you peace & stability on & off your mat this week!
More books from the library!
*Note: Unfortunately, I ran across a 2012 article from YogaDork outlining allegations of sexual harassment against Kesthaub Desikachar, author of this book & Krishnamacharya’s grandson. The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram organization, founded by TKV Desikachar (Krishnamacharya’s son & closest student) & which carries on Krishnamacharya’s legacy, posted a statement distancing themselves from Kesthaub Desikachar. I cannot imagine the despair of those affected, nor of the people who try to carry on Krishnamacharya’s mission with authenticity. My sympathies.
The Himalayan Tradition in which I am learning & teaching also has its skeletons to deal with regarding allegations of sexual harassment against Swami Rama, who brought the practices to the West. It is an issue that all of us who teach & learn in any tradition / lineage must wrestle with. I have no universal answer, yet continue to practice, learn & try to teach the universal principles of yoga.