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Krishnamacharya

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Updated October 29, 2012

Though his name is perhaps less well-known than some of his famous students, it's not an overstatement to call T. Krishnamacharya the father of modern yoga. His development of a unique approach to hatha yoga, together with his tireless promotion and exceptional acolytes, led directly to yoga's increased availability to Western students.
Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) was an Indian yogi and scholar. He received his training in hatha yoga during seven years spent with his guru, Ramamohana Brahmacharya, who lived in a cave in a remote region of the Himalayas. Krishnamacharya also spent many years studying, and then teaching, Sanskrit, Vedic rituals and philosophy. His style of yoga is the first known to have incorporated movement through a series of poses that are coordinated with breathing, a style that is known as vinyasa yoga.

Krishnamacharya's Legacy:

From 1926 to 1946, Krishnamacharya ran a yoga school at the palace of the Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar in Mysore. During that time, Krishnamacharya had several students who would go on to play pivotal roles in popularizing yoga in the West.

Ashtanga yoga guru K. Pattabhi Jois was a devoted, long-time student whose vigorous style of asana was closely based on Krishnamacharya's teachings. B.K.S. Iyengar, whose sister was Krishnamacharya's wife, received his first yoga instruction from his brother-in-law before branching out to develop his own alignment-based style. Indra Devi, who became the yoga teacher of Hollywood starlets in the 1940s and 50s, was Krishnamacharya's first female student.

After his yoga school closed, Krishnamacharya taught privately from his home in Chennai. His method of tailoring a yoga practice to an individual's needs and abilities influenced his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, who would eventually turn this method into Viniyoga.

Videos of Krishnmacharya practicing yoga can be found on YouTube and provide a fascinating look at how yoga has developed over the past 70 years. Especially interesting are the films of Krishnamacharya doing vinyasa yoga with Iyengar, who later became known for quite a different style of practice. Nonetheless, Krishnmacharya's crucial role as the guru of the founders of three very influential contemporary yoga styles is undeniable.

Sources:

Donahaye, Guy and Eddie Stern. Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students. North Point Press, New York, New York, 2010.

Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Life. Rodale, 2005.

Mohan, A.G. and Ganesh Mohan. Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings. Shambhala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts, 2010.

Syman, Stefanie. The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga In America. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, New York, 2010.

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