Videos of Krishnamacharya doing yoga, 1938, age 50

I discovered some YouTube videos this week taken of Krishnamacharya and some of his students doing yoga in 1938. These are black and white, originally silent, now with a soundtrack of his son Kausthub chanting the Yoga Sutras.

By the way, Krishnamacharya was 50 when these were filmed. : )

In light of the recent controversy of Indian yogis dissing Shiva Rea’s yoga trance dance as not being yoga (and calling for yoga to be regulated by the government), it’s good to remember that Krishnamacharya borrowed from Indian gymnastics to add to the yoga lexicon.

Part 1, 8:24

Part 2, 9:35

Part 3, 9:44

Part 4, 2:40

Part 5, 9:30

Part 6, 5:48




Shiva Rea and the Krishnamacharya lineages

I attended a yoga workshop yesterday led by Shiva Rea. Even if you don’t do yoga, you may have seen her videos. She’s definitely a rock star in American yoga! She’s studied yoga in India, and she’s incorporated music and dance into yoga, in effect making it a larger part of American popular culture. She’s learned, excellent, and a lot of fun!

Even before I took yoga teacher training, I was aware that two major styles of yoga, Ashtanga and Iyengar, were developed by men who studied with the same yoga teacher. I was curious about how that came to be. I wanted to know more about T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of both K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.

I read The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by Krishnamacharya’s son, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, by A.G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan, both of which shed light on Krishnamacharya’s life, especially his later years when they were studying with him. (Krishnamacharya was over 100 when he died in 1989.)

I also got The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, by Srivatsa Ramaswami, another one of Krishnamacharya’s late-in-life students. I intend to start practicing vinyasa kramas.

It’s my understanding that Shiva Rea has gone to India and studied yoga with each of these men who studied yoga with Krishnamacharya during his later years, when his teaching and philosophy had matured from life experience. Her yoga is about the fluid body, and she incorporates a lot of Sanskrit (the original language of yoga) concepts into her teachings. I’m grateful to Shiva for this; makes me want to dive deeper.

Here’s a brief summary of Krishnamacharya’s life and his early and late lineages. Even if you’re not interested in yoga, he was an extraordinary person who led an extraordinary life.

Krishnamacharya was interested in yoga from childhood and had an ancestor who had written about yoga. This was when India was a British colony, and some parts of Indian culture, including yoga (asanas) were in danger of being lost.

Krishnamacharya learned asanas from his father and from an early age began “collecting” asanas, which were only practiced in obscure places because the practice of yoga was dying out. He eventually traveled all over India, even into Afghanistan, collecting asanas, and after university (where he studied all the Indian philosophies), he went to Tibet and lived for seven years with a yoga teacher. This teacher, Brahmachari,  about whom little is known, taught Krishnmacharya yoga (all eight limbs, not just asana) and how to use it therapeutically, and then told him to return to India, marry, and teach yoga.

Krishnamacharya was primarily responsible for the revival of yoga in India and its subsequent spread around the world.

Krishnamacharya taught yoga to Iyengar and Jois when they were adolescents at his yoga school in Mysore. Krishnamacharya was known for adapting yoga to the student’s needs, so he taught them yoga for young, flexible bodies. These two teachers come from the early Krishnamacharya lineage.

Iyengar, even though he was Krishnamacharya’s nephew, received less instruction than Jois did. He had moved in with his aunt and uncle as a sickly teenager and hung around the yoga classes and did chores. When a star student who was supposed to demonstrate some advanced poses in public failed to show up, Krishnamacharya had Iyengar do the demo. Iyengar did well — doing yoga had improved his health.

Before long, Krishnamacharya sent him out on his own to teach yoga — but not before pushing him into hanumanasana (splits), which Iyengar had never done before, tearing his hamstrings. From this, it seems apparent that in his early years of teaching, Krishnamacharya was quite demanding, tough, and arrogant. (I’ve heard that Iyengar has injured students as well. I’m happy to see yoga teaching evolve completely away from using force.)

Cut off from his teacher, Iyengar continued to teach himself yoga as he was developing his teaching practice. He focusing more on holding poses in alignment, whereas Jois taught what Krishnamacharya had taught him and called it Ashtanga. This is how the fluid Ashtanga and the more static Iyengar styles of yoga came into the world through two students of the same teacher.

When India became independent, the yoga school in Mysore shut down, and Krishnamacharya moved his family to Chennai and taught yoga there. In this later period of his yoga teaching career, while still teaching the vinyasa style of doing asanas, he put more emphasis on using yoga therapeutically and indeed was known more as a healer than as a yoga teacher in Chennai. He no longer taught large classes of students. He preferred to work with students one on one. He taught asanas, pranayama, various Hindu and Vedic philosophies and texts, and chanting and other devotional practices, but only if students were sincere.

This is where he taught A.G. Mohan, Srivatsa Ramaswami, and his own son, Desikachar. Krishnamacharya had lost some of his arrogance with age. He himself was a very disciplined, serious, competent person. In his early career, he expected his students and family to practice as he did. In his later career, he let them go their own way. He still expected his students to be dedicated and to do a high quality of work.

Sadly, Krishnamacharya did not live to see that millions of people have benefitted from his life’s work. He was a highly devoted spiritual practitioner, and that was the primary focus of his life. Yoga was the vehicle. He was highly educated, acquiring six university degrees, attesting to his brilliance. He studied the yoga philosophy, but unlike his teachers, he went to the Himalayas in search of a practice. He didn’t just practice yoga or teach, he was yoga.

Read these books!

I read a lot.

Let me clarify that. I don’t read as much as a few other people read, or as much as I read in the past, but I am a reader. I’ve been an avid reader from a young age, at times indiscriminate but now much more discerning.

It’s that Buddhist saying: “Don’t waste time.” If a book doesn’t hook me early on, I set it aside and try later. It doesn’t mean it’s not good. It just means it’s not relevant enough to what I need to learn in that moment to make the effort feel alive. Energy flows where attention goes. If there’s no energy there, why bother?

The following is a list of books I read in 2010,  plan to read in 2011 (plan, not commit), read before 2010 (and mentioned on this blog) that have shaped my world, and reference books that I dip into but will probably not read cover to cover. Links are included to the books’ pages on; if you buy a book from clicking a link here, I’ll get a very small financial reward — which I appreciate, because blogging takes time.

I’ve mentioned a few of the 2010 books prominently, namely, The Open-Focus Brain, A Symphony in the Brain, Buddha’s Brain, The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process, and What Really Matters. You can do a search for those posts and read what I wrote if you want.

Books read in 2010

Buddha, by Karen Armstrong

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by T.K.V. Desikachar

Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, by A.G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan

The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.

The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process: Transcend Your Toughest Times, by David Bercelli

Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath

A Symphony in the Brain, by Jim Robbins

The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk

What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, by Tony Schwartz

Yoga Sutras, translated by Kofi Busia (PDF file)

2011 Reading List

The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss

Access Your Brain’s Joy Center: The Free Soul Method, by Pete A. Sanders Jr.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain

Beliefs: Pathways to Health & Well-Being, by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom, and Suzi Smith

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

Chants of a Lifetime: Searching for a Heart of Gold, by Krishna Das

The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga: The Authoritative Presentation Based on 30 Years of Direct Study Under the Legendary Yoga Teacher Krishnamacharya, by Srivatsa Ramaswami

Effortless Wellbeing: The Missing Ingredients for Authentic Wellness, by Evan Finer

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, by Lonny S. Jarrett

Transforming #1, by Ron Smothermon, M.D.

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion, by Diane Eshin Rizzo

Yoga Body: Origins of Modern Posture Yoga, by Mark Singleton

Influential books from my past

The complete works of Carlos Castaneda, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Emptiness Dancing, by Adyashanti

The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, by Sandra Maitri

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, by Peter A. Levine

The Healing Triad: Your Liver…Your Lifeline, by Jack Tips

Reference books

Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar

Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska

The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy, by Cyndi Dale

Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, by B.K.S. Iyengar

Is yoga exercise and/or is it holistic?

Ramesh Bjonnes argues in Elephant Journal that yoga is holistic, in his review of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Yoga, by Mark Singleton.

I haven’t read the book. I am still working on a long post about T. Krishnamacharya, who was instrumental in collecting and teaching asana as part of yoga practice in 20th century India. He taught those who brought yoga to the west — Jois, Iyengar, and Devi. Apparently Singleton wrote quite a bit about that, and his book is definitely on my reading list.

If you’re not a yogi, you may not know that what we call yoga in the West is actually one of six schools of Hindu philosophy in India. What we call yoga here is actually asana, one of the eight limbs of yoga, which is a holistic practice with ethical, social, physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions.

My opinion at this time about whether yoga is physical or spiritual: Most of us in the west first encounter yoga as physical exercises that relieve stress and build strength and flexibility. That’s okay. That may be the only way into our culture.

The physical body is but one layer of our beings. A regular asana practice brings changes to the physical body as well as the other layers. Once your body has gotten accustomed to doing yoga, doing yoga feels good. You miss a few days or a couple of weeks, and you notice the loss of well-being. It is meant to be a practice, and it affects more than just the physical body.

Whether you ever study yoga philosophy or not, a regular asana practice eventually opens you to notice your chakras and understand that you are much more than matter.

And after awhile, you may become fascinated with your subtle bodies, and you will want to meditate.