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Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of yoga

You have certainly heard of ashtanga viniyasa yoga, this very strict yoga discipline that aims to work your vigor and strength. However, do you know where it comes from?

If not, you are in the right place to learn more about one of the most important yoga masters in the development of yoga in the West. This master is none other than Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, himself master of BKS Iyengar, and father of many asanas. He was also very influential among yoga teachers.

Who is Tirumalai Krishnamacharya?

It is in 1888, in India, that our hero of the day was born (to make it easier, let us call it T.K.). From a young age, he practised yoga as his father taught him, but it was not the father who would be his greatest mentor. Indeed, it was Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari who changed his life and gave him inspiration, through Indian philosphies.

Brahmachari is a renowned yoga teacher on the heights of Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. He takes T.K. into his “school” to pass on to him everything he knows about yoga. He will spend 7 years studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the path of yoga and the different styles of yoga : the postural (Vrksasanas), vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga and respiratory (pranayama) techniques as well as the therapeutic aspects of yoga like vedic chanting yoga.

When he returned home to Mysore 7 years later, yoga was not as popular. Hardly anyone teaches it anymore, but T.K. doesn’t see things that way. Indeed, as he promised his master, he intends to marry, have children and pass on yoga. It is after a long learning path that he is proposed by the Maharaja to open a yoga school, he is then 34 years old.

Yoga was a discipline, a way of life that was transmitted from teacher to student. When he came down from Mount Kailash motivated like never before, T.K. gave a second breath to yoga, which was slowly disappearing. He also decided to take it completely out of its context, and to make it accessible to all.

Even women were invited, which is not common for the time. It is therefore to him that we owe the yoga as we know it today, because after this episode of resurrection which was a great success, he sent his disciples to the West to teach us what we know today.

How did he develop yoga?

In the 1920s, T.K. had the honour of teaching yoga to the royal family and to the people of Mysore palace. Over time he understood the importance of this discipline and the benefits of teaching it. In 1935, many Westerners came to learn by his side. When he learned English, he decided to teach in English, which allowed him to reach even more disciples around the world.

When he moved to Madras, he continued his research on a method capable of relieving or curing certain diseases. This method is a mixture of yoga and ayurveda. Many of his followers of that time were dynamic young boys. This aspect gave him the idea to develop «Ashtanga Viniyasa Yoga», which is nothing more than a vigorous model of yoga that aims to build the strength and vigor of its regular practitioners.

A renowned yoga teacher

The aspect that some consider the most important and that has made it an example, an idol for some, is of course its value system. His relation to glory, fame, and especially to money, which is the representation of infinite wisdom and a pure spirit. In fact, despite all that he accomplished in his life, he still refused the sums of money and other honorary rewards offered him by the Royal Courts and consorts.

All he needed was a living, as evidenced by his work as a foreman in a coffee plantation, or his experiences in Ayurvedic medicine. Despite all the high-ranking and great thinkers he has encountered in his life, he has never taken advantage of this for his personal benefit. And just for that, he deserves a lot of respect.

His relationship with BKS Iyengar

The moment came when T.K. began to teach yoga to brother in law, who is none other than Sri BKS Iyengar, while he was still a child. They lived together according to tradition.

At the age of 15 he made his debut in yoga teaching. Sri BKS Iyengar, Sri TKV Desikachar and Sri TK Sribhashyam are the closest disciples of the Master. They are not the only ones he taught. There were among the best known; Patthabi Joîs, Indra Devi, Thérèse Brosse, Jean Klein, Gérard Blitz, Yvonne Millerand…

What you don’t know about Krishnamacharya

-      He spoke Sanskrit

Sanskrit may seem like a language like any other but it is not. Indeed, it is a dead language (like Latin for example) for a long time. Very few know how to speak it, but T.K. is one of them. This came to him from his father who taught him from an early age, and he passed on this knowledge to his students.


-      He had a very strict rhythm of life

The future belongs to those who wake up early, it seems. T.K. had understood it very well, or else he had understood nothing one does not know. Indeed, he got up every day at 2:00 in the morning, to start the day well with 5 hours of yoga/meditation and then receive his first patients at 7:00.

Isn’t it fascinating to look at the history of the models of our common discipline? We have to realize how fortunate we are to be able to draw inspiration from our current models, such as Alex Onfroy, but we also have to realize that they too have drawn inspiration from even older models that we must respect.

If this is an article that interested you, we recommend you to visit our regularly updated blog, where we cover other diverse topics such as yoga teachers trained in India, sattva and the three gunas.

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