Whether you practice the dynamic series of Pattabhi Jois, the refined alignments of BKS Iyengar, the classical postures of Indra Devi, or the customized Vinyasa of Viniyoga, your practice stems from one source: a five-foot, two inch Brahmin born more than one hundred years ago in a small South Indian village. —Fernando Pages Ruiz
Born in 1888 in Karnataka, Krishnamacharya incarnated into a brahmin family whose lineage traced back to an Indian saint named Nammazhwar. Krishnamacharya’s education reflects the refinement of the brahmin or priestly caste of India. At six years old, he performed his sacred thread ceremony and was taught the Vedas, Sanskrit Grammar, the Amarakosha and other ancient texts.
At age 16, Krishnamacharya had a dream where his ancestor Nathamuni directed him to visit his shrine at a temple at Alvar Tirunagari. There, an old man pointed him toward a mango grove. When Krishnamacharya entered the grove, he fell unconscious and had a vision. Three yogis were gathered in the grove. The middle yogi was his own ancestor Nathamuni who had been a practioner of The Yoga of Eight Limbs or Asthanga Yoga. When Krishnamacharya asked for instruction, Nathamuni recited verses to the young man from a text lost for a thousand years. Krishnamacharya memorized the verses and upon awakening transcribed them.
As a brahmin, Krishnamacharya’s education consisted of the study of sacred texts, aspects of Grammar, Indian philosophy, Linguistics, Religion, Carnatic Music, Astrology and Ayruveda; subjects for which he received numerous degrees.
One of the most famous incidents of Krishnamacharya’s life occurred after his formal education when a saint advised him to go and study with Yogacharya, who in turn told him that if he was serious about yoga, he must seek out Shri Rama Mohana Bramachari who lived beyond Nepal in the Himalayas.
Krishnamacharya then traveled for twenty-two days to Manasarovar in the Himalayas. There, he searched for the sage Shri Rama Mohana Bramachari and found him standing at the mouth of a cave. He became his student for seven years. In the first three years he memorized the text of the Yoga Kurunta, in the next three years he practiced Yogabhyasa and for the last year and a half he studied Sikshana and Chikitsa krama. Bramachari then sent Krishnamacharya back to India with instructions to marry, become a householder and teach yoga.
By 1925, Krishnamacharya returned to India and married Namagiriammal. At first they lived a poverty stricken life and it was said that Krishnamacharya was so poor that his loin-cloth was made from his wife’s sari. Eventually, his skills brought him to the attention of the Maharajah of Mysore. He taught the Maharajah and his family yoga and soon the Maharajah asked him to teach various foreign dignitaries and elite members of society. At the Maharasha’s request, Krishnamacharya started a school called the Yogashala at the Jaganmohan Palace and managed it for 20 years.
Krishnamacharya’s method was Vinyasa Krama, to link the sequence of Asanas with breath and use six the Kramas or tools to create a balanced and harmonious practice. (Krishnamacharya did not advocate the more extreme Kriyas or cleansing rituals, because they were not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras; his ultimate reference.)
The Six Kramas
1. Srsti: Growth, focusing on strength, flexibility and power
2. Siksana: Perfection, alignment, balance
3. Raksana: Maintenance, daily practice
4. Adhmatya: Spiritual matters, self-inquiry, meditation
5. Cikitsa: healing or therapy, purification
6. Shakti: Energy, esoteric, mystical aspects leading to transcendence
In the West, yoga classes emphasize asana practice, the third of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali only mentions Asana briefly, as a means to steady the mind.
Whether you practice Anasara, Kundalini, Astanga or Vinyasa, each “style” of yoga utilizes the energies represented by the Kramas, in different degrees. For example, Ashtanga yoga is heavily Srsti and Iyengar is more Siksana. Pranayama is a combination of Adhmatya/Cikitsa/Shakti. Different yoga styles mix these six ingredients in varying quantities. There is no “right” yoga, Krishnamacharya taught each student according to their capacity and temperament.
Like seeds thrown on the wind, Krishnamacharya’s students, TKV Desikachar, Indra Devi, Krishna Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar and Srivatsa Ramaswami fanned out across the world with their unique interpretation of his teachings.
Krishnamacharya became known for his healing abilities and was remembered by his son, TKV Desikachar, and the majority of his students as a humble man who was greatly concerned about modifying poses so that anyone could practice yoga. He rarely taught in groups and instead prescribed yoga to the individual according to their inherent nature. His powers of recitation and concentration were legendary and even after he moved to Madras in the last part of his life, he continued to correct texts and to practice yoga up to his death at just over 100 years.