Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888–1989). Krishnamacharya was a renowned Indian yoga master, ayurvedic healer, and scholar who modernized yoga practice and whose students—including B. K. S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, K. Pattabhi Jois, and T. K. V. Desikachar—dramatically popularized yoga in the West.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (November 18, 1888 – February 28, 1989) was an Indian yoga teacher, ayurvedic healer and scholar. Often referred to as “The Father of Modern Yoga, Krishnamacharya is widely regarded as one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century and is credited with the revival of hatha yoga.
Krishnamacharya held degrees in all the six Vedic darśanas, or Indian philosophies. While under the patronage of the King of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrations to promote yoga, including such feats as stopping his heartbeat. He is widely considered as the architect of vinyāsa, in the sense of combining breathing with movement. Underlying all of Krishnamacharya’s teachings was the principle “Teach what is appropriate for an individual.” While he is revered in other parts of the world as a yogi, in India Krishnamacharya is mainly known as a healer who drew from both ayurvedic and yogic traditions to restore health and well-being to those he treated. He authored four books on yoga—Yoga Makaranda (1934), Yogaasanagalu (c. 1941), Yoga Rahasya, and Yogavalli (Chapter 1 – 1988)—as well as several essays and poetic compositions.
Krishnamacharya “believed Yoga to be India’s greatest gift to the world.” His yoga instruction reflected his conviction that yoga could be both a spiritual practice and a mode of physical healing. Krishnmamacharya based his teachings on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Yoga Yajnavalkya. Whereas Krishnamacharya was deeply devoted to Vaishnavism, he also respected his students’ varying religious beliefs, or nonbeliefs. A former student recalls that while leading a meditation, Krishnamacharya instructed students to close their eyes and “think of God. If not God, the sun. If not the sun, your parents.” As a result of the teachings he received from his father and other instructors, Krishnamacharya approached every student as “absolutely unique,” in the belief that the most important aspect of teaching yoga was that the student be “taught according to his or her individual capacity at any given time”. For Krishnamacharya, this meant that the path of yoga would mean different things for different people and that each person should be taught in a manner that he or she understand clearly.
Krishnamacharya was highly regarded as a scholar. He earned degrees in philosophy, logic, divinity, philology, and music. He was twice offered the position of Acharya in the Srivaishnava sampradaya, but he declined in order to stay with his family, in accordance with his guru’s wishes.
He also had extensive knowledge of orthodox Hindu rituals. His scholarship in various darshanas of orthodox Indian philosophy earned him titles such as Sāṃkhya-yoga-śikhāmaṇi, Mīmāṃsā-ratna, Mīmāṃsā-thīrtha, Nyāyācārya, Vedāntavāgīśa, Veda-kesari and Yogācārya.
“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.”