Who Was Krishnamacharya?

Though he is sometimes referred to as the father of modern yoga, grandfather might be a more appropriate term. Though Krishnamacharya took great steps to popularize yoga in the mid 1900s, it is his most well known students that brought yoga to the west and more directly influenced its global growth. This is not to diminish Krishnamacharya’s contributions to yoga. Though many contemporary yoga students have not heard of him, he is a monumental figure in the history of yoga. 

Krishnamacharya’s Beginnings

Krishnamacharya was born in 1888 in southern India. The eldest of six children, it was decided at an early age that he would follow a spiritual path. He learned Sanskrit and was taught asanas and pranayama by his father. The family moved to Mysore after Krishnamacharya’s father died. He continued his studies during his teens, attending various schools and, eventually, university.

At the suggestion of one of his teachers, Krishnamacharya set on a path that led him to study with Brahmachari, a yoga master who lived in the Himalayas. Krishnamacharya spent seven years with Brahmachari and his family, studying all aspects of yoga. 

In the mid 1920s, the Maharaja of Mysore heard of Krishnamacharya and his mastery of yoga. He was brought to the Mysore palace where he eventually opened a yoga school under the patronage of the Maharaja. It was there that his most famous students came to study.

Iyengar, Jois and More

As teenagers, B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois both learned yoga from Krishnamacharya. Jois is known for Ashtanga Yoga and Iyengar for the method given his name. Indra Devi, one of the first female yoga teachers, and T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son, also studied under Krishnamacharya. All of these prominent yogis furthered and refined different approaches to yoga. This is largely due to Krishnamacharya’s belief that yoga should be taught based on the individual’s needs. 

Krishnamacharya’s Later Years

Around 1950, Krishnamacharya moved to Madras where he continued to teach yoga and lecture. As an old man of 96, Krishnamacharya fractured his hip. He refused surgery and continued to practice yoga in bed. He passed away at the age of 100.

Though he is most well known for his yoga mastery, Krishnamacharya was somewhat of a renaissance man. He was also a physician of Ayurvedic medicine and had degrees in philosophy, logic, divinity and music. Krishnamacharya also authored several books on yoga. As a young yoga teacher, he was known as a strict disciplinarian; later he mellowed and became a more compassionate teacher.

Essentially, every popular style of yoga today emerged from Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Even styles not directly drawn from Krishnamacharya’s teachings, such as Bikram, still bear his influence. Never one to take credit for the knowledge he gave to others, Krishnamacharya still deserves recognition and respect for reviving the practice of yoga in India and, ultimately, around the world.