Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is in many ways the father of modern yoga and the forerunner of its huge popularity around the world.
He was the teacher of B.K. S Iyengar, Pratabhi Jois (founder of the popular ashtanga yoga) and Indra Devi. He was born of a pious family, with the saint Nathamuni as one of his ancestors on 18th of November 1888 near the city of Mysore in south India. He was introduced to yoga by his father who sadly died when he was only ten years old, making for a very independent and assertive young Krishnamacharya. He decided he wanted to learn everything about the various systems of Indian thought, and vowed that he would go to the best universities of India to learn all he could learn. Having no family money, he relied upon scholarships and shear determination to achieve this. At the time Varanasi was one of the main centers for philosophical study, and it was here that one of his teacher’s recommended that to learn hatha yoga, he should go north to Mount Kailash in Tibet, to study with the yogi Ramamohan Brahamachari, who lived in a cave by lake Mansorovar. He set off on foot and walked the entire distance and luckily was accepted by the yogi, who taught him for over 7 years. He learnt the secrets of Hatha yoga, the yoga sutras and healing. As form of payment for his instruction, his guru bade Krishnamacharya return to India, become a family man and spread the message of yoga.
In those days, there were not many yoga teachers, and not a huge amount of interest, which meant being a yoga teacher would not be a lucrative business. At many points in his life he could have followed the path of fame/ ambition or affluence, as due to Krishnamacharya having the equivalent of several degrees in the various schools of Indian thought, he was offered positions of professorship, which he always declined to fulfill his vow.
However the Maharaja of Mysore at the time was very interested in yoga and its revival, and had Krishnamacharya set up a school at the Mysore palace, where many came from far and wide to consult with Krishnamacharya regarding healing, yoga practise and general advice.
When that Maharaja of Mysore passed away, the succeeding Maharaja did away with the yoga school, and Krishnamacharya and his wife and six children moved to Madras. Here he continued to teach yoga, but always one on one, as true yoga instruction can only ever be individual. He did not teach yoga as a form of physical exercise but as a means of self transformation, and as a way to live a more aware life, living in self truth. He saw yoga as a means of reaching the highest, which to him was God, or the highest intelligence, producing the highest personal qualities possible. These were strong will power, trust and the ability to keep one’s efforts constantly.
Healing was a natural part of his instruction, as illness is an obstacle to the road of spiritual enlightenment. When one is ill, pain, fear, despair or anger distract the individual from carrying out their life duties and following a spiritual path. Through yoga and Ayurveda he helped his students live a long and healthy life; health and longevity being essential to make the mental and emotional changes that lead to being calm and peaceful, anyone’s true prerequisite to dying.
He did not preach anything religious to any of his pupils, but advised them first in diet (the main cause of physical illness); then asana or the physical postures, and then when they had some degree of stability – pranayama or breath work. ( A deep steady even breath enables one to feel the movement of their inner being.) Then only when the student had some degree of sustained concentration were they introduced to meditation, the true meeting place with the inner self, which according to the Indian philosophy is of the same substance as cosmic consciousness, which to them is regarded as being God.