I just came across a chapter on Krishnamacharya written by Mark Singleton and Tara Frazer in Gurus of Modern yoga, so far I think it's only out on Kindle, the hardback and paperback to follow later this month. An interesting read as ever from Mark but I have some questions/concerns. After my rant there are some more details on the book from the publishers including the full contents.
Part Two: The Lineages of Krishnamacharya
Chapter 4: T. Krishnamacharya, Father of Modern yoga
Mark Singleton and Tara Frazer
The Krishnamacharya section of the book begins by looking at the areas listed below and I'd like to take a closer look at them perhaps coming back to the later topics in another post. Throughout I've referred to Mark Singleton as 'Singleton' and for some reason that seems a little abrupt, curiously more so than referring to Krishnamacharya as Krishnamacharya however, using 'Mark' throughout felt a little too familiar. I've also used Singleton out of convenience rather than Singleton and Frazer as I'm not sure of the contribution from Tara, at several point's Mark refers to her contribution in the context of field research ( It was actually Tara Frazer's Ashtanga book, found in the library that first got me started with yoga and with Ashtanga in particular). It might seem that I take exception to a lot of what Mark has to say about Krishnamacharya in this chapter, just as I have with many of his conclusions in Yoga Body however I appreciate both his book and this one and the dialogue he engenders.
Lets look at the first few topics.
Krishnamacharya on the Guru
Rammohan Brahmacari, The "Yoga Guru"
Mark Singleton states that Krishnamacharya's reputation is "...largely due to the enormous influence of several of his students at the global level as well as the energetic proportion of his teachings by family members and the organisations founded in his name". He lists, BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi but focuses for much of the article on Krishnamacharya's son, TKV Desikachar, and grandson, Kausthub Desikachar.
"TKV Desikachar along with his son, Kausthub Desikachar, founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga and Healing Foundation (KYHF), specifically to provide training and regulation of teacher and therapists working in the Krishnamacharya tradition. In recent years TKV Desikachar's involvement in the KYM and KYHF has become minimal, apparently due to health issues. the management of these organisations largely fell to Kausthub Desikachar, who has enthusisatically promulgated the legend and teachings of his grandfather. The establishment of the KHYF with it's bold mission statement and international ambitions heralded a major shift in pace and style that gained many new recruits but also saw established devotees, teachers, and students distancing themselves from the organisation. On October 2012, Kausthub Desikachar stepped down from the KYM and KHYF due to allegations of sexual abuse (see my blog post Varying allegations of sexual, mental and emotional abuse against Dr. Kaustaub Desikachar). Some months later, however two new organisations emerged out of Chennai: the Sannidhi of krishnamacharya yoga and Yoga Makaranda, The essence of yoga, which promotes the teaching of Kausthub Desikachar."
Singleton argues that Krishnamacharya's later teaching are indistinguishable from the interpretation and meditation on those teaching by Desikachar
It is this continuation of the idea of Krishnamacharya's early and late teaching that I find so problematic. In several places Singleton refers to Krishnamacharya's Chennai years as his 'mature teaching', was Mysore his immature teaching: However, Krishnamacharya was 50 when the famous 1938 documentary was shot in Mysore, being 50 myself this year I'm pleased to hear that I'm not so 'mature' after all.
In the section on Krishnamacharya's Life Singleton makes the claim that Krishnamacharya was complicit in the creation of his own 'myth', he refers to it as 'mischievousness'. I have had my own suspicious with regard to how long Krishnamacharya actually spent with his guru in Tibet, seven and a half years seems almost too much of a cliche. There is much that doesn't add up and I've discussed it in this earlier post. Singleton quotes a story where TKV Desikachar is supposed to have said that he continued the seven years in Tibet story to honour his father.
Singleton goes even further and questions whether Krishnamacharya ever studied with Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari in Tibet presenting the argument that perhaps he studied with his guru, if at all, in Southern India rather than Tibet.
Later however Singleton focuses on the Guru idea, this is after all the remit for the book. He brings out something interesting, the suggestion that the Guru plants the seed which germinates within the student eventually perhaps bearing fruit. The argument is that for all Krishnamacharya's innovations they all go back to the seed planted in him by his teacher Ramamohana Brahmachari. If we follow this argument then all Pattabhi Jois' modifications are a result of the seed planted in him by Krishnamacharya, the same I imagine goes for Manju Jois, Sharath, Nancy Gilgoff, David Williams, David Swenson, Kino and perhaps even Beryl Bender Birch (power yoga). Perhaps it comes down to how long you actually spend with the guru.
Singleton also of course questions the fabled Yoga Korunta as I too have done here, suggesting that Yoga Korunta actually just stands for 'Yoga Book', he suggests that this may well be another of Krishnamacharya's own compositions like the Yoga Rhyassa, where the story goes that Krishnamacharya was somewhat divinely inspired to write it after a dream, back when he was 16. Yoga Rahasya was published in the 1980's by KYM.
Singleton characterises Krishnamacharya's Mysore years by reference to the 'dynamic jumping style' he taught, familiar to us now as Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga Vinyasa, this fits in with the image painted in Singleton's earlier book Yoga Body, presenting Ashtanga as being influenced by the fitness craze of the time.
For me this is a misrepresentation of Krishnamacharya's teaching in Mysore. On this blog ( see my Krishnamacharya resource page )I've shown how Krishnamacharya's teaching of this period, as presented in his own book Yoga Makaranda, instructed long slow breathing, long stays, kumbhaka (breath retention), a linking of movement to the slow, not fast, breathing... there is even a focus on the chakra's all within the practice of asana.
Singleton refers to dynamic sequences and yet I have also shown on this blog how Krishnamacharya preferred related groups of postures (Yogasanagalu 1941) rather than fixed sequences. Singleton continues to focus on the jump into and out of a posture but this is merely one element of a transition from standing to the posture and back to standing where each movement is linked to an element of the breath and where at the end of most inhalations and exhalations there is the suggestion of the appropriate breath retention. The jump through and back, is often performed slowly and gracefully and this seems more in keeping with Krishnamacharya's presentation of other aspects of his approach to asana. Krishnamacharya's asana is closer to pranayama and/or meditation, limbs which he also encouraged in the Mysore years, rather than to the fitness craze of the time.
That said Modern day Ashtanga is often but not always practiced at a faster pace than Krishnamacharya seems to have indicated in Yoga Makaranda, the stays in the postures are shorter, kumbhaka has been dropped altogether and the jumps in and out of the postures do often seem to be performed with the focus on athleticism. This perhaps has more to do with the temperament of the western students perhaps and the longer fixed sequence that Pattabhi Jois introduced based on Krishnamacharya's asana groups than Krishnamacharya's own methodology.
But perhaps Pattabhi Jois did take his cue from the lessons Krishnamacharya taught to the boys of the Mysore palace where perhaps a faster pace was taken to keep the attention of the young boys. However Krishnamacharya was also said to keep the boys in a postures while having them chant also 'the boys' were not Krishnamacharya's only students. Indra Devi, mentioned by Singleton, can hardly be said to have a dynamic style of practice and yet she was a student of Krishnamacharya at this time as were the patients who would come to see the Maharajah's influential Yoga teacher for consultations, surely he was not teaching them the 'dynamic style' but rather perhaps his slower version of his methodology.
|from the notes to this chapter|
The Krishnamacharya section continues with a treatment of the topics
The "Krishnamacharya lineage", Sri Vaisn avism and the Spriritual Master
Reading and Writing tradition.
In the Conclusion Singleton focuses on the suggestion that Krishnamacharya is taking on an almost saint like status, that Krishnamacharya is considered the creator of modern yoga, 'the man who in the 1920's and 30s turned yoga into what it is today', he seems troubled by this. Personally I think he has nothing to worry about, in my own writing on this blog I've noticed my stats go down on the Krishnamacharya posts, but up on those mentioning Sharath, Pattabhi Jois or anything to do with back bending , I imagine that stats on the blogs in the Iyengar tradition do much the same. There is some interest in the 'teacher's teacher but not perhaps as much as Singleton seems to suggest, despite perhaps the best efforts of the Desikachar family and the KYM.
For me Krishnamacharya is , for now, as far back as we can go directly in the Ashtanga vinyasa tradition ( the methodI practice myself). If a text turned up written by Ramamohana Brahmachari then I would probably focus on a close reading of that text and see what it offered me to explore in my practice. As it is, the first texts in the Ashtanga Vinyasa tradition we have are Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934) and his Yogasanagalu (1941). In these I find all the elements, although many have been neglected, of Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga Vinyasa just as I do those of Desikachar. Mohan and Ramaswami.
It bothers me not the least that the Yoga Korunta might never have existed or was just one 'Yoga Book' among many nor am I that concerned whether Krishnamacharya studied in Tibet for seven and a half years with his guru or with several yoga teachers in different parts of India. I love the stories of him stopping his heart but suspect that it was merely impressively slowed. But I do trust my teacher Ramaswami and the love and devotion he still bares for Krishnamacharya and that counts for a lot.
What I most care about though is the raising of my arms slowly and with the breath and the idea that in the suspension of the breath at the end of the inhalation I might just see God...or the absence of God.
I believe there are still some places available.
Here are more details on the rest of the book from the publishers.
Gurus of Modern Yoga Paperback
by Mark Singleton (Editor) , Ellen Goldberg (Editor)
Each essay represents an important facet of the modern yoga guru phenomenon.
Within most pre-modern, Indian traditions of yoga, the role of the guru is absolutely central. Indeed, it was often understood that yoga would simply not work without the grace of the guru. The modern period saw the dawn of new, democratic, scientific modes of yoga practice and teaching. While teachings and gurus have always adapted to the times and circumstances, the sheer pace of cultural change ushered in by modernity has led to some unprecedented innovations in the way gurus present themselves and their teachings, and the way they are received by their students.
Gurus of Modern Yoga explores the contributions of individual gurus to the formation of the practices and discourses of yoga today. The focus is not limited to India, but also extends to the teachings of yoga gurus in the modern, transnational world, and within the Hindu diaspora. Each section deals with a different aspect of the guru within modern yoga. Included are extensive considerations of the transnational tantric guru; the teachings of modern yoga's best-known guru, T. Krishnamacharya, and those of his principal disciples; the place of technology, business and politics in the work of global yoga gurus; and the role of science and medicine. As a whole, the book represents an extensive and diverse picture of the place of the guru, both past and present, in contemporary yoga practice.
Readership: Scholars and students of South Asian studies and yoga.
Table of contents
Note on Transliteration
Introduction - Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg
Part One: Key Figures in Early Twentieth-Century Yoga
Chapter 1: Manufacturing Yogis: Swami Vivekananda as a Yoga Teacher - Dermot Killingley
Chapter 2: Remembering Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: The Forgotten Lineage of Integral Yoga - Ann Gleig and Charles I. Flores
Chapter 3: Shri Yogendra: Magic, Modernity and the Burden of the Middle-Class Yogi - Joseph S. Alter
Part Two: The Lineages of T. Krishnamacharya
Chapter 4: T. Krishnamacharya, ''Father of Modern Yoga'' - Mark Singleton and Tara Fraser
Chapter 5: ''Authorized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois'': The Role of Parampara and Lineage in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - Jean Byrne
Chapter 6: B.K.S. Iyengar as a Yoga Teacher and Yoga Guru - Frederick M. Smith and Joan White
Chapter 7: The Institutionalization of the Yoga Tradition: ''Gurus'' B. K. S. Iyengar and Yogini Sunita in Britain - Suzanne Newcombe
Part Three: Tantra Based Gurus
Chapter 8: Swami Krpalvananda: The Man Behind Kripalu Yoga - Ellen Goldberg
Chapter 9: Muktananda: Entrepreneurial Godman, Tantric Hero - Andrea R. Jain
Chapter 10: Stretching toward the Sacred: John Friend and Anusara Yoga - Lola Williamson
Part Four: Bhaktiyoga
Chapter 11: Svaminarayana: Bhaktiyoga and the Aksarabhraman Guru - Hanna H. Kim
Chapter 12: Sathya Sai Baba and the Repertoire of Yoga - Smriti Srinivas
Part Five: Technology
Chapter 13: Engineering an Artful Practice: On Jaggi Vasudev's ISHA Yoga and Sri Sri Ravi Shakar's Art of Living - Joanne Punzo Waghorne
Chapter 14: Online Bhakti in a Modern Guru Organization - Maya Warrier
Part Six: Nation-Builders
Chapter 15: Eknath Ranade, Gurus and Jivanvratis (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra's Promotion of the ''Yoga Way of Life'' - Gwilym Beckerlegge
Chapter 16: Swami Ramdev: Modern Yoga Revolutionary - Stuart Sarbacker
The specification in this catalogue, including with
Below an outline of Part Two the Krishnamacharya Linage section of the Book
A taste of the chapter on Pattabhi Jois and parampara