With You I Breathe, A Yoga Column

No. 4: Krishnamacharya

According to Mark Stephens Teaching Yoga, “Tirumalai Krishnacharya may have influenced the practice of Hatha yoga more than any other teacher dating back to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the fifteenth century.”

A few facts about Krishnamacharya’s early life:

1. He first learned about yoga from his father. His father died when he was quite young, and when his father passed away, he decided to go to a temple and learn yoga.

2. When he was only twelve years old, he attended the Royal College of Mysore and also studied Vedic texts and rituals.

3. When he had breaks from studying, he would go to the Himalayas to search for teachers. In 1916, he found Ramamohan Brahmachri and attended this man’s school. Which happened to be in a cave.

* * *

So that’s how some people live there lives and by some people I mean one person: Krishnamacharya.

Let’s talk more about that time he decided to spend seven years in a cave. According to Deskichar’s The Heart of Yoga, “Krishnamacharya spent more than seven years with this teacher, who exercised considerable influence over the direction he took in life, giving him the great task of spreading the message of yoga and using his abilities as healer and helper of sick people.”

When Krishnamacharya came back from the cave, he thought, You know what? I’m not going to continue studying academically. Instead, he started studying Ayurveda, Indian healing medicine,  and Nyaya, Vedic school of logic.

A raja, a man of power and nobility, took a liking to him and allowed him to open up a yoga school. For approximately twenty something years (specifically 1933-1955), Krishnamacharya taught at the school and wrote his first book Yoga Makarandam (Secrets of Yoga). In fact, one of his first Western students was B. K. S. Iyengar, who went on to develop a popular type of Hatha yoga now called “Iyengar Yoga.” He also became his brother-in-law.

* * *

As I’m writing about who this man is and his life, a few things stick out to me.

1. Focus

Krishnamacharya focused on yoga all of his life and by doing so helped and influenced many people. This sticks out to me because I lack focus.

This is what Robert Birnberg, my yoga therapist, told me the first and only private session we had with one another. “Zoë,” he said, “I want you to think about focus.”

I threw up my arms. “Ugh!”  Then I crossed my arms across my chest and looked down and said, “I fucking hate focus.”

He looked at me and smiled and said, “And how far has that gotten you?”

Well it got me to sitting on the couch at a yoga therapist’s home in Silver Lake, which isn’t so bad, I suppose. I scheduled a private session with him because I was mentally and physically exhausted. And this wasn’t the first time, I collapsed in my life.  I tend to disperse my focus and energy every which way, until my body and mind shut down.

Currently Robert wants me to make a choice: Yoga or Writing. He wants me to focus all my energy on one thing and though I resist, I’m curious. What exactly would happen?

2. Teachers

Krishnamacharya sought out teachers, again and again. At temples, at schools, in caves. The other day I told my friend about my teachers and mentors, and she told me she never had a mentor or teacher. My other friend said the same thing. I felt shocked. My life would be so empty and I’d feel so lost without my teachers. They help me develop a deep writing and yoga practice.

I would suggest that everyone find a teacher who inspires and challenges them. Just reading about Krishnamacharya, inspires me to call Robert and finish my yoga homework. How else can I grow and blossom, how else can I see my blind spots, if not for someone wiser and more knowledgeable than I am?

3. Magic

Magic. Fortune. Luck. Any one of these three words can lead to opportunity. Another word for it is “break.” Catch a break, Lucky break. When it comes to success, which is something that concerns many people in this culture, it’s not just about focus and commitment and talent or genius. It would be nice if everyone’s hard work and talent led them right to success. (What would be nicer still is if everyone’s definition of success had everything to do with joy. But that is another topic altogether.)

Success has a lot to do with catching a break, and catching a break, has everything to do with what is out of your control. Catching a break has to do with luck, or as I think of it: magic.

Krishnamacharya happened to meet the right teacher in a cave who changed his life. He didn’t go back to school. He stayed in that cave for seven years and then decided upon his return that he’d study Ayurveda. In addition, he happened to get support from a raja, a rich man, to open his school.

That’s catching a break. That is luck. That is magic.

There’s something else I’m going to throw into this already too long column.

I want to tell you that part of the magic is the individual recognizing the opportunity before them and using it. Just going for it.

There are too many people who are discouraged, who don’t have hope, so that no matter how big their opportunity may be, they won’t recognize the opportunity. In order to recognize the opportunities that exist before you, you will need to believe in the great and vast possibilities of your own capabilities.

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