The Guru to the Gurus

The Yoga of the Yogis  by KYM

If your friend says, “I am going to yoga class”, you can assume she means going for a yogic work-out based upon the teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya, the father of modern, transnational, Yoga.

During his 101-years, Sri Krishnamacharya was the guru to all the Indian (and non-Indian) yogis who spread his yoga to millions of people worldwide.

Sri Krishnamacharya was an Ayurvedic healer, Sanskrit scholar and yoga asana innovator.  People came to him to heal their ailments, and he prescribed specific yoga sequences, called vinyasas, based on their ailment and physical abilities.  His general rule was to apply the yogic practices appropriate for the three stages of life: youth’s growing years (kapha), midlife maintenance (pitta) and the decay of old-age (vata).

Although many of his yoga poses were built around “classic” Hatha yoga, his genius came from his ability to re-interpret the ancient wisdom and apply it within the 20th century, Indian, physical culture.   Two of his most famous students were B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois.   As a result of their teachings, the word Yoga has developed a new meaning in the modern, transnational vernacular.

If your friend says, “I am going to yoga class”, you can generally assume she means going to a studio for a yogic work-out.

If she says, “I am going to Ashtanga class”, it likely she will be practicing yoga as taught by the late, K. Pattabhi Jois.

Pattabhi Jois at 18

Pattabhi Jois at 18

In 1933, eighteen-year old, K. Pattabhi Jois became a deputy instructor for Sri Krishnamuchayra’s yoga class at the Mysore palace.  The young, royal males were taught an athletic yoga which was unknown before the 1920s.  The fixed regiment followed the instructor’s count.  The vinyasa flow built heat (sweat) in the body.

In 1964, a Belgium, Andre Van Lysbeth wrote about Jois in his book.  People began traveling to Mysore to study with him.  By the 1970s, the American students were calling his yoga Ashtanga.  Jois’ Ashtanga is the basis for much of the Hot or Power Yoga practiced today.

BKS Iyengar using props. At 95, he practices yoga daily.

BKS Iyengar using props. At 95, he practices yoga daily.

As a child, BKS Iyengar suffered from malaria, TB and typhoid.  When he was sixteen, he spent two weeks with Krishnamacharya who taught him yoga asana to improve his health.  His family thought he was out of his mind when he became a dedicated yoga practitioner.  His persistence paid off.  In a 1977 video, the 59-year old Iyengar continued to demonstrate difficult yoga postures.  Still his yoga teachings have developed from his youthful practice to using props, such blocks, straps, blankets, towels, and swings(!), to help different bodies ease into a posture.

As I have strengthened my body, my yoga practice has expanded.  I started attending Ashtanga class.

The class is fast paced to get through the fifty asanas in ninety minutes.   It challenges my over-eighteen year old body and knees.  The standing postures are linked with a vinyasa of a forward bend, jumping back into plank, a push-up, then into upward facing dog to downward facing dog.  This repeated vinyasa requires strength and, if it is not done correctly, leads to hurt wrists, shoulders and knees.

Max Strom said, “You can safely do a jump-back when you can do thirty push-ups.”

I cannot do thirty push-ups, but I am getting closer.  Because of my yoga training, I modify the asanas with props, hence, my coined expression, Ashta-yengar.  I admit I get tempted sometimes to push my body beyond my edge, as yogis like to call our limit.  Then, my humility is handed to me, and, usually the same night, I suffer.


K. Pattabhi Jois taught six, fixed series of asanas.  Most ashtanga classes are the Primary Series which begins with two types of sun salutations, each done five times.  After warming up the body, the students continue through fifty asanas ending with the corpse pose which counts as fifty-one.   The Primary Series can take YEARS to master with the right mixture of strength and grace.

Ashtanga-diva, Kino MacGregor, the Miami Life Center founder, has taught me a lot about the primary series.  She has hundreds of videos breaking down the asanas into small, manageable steps.  She also explains how to build strength in order to safely work towards a smooth, flowing Primary Series.


World Beat Fitness is located in Janibiyah, on the northern side of the island, near Sheik Mohammed’s Camel Farm. The Saturday, Ashtanga class starts at 4:30 and lasts for 90 minutes.  Please call World Beat at 17 61 2576 to book your spot.

3 responses to “The Guru to the Gurus

  1. Pingback: Discover Your Bridge | The Cosmic Grape·

  2. Pingback: Krishnamacharya’s Evolving Yoga | The Cosmic Grape·

  3. Pingback: The Story of How A Woman Hugging a Great Tree Sprouted a Vine | The Cosmic Grape·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s