I wanted to spend a quiet day at home on Saturday. There was a full day seminar on yoga and diabetes at KYM that I had seriously thought about attending. But after 5 weeks of continuous lectures and studying, I wasn’t sure whether my brain could take in any more information without a break. So while my flat mates went to the seminar I stayed home to do my practice and read.
On the first day of the Heart of Yoga program I received a copy of a book entitled “TKV Desikachar: A Tribute.” I leafed through it briefly weeks ago and since I had the whole morning free, I finally sat down to read it fully. It chronicled the life of TKV Desikachar who has been leading meditative practice classes for us this week. Born June 21, 1938 in Mysore he is the second son of the legendary yoga master Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. The book talked about how Sri Krishnamacharya dreamed of Vedanta Desikacharya, one of the greatest Indian spiritual teachers, while his wife was expecting. Sri Krishnamacharya took Vendanta from his dream and Lord Venkatesvara, the main deity from Sri Krishnamacharya’s ancestral home of Tirumalai, and combined the two to make Venkata. When the baby was born, he named his son Tirumalai Krishnamacharya Venkata Desikachar.
Sri Krishnamacharya is said to have studied yoga with Yogeshwara Rama Mohan Brahmachari in Mout Kailash in the Himalayas; our teachers told us that he used to practice three hours a day, three times a day for seven and a half years. However, he never insisted that his children study yoga or become yoga teachers. Desikachar was of course exposed to yoga but didn’t take much interest until many years later. In fact, he studied civil engineering at the University of Mysore and was on his way to take an engineering job in North India when he changed his life’s course. One day at his father’s home, he watched a Western woman embrace Sri Krishnamacharya in gratitude for having cured her of insomnia. It shocked Desikachar because it is not common for a woman to embrace or touch a man, let alone a conservative teacher such as Sri Krishnamacharya. It occurred to Desikachar that his father, who Desikachar described as a simple man that didn’t speak English or knew modern medicine, was indeed a great yoga master and a healer. Desikachar decided to give up his engineering career to dedicate his life to the study of yoga, and his father became his teacher. Desikachar studied with Sri Krishnamacharya for 30 years, longer than any other student (some of Sri Krishnamancharya’s students were BKS Iyengar, Patthabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and he also taught the maharaja of Mysore).
Desikachar believes, as his father did, that the practice of yoga is based on the individual and should not be done as a group or in a group setting. At KYM (Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram), a place he established to honor his father and teacher in 1976, the emphasis is on the need and the capacity of the student. While Sri Krishnamacharya was a religious and a traditional Brahmin man who wore the forehead mark that represented a special feat of Lord Vishnu, Desikachar did not follow his father in wearing the mark himself. He firmly believes and teaches that yoga is universal, and is open to all faiths and beliefs. He has seen KYM grow over the years and now the mandiram includes not just the yoga studies department but also yoga cikitsa (yoga therapy), Vedic chanting, KYM-mitra for doing outreach, (mitra means friend in Sanskrit) working with those with special needs, a publications division, as well as a research department that works to conduct studies on yoga and its therapeutic, healing, and rehabilitative applications.
I read that Desikachar was Krishnamurthi’s teacher and friend, and also taught Rukmini Devi Rundale as well as Gerard Blitz and Vanda Scaravalli. But the tribute book also includes several personal stories about Sri Desikachar that made me think of the man himself; not as a yoga master but as a human being. He loves papayas, for example, and takes great care in looking for the perfect one (or two) to eat each day. He loves taking walks everyday after doing his personal practice at 4:30 in the morning. And since he moved to Chennai in 1960, every Sunday morning the Desikachar family has breakfast at the New Woodlands hotel in Chennai. There is also a story about how some students have mistaken him for a staff member at KYM because he is so unassuming and humble.
Sri Desikachar shows by example how a yogi should live in this world. He’s been coming to our little meditative practice each day and doing the Gayatri meditation with us, and I’m learning just by watching him.
“The Mastery of Yoga must not be measured simply by the ability to master the techniques of Yoga like Asana and Pranayama, but how it influences our day-to-day living, how it enhances our relationship and how it promotes clarity and peace of mind.” TKV Desikachar