Two of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya’s great disciples were Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. Krishnamacharya taught his yoga as a prescription for the specific practitioner. Each yogi had his or her own practice that addressed the needs of the individual – be them specific asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), meditation etc. His disciples, Jois and Iyengar developed their respective styles of yoga according to their own philosophy, abilities and approach. Jois’ Ashtanga yoga reflected his physical aptitude and tended towards a more rigorous physical discipline. Iyengar, who suffered a host of health issues as a child, developed a yoga that was accessible to people from all walks of life with the use of ropes, blocks and belts that would assist students in accessing the asanas. These two vastly different styles and approaches to yoga are a reflection of the different perspectives of their creators. Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga have spread internationally through the work of these two yogis.
Krishnamachrya’s son, T.K.V. Desikachar - who passed last year – embodied his father’s philosophy of a practice focused around the individual. Desikachar wrote in his classic, The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice:
The way we develop our session will depend on our immediate needs, our long–term goals, and what activities are going to follow our practice. A course of asanas designed to prepare the body for tennis will be different from one meant to help someone remain alert in a mentally taxing environment, and that will differ from a practice meant to help someone with chronic insomnia to relax deeply before going to bed.
Our point of departure for practice will be different every day. That may be difficult to put into effect in the beginning, but the more we get into the practice of an authentic yoga, the more we will understand how to observe ourselves and find our own starting point each time. The situation from which we begin our practice is constantly changing.
This is a different approach from the way most of us experience yoga practice, and it’s a valuable teaching. The reason I’ve gone through an overview of the yoga, taught by these three disciples, is that from the same teacher, Jois, Iyengar and Desikachar discovered very different things in their own practice and taught their students according to their self-discovery.
As yoga practitioners, I think a critical piece to understanding how to adapt our yoga to our changing needs is to develop a home practice. Practice at home as regularly as possible, even if only for 15 minutes in the morning or before bed. If you practice Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) in class, then start to practice it at home when you first wake up. It helps create a more calm and confident space for you throughout the day. Be mindful of your breathing, while at home and at work, to help cultivate relaxation and concentration throughout the day. Feel free to experiment when you’re at home and incorporate postures that resonate with you as well as warm up/down sequences that your teacher may use at the start or end of class. Yoga offers infinite ways for us to explore our bodies and minds. I think an important piece of our journey through yoga brings us to self-exploration, personal growth, evolution and attainment. Be creative and have fun through the process. See you in class.
Salim Rollins teaches a Vinyasa Flow class on Mondays at 5pm.