All yogis in America give a heartfelt thank you to these pioneers for bringing yoga to the west. During times where yoga was still considered taboo, these men set sail and broke through barriers, even when many didn’t agree. As be bow and say thank you, may we honor their examples of leadership.
Krishnamacharya was credited for the revival of Hatha Yoga. To do so he traveled around India presenting Yoga Demonstrations to promote yoga. Although his style become more acrobatic over time, which is the style he passed onto his pupils, he brought yoga to the public and the masses. He also gave us an introduction in Acro Yoga! Some of his most famous students are BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.
Pattabhi Jois popularized the vinyasa style of yoga through his creation of Ashtanga Yoga, named after the eight limbs of yoga. He established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, which is now known as the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. At the age of 12 he began yoga demonstrations under the guidance of his teacher Krishnamacharya. Three years later, at the age of 15, Pattabhi Jois ran away to Mysore to dedicate his studies to yoga. He later taught the style he learned from his teacher Krishnamacharya, which Pattabhi Jois named Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is considered the father of the Vinyasa Yoga. From Pattabhi Joi’s tradition the Ashtanga Yoga style commences with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A, followed by five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B, and a version of one of the six standing sequences. The six series are listed below. This style was taught one on one, teacher to student, pose by pose. A new pose was not revealed to the student until the teacher felt the student was ready to progress. Today we can find these sequences online and many students are now self-taught:
- Primary Series
- Intermediate Series (also known as the 2nd series)
- Advanced series:
- Advanced A, or 3rd series
- Advanced B, or 4th series
- Advanced C, or 5th series
- Advanced D, or 6th series
By the age of 9 (Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja) B.K.S. Iyengar had already lost his father and experienced a heavy attack of influenza, leaving the boy sick and weak. Throughout his childhood Iyengar struggled with malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and general malnutrition. His teacher and brother-in-law Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, brought Iyengar to Mysore and showed the 15 year old teenager how to improve his mental and physical well-being through the practice of yoga. By 18 Iyengar was sent to Pune to spread the teachings yoga. Although Iyengar speaks very highly of Krishnamacharya, he also shares his troubled relationship to his brother-in-law and teacher. At times, Krishnamacharya would tell Iyengar not to eat until he had mastered a pose. This greatly affect Iyengar and his teaching method. but it was not until Iyengar’s scooter accident, which dislocated his spine, when he began experimenting with props. In the process of self-healing through supported yoga asana, he created Iyengar Yoga. One of the most well-known and respected forms of Yoga Therapy.
Yogi Bhajan comes from a different side of India, and instead of speaking Sanskrit like Krishnamacharya, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois, Yogi Bhajan spoke Gurmukhi. Yogi Bhajan began his yogic studies at the age of eight under his teacher Sant Hazara Singh. Yogi Bhajan took on the studies of Kundalini Yoga, which he later brought to America. Kundalini yoga is well known for it’s practices focused on pranayama, mantra and meditation. These “kriyas” are said to raise the “Kundalini Energy” up the center energy channel called sushumna. Each energy “wheel” or chakra is centered at the intersection of the ida, pingala (the energy channels associated to yin and yang) and sushumna.
Indra Devi became fascinated by yoga at the age of 15. She was an actress at first. By 1938 she was adopted by Krishnamacharya as the first foreign women among dedicated yogi in India. In 1939, she lead the first yoga class in China. She was later called Mataji, which means mother. In 1947, after the death of her first husband, Indra came to America to spread her teachings.
TKV Desikachar, son and student of Krishnamacharya studied yoga under his father and teacher until Krishnamacharya’s death in 1989. For over 50 years, TKV Desikachar devoted himself to the teachings of yoga, while making it accessible to people from all walks of life. His teaching method is based on Krishnamacharya’s fundamental principle that “yoga must always be adapted to an individual’s changing needs in order to derive the maximum therapeutic benefit.” Today Desikachar’s style of yoga is known as Viniyoga.
Shivananda was a Hindu spiritual leader who followed the practices of Tantra and Vedanta. Vendata represents the divergent philosophical views of more than ten traditions, all developed on the basis of the Principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. In 1897 he went to Sri Lanka to spread his teachings of Vendata and Yoga.