Yoga as a system of mental and physical development of a person can be traced back to around 5000 years ago. According to one of the theories it appeared in the Indus river valley in the north-west of India in the time of Aryans. Yoga was mentioned in the early collections of Indo-Aryan sacred anthems – “Yajurveda”, “Rigveda”, “Samaveda”.
Yoga is one of the six fundamental philosophical systems (schools) of India. The yoga paradigm is very similar to the one of Samkhya. But yoga is more practical. It relies on the actual experience more than on contemplations and analysis. The main purpose of yoga is to fully reveal the capabilities of mind, comprehension of the true nature of all things.
Until recent times the knowledge of yoga was conveyed directly from a teacher to a student. That’s why we have very few texts on yoga. And indeed they are difficult to comprehend without a proper comment. Here after you can find the lineage of teachers (“parampara” in sanscrit) thanks to which the tradition of yoga was preserved and is accessible to modern people.
Rishi Patanjali is considered to be the systematician of yoga. In his text “Yoga-sutras”, the collection of short aphorisms, he described the methods of 8-limb way of yoga which got the name Ashtanga yoga (“astau” means “eight” in Sanskrit). The aim if this way is to comprehend one’s true nature. Patanjali divided the system into eight limbs. Each one has its own techniques for the development of body and mind. Among them there are wide-known asanas that help to get rid of impurities in physical body.
It is very difficult to study “Yoga-sutras” on one’s own, because each sutra is a coded piece of knowledge. One needs a key to grasp the meaning, which can be acquired only from an experienced teacher. In the times of Patanjali knowledge was transferred directly from the teacher to the student. The system of encoded information prevented ignorant people to get access to it so that they couldn’t use it in a harmful way.
There is little information about Patanjali. He was a great scientist and wrote fundamental works in mathematics and Sanskrit. Before each practice we thank him for the learning he left behind.
Vamanarishiistheauthorofafamoustext “Yogakorunta”. It is believed to be created about 2000 years ago. A copy, written on palm leaves, was given to Krishnamacharya by his guru RamamohanBrahmachari. Later he taught this system to PattabhiJois.
The first part of the text described asanas and the principles of yoga practice. The second part contained comments on “Yoga-sutras” of Patanjali. Asanas were grouped in set sequences and were prescribed to be combined with a special way of breathing, vinyasas, bandhas and drishti. The practice presented in the book contained all eight limbs of yoga as described in “Yoga-sutras”. That’s why it was called “Ashtanga yoga”.
The most famous postulate from Vamana’s text is the following one: “Oh, yogi! Don’t do asana without vinyasa!” As Rishi said, vinyasa generates inner heat, launches the processes of internal organs and nervous system purification, and creates meditative state of mind.
Unfortunately, the manuscript didn’t endure – it was eaten by ants. However, thanks to PattabhiJois and his students, this practice continues to live now.
Sri Krishnamacharya was born in South India, in Muchukanda village in a Brahmin family. He studied many indian languages and Sanskrit, and undertook thorough Brahmin training. Some time he spent in Varanasi where Brahmins traditionally deepened their education. Then Krishnamacharya got interested in hatha yoga and energy practices. His teacher suggested him going to Tibet to GurujiRamamohanBrahmachari who lived in a cave on the shore of the Tibetan lake Manasarovar. Krishnamacharya spent seven yearswith him, studying the practice and theory of hatha yoga, yoga therapy. He had so various interests that he was often called “Leonardo of yoga”.
After a while the guruji send Krishnamacharya back to India to spread and teach yoga. He advised him to get married and acquire a family. Thus he would show that yoga could be practiced by everyone, not only hermits. Those times it wasn’t an easy task, because yoga lost its popularityin India, there were very few practitioners. Krishnamacharya did as he was asked to – he got married, returned to Kalkutta where he studied Ayurveda for two years, and then returned to South India and started to teach yoga there. He organized public demonstrations and healed using his knowledge of Ayurveda and yoga therapy. Once the governor of Mysore, maharaja Vodiyar asked to help him with a serious illness. Krishnamacharya restored his health fully and in acknowledgment of it maharaja presented him a hall, where Krishnamacharya could teach and heal in 1930s. Thus Mysore school of yoga appeared.
Krishnamacharya tried to do his best to make yoga accessible to everybody. He was the first, who started to teach women asanas and mantras, despite many Brahmins’ displeasure. One of his first famous western students was Indra Devi, Russian wife of a Swedish ambassador.
Krishnamacharya lived for 101 years and left behind a tremendous heritageupon which modern hatha-yoga began.
Krishnamacharya had two students, widelyknown today: PattabhiJois and B.K.S. Ayengar. As we are speaking about Ashtanga yoga here, we will tell only about the first one, because it was he who got this method from Krishnamacharya.
The Guru of Ashtanga yoga was born in a Brahmin family in Karnataka (south Indian state). As a young man he came to Mysore to study in the college of Sanskrit and saw Krishnamacharya demonstration in the street. It impressed him a lot and he became his student. For 30 years PattabhiJois was the student and then the teacher in Krishnamacharya’s school.
Pattabhi Jois, as his teacher wanted from him, taught Ashtanga yoga for the whole life without any changes of the method. He described its basic principles in his book “Yoga mala”. By the end of 1960s he had very few students. But in 1970s there were a lot of American downshifters in India, who got tired from the ideology of mass consumption. Some of them got really interested in yoga by PattabhiJois. Among his most famous students there are David Swenson, Andre Von Lysebeth, Richard Freeman, David Williams. The latter arranged a trip of PattabhiJois to USA in 1975, and since that this precious method has been accessible and open for everyone.
PattabhiJois passed the practice of Ashtanga yoga to his daughter Saraswati and grandson Sharath who is the holder of the tradition now. Both of them teach in Mysore and everybody can come to the source of tradition. The official website of the school is http://kpjayi.org.