A History of Yoga in the West
Sri Tirumala Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) is often called “the father of modern yoga.” Although yoga originated between 2,000 and 5,000 years ago, until the past 150 years it was practiced mostly by ascetics, far removed from society. After seven years of intense study of yoga, Krishnamacharya’s guru instructed him not to be an ascetic, but to be a householder and teacher of yoga.
In 1924, Krishnamacharya was assigned by the Mysore palace to start a yoga school. Krishnamacharya’s teaching of yoga focused on six “tools” or “kramas:” Srsti, (growth by developing strength, flexibility and power), Siksana (perfection), Raksana (maintenance), Adhmatya (spiritual matters), Cikitsa (healing or therapy), and Shakti (energy, spiritual transcendence).
Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois was born in 1915 in the village of Kowshika, India.
In 1937 Jois was summoned to teach at a yogashala (yoga school) built in Krishnamacharya’s name in exchange for a salary and free tuition at the Sanskrit University. He founded the Yoga Department of the school, and taught there until his retirement in 1973, also founding the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in 1948. While teaching at the yogashala, Pattabhi Jois married Savitramma, with whom he had three children.
Pattabhi Jois is most well known for the globalization of the Ashtanga practice taught to him by Krishnamacharya. Yoga practitioners from all over the world travelled to Mysore to practice in his presence. Pattabhi Jois died on May 18, 2009.
T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya and nephew of BKS Iyengar, was born in Mysore, India in 1938. Desikachar pursued a modern education and received a degree in engineering, but was so greatly influenced by his father’s teachings that he left his career as an engineer to study with his father in 1961. He studied with his father until his father’s death in 1989.
Desikachar has devoted himself to teaching yoga and making it relevant for all people. He founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a non-profit yoga and healing center, in 1976 in Madras (now Chennai) India, which is available to anyone seeking help, offers instruction to anyone who asks for it, and conducts research and study projects. Desikachar is considered one of the most respected yoga teachers of modern times. T.K.V. Desikachar currently lives with his wife in Chennai.
Swami Satchidananda was born in India in 1914 as C.K Ramaswami Gounder. As a child, Ramaswami was dedicated to spiritual practice and truth and looked upon people of all castes with en equal eye, seeing the same spiritual essence within all human beings. After graduating from an agricultural college, Ramaswami married and worked as an engineer in the automobile industry. At the age of 28, Ramaswami’s wife died unexpectedly, moving him take a greater interest in his spiritual life.
Ramaswami’s searching led him to the Himalayas, where he met his guru. It was at this time that Ramaswami Gounder was ordained into the order of Sannyasa and was given the name Swami Satchidananda (meaning “divine bliss”). In 1966 the artist Peter Max invited Swami Satchidananda to America and soon after, Swami Satchidananda decided to become an American citizen, so that he could spread his teachings of yoga and enlightenment in the United States. He believed that we are all one in spirit and worked to spread peace to people of all religions and ethnicities. His motto was, “Truth is one, paths are many”. He is most well known as the founder of Integral Yoga, which is a synthesis of the various aspects of Yoga. On August 19, 2002 Sri Swami Satchinanda left his body saying, “I will always be with you in Spirit. Even if my body is not there, you will never be without me”.
Swami Sivananda was born as Kuppuswami in 1887 in Pattamadai, Tamil Nadu, South India. He was said to be very smart, athletic, and spiritually inclined as a boy, and with a selfless spirit. He pursued a career in the medical field, and was an excellent and conscientious physician, often waiving fees for patients unable to afford medical care.
Kuppuswami’s transition from one who cures the physical body to spiritual guru and healer came about due to a chance meeting with a wandering Sannyasin (renuciate or Monk) in need of medical attention. Dr. Kuppuswami cured the Sannyasin and received instruction on Yoga and Vedanta. Absorbed in the desire to cure all suffering, Kuppuswami left his medical career behind and went in search of spiritual growth and enlightenment, traveling to North India hoping to find his true Guru. His search ended in the holy town of Rishikesh in the Himalayas. Here Kuppuswami found his Guru and was initiated into Sannyas, becoming Swami Sivananda Saraswati.
After a decade or so of practice people began to seek out Swami Sivananda for spiritual instruction and inspiration. Swami Sivananda’s teachings quickly spread and inspired many throughout the world. He wrote more than 200 books on Yoga and philosophy. Many people found themselves transformed through his teachings, which can be summarized in six words: “Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize”.
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