Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A. G. Mohan (with Ganesh Mohan) Shambhala Publications 2010
We review the book Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan in this blog. A version of this book review appeared in the British Wheel of Yoga magazine Spectrum Winter 2020 edition. A. G. Mohan describes his experience of learning yoga from his teacher Sri Krishnamacharya. Mohan studied with Krishnamacharya for 18 years until the death of his teacher in 1989 at the age of 100.
The father of modern Yoga
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered to be one of the most influential yoga teachers on the development of modern yoga. He is oft referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga.” It is without doubt that his most famous students spread the word and practice of yoga far and wide.
During his life time Krishnamacharya had no desire for personal fame or material success. This is the main reason why a lot of yoga practitioners may not know who he is and the impact he had on spreading the ancient wisdom of yoga. One of his favourite sayings was “a capable student brings fame to the teacher.” This book serves to shine some fame on this important, authentic, pivotal yoga teacher.
The book starts with a touching insight into Krishnamacharya the human being! Ganesh Mohan, the author’s son, describes how approachable and encouraging his father’s teacher was to him. He also details how he used to give him sweetened almonds as a treat.
Krishnamcharya was born in 1888 and his first teacher was his own father who taught him the vedas, yoga asana and pranayama. He was clearly a very intelligent man and obtained two degrees from Mysore University. Krishnamacharya obtained a scholarship and a further degree in yoga and the theory of samkhya from Patna University. It is clear that the young Krishnamacharya was academically gifted and had a thirst for knowledge which he pursued. A significant period in his early life was studying yoga in the Himalayas with his teacher for 7 years.
Mohan presents the overview of Krishnamacharya’s life with the caveat that it is difficult to ascertain precise details and that Krishnamacharya himself did give differing accounts himself throughout his life. He was a man who did not like to talk about his achievements and this humility results in a degree of uncertainty.
Meeting his teacher
Mohan talks about his own life and how he started to explore the deeper meanings of life. He was told whilst working on a project to speak to a colleague called Srivatsa Ramaswami who recommended he attend a lecture being given by Krishnamacharya. Srivatsa Ramaswami is today a respected teacher himself and studied for 33 years with Krishnamacharya. Mohan’s beautiful description of attending the lecture and meeting Krishnamacharya is a joy to read. It sets his life on a completely different course.
Mohan takes us through his experience of being taught yoga asana and philosophy by Krishnamacharya. It is interesting to learn how Krishnamacharya imparted his knowledge to his students. He never referred to notes or books, his knowledge retained in his memory, texts and scriptures recited from memory, with nothing written down. It is striking how basic and simple the room was in which Krishnamacharya lived and taught;
“He was a person of few possessions, and the room reflected the simplicity of his life. It was furnished with only a chair, a bed and a carpet for asana practice.”
It is very insightful how Krishnamacharya with his vast and detailed knowledge of many yoga texts was also very discerning in what he taught. He did not teach kriya to his students and also would not teach parts of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This is quite refreshing to read, as I am sure many readers will know the Hatha Yoga Pradipika has some very bizarre practices detailed that would likely get teachers arrested if they tried to teach them to their yoga students!
The source of modern Vinyasa Yoga
Krishnamacharya created the vinyasa system of yoga. This is such a commonplace style of yoga in our modern world. Krishnamacharya was the first person to intelligently sequence asana one after the other with the movement between the positions being linked to the breath. This transformed yoga from a static practice to a dynamic practice. One of Krishnamacharya’s favourite vinyasa sequences that he frequently taught was based around the Warrior postures and is included in the back of this book. As part of this article, after the book review, I have laid out this sequence so that you can try it for yourself.
Krishnamacharya taught yoga one to one and also therapeutically to those with ill health. It was only in his early life of teaching yoga that he conducted group classes. When approaching asana his attitude was to “never use force in teaching or practicing asana.” It is a shame that some of his students who went on to become famous teachers did not adhere to this advice!
(You can read our review of David Williams’ memoir that covers his experiences of learning Yoga from K Pattabhi Jois one of Krishnamacharya’s students here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/ )
Some criticism that is often levelled at Krishnamacharya is for the yoga demonstrations that he held. These were mostly with the boys he taught at the Mysore palace performing advanced yoga asana, sometimes with Krishnamacharya standing on them! In this book Mohan describes how Krishnamacharya dismissed these performances as “Yoga propaganda” that were perhaps necessary at the time to popularise and publicise yoga. It is clear that this was not something he enjoyed as clearly demonstrated by how he chose to live the majority of his life.
The chapters of this book cover pranayama, kriyas, yoga therapy, yamas, niyamas and meditation. Mohan imparts his teachers wisdom on these topics.
The later years
Mohan was Krishnamacharya’s student until his teacher’s death in 1989. The later years of his life are fondly recounted. He was in good health both physically and mentally in his final years. His physical health was only really affected by a hip fracture which he refused to have surgery for! Mohan describes how he was able to assist his teacher and help care for him.
In Summary – Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan – a must read
In my opinion this book is a must for any serious student of yoga. It gives an authentic insight into the origins of our modern yoga practice. We see Krishnamacharya as the incredibly intelligent erudite father of modern yoga. A person who was devoted to learning and spreading the teachings of yoga. A humble man who never sought fame or fortune and in fact clearly struggled through his life to make ends meet. Yet a man who’s legacy is evident in all corners of the world. When we look at lineage in the yoga tradition, Krishnamacharya is the source that I find myself referring back to more and more frequently. A reliable intelligent reference for our modern practice.
If you wish to purchase Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan I would encourage you to buy ethically. Ethical Consumer website rate Blackwells highly and recommend boycotting Amazon.
Further resources re: Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan
You can find our blog about the Krishnamacharya Warrior Flow sequence that is featured in the book here:
This article featured in the British Wheel of Yoga Spectrum Magazine Winter 2020 edition:
British Wheel of Yoga https://www.bwy.org.uk/