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Yogacharya T. Krishnamacharya: A Man Extraordinaire

Most of us find solace in simply hearing or reading stories of the lives of extraordinary people, but people like Raghu Ananthanarayanan really had the good fortune to not only know but to have studied under the aegis of great men like Yogacharya T. Krishnamacharya and his son TKV Desikachar. While Raghu keeps quipping with some insights and anecdotes from them time to time, but Shankar and I thought it would be best to have a detailed conversation on what was it like to study with such exceptional teachers and more importantly what made them so extraordinary?

Shankar: It is rare that one gets to meet and learn from extraordinary human beings or people with extraordinary capabilities, like J. Krishnamurti and Krishnamacharya. What was it like to study with both?

Raghu: Well, you see Krishnamacharya was more accessible than Krishnamurti because I was learning everyday with Krishnamacharya for ten years. I met Krishnaji every year for more than a decade only during the couple of mon5hs when he stayed in Chennai. Though Krishnamurti was a transcendental human being, I was closer to Krishnamacharya.

The Yoga Sutra speaks about two types of yogi:

bhava pratyaya: people born with extraordinary capabilities

upAya pratyaya: A yogi who goes through a sAdhana to develop extraordinary capabilities.

Krishnamacharya used to say that you can only learn from a upAya pratayaya because the person has gone through the struggle.  J.Krishnamurti came up with extraordinary insights and truths but he did not recommend a practice to get to that level. Krishnamacharya could tell the path to get to the truth.

But yes, I agree I consider it an extraordinary gift to have been able to spend time with both in a meaningful way.

Shankar: It seems Krishnamacharya had many elements of being transcendental, but we don’t usually hear these instances from authentic sources. So, can you give some examples of his extraordinariness?

Raghu: There are so many from his life, he developed his capabilities through his rigorous yoga sAdhana. He had a brilliant memory, photographic if you ask me. As a child, he would hear the chants once or twice and he would memorize it fully. Even when he was close to a 100 years old his memory was really sharp. He had an unfortunate accident and was bed ridden for weeks. I visited him when he was getting better, and he remembered the last line of the Upanishad we discussed in our last class and wanted to know when I was coming next for class! One of our teachers was pregnant (full term) and he predicted the kind of baby she would have and the time of birth. He had numerous insights into people’s physical, mental and emotional health simply by observing people with penetrating concentration. When he was 98 or so, he fractured his hip in a fall and doctors had given up on him. But to everyone’s amazement he healed himself through Ayurveda and fasting. So much so, he could start practicing Asana again! What was endearing was that he was also human just like any one us, he would play with his grandchildren, cook his food, buy vegetables and get upset too.

Shankar: How did he develop that acute sensitivity and qualities?

Raghu: He practiced listening at all levels. He simply practiced what was mentioned in the Yoga Sutra about listening and how to develop it through prANAyAma, dhAraNa etc. One needs to practice Asana to reduce the rajas and then praNAyAma to reduce tamas so that one can prepare oneself to observe and listen clearly without any disturbance. Only then would you catch subtle, deeper and unsaid aspects of the body and mind.

Gayatri: Have you discovered any of this through the practice?

I have also developed this art to some extent and catch many deeper nuances about a person by simply listening to them or watching them on video.

Shankar: What were the other gifts that he spoke of?

Raghu: He never spoke about himself in that manner. He would give his experiences and insights about the psychological and physical aspects in the context of healing and teaching.

Gayatri: Did he also engage in psychological inner process work like you did?

Raghu: He certainly had insights into the psychological states of people who came to him through careful listening, pulse measurement or just intuition. Thus, he devised an asana and pranayama practice based on those insights. His teachings and classes went beyond the obvious and seen, mostly through a keen intuition. His son Desikachar had also developed similar capabilities and subtle perception that we could see while he treated people.

Shankar: Was it true that he could see all the nAdi? Was that possible because of his gifts?

Raghu: Well, I really do not know. But his sAdhana was extraordinary, due to which he could experience shAntam at a very deep level. One could feel his energy when you were around him. He practiced pratyahAra and could engage with you at one level and activity and then suddenly shift onto another very different dimension instantaneously. He could direct his mind in any direction he wanted to.

Shankar: So, when he used to interact with you in class, there must have been a difference in the levels no?

Raghu: As I said, the mere presence of him around you would make you feel the difference. The student would automatically be drawn into a deeper self because of his intensity. I always felt myself touching the deeper and subtler self of me each time I met him.

Gayatri: So, did people treat him as a Guru?

Raghu: Every student had a different attitude towards him. My cousin was cured of his illness by Krishnamacharya’s intervention and then dedicated his entire life to him. Krishnamacharya never demanded it, he was a simple householder who taught and did his duty.

Gayatri: Did he have any expectations from his students per se?

Raghu: He never pushed us at all. We all came to him to learn. Since some of my colleagues and I came to him through Desikachar it was taken for granted that we approached him as yoga teachers. But many others came to him with very different needs and he dealt with each one of them according to their aspirations. Of course, as a teacher he knew when you had not done your practice etc., just as you walk into the room. One would feel squeamish and then double ones efforts.

Shankar: Did he have anything specific insights when it came to being yoga teachers?

Raghu: When Desikachar told him that I had started teaching yoga, Krishnamacharya said that ‘teaching Asana, praNAyAma etc has a deeper interface; that of transfer of energy. Therefore, as a teacher it is essential for you to learn how to guard your energy.’ Which means that one should learn to value it and not waste it by acting in an adhArmic manner. One needs to live in a certain way and practice sincerely, teaching is a serious commitment, because it is not just teaching physical postures and Asana but you are touching the inner most part of the person through your actions. He also emphasized that we are mere channels of energy and not the agent here. In fact, he would never take attributions and always say ‘Narayana is the one doing it, I am not doing anything.’

Shankar: So, when you teach us you are transferring his energy further, right?

Raghu: Absolutely. A big part of my life was spent learning from Desikachar and him and that shaped me for who I am today. Our traditions lay a lot of importance to the guru-shishya parampara and lineage of the teachers. So I offer a praNAm to my teachers before I start and hope to be a worthy channel.

Shankar: Did he ever talk about his Guru?

Raghu: Yes, he did tell us stories from his time spent with his Guru Ramamohana Brahmachari in Kailash, who was 7 feet tall. Krishnamacharya lived in the mountains under his tutelage, learnt how to find drinking water through long treks and routes, he learnt about different medicinal herbs and how to prepare medicines. He also referred to Brahmachari’s extraordinary capabilities to heal people. People came to him from all over India to be healed, and many a times he would simply knead some mud in his hands give it to the person and he/she would be cured. The transfer of energy was so powerful. He sometimes spoke of his guru’s family also.

Shankar: Were sessions with him as intense as a Lab?

Raghu: In a lab I must simultaneously work with myself else the intensity of the lab comes down. Similarly, in classes also Krishnamacharya was anchored in a space of shAntam so that he was with us in a space of intensity.

Shankar: Beyond the teaching in classes, what were teachings on how should one lead one’s life?

Raghu: For me, the idea of being an Aptavachana (a person with great integrity and very little gap between thought word and deed) came from watching my gurus lead their life. For e.g Krishnamacharya dealt with family matters, carried out his responsibilities as a householder and faced numerous difficulties in his life like any one of us. At the same time he kept up an intense practice and study discipline too. He also believed in the bhakti mArgam, his bhakti towards Krishna was total. The divine had shown yoga as his path in life through his dreams and insights. Thus, he had no doubts about that and he pursued it all his life.

Shankar: What was his purpose in life?

Raghu: He dedicated his life to yoga and bhakti. By bhakti I mean he practiced ishwarapraNidhAna i.e he surrendered to Krishna and let the divine unfold the path towards his true purpose. It was as simple as that.

Shankar: This is incredible. Did he know that how yoga and more importantly his teachings and healings were creating an impact?

Raghu: He never saw his own impact as such, but he understood the ripples. He blessed BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois to go and teach in Pune and Mysore respectively and they did so very sincerely. Krishnaji also came to him to learn and Krishnamacharya sent Desikachar to teach him. Desikachar taught often consulted his father on things like Krishnaji’s diet etc., and he would give very accurate insights and suggestions right down to telling him what kind of nuts he must or must not eat. Krishnaji was amazed at how Krishnamacharya could intuit the exact issues and needs just by asking Desikachar a few questions and directing his observation.

Shankar: He had scaled heights in terms of academics and attained a scholarly status while studying in Varanasi and his time spent in Kailash learning yoga from Ramamohan Brahmachari ji. But post that he had to go through many hardships when he landed in Mysore and Chennai. How did he deal with that?

Raghu: He was guided by Nathamuni on the entire Yoga Rahasyam in his dreams at the age of 16, it was only then that he left for Varanasi to study further. There was a tough period for him when he landed in Chennai after Mysore. In Mysore he was one of the King’s teachers and advisors. In Chennai he lived in a small one room apartment with his family and had to travel to people’s homes to teach yoga. Though, certain people did come forward to help him, he knew that it was Krishna who was showing him the way and he just acted as he was guided. He knew yoga was his path and despite many offers he never wavered from the path of yoga. There was no bitterness about the struggles at all.

Shankar: Was there a dysfunctional side to him?

Raghu: Not as such, he lived a very dedicated and extraordinary life and it was very difficult for those around him to live up to that. He was very good with kids and teaching them. His children always talked highly of him, though he was a strict father. He did all the normal householder activities like reading papers, playing with his grandchildren in the park, cooking etc.

Gayatri: Did Desikachar’s style reflect his father’s?

Raghu: Desikachar would always talk about the dedication of his father towards yoga and would always be in awe of him. Though he did not speak too much about his father’s achievements etc. But just like his father, Desikachar also brought in a lot of innovative ways of teaching and healing to suit the person’s needs.

Shankar: Do you think he had any regrets?

Raghu: He was a simple man with a sole dedication to yoga. He followed the principles of ashtAnga yoga very carefully, because he believed that every action of yours should have a dhArmic footing.

Featured Image: Yoga Journal

(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2018)

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