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History of Yoga Korunta (Ashtanga Yoga)

Travelling in the North of India to spread the science of Yoga for the treatment of various ailments, Sri T. Krishnamacharya – thanks to the patronage of the Maharajah of Mysore (well known for his philanthropy and spiritual faith) – discovered by chance, in the 1930s, in the university Library of Calcutta, an ancient manuscript written on palm leaves and entitled “Yoga Korunta”. The author, a sage of ancient times, called himself “Vanama”. Composed between 500 and 1500 BC, the document was excellently preserved. Also a specialist in ancient Sanskrit, Sri T. Krishnamacharya understood from the turn of certain phrases that it was part of a much older oral tradition (between 3000 and 4000 years BC).

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

Following this discovery, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who taught a different method of yoga, altered his teaching for the third time. He asked Sri K. Pattabhi Jois to devote himself exclusively to this method of original Yoga, called Yoga Korunta, and to pass it on.

From 1937 onwards, Pattabhi taught Yoga Korunta in Mysore, India.

Only in the late 1960s, André Van Lysebeth, the first teacher of European yoga, spends three months to study Yoga in India with Pattabhi.

André speaks of him and the quality of his training and popularizes him by publishing laudatory articles in the paper « YOGA » which he edits.

La "REVUE YOGA"

La “REVUE YOGA”

Around 1973, Americans participate in the demonstration of yoga by Manju (Pattabhi’s son) in the ashram of Gitānanda (near Pondicherry). Thus Norman Allen became a pupil of Pattabhi or Guruji, as his disciples call him, later Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams came.

Pattabhi chose to use the term “Ashtanga” for his school in reference to one of the six points of view of orthodox Indian philosophy, i.e. Yoga. The other points of view are: Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Sāṃkhya, Mîmâmsâ, Vedānta.

The bible of Yoga, written by Patañjali, is “The Yoga Sūtra” (a kind of synthesis of all the preceding knowledge).

In the second chapter of this book, at verse (YS II-29) the foundations of the practice of yoga are being explained, the definition of which is “aṣṭāṅga yoga”. Thus, all the spiritual techniques referring to this book can be called aṣṭāṅga yoga.

This way the name of Yoga Korunta was changed to “Ashtanga Yoga”. Actually, the institute of Pattabhi was called “Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute of Mysore”, which made the American students think that he taught a kind of Yoga called “Ashtanga Yoga”.

In 1975, Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams invited Guruji and his son Manju, who thus set off on their first voyage to America in order to teach yoga. Manju stayed in the United States. This practice of Yoga spread rapidly throughout America from California, extending up to Hawaii, under the name of Ashtanga Yoga.

Les livrets de JB Rishi sur l'Ashtanga Yoga

In Europe, the first teachers to spread this method were called Jean-Pierre Radhu (Belgium), Gabriel Plessis (Paris, Rouen – 1972). With the permission of Guruji, Jean Bernard Rishi in Paris (France 1975) published leaflets on the sun salutations of Mysore and the standing postures (photos of Pattabhi in black and white). Having taught Ashtanga Yoga for several years, they all changed their methods of different reasons. Later, Jean Claude Garnier (France, Belgium – 1978) and Serge Fonteneau (France, Château Renauld) embraced the teachings of Pattabhi and have made it their business to disseminate them.

Today, this traditional form of Yoga, mainly known under the name of Ashtanga Yoga, is one of the most practiced worldwide.

Sharath Rangaswamy, the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, teaches the Ashtanga Yoga he has learnt from his grandfather.

 

For further reading :

  • Yoga MalaSri K. Pattabhi Jois (paperback)
  • Ashtanga Yoga – John Scott (Le courrier du livre).
  • Ashtanga Yoga – Le Guide Pratique: Un Guide Illustré Destiné à une Pratique Personnelle, Première et Deuxième… de David Swenson

YOGA, the origins

Yoga for body, heart and soul…

When the rishi of ancient times developed yoga, the postures had a meaning and an aim apart from curing problems related to the back or to existential anxiety.

“Be young, age wall or old, sick or weak, one reaches the realization by practice, by sustained, relentless attention of all aspects of Yoga»
Haṭhayōgapradīpikā, I, 64

The aim of yoga is not a striving for bodily suppleness, it concerns peace of mind, the modification of the mind.

“The realization comes to one who is constantly engaged in practice. How would she come to the inactive? This isn’t simply by reading the treaties on yoga that perfection can be born”
Haṭhayōgapradīpikā, I, 65

The way of the body (Kaya Sādhanā)

The word “āsana” means position, posture, attitude and foundation. For the Indian sculptor, the position or physical bearing serves as a sign language and an emotional language codified and known by all. Hence, the postures of yoga represent archetypical figures. The practice of these figures in the context of a method permits the practitioner to re-establish links with his profoundest roots.

Shiva, on paper

Shiva, on paper

Finding in oneself the emotions of the body, the heart and the soul, accepting taking a step towards the unknown in order to discover a different balance, a different vision

With his body, man writes his dreams. By transcending himself, he creates a different reality, a new power, a new suppleness, and new sensations. This realisation requires going beyond stiffness and discomfort for many years of effort.

As expressed so well by Satprem in the title of one of his books, “Son of Heaven through the body of the Earth”, it is through this earthly body, this body of flesh, this material body (sthūla-śarīra) that we will, by practicing yoga, awaken the body of light, the body of energy (prāṇāyāma-kośa),

Valmiki, Ramayana

Valmiki, Ramayana

How did the concept of yoga develop?

This concept dominates all the philosophical speculations of India, reincarnation, metempsychosis. Present life shows but one stage in a multitude of successive lives that have as their common goal being painful and of which one absolutely needs to disengage oneself.

Transmigration, pain, deliverance…

For Indian thought, the existence of the soul is a given. This primitive belief was already held in prehistory. Actually, in the most ancient scriptures known, the individual soul presents itself as the pillar of all vital functions of man. The soul, (Ātman) is the “breath”, the “breath of life” (Prāṇa) par excellence, and the foundation of other breaths of life. It resides in the body and penetrates it completely.

The framework of yoga is very well defined in the Yoga Sūtra or Yogasūtra. The practitioner needs to learn to observe, to feel without complacence or remonstrance, to search for the state of transparency of self. Being true to oneself.

 

In the chapter Sādhana pāda of the Yoga Sutra, Patañjali describes Ashtanga Yoga. “Here are the eight limbs (aṅga), stages or branches of Royal Yoga (Rāja-Yoga)”.

  1. The prohibitions, yama ( यम ) or yamarāja ( यमराज )
  2. The injunctions, niyama (नियम ), five in number
  3. The physical posture, the āsana ( आसन ) 8 400 000 in number, the most well known: padmāsana
  4. Respiratory discipline, prāṇāyāma ( प्राणायाम ), which strictly prescribes inspiration and expiration in the postural practice and the holding of the breath in the techniques controlling the breath.
  5. The retraction of the senses, pratyāhāra, which leads the wise to
  6. Concentration, dhāraņā ( धारण ) which is pursued through
  7. Meditation, dhyāna ( ध्यान ) which is accomplished through
  8. The achievement and the contemplation of the Spirit, Samādhi.

“The body is like a flesh, the soul (ātman) is its master, intelligence (buddhi) is its driver, the spirit (manas) plays the part of the reins, as to the horses, these are the senses (indriya): the world is their course.”
Kaṭha Upaniṣad or Kaṭhopaniṣad 3.3

What yoga proposes is hence disciplining the human “vehicle” in its various aspects: perceptions and actions with sensuality and corporality, emotions and thoughts with mind and intelligence. Yoga is thus a discipline and a discipline is a space of freedom, it is a framework of freedom.

Only discipline will develop an ever-greater force of endurance, which will permit – once we encounter a difficulty in life (fatigue, illness, doubt, conflict, fear etc) – to continue our path with Peace, Force and Joy.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois has learned, developed, and taught others Ashtanga Yoga

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, was born on July 26, 1915, a day of the full moon, in a small village near Somnathpur in Karnataka in South India. He died on May 18, 2009, at the age of 94.

His father, Krishna Pattabhi Jois, was a well-known astrologer in the service of the Maharajah of Mysore.

After his primary and secondary schooling in 1930 he began studying Sanskrit and Vedic philosophy at the Maharaja Sanskrit College in Mysore. In 1937, he graduated, he immediately went into teaching Sanskrit at the University of Mysore and continued until 1973. He spent another three years teaching at the Ayur Vedic College, and he then retired.

He began studying Yoga in 1927, when he was 12 years old. He then lived with his parents in a small village near Hassan “Kowshek” (Karnataka). During the first three years, he undertook a journey back and forth every day to visit his Guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who lived in Mysore at that time (a distance of some 35 km). He received the teaching of his master for 25 years (from 1927 to 1952). Krishnamacharya asked him to transmit a method of original Yoga, called Yoga Korunta (known today as Ashtanga Yoga). Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught Yoga in India from 1937, then later in the U.S.A and Europe. He received students from around the world to study this wonderful method of Yoga.

He was the founder-director of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore in 1942. In 1946, he founded the Institute for Research on Ashtanga Yoga, where he experimented and developed the healing powers of Yoga. He was appointed Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Indian Government Medical College in Mysore, from 1976 to 1978.

Shri K. Pattabhi Jois was married with the delicious Savitramma, known as her diminutive Amma). She left us far too early in December 1997. She always wore a smile, offered comfort or had a blessing on her lips and she prepared an absolutely delicious coffee.

What is less well known is that she had also studied and practiced Yoga and sacred Shri T. Krishnamacharya texts. This is where she met Guruji. She was 14 when she was married, a marriage of love which was very rare at the time. They had three children, two boys and a girl (their eldest son Ramesh died in an accident on the Kaveri dam).

Manju Jois

Manju Jois

Manju, their son, teaches Yoga at Emanitas in California – U.S.A. Saraswati, their daughter still lives in Mysore, she is married to a professor and also teaches yoga.

andrevanlysebeth

In 1964, André Van Lysbeth, the first European, came to study the Korunta Yoga at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore with Guruji. André spoke about him and made him known through an article he published in the early review of the time “YOGA”, which he edited.

Around 1972, Sri Pattabhi Jois received the first Americans after the “meeting” with Manju at the Gitananda ashram near Pondicherry (160 km south of Madras). The practice of Ashtanga Yoga spread in America from California, and extended later to Hawaii. In 1975, Guruji and Manju on their first tour spread the word about the practice of yoga. Since then, the practice of Ashtanga Yoga has spread worldwide.

 

Guruji passed on to the other side of existence on 18 May 2009 at 2:30pm in the afternoon (local Mysore time).   Guruji had taught continuously for 63 years this wonderful method that he had learned from his Guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya in 1927.

Chidambaram flowers

Om Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Om (Om, may all beings achieve peace and harmony, Om Shanti).

 

Today, his grandson Sharath Rangaswamy, the son of Sarasvati, is Director of the Institute. He was born in 1971. He is transmitting the Ashtanga Yoga he learned from his grandfather. Sharath is married to Shruthi and he is the happy father of two children, a charming little girl called Shradda (Dedication), and a son Sambhav (connected to the being or Manifestation of being).

 

The new Yoga course room “Yogashala” can be found :

  • Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute
235, 8th Cross
2nd Main, 3rd Stage
Gokulam, Mysore 570 002
Karnataka, India

Understanding the methods of yoga more clearly

When one starts to take an interest in yoga, one is surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by the number of different schools. What does this mean? At what level can I take part in classes?

In certain yoga classes, there is a moment of respite between each posture or between each group of postures. In others, one assembles oneself the chronology of postures, which varies according to different criteria.

We will help you see more clearly.

The different variations all stem from Haṭha Yoga, “Ha” means Sun, “Tha” Moon, “Yoga” means Union. “The search for balance in the union of opposing forces”. This may be one of the most beautiful definitions of our practice.

In the practice of Ashtanga yoga or Yoga Korunta (its original name), the order of postures in each series is immutable. The transitions between each position are interlinked rhythmically and dynamically.

The series of Ashtanga Yoga are presented in an order of increasing difficulty. Before passing on to the next series, it is essential to have mastered the preceding one. Generally, this type of Yoga appeals to those with an open spirit looking for an intense physical and spiritual activity and not afraid of sweating.

Its principal characteristics are :

  • Control of the pelvic floor (Mūlābandha)
  • Deep breathing (Ujjãyi)
  • Concentration of gaze (Drishti dṛṣṭi)
  • Dynamic movements of transition between the postures (Vinyasa)

Composed of six series, the first is called therapeutic yoga.

You will be encouraged to breathe deeply, to concentrate, and the teacher will correct you.

Following, the various methods of Haṭha Yoga that are best known:

Kripalu Yoga teams the practice of Yoga with consciousness and acceptance of oneself. It is a meditative Yoga, the student executes the postures and movements intuitively according to his needs.

Sivānanda Yoga is based on the five following principles: suitable exercises (āsana);  correct breathing (āsana);  deep relaxation (savāsana); healthy eating (vegetarian) ; positive thought and meditation (vedanta & dhyāna). Very well known thanks to André Van Lysebeth, the series of 12 principal postures unfolds in the opposite sense to the method of Ashtanga Yoga.

Satyananda Yoga or Bihar Yoga takes up several methods: Haṭha, Raja, Karma, Jnāna, Mantra and Bhakti Yoga, as well as other branches of Yoga, very much geared to the aspects of mental Yoga.

Bikram Yoga encompasses a series of 26 postures which are repeated twice in a room heated to 40° Celsius. The heat promotes suppleness, the elimination of toxins and weight loss.

Energy Yoga, of Tibetan origin, insists on the importance of a balance of the energies influencing our physical body. The respiratory work is the key that promotes the training of attention and allows the mind so often distracted and overburdened to relax.

Haṭha Yoga according Eva Ruchpaul is a yoga that purports to be secular and stresses an attitude of interior work rather than one of physical effort. The lesson is based on a rhythm of three: a posture, a period of rest, a breath, a posture… Postures and breath are intimately linked.

Kundalini Yoga is based on the idea that each of us have capital within ourselves “Health, Happiness, Faith” which can grow thanks to the practice encompassing postures, exercises in respiratory techniques, chanting and meditation.

Anusara Yoga is based on the idea that everything is supreme consciousness. Everybody is divine in all his parts, body, thoughts and spirit. It considers the postures of Yoga, practiced in accordance with the universal principles of alignment an expression of the divine.

Viniyoga, developed by the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, Desikachar – “The more we progress in life, the more we transform ourselves, physically, emotionally and intellectually” – is a method meant to integrate these changes in a way adapted to each individual.

Sri BKS Iyengar

Sri BKS Iyengar

Yoga Iyengar is a practice in which one uses numerous props to better accomplish certain postures which allows practitioners to circumvent problems of flexibility. This technique emphasizes alignment and precision of postures.

Power Yoga, developed in the United States, takes up the principal foundations of Ashtanga Yoga but does not follow a predetermined order of postures and series. It is a physical and dynamic training in very aerobic style.

Jivamukti Yoga is a system that is at the same time overtly meditative and very physical like Ashtanga Yoga. During classes, participants practice series of postures punctuated by chants (in Sanskrit), meditations, lectures, discussions, music.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga is a more traditional style of Yoga that respects the original principles of Yoga. Like in Ashtanga Yoga, the pupil adapts little by little to the method, which stays immutable.

etc.

Guruji

Guruji

At the Ashtanga Yoga Institute of Brussels, we practice Yoga as expressed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois “Practice, practice, practice, every day…“

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamarcharya, one of the greatest masters of yoga (1888 – 1988)

Sri T. Krishnamacharya, one of the greatest masters of yoga, the light of his knowledge has profoundly influenced the whole world.

He has never left anyone indifferent. In the course of a life that would easily fill several ordinary lives, he had many extraordinary encounters. A descendant of the great priests serving at the temple of the Lord of the Seven Hills, who in turn were descendants of Nâthamuni, Sri Venkateshvara of Tirumalai, this teacher had been promised an exceptional destiny at his birth. Nothing commonplace could happen to him.

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was born on 18 November 1888, the eldest of six children (four boys and two girls).

His father, Sri Tirumalai Srinivasa Thathacharya, a great religious master teaching the knowledge of the holy books (the Vedas), takes charge of the child’s education with his wife Shrimati Ranganayakamma.

The young Krishnamacharya is gifted with great physical force, coupled with extraordinary temperament and intelligence. He also suffused with an intense ardour to know and… to know how.

Still an adolescent, Krishnamacharya sets off to discover his country, its sages, its scholars, its artists and its mystics.

An incredible journey is the life of this young man who will by and by discover, then master, the most varied disciplines, from close-quarters combat to astrology to Vedic rituals.

A well of sciences, fluent in seven languages, an eminent pundit, he will successively explore each of the classical viewpoints of Indian philosophical thought, obtaining the highest distinctions in the most celebrated traditional schools.

Benares, Varanasi, India in 1922

Benares, Varanasi, India in 1922

Varanasi

When he left for Benares for the first time, around the age of 18, he was fortunate to be instructed in certain secrets of Sanskrit grammar in the course of a single night by a sort of genius, Shivakumar Shâstri. Back in Mysore, he received an exhaustive three-year education in the philosophy of Vedânta by the director of Parakala Mutt, Brahmatantra Sri Krishna Brahmatantra Swâmi. Once again back to Benares, he found there a deeply enlightened tutor, Sri Vamacarana Bhattâchârya who, while teaching him philosophy, alsohelped him for years giving him advice on how to live his life.

The holy lake of Mânasarovar…

As advised by his tutor at the University of Patna, he then set off on foot for the Himalayas. By difficult paths and rope bridges over spanning torrents, he arrived at the foot of Kailash, the mythical mountain considered to be the abode of Shiva and the axis of the universe, and at the holy lake of Mânasarovar.

Yoga

He learns and practices intensively all the different aspects of yoga. Thus, in the second phase of his life, he will become one of the greatest (Maha) yogi (âcharya) of his time.

Maharaja of Mysore, painting

Maharaja of Mysore, painting

The maharajah of Mysore

In 1924, he is invited by the maharajah of Mysore who viened yoga as a help in treating his numerous physical ailments. He opened a yoga school in his palace in 1955.

He established himself in Mysore

He is already in his forties when he established himself in Mysore, in the South of India, there he marries the very young Srimati Namaginammal. She will give him six children, three boys and three girls.

Srimati Namaginammal wife of Krishnamacharya

Srimati Namaginammal wife of Krishnamacharya

Madras (Chennai)

When he established himself in Madras in the fifties, he once again had the opportunity to treat two men in very senior positions. Both suffered from paralysis: an eminent lawyer Sri T.R. Venkatarâma Shâstrî and Sir Alladi Krishnaswâmi Iyer, the celebrated jurist who had participated in the drafting of the Indian constitution. Both, causing him stay Madras, added themselves to the long list of crucial encounters that influenced the course of his life. (Extract of N° 24 of Viniyoga, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Sri T. Krishnamacharya).

 

The legend of Yoga-Rahasya

Of the Yoga-Rahasya, an important work on yoga that had been lost for several centuries, only a few excerpts were known. Krishnamacharya declared having received the whole of this original teaching in a dream from the mouth of Sri Nâthamuni, this Vishnu saint who lived in the 9th century

It was not until 1965 that T. Krishnamacharya wrote the verses of Yoga Rahaysa down on paper.

The important concepts of this text are:

  • The importance of yoga for women
  • The yoga practices to follow during pregnancy
  • The adaptation of yoga to make it suitable for everyone in different stages of his life
  • Yoga is an essential therapeutic tool

It contains the main ideas of the teachings of Krishnamacharya on techniques such as āsana and Prāṇāyāma.

T.K.V. Deskachar & Shri Bhashyam

Two of their sons also became yoga instructors.

The elder one, T.K.V. Deskachar, lives in Madras, and manages an important yoga therapy centre – the Krisnamacharya Yoga Mandiram – officially recognized by the Health Ministry of Tamil Nadu.

Sri Bhashyam, his pupil, lives in Nice (France). He has married a Frenchwoman and teaches yoga mainly in France and Switzerland – Yogakshemam, a school teaching traditional Indian philosophy – Ayurveda and Yoga.

 Dissemination…

Compared to the occident, the dissemination of the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya incurred a strange fate.

  • Indra Devi
  • Yvonne Millerand
  • K.V. Desikachar
  • K. Sribhashyam
  • Sri B.K.S. Iyengar
  • Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Mainly due to the engagement of his two sons and their pupils, it is firmly rooted in French speaking countries (France, Switzerland & Quebec).

In Anglo-Saxon countries, this teaching is better known through the interpretation provided by his brother-in-law and pupil, B.K.S. Iyengar with his worldwide reputation – as well as that of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, also known worldwide.

 abtkym_sandals

His death

He died on 28 February 1989 in Chennai in the South of India. He was nearly 101 years of age. The teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharya will for many remain an unmatched and irreplaceable master of yoga…

In accordance with tradition, he never left his native India in his life. Nevertheless, the light of his knowledge of yoga has profoundly influenced the whole world.

“Yoga is the greatest gift of India to the world.”

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

Sources:

  • The Yoga of the Yoga The legacy of T Krishnamacharya by Kausthud Desikachar – Edition: K. Y. M – Chennai – India
  • Shri T. Krishnamacharya 1888 – 1988 Cent ans de Béatitude
  • Notebook
    Edition: K. Y. M – Chennai – India
  • La revue « Viniyoga » n° 24
  • Yoga Sutra de Patanjali – Translation and commentary by K.V. Desikachar – Edition du Rocher – 1986
  • Reflection on Yoga Sutra – s of Patanjali – By K.V. Desikachar
    KYM – ISBN: 81.87847.20.4
  • The Heart of Yoga – Developing a Personal Practice – By K.V. Desikachar
    KYM – ISBN: 0.89281.681.3
Breath Of The Gods

Breath Of The Gods

Film:

Breath of the Gods, A Journey to the Origins of Modern Yoga, by Jan Schmidt – Garre Film – Length 105 minutes

  • K.S. IYENGAR
  • PATTABHI JOIS
  • K. SRIBHASHYAM
  • KRISHNAMACHARYA

Very beautiful and moving testimony to the life of Sri T. Krishnamacharya as recalled by his students, his children…

Websites: