The Yoga Of The Yogi

Review of the book The Yoga of the Yogi by Kausthub Desikachar.
2022-07-14 – ⁠2022-09-11 finished
⁠certainty: log ⁠importance: 1Source published on: 2005

The book describes Krishnamacharya’s life, it has plenty of anecdotes and clearly describes his teaching approach: design unique practices for every student.

However the book didn’t inspire me and left me dry. When I finished it I thought: dedicating your life to yoga feels like a waste of time. I approached the book with reverence to Krishnamacharya and perhaps I brought too many expectations. It’s also possible that the author’s perspective on his grandfather’s life contributed to this sentiment. The fact that the author has sexual abuse allegations against him probably doesn’t help.

Classic yoga is about subjective experience and higher states of awareness but the book doesn’t talk about those. The book is no Autobiography of a Yogi and no The Surrender Experiment .

Another disappointment were the non-existing details about the seven years period where Krishnamacharya studied with his master, this was the part I was most interested in.

What I found most valuable were the descriptions of how Krishnamacharya adapted his teaching to the people that came to him. On the one hand personalization builds on strengths, which makes sense to me, but it also seems to lead to chaos, think of the yoga community today where the multiplicity of styles and traditions feels so confusing. On the other hand standardization seems to lead to clarity, I’m thinking of Goenka’s Vipassana meditation courses where they teach you using decades-old video recordings. How to maximize training effectiveness through personalized training without losing track of the essence? Perhaps it means ensuring that the principles of your discipline are clearly understood and transmitted to the students regardless while at the same time carefully observing a student and nudging them towards their strengths? In a world of MOOCs where students have little to no bidirectional contact with their teacher this may become a problem. Perhaps a mature student attitude paired with a great coach is the solution: have the best teacher for a certain discipline create Youtube videos to be watched by millions, and then have the students interact with coaches who help you express your uniqueness.

Highlights

A reminder of how sensitive the mind is, it bears repeating:

When the breath is agitated, the mind becomes agitated. When the breath is smooth and steady, the mind is smooth and steady. Similarly, the food we eat, our lifestyle, the company we keep, our emotional state, etc., all of these things affect the mind.

Sound as a tool to produce different effects in the body:

Correct pronunciation is crucial, because these sounds, correctly pronounced, produce specific vibrations that act on specific areas of our system.

Practical note to self for my daily pranayama practice: >Though there are many religio-spiritual reasons behind this practice, it also has practical applications, one of the simplest being to wet the throat before pranayama. If the throat is dry, the practitioner may start coughing. Also, by touching different parts of the body, we bring our attention to them and notice if they are in order.

On mastery:

Here, the focus is perfection—be it postures, pranayama, bandhas, or any other tool of yoga. The goal is for the practitioner to use the tools of yoga without error. Often, teachers introduce siksana krama to young, healthy adults. One of the main reasons this practice is introduced to students of a young age is so that they will learn to practice yoga and use its tools correctly. Then, they are taught how to modify these tools.

Mention of siddhi, sadly without a concrete example:

Only a few, elite yoga masters have practiced this category of yoga, and the only yogi I have ever met who did was Krishnamacharya. In sakti krama, yoga is utilized to develop and enhance certain “sakti” or “siddhi” (special powers).

An example of Naval’s idea of trying to become world-class at a combination of two or three niches:

Krishnamacharya’s mastery of both disciplines allowed him to offer a more efficient and complete healing treatment to people with many different kinds of problems. If someone came to him with a liver problem, for example, Krishnamacharya would not only recommend yoga practices to address the sickness, but also suggest appropriate Ayurvedic preparations. Because he was a master of both schools, he could combine the traditions safely and offer a more effective treatment.

On the misuse of pranayama:

When the man explained what he had been doing, Krishnamacharya said to him, “You nearly killed yourself by doing this. Your ability to hold your breath is very limited at this moment. You have pushed yourself beyond your ability, and this is why you are suffering. Don’t ever do this again if you want to live healthy.” It took this gentleman nearly three months to recover from his problems.

On abilities that probably look like magic to non-masters:

Another student told me that he went to meet Krishnamacharya, and he had not been doing the practice Krishnamacharya had asked him to do. The moment he entered the room, Krishnamacharya said to him in a kind but firm way, “So, how is your practice this week? Looks like you have not practiced. Go home and come next week after you have practiced.”

How do I grow from this book?

When trying to learn about the lives of spiritual people don’t bother with anything but unadulterated biographies.

Read the Wikipedia entry for an author before reading any book, I keep forgetting how valuable it is.

Connections


ISBN: 9781466872356