By Eric Shaw
In the July issue of Namaskar, I traced the lineages of Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) beginning with Swami Vivekananda’s work in the West beginning in 1893.
Not only is he the first figure of MPY, he’s also the first figure to burn-out–to follow this issue’s theme!
He basically worked himself to death, traveling India and the world nonstop once his guru passed away and he turned 25 and (in 1888). He died at the young age of 39–strangely, having predicted his death years before.
Nonetheless, he started our contemporary conversation with India’s hathayoga traditions (teaching postures and other practices, even as he disparaged hatha in his writings!), and he is the singular figure who opened the door for a flood of later Indian teachers of every persuasion.
From the seeds planted in his first speech in Chicago, on September 11th, 1893, we can apply a generational model to yoga, labeling Swami V: “Gen 0.0”
In this short article, I will use very approximate dates to mark each subsequent generation of prominent teachers by the date they began their public teaching. Sometimes, these dates are stretched quite wide–as in the case of Bikram Choudhury, who clearly belongs to the Gen 2.0, but began to teach in 1970, at age 34. Contrastingly, his similarly prominent 2.0 colleague, BKS Iyengar, began his instruction in 1934 at age 16.
The Generations roll out this way:
Gen 1.0, in 1920 (Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, Yogananda, B. Ghosh, etc.)
Gen 2.0, in 1950 (Choudhury, Desikachar, Indra Devi, Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, etc.)
Gen 3.0, in 1980 (Baron Baptiste, Ana Forrest, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker, etc.)
Gen 4.0 (not discussed here) in 2010
Having walked through many lineages in the previous article–Vivekananda,Yogananda, Iyengar, etc., we circle back to tell the story of the seminal Gen. 1.0 figure, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya . . .
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Iyengar’s older brother-in-law (with Iyengar, at left) is widely understood to be the most influential teacher of Generation 1.0.
This man, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) (I’ll call him “K”) was Iyengar’s direct teacher from 1934 – 37, and is the person we most look to for updating yoga’s ancient practices for contemporary audiences.
Raised in a Brahmin, Vishnu-worshipping household, Krishnamacharya studied with his father, the vedic scholar, Sri Tirumalai Srinivasa Tatacharya (d. 1895), the posture master Ramamohana Brahmachari, and accomplished professors such as Ganganath Jha (1872 – 1941) before becoming an undisputed master of numerous Indian arts and sciences and reformulating yoga’s posture practices for the modern world.
He seemed to understand something about burn-out. Despite his many activities, he cultivated his energy carefully, chanting and meditating often, and doing postures till his last days. He died at 100, having maintained an impressive firmness of body and clarity of mind.
Krishnamacharya was part of a pan-Indian Hatha Yoga Renaissance in the first half of the 20th century, which–spurred by an emerging confidence in the power of India’s deep spiritual insight–successfully steered yoga’s somatic practices toward the imperatives of modern fitness.
Besides Krishnamacharya, other Generation 1.0 teachers include the doctor-turned-renunciant, Swami Sivananda (1887 – 1963), the laboratory tester of pranayama and posture, Swami Kuvalayananda (1883 – 1966), and the householder yogi, Shri Yogendra (1897 – 1989).
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Though B. K. S. Iyengar was Krishnamacharya’s most impactful student, writing over 25 books, popularizing yoga throughout the world, and translating the practice into a system for health and beauty, a number of other teachers who studied under K meaningfully affected world yoga, too.
Chief among these Generation 2.0 teachers were the aforementioned Desikachar, the Ashtanga Yoga master, Sri Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009); and Indra Devi (1899 – 2002)–who spread the yoga gospel by publishing books, teaching yoga to prominent politicians and movie stars while linking yoga to holistic health.
This quaternary of “World Teachers”–Iyengar, Desikachar, Jois and Devi–interpreted K’s teaching in divergent ways and gave the wider world its first practical lessons in the yogic arts.
K’s son (and Iyengar’s nephew) T. K. V. Desikachar (1938 – 2016) (pictured with his father, at left) was a world teacher of yoga therapeutics.
Desikachar wrote significant books on the Yoga Sutras, religion, and yoga practice. He was also the founder of both the Viniyoga style and Chennai’s yoga teaching and health center, the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.
Other students of K who have had global influence are the innovator of yogic movement, Srivatsa Ramaswami (b. 1939–and a student of K for 33 years); K’s other son, the teacher in Europe, Sri T.K. Sribhashyam (1940 – 2017); the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher, B. N. S. Iyengar (b. 1927); the master of a multi-faceted practice, A. G. Mohan (b. 1945) and the subtle teacher of yoga’s emotional side, Mark Whitwell (b. 1949).
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Like Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda was a titan of the Hatha Yoga Renaissance, too, and he produced a number of powerful disciples.
An Indian doctor who served in Malaysia until he was 36, he renounced householder life upon his return to India in 1923, founded the Divine Life Society in the northern city of Rishikesh, and authored over 200 books.
Like Krishnamacharya, Sivananda also tutored four primary teachers who offered meaningful guidance to the contemporary yoga project.
These include the posture master, popularizer of Sivananda Yoga, and founder of a worldwide chain of Sivananda Vedanta Centers, Swami Vishnu Devananda (1927 – 1993); Swami Satchidananda (1914 – 2002) (at left, above), the founder of Yogaville and the style called Integral Yoga,; the German-Canadian founder of Yasodhara Ashram and Ascent Magazine, Swami Sivananda Radha (1911- 1995) (pictured center); and the master Tantrist, prodigious author, and founder of northwest India’s accredited graduate school, the Bihar School of Yoga, Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1923 – 2009) (at extreme right).
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The two men who have done the most to spread yoga in all of world history are B. K. S. Iyengar and Bikram Choudhury. In the last article, we discussed the Generation 2.0 teacher Bikram Choudhury and his Generation 3.0 disciples. Behind Iyengar and Choudhury, the third most influential teacher in Gen 2.0 traces his lineage to a number of obscure and semi-obscure Indian gurus.
This man, Yogi Bhajan (1929 – 2004) was a master of PR and the builder of a worldwide spiritual organization, 3HO. He synthesized powerful asana, pranayama and chanting techniques into a coherent and effective yoga system–called Kundalini Yoga–within a new form of Sikhism. In 1968, he arrived in North America from India and applied methods he learned from the highly-regarded Sant (Baba) Virsa Singh (1899 – 2007) and the controversial Dhirendra Brahmachari (1924 – 1994) along with his own insights to create Kundalini Yoga’s mix of practices.
Bhajan’ contemporary, Amrit Desai (b. 1932) was also in the 1960s and left a strong legacy. Like Bhajan, he emerged from a little-known lineage.
Desai came to America in 1960, having demonstrated miraculous powers in his youth. His teacher was Swami Kripalavananda (1913 – 1981) (In this picture, Desai stands at far left behind his seated guru). Amrit would eventually bring Kripalavananda the U.S. to teach at his prosperous Massachusetts, Kripalu Center. In the course of Desai’s long American labors, he created both Kripalu Yoga and Amrit Yoga and was famed for granting the awakening of kundalini (called shaktipat) to his followers. Though he is less influential now, his school was a “Harvard” of yoga in its heyday of the 1980s and early 90s.
Swami Rama (1925–1996) is the last key 2.0 teacher who lies outside the Mysore matrix of Krishnamacharya, the Rishikesh matrix of Sivananda or the Calcutta matrix of Bikram.
After training under great masters and founding ashrams in Asia, Rama came to the U.S. in 1969. He soon amazed U.S. doctors by stopping his heart and changing his brainwaves at will. He went on to found Pennsylvania’s Himalayan Institute in 1971–an institution with branch centers in Cameroon, India, Great Britain, Malaysia, and Mexico. In 1997, the Institute began publishing the highly-regarded Yoga International Magazine.
Rama’s primary disciple and current president of the Institute is the scholar and Tantrist, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (b. 1953).
Rajmani became the teacher of the famed 3.0 scion, Rod Stryker (b. 1957) (sitting to the right of Tigunait, here).
Stryker’s teaching is characterized by unapologetic masculinity, articulation of a practical Tantric philosophy and–in his Parayoga form–a deep knowledge of subtle body processes
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At this point in our story, influential teachers start to proliferate in such a way that a complete account would stretch to book length.
To keep the size of this essay manageable size, I must also leave some number of important players within Generation 3.0 unmentioned.
That said, most of these individuals I’ll discuss are disciples of either K. Pattabhi Jois or B. K. S. Iyengar.
Some smaller number of them are students of Desikachar, Sivananda, or gurus who’s name is little known.
Besides Stryker, the most prominent teacher of this generation is distinguished by his humor, integrity, emotional warmth, posture mastery, worldwide teaching career, unique insights into meditation and movement, and long proctorship of a successful yoga school, The Yoga Workshop, in Boulder, Colorado. Richard Freeman (b. 1950) (pictured with Jois at left) is a direct disciple of Iyengar and Jois, and a student of Japanese and Tibetan forms of Buddhist meditation.
In a similar vein, Gary Kraftsow (b. 1955) mastered Desikachar’s Viniyoga form, becoming an important author of books and videos and a leader in the yoga therapy movement.
Expressing her California roots, Shiva Rea (b. 1967) is a master of PR and an advocate for motherhood, dance practice, and environmental causes. She is a gifted teacher and rooted innovator who studied under John Friend as well as a host of important Iyengar and Ashtanga teachers in the fervent period of the late 1980s at Maty Ezraty’s Los Angeles YogaWorks studio.
Arguably the most influential female yoga teacher today, Ana Forrest (b. 1956) studied with Iyengar briefly in Pune in 1981, but had an early tutelage under Ganga White. Her method has integrated much from America’s Native American traditions as well as approaches from addiction recovery. Her powerful personality, unyielding work ethic, and awe-provoking asana practice continues to inspire innumerable students. Her yoga teacher trainings are famed for their potency and rigor and have fostered a new generation of consequential preceptors in the practice.
Though Tim Miller, Ganga White, Roger Cole and Bryan Kest did important work translating K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga system into a simplified, fitness-focused regimen, the chief effort was done by Beryl Bender Birch in the mid-1990s. She has published four books on “Power Yoga” and continues to lead workshops and retreats throughout the world.
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In comparative history, MPY rushed onto the world stage in nearly the exact same period as modern psychology–in the late 19th century.
Vivekananda actually used late-breaking ideas from psychology in his groundbreaking book, Raja Yoga, and one of psychology’s first leading lights, William James, acknowledged that Vivekananda was an influence on his own ideas.
Just as Modern Psychology looks to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as its founders, Modern Yoga looks to two people as its chief creators, too.
Though Bikram Choudhury has done an immense amount to spread MPY, and his hot yoga has given birth to other hot room styles, his approach hasn’t been as influential in the broad sense as that of B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois. These two, in their contrasting static and flowing styles, are the Freud and Jung of today’s practice.
Like Freud and Jung, Iyengar and Jois knew each other before their great fame spread. Like Freud, Iyengar propagated a more ordered approach to practice, whereas Jois—like Jung—explored realms touched by fluidity. Jois and Iyengar both honed their craft under the same teacher (Krishnamacharya), and both began their instruction in America at nearly the same moment (Iyengar in ’73 and Jois in ‘75).
Though both teachers have also come under criticism of late; nevertheless, their shared influence is difficult to deny.
Almost every living yoga teacher has been touched by their potent teaching somehow.
Our living tradition–the bright lights of Gen 4.0–are inventing new forms from the Iyengar-Jois matrix amid a host of other influences.
They are exploiting new media, and spreading the practice to new people and places in ways that their generational forbears would be proud to see.
And, hopefully, they are maintaining a healthy work-life balance in all these creative pursuits, avoiding the kind of burn-out that this issue of Namaskar carefully warns us to steer wide of!