The story of Mysuru Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and how it spread across the world
Of late, Mysuru has become synonymous with Yoga. Thanks to the famous Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (AVY), the city has become very popular among yogis. The AVY influenced Yogis across the world in such a way that the city became “a go-to destination” for learning and practising YogaAsana. This has led to increased popularity, which fueled the rise of Mysuru as the Yoga capital of India. No wonder, Mysuru was chosen as the venue to celebrate “International Yoga day”.
This article briefly explores how the yesteryear sleepy small town, Mysuru, reached the stage where it is today and how AVY spread across the world. But before we jump straight into the story, let’s throw some light on Yoga itself first.
Brief on Yoga
The true meaning of the word Yoga is union. Union of what? – Union of mind (manas) and soul (atman). This union is for elevating the human consciousness and merging with divine consciousness. That means, the ultimate goal of Yoga is “God-realization”, not anything else, and the mind plays a crucial part in facilitating that. So, yoga practice is essentially a spiritual practice, not merely an exercise to put the body in shape and attract good health.
Why mind? – It is our mind that absolutely controls our breath and our body movements. However, the mind is driven by our thoughts which keep bombarding it all the time. The thoughts in our mind produce emotions, and all our behaviours and actions are driven by them (emotions). So, our emotions are the root cause of over 95% of all our diseases. Positive OR joyful emotions lead to good health, while negative OR disgusting emotions like disappointments, jealousy, sadness, anger, revenge-taking, lustfull mindset etc lead to bad health. So, to lead a healthy life, we should always keep a tab on our state-of-mind OR our emotions.
Mind control is necessary for Yoga
Stilling the mind is a very important step in Yoga. But the mind is always full of thoughts, so stilling seems next to impossible. That is where the YogaAsana, Pranayama and Meditation, done in accordance with the “Yama Niyama” principles, can come in handy. Yoga sadhana requires vigorous practise for years to perfect it. The mind, breath and body-movements when brought in absolute sync with each other, the mind will get empty and still. With an empty mind, one can begin his inner spiritual journey.
Food has a role to play in Yoga
Even food has a major role to play in keeping our minds joyful and light. A joyful & healthy mind will result in a healthy body. Ayurveda recommends varieties of food items that are nutritious and satvik in nature and can balance tridoshas (Vaata, Pitta, Kapha). Yogis who want to still their minds should be mindful of what they eat.
Daily we too experience the joy of the stilled mind
In our day-to-day life, we experience the “still mind” only when we get into a deep sleep at night, and a good night’s sleep will keep us in a joyful state the whole of the next day. A Yogi experiences this kind of joy day-in-day-out because he always keeps his mind shut even during the day for unnecessary thoughts, and opens it only for the thoughts he intends to get.
In a nutshell, Yoga is a “spiritual practice” and people should resist commoditizing it. We should stop making it look like mere exercise done for physical fitness, and to earn some quick money.
Mysuru’s tryst with Yoga
Thirumalai Krishnamacharya (TK)
Yogasana is not new to Mysuru. The late Maharaja of Mysuru kingdom -His Excellency Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV (1884 ~ 1940), gave patronage to many yoga teachers, and scholars and supported yoga seekers too. One among them was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (TK)(1888 ~ 1989). He was a yoga teacher par excellence, ayurvedic healer and a scholar. He is called the “great grandfather of modern yoga” for his wide influence on the development of postural yoga. He was solely responsible for the revival of, long forgotten, “HATHA YOGA ” in recent times.
TK – the architect of Vinyasa
The then young TK was so scholarly that he travelled all over India giving lectures and demonstrations to promote yoga. His trip, boarding, and lodging were funded by the King of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV.
TK had such a mastery of yoga asanas that while he was in one of the yogic postures he could stop his heartbeat for hours. Also, he could twist and turn his body like an elastic band and remain in such positions for long. People were awestruck looking at his feats and became instant followers. Such was his command of Yoga postures.
He is widely considered the architect of VINYASA in the sense of combining breathing with movement; the style of yoga he created has come to be called VINYASA KARMA YOGA.
Maharaja & his family became TK’s students
The Maharaja was impressed by the young TK’s passion and enthusiasm to promote Yoga and the authority he had on its yogic science. He (Maharaja) then engaged TK to teach YogaAsanas to him and his family. Initially, TK taught yoga at the Mysore Palace. He soon became a trusted advisor of the Maharajah and was given the recognition of Asthana Vidwan — the intelligentsia of the palace.
In his long life of 101 years, TK changed the face of Yoga and made it accessible to everyone, including the common man on the street.
TK and his famous disciples
TK had huge fans following those days. His students included many of yoga’s most renowned and influential teachers: Indra Devi (1899–2002); K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009); B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014); TK’s son T. K. V. Desikachar (1938-2016); Srivatsa Ramaswami (born 1939); and A. G. Mohan (born 1945). All these stalwarts learnt YogaAsanas in Mysuru under the strict tutelage of TK. That was how the Yogic foundation was laid in Mysuru.
Among them, Indra Devi took Yoga to the west. She single-handedly popularized Yoga in the USA through her teachings, as many Hollywood celebrities became her students in the 1950s. She positioned Yoga as a means to relieve stress and gain health, which Americans wholeheartedly embraced. She authored a few books on Yoga which earned her the nickname “first lady of yoga”. In her long life of 103 years, she did great service to mankind by introducing Yoga to people in North & South America and China. She breathed her last in the year 2002 in Argentina and departed this mortal world peacefully, maybe with a sense of accomplishment.
B. K. S. Iyengar (BKSI)
BKSI was an Indian yoga teacher and his style of Yoga is called “Iyengar Yoga”, and he authored 11 books on Yoga and philosophy – Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Life, which earned him instant worldwide recognition.
Early years: After rigorous training in Yoga under the supervision of TK in Mysuru, BKSI left for Pune in 1937 as per his master’s instructions to start a Yoga school there. He did a phenomenal job teaching Yoga to scores of people by basing it out of Pune.
He (BKSI) has been credited with popularizing “Iyengar yoga”, first in India and then around the world.
Recognition and Awards: Time magazine in 2004 considered BKSI as one of the 100 foremost influential people in the world, and that explains the gravity of his popularity around the world. In a life span of 95 years, BKSI taught Yoga to thousands of people across the globe and the Government of India recognized his service and awarded Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014.
Krishna Pattabhi Jois (KPJ)
KPJ (1915 – 2009) was an Indian yoga guru who developed and popularized Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (AVY). In 1948, KPJ established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysuru, to do deep research on AVY and to know how it can have a positive effect on health.
When TK was teaching YogaAsanas at Jagan Mohan palace in Mysuru to the royal family and others, KPJ was helping him. At times, he used to conduct classes on his own in the absence of TK. Such was the self-confidence and mastery he had on the subject. Maharaja was so impressed by KPJ that he (Maharaja) offered KPJ a teaching position at the Sanskrit College in Mysuru with an attractive salary. KPJ held a yoga teaching position at the Sanskrit College from 1937 to 1973. He became vidwan (professor) in 1956, and also held the position of Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Government College of Indian Medicine from 1976 to 1978.
The arrival of westerners to learn AVY from KPJ
In 1964, a Belgian named André Van Lysebeth spent two months with KPJ in Mysuru learning the primary and intermediate series of the AVY system. Soon after that, van Lysebeth wrote the book J’apprends le Yoga (1967, English title: Yoga Self-Taught) which mentioned KPJ and included his address. To learn YogaAsana directly from KPJ, westerners came to Mysuru in big numbers.
The first Americans came after KPJ’s son Manju demonstrated yoga at Swami Gitananda’s ashram in Pondicherry. They were so impressed by the demo that they came in droves to Mysuru to learn AVY from KPJ. He (KPJ) became an instant celebrity in the western world.
To accommodate the increasing number of students, KPJ opened a new school in Gokulam in 2002. KPJ continued to teach at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysuru, now in the neighbourhood of Gokulam, with his only daughter Saraswathi Rangaswamy and his grandson Sharath for the rest of his life. He published the book Yoga Mālā, in Kannada in 1958, and an English translation appeared in 1999.
KPJ took AVY and Mysuru to the world
From 1974 onwards, KPJ started touring the world teaching AVY to everyone interested. He used to spend 6 months teaching AVY on the move and for the rest of the 6 months, he would stick to teaching his AVY at his residence in Mysuru. His teachings spread like wildfire across the world. Together with AVY, even the popularity of Mysuru also soared through the roof. His yoga is also called “Mysore style yoga” and quite a few yoga schools, the world over claim to teach this yoga to their pupils.
In his long life of 93 years, KJP transformed the lives of lakhs of people across the world and made it healthy & blissful through AVY. He, in fact, made Yoga fashionable and made it a “must ” for all kinds of people – from the common man on the street to celebrities of Hollywood, to executives in the corporate board rooms.
R Sharath Jois (SJ)
RSJ, the grandson of KPJ, has been in the line of teaching AVY for a few decades. SJ is the Director of KPJAYI, the Mysuru-based Ashtanga Yoga Institute. SJ taught alongside his grandfather, the legendary KPJ, for many years and he is now the world’s most advanced Ashtanga Yoga practitioner.
KPJAYI has 100s of certified AVY centres around the globe that conduct daily Yoga classes for thousands of people. In a way, RSJ is indirectly helping the world live longer and live healthily.
Maharaja of Mysuru -His Excellency Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV and mystic Thirumalai Krishnamacharya can be called the founding fathers of Modern Yoga OR Mysuru style yoga. No wonder flights landing in Bangaluru airport have so many foreigners wanting to head to Mysuru to learn AVY.
So, along with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the city of Mysuru has a special place in the hearts of Yogis, who lived in the city for months practising and perfecting their Yoga postures, and went home with lots of sweet memories.
The city of Mysuru was chosen as the venue for the “International yoga day” 2022 after considering the above facts. And it is a tribute to all those who made Mysuru what it is today.
Read more of Mysuru Infra Hub