Tradition of Krishnamacharya and Teaching Style of TKV Desikachar

My article highlights the difference between the tradition of Krishnamacharya and the teaching style of his son TKV Desikachar.

Tradition of Krishnamacharya

The multi-disciplinary practices in the tradition of Krishnamacharya as transmitted by his son TKV Desikachar comprise of posture (āsana), breathing (prāṇāyāma), meditation (dhyāna), and Vedic chanting.

Krishnamacharya’s popular signature style is Vinyāsa Kramathe vigorous and dynamic sequencing of postures with breath, incorporating the control over muscular contractions, bandha, which support the optimal movement of energies, or vitality.

The key to Yoga meditation in the tradition of Krishnamacharya is contained in the āsana of mahamudrā (the great seal), and not in padmāsana (lotus pose) as the mainstream market is misled to believe. Mahamudrā is the authentic seat of meditation because it demands the skilful, directed energies in the holding of āsana and bandha, whereas any flexible person with no Yoga training can take padmāsana.

Teaching Style of TKV Desikachar

The teaching style of TKV Desikachar is the only secular humanist style of Yoga that provides the tools to destabilise indoctrination. Other traditional schools of Yoga conform to orthodox theism such as nondualism (Advaita) or dualism (Dvaita), whereas popular mainstream fitness Yoga instructors conform to the exercise- or posture-oriented mindset of the fitness lifestyle market, which favours physical body image, motivation and prescriptive instruction (e.g. Yoga Boot Camp). In contrast, the teaching style of TKV Desikachar adopts the path of gnosis (jñāna) to liberate the mind from the trappings of conformist ideologies and from becoming a follower or a consumer.

Conformist ideologies constrain possibilities and manufacture an achievement-oriented culture that breeds indifference to individuality. Innovative and scientific in methodology, the teaching style of TKV Desikachar emphasises the need for individualised (one on one) consultation to assess the relevance and suitability of any type of practice.

The method of absorbing gnosis (jñāna) follows the repeating cycle of three tiers:

  1. Know the subject matter
  2. Investigate the subject matter thoroughly and critically
  3. Find the relevance in the subject matter and relate it to your own life

At the heart of “anti-theism”, or secular humanism, is the belief that morals and values must be intrinsic to the transcendental spirit. This belief underpins Friedrich Nietzsche’s übermensch suggestion that human beings have the innate capability to overcome the deficiencies of herd mentality.


Abodes of Life (Āśrama)

Ageing with human dignity is a major topic of Yoga study in the lineage of TKV Desikachar.

The table below illustrates the correspondence between the human phases of life and the antiquated, and arguably controversial, Hindu system of āśrama.

Abode (Āśrama) Phase of Life Primary Concern Primary Tool
Infant Growth
Youth Growth
Prime of Life Energy
(vānaprastha or sādhu)
Middle Age Protection
Twilight Spiritual
Dawn Phase of Life Noon Phase of Life Dusk Phase of Life Twilight Phase of Life

The use of abode (āśrama) correspondence implies prioritisation of value in life, in terms of the individual’s constitution (deha), place (deśa), time (kāla), avocation (vṛtti), interest (mārga) and energy (śakti).

The relevance (or value) of your Yoga practice at each stage of life

Youth (20s):

  • Playful, energetic and fast moving
  • Crave stimulation and overseas travel
  • Develop a practice that involves stories and role-playing

Prime of Life (30s):

  • Many career goals
  • Crave to maintain a high level of energy and activity
  • Develop a practice that corrects habitual tendencies

Middle Age (40s & 50s):

  • Slower metabolism, stiffer joints, longer recovery time after injury
  • Develop an introspective practice (e.g. the study of philosophy)
  • Develop a practice that involves joint-freeing exercises

Old Age (60s & beyond):

  • Stiffness, higher blood pressure, insomnia, instability
  • Crave to maintain range of motion and agility
  • Develop a healthy interest in hobbies
  • Develop a gentle, restorative and relaxing practice


Human Dignity and Self-Esteem

Audrie hung herself on 12 September 2012. Her reputation was callously and irreparably ripped apart by photos of her sexual assault at a house party.

Audrie Pott

Audrie’s lack of guidance waves a warning message about the social injustice by double standards to human dignity.

What is human dignity?

Human dignity is the basic right of every individual of any gender, race, ethnicity, creed, nationality, disability, age, social class or sexual orientation.

Why is human dignity important in the authentic lineage of TKV Desikachar?

The authentic lineage of TKV Desikachar regards the dignity of the individual with utmost importance, because the human aspiration towards morals and values demonstrates the capacity for transcendence. Self-esteem or self-judgment represents the modus operandi by which humans perceive themselves among other people. Therefore, the teacher in the authentic tradition of Krishnamacharya must be able to restore and cultivate the student’s self-esteem in society, and prevent the spiralling circumstance of self-demoralization or self-mutilation by peer pressure (e.g. cyber bullying).


How to cultivate human dignity?

The teacher observes sāmatva (equanimity) by refraining from imposing any ideology or belief system, and develops challenges that emphasise the student’s capabilities.

The student establishes her own bhāvanā (intention) of the practice. Bhāvanā fills the emptiness (circle) and leads the path to transformation (triangle).


Self-affirming (self-loving) introspective practice reinforces self-esteem.

The security of community (saṃgha) reinforces belonging and openness.

The practice yields utsāham (empowerment through enthusiasm) that feeds back into the self-affirming (self-loving) practice.

Colour Meditation

The face is a means of communication, and colour is a way of expressing and integrating emotions. In colour meditation, you concentrate on a colour associated with an aspect of the material energy body, and utter the seed (bīja) sound corresponding to that colour. By focusing on each colour aspect or subtle energy of the egoic self, you acknowledge false identification (asmita). You will experience complete awareness of your transcendental self (īśvarapraṇidhāna) through colour meditation.

Colour meditation is as close and personal to me as my surname, Gan (pinyin: yán).

Chinese Character Pinyin Meaning
颜 yán Face
Chinese Character Combination Pinyin Meaning
颜色 yánsè Colour

In the colour wheel, my surname 颜 signifies colour:

Colour Ring

Material Energy Colour and Bīja Correspondence Reference Table

Material Energy Colour Bīja Karmendriya
(Organ of Action)
(Organ of Perception)
Violet Ah Buddhiḥ
Indigo Aum Manaḥ
Space Blue Ham Speaking Hearing (Audition)
Air Green Yam Grasping Touch (Tactition)
Fire Yellow Ram Moving Sight (Vision)
Water Orange Vam Procreating Taste (Gustation)
Earth Red Lam Eliminating Smell (Olfaction)

Dedication to T Krishnamacharya

The following śloka is an original composition by T Krishnamacharya dedicated to himself. There is a line of verse that requires a working knowledge of Vedic astrology (Vedāṅga Jyotiṣ). I include my revised translation and interpretation for the purpose of study.

śrī kṛṣṇa vāgīśa yatīśvarābhyāṃ
(Fearless master of language and king of ascetics)

samprāpta čakrāṇkaṇa bhāṣya sāram
(In the tradition may you as a devout vaiṣṇavaite attain wheel and conch)

śrī nūtna-rangendra yātau samarpita-svaṃ
(May you remain eternally young on your passing)

śrī kṛṣṇa-māryaṃ guru-varya-mīde

virodhe kārtike māse śatatārā kṛtodayāṃ
(May you confront the auspicious entry of the Sun into Scorpio and Moon into Aquarius by showing compassion)

yoga-čaryāṃ kṛṣṇa-māryam

guru-varya-mahaṃ bhaje
(We pray to the cosmic mind to guide your journey)

śrī gurubhyo namaḥ
(We pay tribute to the lineage of gurus)

T Krishnamacharya

vāgīśa: master of language
yatīśvara: king of ascetics
abhayām: fearlessness

samprāpta: completely attained
čakrāṇkaṇa: wheel and conch
bhāṣya: commentary or exposition
sāram: the essence

nūtna: young
rangendra: lord of kings

yātau: gone
samarpita: offered or placed
svaḥ: sky or heaven

virodhe: in opposing

kārtike māse: In the solar religious calendar used in Tamil Nadu, Kartikai begins with the Sun’s entry into Scorpio (October–November)

śatatārā: the nákṣatra (lunar mansion) śata-bhiṣaj (6°40′ Aquarius to 20°00′ Aquarius, Sadachbia: gamma Aquarii,  “hundred healers”); an auspicious nákṣatra sign for yoga, healing and rejuvenation

kṛto: having done
dayām: mercy

yoga-čaryām: performance of yoga

bhaje: worship or engage in devotional service

śrī gurubhyo namaḥ: tribute to the lineage of gurus

gurave namaḥ: my salutation to one guru (singular)
gurubhyo namaḥ: my salutation to many gurus (plural)

Five Limbs of the Vedic Calendar

Vāsara (Day of the Week)

Vāsara Graha Symbol Guna
Sunday Sun (Sūrya) Sattva
Monday Moon (Čandra) Sattva
Tuesday Mars (Maṅgala) Tamas
Wednesday Mercury (Budha) Rajas
Thursday Jupiter (Bṛhaspati) Sattva
Friday Venus (Śukra) Rajas
Saturday Saturn (Śani) Tamas

Tithi (Lunar Day)

Tithi Meaning
Nanda Joy
Bhadra Good
Jaya Conquest
Rikta Empty
Pūrṇa Complete

Nakṣatra (Asterism)

The Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā: Śaunaka recension lists 28 asterisms (nakṣatra).

The 27 asterisms (nakṣatra), each with 4 pada, give 108, which is the number of beads in a japa mala.

Nakṣatra Associated Stars Graha
Aśvinī β and γ Arietis Ketu
Bharaṇī 35, 39, and 41 Arietis Śukra
Kṛttikā Pleiades Sūrya
Rohiṇī Aldebaran Čandra
Mṛgaśiras λ, φ Orionis Maṅgala
Ārdrā Betelgeuse Rahu
Punarvasu Castor and Pollux Bṛhaspati
Puṣya γ, δ and θ Cancri Śani
Aśleṣā δ, ε, η, ρ, and σ Hydrae Budha
Maghā Regulus Ketu
Pūrva Phalguṇī δ and θ Leonis Śukra
Uttara Phalguṇī Denebola Sūrya
Hasta α, β, γ, δ and ε Corvi Čandra
Citrā Spica Maṅgala
Svāti Arcturus Rahu
Viśākha α, β, γ and ι Librae Bṛhaspati
Anurādhā β, δ and π Scorpionis Śani
Jyeṣṭha α, σ, and τ Scorpionis Budha
Mūla ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κ, λ, μ and ν Scorpionis Ketu
Pūrvāṣāḍha δ and ε Sagittarii Śukra
Uttarāṣāḍha ζ and σ Sagittarii Sūrya
Śravaṇa α, β and γ Aquilae Čandra
Śraviṣṭhā (or Dhaniṣṭha) α to δ Delphinus Maṅgala
Śatabhiṣak (or Śatatārakā) γ Aquarii Rahu
Pūrva Bhādrapadā α and β Pegasi Bṛhaspati
Uttara Bhādrapadā γ Pegasi and α Andromedae Śani
Revatī ζ Piscium Budha

Rahu & Ketu

The pañčāñgam lists 27 divisions, yogas, based on the ecliptic longitude of the sun and moon.

  1. Viṣkambha
  2. Prīti
  3. Āyuśmān
  4. Saubhāgya
  5. Śobhana
  6. Atigaṇḍa
  7. Sukarma
  8. Dhṛti
  9. Śūla
  10. Gaṇḍa
  11. Vṛddhi
  12. Dhruva
  13. Vyāghatā
  14. Harṣaṇa
  15. Vajra
  16. Siddhi
  17. Vyatipāta
  18. Variyas
  19. Parigha
  20. Śiva
  21. Siddha
  22. Sādhya
  23. Śubha
  24. Śukla
  25. Brahma
  26. Māhendra
  27. Vaidhṛti


Karaṇa is the time required for the angular distance between the sun and the moon to increase in steps of 6° starting from 0°.