The passing of the baton

Picture of Desikachar

Desikachar is the son of the legendary yogi T. Krishnamacharya and this is a story about how he picked up yoga as a career. Growing up in the Krishnamacharya household was not easy. Krishnamacharya was a strict disciplinarian and a demanding task master. Desikachar was therefore glad to get away and pursue his engineering studies away from home! Even though his father was a renowned yogi he had no interest in pursuing yoga as a career

This was 1950’s and 1960’s and Krishnamacharya himself was fighting an uphill battle in popularizing yoga. Due to his strict approach very few students would stick around. Most students left after a few sessions unable to meet his demands for rigor and perfection. Consequently the Krishnamacharya household constantly battled against poverty. There was therefore no pressing agenda by Krishnamacharya that his son take up yoga as a profession. All he wanted for his son is that he practice yoga for his own personal health and well-being which his rebellious teenage son showed no inclination to do!

The year was 1961 and Desikachar was visiting home during the summer break having just completed his engineering course at the top of his class. He already had a lucrative job in his hand and was looking forward to getting his career started and providing much needed financial support to his family. It was early morning and he was reading a newspaper in the balcony of his home. It was then he saw an expensive car pull-up in front of his home. A middle aged dignified looking Caucasian woman emerged from the car and ran out towards his home. He could hear her shouting, “Professor! Professor!” Before he could react he saw his father open the door and walk out to greet this lady. She immediately hugged him and exclaimed, “Thank you! Thank you very much!” Krishnamacharya smiled and led the woman inside leaving a perplexed Desikachar standing alone in the balcony of his home. Desikachar could not believe the scene he was witnessing. It was uncommon in those days to see men and women touch each other affectionately in public. No wonder Desikachar was taken aback to see a western women embrace his very conservative father!

Later when the woman had departed Desikachar asked his father who the woman was and why she had hugged him. “That was Mrs. Malvenan,” he replied. “She has been suffering from insomnia and I have been treating her for the past few months. Last night was the first night in many years when she had a restful sleep without a pill. She came to thank me. That is all.”

It was in that instant Desikachar understood the import of his father’s work. This was not about esoteric philosophy or dogmatic rituals. This was about transforming lives. He had heard about his father’s ability to heal people before but this was for the first time he was seeing the power of his father’s work in action. He later recalls about the incident, “I was amazed that this wealthy western woman, who could afford the best medical treatment, was finding a cure with my father who was such a simple man, who knew no English or modern medicine. This is when I realized how great my father was, and how great a teaching he had to share with people. It was at this moment that I decided to completely give up my career and become a yoga student.”

At first his father was reluctant to accept his son’s decision. But seeing his persistence and strong determination he relented. This started a new relationship between the two men. They were no longer father and son, but from now on they would be teacher and disciple. For the next 30 years Desikachar would study at his father’s feet and try to absorb as much as he could from the vast body of knowledge that his father had accumulated. Consequently this made him the most qualified person to preserve and carry on his father’s legacy when his father passed on. Mrs. Malvenan was from New Zealand and she had much to thank Krishnamacharya for. On the other hand we have much to thank Mrs. Malvenan for, as her interaction with Krishnamacharya resulted in the change of heart of Desikachar and has done much for the preservation and continuation of the legacy of Krishnamacharya!

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Yoga is bogus mumbo-jumbo!

Raj Shah

Raj Shah is a chemical engineer by training, though he works in IT now. Growing up in Mumbai, India, he was a hard-nosed atheist. It was his unshakable belief that “religion was the opium of the masses.” He viewed religion merely as an instrument of exploitation and looked upon with disdain all the bearded sadhus and fakirs roaming the countryside in India.

However before he reached the age of 20, Raj had some experiences that forced him to confront his atheistic dogma. He now became a believer in the invisible hand of God, though he continued to view all religions with the same suspicion as before. Growing up in India, Raj had heard of yoga but paid no special attention to it. He regarded the practice, along with the many other esoteric practices of the east, as something to be regarded with extreme suspicion.

In his late thirties, Raj immigrated to the United States along with his family. It was upon this transition that he took to exercising, proving soon to be a seven-day-a-week regular at the gym. He arranged his routine, which consisted of a 20-minute cardio warm-up on the treadmill followed by an hour of weights, so that he went to the gym directly from work. With loud music as the background in an atmosphere redolent of perspiration and motivation, the gym countered the daily stresses and relaxed and revitalized Raj.

At the same time as he took to the gym, his wife, Ketna, became immersed in yoga and encouraged him to take it up as well. After much resistance, he finally gave in to his wife’s entreaties. He did a few classes and soon his knee popped in one of the class while doing the warrior pose. “This is it,” he said to himself, “I am never going to another yoga class in my life again!”

In the meantime, Ketna was not deterred by Raj calling yoga “bogus mumbo-jumbo.” In fact, she gave up her career and became a yoga teacher! Soon she was off to India for a three-month intensive yoga training course with a mysterious guru in Chennai. After her training was over, Raj also went to India to attend a wedding. “I remember that day vividly when I first saw her at Bangalore airport, after a three month gap,” he reminisces. “It was as if she had suddenly become 10 years younger! The dark circles around her eyes were gone, she had lost 20 pounds, and she looked radiantly beautiful!”

“It was there and then that I decided to take up yoga in earnest,” Raj says. “Look, I am a scientist at heart and when confronted with hard evidence, I have to respect that,” he continues, trying to justify his 180-degree change in perspective. Upon his arrival back to the States, Raj altered his exercise routine; he dedicated himself to yoga with Ketna’s guidance for three days a week in the comfort of his home as a supplement to his workouts at the local gym four days a week.

Although Raj did not see any noticeable changes initially, he was determined to commit himself to yoga for at least a year before deciding whether or not it was worth pursuing. One day at the gym about six months later, Raj suddenly felt as if a weight off his shoulder had been lifted. “I remember the day clearly when my stress levels suddenly dropped!” Raj says. Soon he began to lose weight, ultimately shedding about 20 pounds in all without any significant changes to his diet. “I found that my portion size has been reduced and I automatically began to eat slowly and had less of an appetite,” he says.

In considering his fitness routine, Raj now felt that his visits to the gym were interfering with his yoga practice. The calm he felt after yoga was much deeper than the relaxation he felt after his workout at the gym. The loud music that he had loved before now became unbearably loud and disturbing to him. His wife insisted that he should continue with his workouts, so he reluctantly went to the gym on the weekends and did his yoga routine at home during the weekdays. After a few months, he quietly dropped the gym altogether and practiced yoga seven days a week.

Yoga has changed Raj for the better, improving his health and overall attitude towards life. “Yoga has helped me reduce my weight, it has helped bring my cholesterol levels down, it has improved my sleep, and it has helped me improve my posture. Although I was somewhat prepared for the health benefits as I had seen similar results in my wife, I was not prepared for the underlying changes that took place within me. It is as if a spiritual earthquake has taken place within and I have suddenly awakened to the deeper symphony of life!” Raj proclaims.

In retrospect, Raj considers his metamorphosis and its implications. “My journey into yoga, which began with the task of practicing physical postures, has evolved into a deeper, spiritual, and mystical transformation. Going forward, my wife and I will try to make this deeper level of yoga accessible to as many people as we can,” Raj explains.

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Things are not going as expected!

Ketna Shah

Ketna Shah, a mother, a wife, and a professional had risked her financial security to follow her heart. “I had given up my accounting career and I had jumped into teaching yoga, yet things were not going the way I had expected!” Ketna reminisces as she thinks about her journey into yoga. “I felt that there was a gap between my understanding and my practice and I was not sure what to do next!”

Just a few years back, as a busy working mom and a wife, Ketna had discovered yoga at the local YMCA. She had been suffering from frequent bouts of dizziness from blood pressure fluctuations and yoga provided her with much needed relief. Whereas many people find salvation in an exercise routine, Ketna says that she “tried going to the gym and doing the workouts, but what really helped me was the yoga practice.”

At a critical point in Ketna’s career, she felt restless and no longer had the desire to continue along an accountant’s path. In relating the stimulus for the career change, Ketna recalls, “We had to move to Colorado as part of my husband’s relocation. At that point I felt no desire to look for a job as an accountant. My heart was telling me clearly that I needed a change of course. Thank God that I listened to what it was saying!” Once her family was settled in, Ketna decided to pursue yoga full time. She registered for a yoga instructor’s course and subsequently became a certified yoga teacher. In very little time, she was teaching yoga but she felt that there was a gap in her knowledge and began to pray for direction.

Very soon she was holding in her hand the book “Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind”. She flipped through the pages and on the inside of the back cover she saw the picture of the authors, A. G. Mohan and Indra Mohan. In that instant she felt an immediate connection. “I felt a tremor of excitement rush up and down my spine!” Ketna recalls. At that moment, even before she had read the book, she knew that she had to go and meet the Mohans and learn yoga from them.

The Mohans did not disappoint her. “I really missed my husband and my daughter during the three month stay in India,” Ketna says upon reflecting on her first trip to India to learn yoga with the Mohans. “However, I was extremely happy to be with the Mohans since I was learning so much from them! I learned about the extreme importance of coordinating breath and movement while doing the yoga postures. They also instructed me on viniyasa krama, the art of creating the orderly steps to move safely in and out of postures with proper breath. Ultimately, I understood how to structure a practice so as to make it cohesive and holistic for my students.”

Upon completing her study of yoga in India, Ketna felt the transformative impact of yoga first hand and was thoroughly convinced that she had found her Gurus in the Mohans. “My stay with the Mohans was pivotal in terms of my knowledge and understanding of yoga. I have also undergone an inner transformation, as I feel calmer, stronger, and more relaxed. I feel younger and I feel energized, and my spells of dizziness have become a thing of the past,” Ketna recalls.

There was no turning back from this point on. Ketna repeatedly visited the Mohans and learned about Ayurveda, Yoga Therapy, and various other topics from them. To supplement her knowledge, Ketna also took up a course on Ayurvedic Nutrition and became a certified Ayurvedic Nutritionist.

Ketna likens the practice of yoga to nature: “The ancient science of yoga is like a tree. It has many branches. Just as the tree grows outward with its many branches pursuing different directions simultaneously, we as students of yoga, must do the same.”

“The healthy mind-body is the fruit of the tree of yoga, but it is not the final goal. The final goal of yoga is finding deeper spirituality and oneness, but good health and a calm mind-body are prerequisites. For this reason, the practice of the yoga of postures, the practice of breathing techniques of pranayama, and the recommendations for healthy eating and proper life-style are part of the tree of yoga,” Ketna says. She knows that she is making progress along this tree of yoga and it is her mission to help as many people as possible to do the same.

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