As I’ve been slowly reading and enjoying Krishnamacharya over the last few weeks, I’ve been impressed by the dedication and commitment the modern sage required of his yoga students. Most folks who take up yoga today, this yogi included, have no idea what it means to practice under the tutelage of a guru. We just sort of show up when it’s convenient or absolutely necessary.
Krishnamacharya, however, was very selective of those he took on as students. As shown in the following examples related by Krishnamacharya himself, he had a number of methods for measuring the commitment and discipline of those who sought his mentorship.
A man suffering from asthma came to me, along with one of my students. After talking with him and testing him, I found that his diet was unhealthy and his habits erratic. He questioned me, “In how many classes will I be cured?” I was not happy with his attitude. I did not take him as a student. If I had, he would not have practiced. He would have told others that he was a student of Krishnamacharya, and that yoga was not working. Disrepute for me and, more so, a bad name for yoga. Not necessary.
Krishnamacharya knew that those with weak commitment would not practice and would not see the benefits of a yoga practice. He wasn’t looking for money; he was looking for commitment.
Another asthma patient had come to me. He too asked me a question right at the beginning: “What fees do I need to pay?” I replied, “How long have you had this disease?” He replied, “For more than twenty years now.” I said, “Then it will cost you one hundred rupees. Bring one hundred rupees to the next class and we will start the treatment.” [A hundred rupees was a lot of money in those days in India–perhaps like asking for five thousand dollars today.] Surprisingly, the man brought a hundred rupees with him to the next class. From this, I knew that he had sincerely committed to the treatment and would follow what I told him. I told him, “I don’t want a hundred rupees from you. You can take it back. I only wanted to know if you had enough commitment to follow the disciplines and restrictions I am going to suggest to you.”
Just something to think about. Namaste!
Download free PDF article: My Studies with Sri Krishnamacharya by Srivatsa Ramaswami
Just what I needed this morning as I was considering skipping my practice. Thank you! Hari OM!
Yes, thank you for this.
It makes me wonder what would happen if primary care doctors required a similar commitment from their patients.
This is a fantastic post. Personally, I think it takes a while for some people to find their commitment to practice. I was one of those people! Lazily travelling along my path for a while before I was ready to really commit. I don’t think it’s something that can be rushed. Everyone comes to yoga in their own time.
But certainly, Krishnamacharya seems to have been saving himself the hassle of agonising over those who won’t practice! And in the process, preserving yoga’s healing reputation, too. 🙂
I wonder who Krishnamacharya’s guru was. Wouldn’t it bew something to sit at the feet of these fellows, working with self mastery and purpose instead of (like you say) showing up to a class when we feel like it. How rewarding for him to have devoted disciples!~ Heather
besides committment, one also needs sraddha….
Yoga Sutra-s I.20:
“Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.”
(Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanajali, TKV Desikachar)
Sraddha is not religious faith but a “strong belief.” In his translation of the Sutra-s, Desikachar writes: “Faith is the unshakable conviction that we can arrive at a goal. We must not be complacent about success or discouraged by failure. We must work hard and steadily inspite (sic) of all distractions, whether good or bad.”
When I first attended Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in 2005 I was struck by a teacher’s words when she said that personal transformation in yoga can begin in a group class, but is only accomplished by working one on one, the teacher with the student, in the traditional way, the old school way. THAT is sraddha and that is the difference as I see it between Americanized yoga and the yoga that I study in India.
Makes me want to read the book. As a experienced and 40 something yoga teacher, I find yoga has become so hip that problems arise. Problems such as students feeling that they know what to expect and how one “should” teach for example. A specific example is if it’s billed as a certain type of class-say “vinyasa” then we should start off with sun salutations always! I like to change things up so that students are fresh to the practice, and each day, time, group composition varies so especially in a class setting a good teacher has to stay really present and flexible in terms of content. Krishnamacharya was obviously an expert at adapting his approach as needed.
a great comment, viv! I also always change things up….
Thanks so much for posting this, it really made me think. I love your blog!
What a great blog to read! This post can be an eye opener for those people who want to try yoga and a challenge for those people who practice yoga to continue and still believe in the power that yoga brings into their life. Have a nice day!
Being under the wing of one’s Guruji, indeed requires a level of commitment usually unheard of. It’s not for everyone. It can be tough at times, but the experience, magic and sheer growth of your investment (commitment) pays off times over..