Yoga Traditions

Who was Krishnamacharya and what are the common yoga styles in Krishnamacharya Lineage?

Posted on 2018-09-07

Yes, you might never heard of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya but it is a pretty good chance that the style yoga that you practice has its roots from Krishnamacharya, "father of modern yoga". Whether you love to practice the energetic sequences of Larry Schultz Rocket Yoga or the more therapeutic Vina yoga, they all stem from one person -Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (Nov 18, 1888 – Feb 28, 1989)

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is considered as the father of today’s modern and physical yoga that is practiced in the west. Krishnamacharya never taught yoga in the west, but most of his disciples took yoga to the there. 

Krishnamacharya's disciples are many of yoga's most renowned teachers: Indra Devi (1899–2002), K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009), B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-2014), T. K. V. Desikachar (1938-2016), Srivatsa Ramaswami (born 1939), and A. G. Mohan (born 1945). Krishnamacharya was the brother-in-law of B. K. S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga.

Krishnamacharya held degrees in all the six Vedic darśanas or Indian philosophies. While under the patronage of the King of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrations to promote yoga, including such feats as stopping his heartbeat. This history of yoga roots from Mysore palace in Chitradurga district, India. 

Above Krishnamacharya's Yoga school for the boys of the Mysore palace, set up in 1933 by Krishnamacharya's patron the Maharaja of Mysore (photo from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda pub. Mysore 1934).

Above Krishnamacharya's Yoga school for the boys of the Mysore palace, set up in 1933 by Krishnamacharya's patron the Maharaja of Mysore (photo from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda pub. Mysore 1934).

Many practitioners considering him as the architect of vinyāsa, in the sense of combining breathing with movement. Underlying all of Krishnamacharya's teachings was the principle "Teach what is good for an individual."

While he is revered in other parts of the world as a yogi, in India Krishnamacharya is mainly known as a healer who drew from both ayurvedic and yogic traditions to restore health and well-being to those he treated. He authored four books on yoga - Yoga Makaranda (1934), Yogaasanagalu (c. 1941), Yoga Rahasya, and Yogavalli (Chapter 1 – 1988)—as well as several essays and poetic compositions.

“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale,and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.”  Krishnamacharya 

He was the pioneer of perfecting yoga postures, sequencing the postures optimally, and giving healing value to every asana. One notable thing about him is that he combined asanas and pranayama in his yoga teaching

Krishnamacharya Yoga Demonstrating at Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore disciples of Krishnamacharya had to demo advanced asanas.  Photo KYM archives

Krishnamacharya Yoga Demonstrating at Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore disciples of Krishnamacharya had to demo advanced asanas.  Photo KYM archives

Even though Tirumalai Krishnamacharya died almost a decade ago, his legacy still exists. This article will guide you to the common yoga styles in Krishnamacharya lineage.


Viniyoga is the individualized style of postural yoga developed by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and taught by his son T. K. V. Desikachar. Viniyoga is a type of yoga therapy, which is founded on science and regular developmental movement patterns. The postures of Vini yoga are altered to give way to repetitive movements. This happens as a yogi shift from one yoga posture to another or holds a particular posture for an extended period.

Viniyoga in Sanskrit originally meant "employment", "use", or "application". The root yuj means "to join", among other senses, with two prefixes vi and ni it means the opposite - separation.

Every movement in Viniyoga is connected to your breath, and this creates an inner awareness. Also, it helps you to feel how your body responds to the movements from inside. Not many people are aware of their yoga postures as well as daily movement patterns. However, practicing Vini yoga can bring awareness to your breath and spine. This, in turn, can improve your core stability and functional movement patterns.

“The spirit of Viniyoga is starting from where one finds oneself.
As everybody is different and changes from time to time,
there can be no common starting point, and ready-made answers are useless.
The present situation must be examined and the habitually established status must be re-examined.”
– TKV Desikachar

Viniyoga depends on the art of personal practice. It helps us to concentrate on what is happening in our bodies when practicing and identifying what the body requires. When you adjust to the changes in your body, then you will be able to deepen the self-understanding of your needs. It is essential to understand that, practicing Viniyoga dramatically benefits your spirit, mind, and body. It can help you to deal with various issues like hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, scoliosis, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and asthma. Also, Viniyoga has several physical benefits like building strength, increasing balance, the range of motion, body awareness, and flexibility.

Behind this concept, it is a methodology that offers a depth of tools, rather than just a wide range of tools, however, the tools also sit a bit like Russian dolls in that one must be opened before the next reveals itself.

“The viniyoga of Yoga is a process rather than just a collection of techniques.”

Amongst the techniques that can offer a developmental structure (vinyāsa krama) for the content and process of a personal home-based practice Sādhana, or ‘means’ for the student to explore with the teacher the notions of self and non-self, are:

Integrative development through Study and Practice of the following components:

  • Study and Practice of Āsana Techniques and Theory
  • Study and Practice of Mudrā Techniques and Theory
  • Study and Practice of Prāṇāyāma Techniques and Theory
  • Study and Practice of Dhyānam Techniques and Theory
  • Study and Practice of Adhyayanam (Chanting as learning or meditation) Techniques and Theory

This needs to be supported by a Personalised Textual and Oral Study Sādhana involving:

  • Experiential application of the principles in the Haṭha Yoga texts emphasized by Krishnamacharya.
  • Experiential application of the Yoga Sūtra through an in-depth exploration as a self-inquiry.
  • Guidance with linking Indian texts emphasized by Krishnamacharya with Yoga study and practice.
  • Guidance with linking Krishnamacharya’s writings and compositions with Yoga study and practice.
  • Experiential self-study of the core constitutional, diagnostic and lifestyle principles in Āyurveda.

Krama Vinyasa

This is a yoga method taught by Krishnamacharya, It is the art of science of bringing the basics of yoga together, in a manner that creates an effective and safe practice. This helps in cultivating harmony (sattva) in a yogi. Additionally, the krama vinyasa method follows the guidelines given by Patanjali’s yoga sutra.

Vini yoga focuses on how to apply yoga methods correctly, while in krama vinyasa it’s all about art. In krama vinyasa, the breath, body, and mind are united to achieve a cohesive state of attention and harmony. Krama vinyasa uses different variations for every posture. This helps to explore the potentials of the body and accomplish the typical goals of yoga, which is comfort and steadiness.

In krama vinyasa, every variation is connected to the next variation. Moreover, with transitional movements, the entire practice is synchronized by deep ujjayi breathing. Yogis can gradually access every posture through basic vinyasas. Then, they can gradually master them by practicing all the other variations.

This assists your body to attain freedom and health in a clam process, without strain or force. During this process, the mind and breath also experience a transformation. The attention and mental peace you achieve from practicing krama vinyasa can give you the ultimate spiritual freedom. This is the rewarding conclusion of a yogi’s dedicated practice.

Iyengar Yoga

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014), better known as B.K.S. Iyengar, was the founder of the style of yoga known as

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014), better known as B.K.S. Iyengar, was the founder of the style of yoga known as "Iyengar Yoga" and was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. He was the author of many books on yoga practice and philosophy including Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Light on Life.

Iyengar was one of the earliest students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as "the father of modern yoga". He has been credited making yoga popular, first in India and then around the world.

Yoga demonstration, BKS Iyengar 1976

What makes Iyengar yoga unique?

This method concentrates on three aspects: sequencing, timing, and alignment.

  • Sequencing this is the order of practicing postures in a manner that allows safe and organized progression of the yoga poses. Additionally, it is the balancing and opening of the emotional and physical body.
  • Timing unlike in krama vinyasa, the yoga poses in Iyengar yoga are held for extended periods of time. Once a yogi achieves stability in one pose, they can now safely intensify the posture’s depth. This assists in developing flexibility and strength, and, awareness and sensitivity in your mind and body.
  • Alignment this is holding the right pose, while still respecting the boundaries of your body. Students can use props in order to practice an asana to prevent them from being injured. Effective alignment helps yoga students to achieve a balance between their breath, body, and mind.

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014), better known as B.K.S. Iyengar, was the founder of the style of yoga known as

Practicing Iyengar regularly can assist you to:

  • Improve your psychological and physical health
  • Ease structural or postural problems
  • Boost your concentration and focus
  • Release emotional tension
  • Increase your energy
  • Bring clarity and intelligence to every part of your body and mind
  • Rejoin with your breath and body

Beautiful piece of yoga history in this video of BKS Iyengar, made 1977 when he was only 59 years old, You can see him teaching yoga, demonstrating and by the end of this yoga video is Iyengar practicing with a small advanced class. An incredible Vinyasa with transitions from Adho Mukha Svanasana straight to Bakasana. 

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Sharat Jois and  Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Picture from Ashtanga Yoga Brooklyn)

Sharat Jois and  Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Picture from Ashtanga yoga Brooklyn)

According to Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a method of hatha yoga that harmonizes movement and breath. This happens in a sequence of yoga asanas or postures. Every asana has its unique designed number of movements in, and out of the asana. Practicing Ashtanga vinyasa yoga gives you flexibility, strength, stamina, and ultimately a focused and tranquil mind.

In Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, the asanas (poses) follow each other in order. And, in every pose in the order is held for five breaths. Then, the pose transitions through a particular sequence of movement (vinyasa) into the ensuing asana. This shows the importance of practicing the asanas correctly and avoiding rushing before being ready for the next asana in the sequence. Your yoga teacher will give you the asanas “one-by-one.”

Practicing these asanas in a sequence helps to open and reprogram energy channels and patterns in your body. Each asana prepares your body and mind for the next poses in the sequence. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga can benefit anyone who practices it regularly regardless of his or her age or physical fitness level. However, beginners in this style should not force or rush the practice. It is important to respect any injuries or physical weakness and continue working with your body and breath.

When practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa, you should concentrate on practicing yoga, and not the end result. Practicing yoga poses regularly and sensibly will ultimately lead to flexibility and strength.

Anusara Yoga

Anusara yoga was founded by John Friend, an American Yogi in 1997. It means “flowing with grace,” and it grew to become a respect yoga style, which had a massive following in Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Anusara yoga classes are usually positive, lighthearted, and fun. These classes are not easy, however, because they involve lots of alignment poses and vinyasa flow. This yoga style encourages yoga students with different abilities to use props, and this makes the yoga classes accessible to many students. Anusara yoga has its own vocabulary, and it takes a while for many yoga students to get used to it. However, its teachers receive professional training to be able to facilitate this style.

"Anusara makes your mind and heart softer and more resilient, joyous and peaceful, balanced and happy."

Anusara is attractive to yogis who desire to work their spiritual as well as physical well-being. Even though Anusara yoga does not have the prestige and prominence it had, it has several benefits to its practitioners. Anusara yoga has over 250 asanas, but it does not have any definite postural routines. Most Anusara yoga teachers finish their yoga classes with relaxation or meditation. During a yoga session, teachers usually instruct their students on how to use the principles of alignment properly. Then, they allow every student to develop their own alignment.

When practicing Anusara yoga, you are supposed to practice it with intelligent and intention awareness of your mind and body. This helps in laying down the groundwork for you to improve on the poses. Practicing Anusara regularly helps in making your body more flexible, stronger, and levels the imbalances in your body. In addition, it heals any injuries in your body.

Power Yoga

This a term practitioners used to define a fitness-based and vigorous vinyasa yoga-approach method. Beryl Bender Birch developed power yoga. However, today it is used as a term to describe different vigorous vinyasa styles.

While many yogis consider this style as “gym yoga,” power yoga was initially modeled on Ashtanga yoga. Since power yoga came from Ashtanga, they share many benefits and qualities. This included internal heat, stress reduction, increased strength, flexibility, and stamina.

During power yoga sessions…

Yoga teachers design their sequences. The students, on the other hand, harmonize their movement with their breath. As a result, every power yoga class is usually different. Many gyms in the US have adopted yoga as a method to work out because of the flexibility and strength that came with power yoga.

Power yoga classes usually differ from one yoga teacher to another. But, you should always anticipate finding great flowing yoga, accompanied by minimal meditation and chanting. Many health clubs and gyms have adopted power yoga as a way to inform their clients that this yoga style is indeed a form of exercise. Therefore, the next time you are signing up for power yoga, get ready to sweat.

Jivamukti Yoga

David Life and Sharon Gannon Jivamukti doing boat pose together

David Life and Sharon Gannon founded Jivamukti. This yoga style is considered to be a path to illumination by having compassion for every living being. Jivamukti style is based on the initial meaning of asana—“seat connection,”—¬connection to the earth. Here, the earth signifies life.

Jivamukti yoga emphasizes that a person’s relationship to another should benefit both of them mutually. In addition, it should emanate from a steady and consistent place of happiness and joy. This idea is very radical, and when practiced, it can shred our present-day culture. This culture states that the earth and the animals living on it exist in order to benefit us, and we should exploit them for our own benefits and egocentric purposes.

Therefore, practicing asanas turns out to be more than sheer physical exercises that keep our bodies fit, or to boost our flexibility and strength. Rather, practicing asanas turns out to as a way to boost our relationships with others, and this leads to enlightenment, the realization of a sense of being, and helps you to discover lasting happiness.

Jivamukti yoga classes are usually fun and lighthearted, and every class has its theme. Jivamukti incorporates meditation, chanting, pranayama, music, and philosophy into an energetic flowing vinyasa or asana practice. This, in turn, makes it be an intellectually and physically stimulating method. That is the reason why this style is appealing to yogis who are looking for more than just a workout session.

Rocket Yoga 

Larry Schultz profile in black and white

This is a variation of Ashtanga yoga, which was developed by Larry Schultz. Larry studied Ashtanga yoga for nine years in Mysore under the guidance of K. Pattabhi Jois. Larry came up with this yoga style in an attempt to make western yoga practitioner access ashtanga yoga.

Rocket yoga, as its name suggests, is fast-paced, and also, it has an energetic or dynamic flow. It has a similar structure, just like Ashtanga yoga, as it consists of seated poses, standing poses, bends, twists, and Surya Namaskar. Students of rocket yoga can modify and also make their own interpretation of traditional asanas. If the students get stuck on one yoga pose, they can opt to skip the pose, or even find a better way to practice it, rather than sticking to one pattern.

Therefore, this yoga style has become widely accessible, and it even allows yoga students with physical challenges to give it a try. Rocket yoga has a smooth movement and breathing process. Even though it might look like it’s an entirely physical process, rocket yoga also helps in clearing the mind.
Rocket yoga has broken the hierarchy concept, and this has indeed made it stand out from all other styles of yoga. In rocket yoga, a yogi can decide to choose the asanas he or she wants and then practice the asana without observing any linear format. That is the reason why rocket yoga has several celebrity followers like Sting, Willem Dafoe, Christy, and Madonna.

Rocket yoga has three categories. These include:

  • Rocket 1 this category is similar to the main ashtanga yoga series that focus on forward bends, hip openers, as well as core strength. Besides, it included the special movements of arm balancing and inversions
  • Rocket 2 this is a variation of the second sequences of Ashtanga yoga. Rocket 2 comprises of backbend procedures as well as spinal twists of seated yoga poses. These poses are of the intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga, and they complement Rocket 1.
  • Rocket 3 this is the combination of rocket 1 and rocket 2 poses. It comprises of all the folds, balances, and twists that assist you in developing flexibility and strength.

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