Gill Lloyd is one of the founding members of The Society of Yoga Practitioners (TSYP), a teaching organisation dedicated to following the teachings of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar. Here she talks about her teacher, Desikachar. “He had an amazing gift for connecting and communicating … using simple language to teach deep and profound ideas.”
Could you say a little about your first memories of Desikachar?
It was during my teacher training in 1975 that I first came across the name Desikachar. He had just visted the UK for the first time and a participant at his seminar, Elizabeth Sharwood, came to our training group to share what she had learnt from him. I had no idea then that he was the son of Professor T Krishnamacharya whose photo was in “Light on Yoga”, written by BKS Iyengar.
What I learnt that day from Elizabeth, was to change my path in Yoga for ever. She shared the concept of Vinyasa Krama: the idea that difficult āsana should (a) have preparation and counterpose, (b) that we should consider the psychology of each āsana, (c) understand how to breathe in a posture, (d) that breath should be longer than movement, (e) that we should apply directional breathing, (f) that we could work with various breath ratios for different outcomes, and finally how to integrate prānāyāma into a daily practice. For me, this was revolutionary. Before, practices had been somewhat random and now I was being offered rationale, purpose and a totally new approach which really worked so well for me.
However, I would not meet Desikachar until 1992. When the moment arrived, I was very apprehensive about meeting the teacher who had so influenced my Yoga journey. After 16 years of following his teachings through others, what would this direct encounter be like? What if I didn’t like him? A group of about 50 rather nervous students were seated in a beautiful reception room awaiting his arrival. Desikachar entered from the back and made his way forward, shaking hands with each of us as he progressed to the front of the room. My expectations were more than met. For me, to learn from him directly was the most profound experience. One thing that occurred that week seemed to confirm I was on the right track: he asked us all to draft a lesson plan for maha mudrā. After checking them all, he chose mine for sharing with the group. I felt that I had indeed picked up the right message and was ready to continue on this path to learn more. And just how much more I had to learn!! Even now, years later, this is still the case.
Can you tell us a little about Desikachar the man?
Although his teachings follow those of his father, he had his own genius and has influenced today’s Yoga world through his own innovation; much more perhaps than most realise. He travelled the world and so came to understand how different cultures work and how Yoga can be integrated with them as a positive and meaningful support. He had an amazing gift for connecting and communicating in a clear way, allaying doubts without causing confusion, using simple language to teach us deep and profound ideas.
Yoga was first brought to the West by swamis from monastic traditions without the experience of family life. However, in India, Yoga was first taught in the householder setting, and Desikachar came from a long family lineage of Yogis. As a family man himself, he knew how to integrate the teachings into domestic life. When we asked him about problems with parents, children and friends, he knew the reality of such situations. I found this hugely supportive.
What makes Desikachar stand out as a beacon for Yoga and what is his legacy?
It is his integrity, vast knowledge, total dedication to his father’s teaching, his personal practice and that he shared everything so generously. He never sought personal recognition, always saying, “This is what my father has taught me”. Nor did he label Yoga or claim any personal ownership of it. He was a very humble man.
On a practical note, teachers now widely rely on the use of stick figures, notation and the practice planning framework devised by Desikachar. Can any teacher imagine writing a course plan using only the written word? This amazing Yoga “shorthand” has saved us hours of preparation! We owe a great debt of gratitude for the assistance he has given us all.
Desikachar’s unique gift to us is his ability to translate his father’s amazing teachings into a language that we can all understand and appreciate. We only have to read his great work “The Heart of Yoga” to see how this manifests. This book, and his translation of the Yoga Sutra are among the best-selling Yoga texts today and are used extensively in teacher training courses around the world. They speak in a way that all can digest and understand, even the subtlest and most complex aspects.