Yoga and the 21st Century – Interview with TKV Desikachar


TKV Desikachar was in Narbonne, in the South of France, for a symposium on “Yoga and the XXIst Century” during May 1999. The purpose of the symposium was to consider the role of Yoga for the coming century in the three fields of Health, Psychology and Spirituality.

The following interview was an introductory presentation.

1. The relevance of Traditional Teaching.

Do you think that the teaching you received from your father is still relevant today, particularly in the West?
It looks like it because, wherever I speak, more and more people come, and from all sorts of different backgrounds. It is relevant, and it is going to be.

You studied the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali many times with your father. Could you say a few words about this text, and since it is about 2,000 years old, do you think its message is still valid today and for the future?
This text is very old, and it deals with the mind. Anything we do, or intend to do, involves this instrument, and all pains and pleasures are rooted here.

Patañjali was very prophetic, because he spoke not only of yesterday’s mind, but also of tomorrow’s. His message concerns clarity, and it will become more and more pertinent as time goes by, because people are now questioning much more than before.

Earlier there was belief, and so people did not have to question, or even to think. Now, we all want to have more responsibility in what happens to us. Therefore, we need to have a clearer mind, and this is why the Yoga Sūtra is still valid and will remain so.

I believe that, unless a new religious order comes to the world in which case belief will take over, this text will have a wider and wider impact in times to come.

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YOGA AND MODERN MEDICINE – Interview by TKV Desikachar

Yoga and Modern Medicine

TKV Desikachar talks to Dr Uma Krishnaswamy – from ‘The Hindu’ June 1998

TKV Desikachar:  Some doctors like you send your patients to us, though we have not been trained in the field of health and sickness. The patients too come to us and report back to you. So, I am sure you are not washing your hands of your patients! How is it that you are so confident about us, who are not technically competent in your field?

Dr Uma Krishnaswamy:  Despite the fact that modern medicine has made such enormous strides as far as management of illness is concerned, there are certain areas where we are unable to proceed beyond a particular point. Consequently, we as practitioners of medicine and as impartial scientists honestly acknowledge that there are limitations to our system of healing.

We acknowledge the fact that we can go thus far and no further. On account of this, we tend to be always on the lookout to see how else we can help the patient. This may be in conjunction with what we have done or what we hope to do with the patient or it may take the patient completely away from our hands. Either way, it does not matter, as long as the patient benefits. Among the various alternative systems of healing, I feel comfortable with Yoga, because it is a system of healing which concentrates on physical movement very deeply.

Of course one is not blind to the fact that this concentration on the body is towards a spiritual end – but, that is a different dimension altogether. As Yoga teachers, you know more about the physicalities of the body and its requirements for health than most other systems of healing. For example, you know which particular Āsana or posture can relax a muscle or which can help joint mobility.

From my point of view, these are all very well defined and very precise areas of anatomy and physiology that you understand instinctively, by habit, by practice, by study or by tradition! You may not view anatomy or physiology the way we do. But I see that you are working on human anatomy and physiology, albeit in a different manner. This gives me confidence that Yoga has the potential to help some of my patients.

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YOGA: SURGERY SANS INSTRUMENTS – Interview with TKV Desikachar


 Dr Uma Krishnaswamy talks to TKV Desikachar – from ‘The Hindu’ June 1998

Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: There is a tremendous current revival of interest in Yoga and also a public awareness about what Yoga can do. What has brought about this revival of interest?

TKV Desikachar: The revival of interest is essentially due to two factors, both of them related to the field of health. Though Yoga has an important philosophical aspect to it, it’s bearing upon health has an obvious appeal to the common man. Firstly eminent doctors, confronted by intractable problems like, say, asthma, have started recognising that western medicine, despite its unquestionable scientific basis, does not have all the answers. Secondly, they have started seeing the need for a more holistic view of human suffering in all its dimensions, such as are seen in other systems, especially Yoga.

Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: Yoga emphasises both the prevention of disease as well as treatment. What aspect of Yoga is of greater interest to the public? Is it the preventive aspect or the therapeutic health aspect?

TKV Desikachar: I think it is the second. Preventive health is a self-discipline and only a minority seeks Yoga as a preventive measure to prevent illness. Most people seem to seek Yoga only for therapy. But it must be remembered that the essence of Yoga is discipline. Essentially it is the discipline of the body, it is the discipline of the mind and it is also the discipline of the spirit. But prevention does not interest people even though it is of obvious importance. People get interested only when they are in trouble. So we now need to develop strategies using the salient principles of Yoga practice, so that it can be adapted to people with specific problems.

Dr Uma Krishnaswamy: When these individuals approach you, do they come because they are convinced that Yoga is going to help them or do they come because they are so desperate, that they will try any remedy?

TKV Desikachar: Desperate yes, but yet with some hope! Desperate, because as far as they are concerned, whatever they have tried has not produced the result they had expected. They perhaps wonder ‘so many experts have not been able to help me, how can some ancient system of Yoga, taught by someone who does not even know human anatomy, do any good?’ But, they are also hopeful because people would have told them: ‘I had the same problem, I went here and there, to this doctor and that doctor but without any results. Then I went to this place and got results. You must also definitely try it, it may help you.’ So you see, there is also hope.

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Only a minority seeks Yoga as a preventive measure to prevent illness…

Preventive health is a self-discipline and only a minority
seeks Yoga as a preventive measure to prevent illness.
Most people seem to seek Yoga only for therapy.

But it must be remembered that the essence of Yoga is discipline.
Essentially it is the discipline of the body,
it is the discipline of the mind and
it is also the discipline of the spirit.
But prevention does not interest people
even though it is of obvious importance.

People get interested only when they are in trouble.
So we now need to develop strategies
using the salient principles of Yoga practice,
so that it can be adapted to people with specific problems.”

Interview with TKV Desikachar from ‘The Hindu’ 1998

TKV Desikachar talks on Śraddhā in the light of the Yoga Sūtra……

TKV Desikachar talks on Śraddhā in the light of the Yoga Sūtra
at the KYM and responds to questions.

“Śraddhā is essential for progress,
whether in Yoga or any other endeavour.
It is a feeling that cannot be expressed or intellectually discussed.

It, however, is a feeling that is not always uncovered in every person.
When absent or weak,
it is evident through the lack of stability and focus in a person.

Where present and strong,
it is evident through the commitment, perseverance
and enthusiasm the person exhibits.
For such a person, life is meaningful.”

The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali deals with the mind. It examines the different functions of the mind and provides means to modify these functions so that it serves the person in a very constructive way.

The means by which certain qualitative changes in the mind are brought about is called Sādhanā. There is also the possibility that certain individuals may develop such a mind without effort. That is, the qualities are inherent in that individual and mature on their own to manifest one day in the form of some extraordinary capacities. However, such persons are few. For the rest of us, the same changes are possible but it is a question of time and practice. The end result is the same, it is only the time taken to achieve it that will differ.

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Yoga Sūtra on Stress – An interview with TKV Desikachar

TKV Desikachar teaching at Gaunts House


– An Interview with TKV Desikachar by AV Balasubramanian and Paul Harvey

The Yoga Sūtra presents the potentials of the human mind, the means to its refinement, control and clarity and the obstacles that can come in the way of one’s progress. An understanding of stress in the light of the Yoga Sūtra is presented in the interview below.

In addition to covering the many techniques in Yoga to help persons under stress, TKV Desikachar constantly emphasises the importance of the attitude to our actions. He singles out the cultivation of the twin qualities of Śraddhā and Īśvara Praṇidhānā as the only sure means for being free from stress permanently.

What is the Indian tradition’s view on stress?

In the Indian tradition, stress would be the situation where a person exhibits the Udvega, attitudes or behavior which take over a person and control him. The origin of the Udvega lies in the Ṣad Ūrmi, the six enemies. These six are:

  • Kāma: desire
  • Krodha: anger
  • Lobha: possessiveness, greed
  • Moha: darkness; though not actually dark it is as if darkness exists because the person is so sure of himself and his opinions that he is unable to see.
  • Mada: arrogance, the refusal to accept or give in.
  • Mātsarya: jealousy, to resent the success of others and to be happy at their failures.

These are Āyurveda‘s Mano Roga (diseases of the mind). If any one of these six is dominant in a person, that person is sure to experience Udvega in one form or the other.

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Religiousness in Yoga: Study Guide Compilation Chapters One to Eighteen

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Religiousness in Yoga

TKV Desikachar

Lectures on Theory and Practice

Chapter by Chapter Study Guide Compilation

‘Religiousness in Yoga: Lectures on Theory and Practice’, by the University Press of America, is a transcript of recordings of a one month Yoga Programme in Colgate University in 1976, published in 1980.

Unlike the later redacted edition, re-published in 1995 as the ‘Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’, it captures the evolution of the retreat with the days lectures and Q & A dialogues as they alternated between ‘lectures on the principles and purposes of Yoga and discussions related to the practice of Yoga with special reference to the postures and the breathing techniques’.

TKV Desikachar, in his forward to the original version wrote:
“These lectures and discussions, printed words put before persons I might never meet,
are but reflections of that deeper result that grew out of a living face-to-face encounter.
Coming to learn of Yoga only through reading leaves much to be desired.
Yet, something worthwhile about Yoga might be shared through the medium of the printed word.”

Over the past five years a study guide to Religiousness in Yoga has been posted in a chapter by chapter progression. Each chapter was supported with added textual verse and word cross-references. The chapter posts were preceded with illustrative quotes reflecting the content of that particular lecture or discussion. All were offered to support a deeper linking with the teachings within these lectures and Q & A sessions.

All in all it has been a longish project, nevertheless one within which it has been for me, as if listening to him speaking. He had such a knack of saying something that could go ‘straight to press’. Though here my thanks also goes to the editors, especially the late Mary Louise Skelton and their efforts and priorities in preserving the essence of Desikachar’s style. This direct transmission, nurtured from within the ancient succession of oral teachers, is seemingly a dying flame within the embers of India’s old school traditions.

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Questions on T Krishnamacharya – Answered by TKV Desikachar

This day, August the 8th marks TKV Desikachar’s passing one year ago.
Two posts from this time are shown below.

As I sit within this time of passing and remembrance……

We have lost a fine teacher and a Yoga master……

To honour his memory one year later, this article from the Darśanam Journal is offered.

Questions on T Krishnamacharya – Answered by TKV Desikachar

“Though familiar with some well known details of his early life, the students of the Mandiram were keen to know more about their teacher, T. Krishnamacharya. T.K.V. Desikachar answers a wide range of questions giving us details that were not known before. It covers his views on subjects as diverse as his early orthodoxy, Mahatma Gandhi, the qualities he respected, his diet and entertainment.”

Originally published by the KYM Darśanam November 1993

View or Download as a PDF

Introduction to the Yoga Makaranda by TKV Desikachar


Introduction to the Yoga Makaranda by TKV Desikachar

Extract from the issue of KYM Darśanam published in November 1993,
it was written by TKV Desikachar as an introduction to a serialisation of the Yoga Makaranda
which ran over 10 issues of the magazine until February 1996.

“I would like to bring to the notice some important aspects of this book to help understand the context in which it was written and to avoid misinterpretation.

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TKV Desikachar and Generations circa 1980

Picture I took whilst studying and living in Madras through 1980,
of TKV Desikachar then aged 42 at a concert at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.
To his left is his mother Namagiriamma, T Krishnamacharya’s wife and BKS Iyengar’s sister, aged 68.
To his right is his eldest son Bushan aged 10.
Beyond him is Raghu Ananthanarayanan, a senior teacher at that time at the KYM.

Downloadable ‘On Yoga and Health’ in the KYM with TKV Desikachar

Whilst living and studying in Chennai through 1980 Desikachar gave me a  video of an Indian TV programme about the work of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in the field of Yoga and Health. In 2012 I had the video cassette digitalised and offered it as a dropbox downloadable format for students personal collections.

From here it seemed to have made its way to YouTube as a view or embed only film, so am offering it here as a resource for all in both a viewable and embedable format, as well as an easily downloadable video.

Science, Medical Conditions and Yoga as a Therapy

Science, Medical Conditions and Yoga as a Therapy

Interview with TKV Desikachar

By Paul Harvey in 2000 whilst studying with TKV Desikachar in Chennai

Paul thanks Desikachar for agreeing to give time for this interview and Desikachar replies with thanks.

Question from Paul Harvey

It is a very broad area that we want to look at around science and medical conditions, as there is a tremendous interest in Yoga as a therapy in the world today.

I would like to start by maybe getting a historical perspective on Yoga and asking questions on your understanding of it. Where do you feel that this link started between Yoga and Science? Because Yoga originally was something that was not associated with science.

It was something that was done for personal development, spiritual development, or even perhaps physical development and somewhere we seem to have made this link with science, which was predominantly something that was growing up in the West whilst at the same time Yoga was growing or has grown in India, with less connection directly with science.

So I am wondering if you could help develop this question about the link between Yoga and Science.

Response from TKV Desikachar

If we look at the history of India, for centuries and centuries for different reasons India has always fascinated the West. More people have travelled to India from the West than from other parts because the Chinese could not come because of the mountains. There has been silk; there has been a lot of mix about India’s great history; also many conquerors came.

Through these travels people from the West, which is the source of modern science, heard about many things that are happening. Among the things that they came to know about were some of what we call the ‘feats’ of Yogis. In fact long, long ago Yoga was linked only to all these feats, levitation, flying, etc.

In the 18th and 19th Century, in the beginning of the 19th Century, there was an observation made during the time of the great King, Ranjit Singh in the Punjab, which fascinated some of the travellers of the West. There was a Yogi who was kept in a box and buried underground. He was there for a number of days and he did not die.

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A talk by TKV Desikachar in Nantes, France April 1995

In today’s world, the authority of tradition, religious institutions or elders is questioned and not accepted unless proven to the satisfaction of the individual.

However, when a person turns to someone or something with an attitude of respect and with the conviction that through this some­ thing good will happen, extraordinary results are achieved. This is especially so in moments of crisis.

TKV Desikachar, here presents an understanding of faith that the modern mind can accept and more important, that the modern mind needs.

This talk was given at Nantes, France in April 1995 when he visited Europe for a series of lectures and workshops there.

“I am very pleased that the subject of faith in the modern world has attracted so much interest. I would like to develop this idea in the following way. In the Indian tradition, even today, near the beginning of the 21st century, faith is very alive and is even taken for granted. In India, anywhere in India, people still believe in temples and teachers.

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On Sūtra and Sūtrakara


Picture courtesy of KYM Archives

Excerpts from an essay by T Krishnamacharya Downloadable as a PDF.
Summarised and translated from the Saṃskṛta essay of T Krishnamacharya composed in January 1981, by TKV Desikachar and Sujaya Sridhar.
Originally published in KYM Darśanam February 1991.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram 1979 in its original home.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram 1979 in its original home 3 years after it was founded.

Vinyāsa Sequences filmed in the KYM‘s original building

Vinyasa sequences published by the Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India

Advanced Vinyasa Demonstration by Lara Abiesheikh – 1

Advanced Vinyasa Demonstration by Lara Abiesheikh – 2

Interview with TKV Desikachar

An NDTV HINDU excerpt with TKV Desikachar on ‘Memories of Madras’

TKV Desikachar Colorado 2009

TKV Desikachar in an excerpt from his presentation at the September 2009 Yoga Journal Conference at Estes Park in Colorado.