“TKV Desikachar gave his life to making yoga understandable to the western mind transmitting the Great Tradition as it was brought forth by his father T Krishnamacharya,” said longtime student Mark Whitwell.
On August 8, in Chennai, India, TKV Desikachar died at the age of 78, at the end of a long illness. Desikachar was a lifelong student of his father, T Krishnamacharya, the notable 20th century yoga pioneer whose other famous students included well-known yogis and yoginis BKS Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and Srivasta Ramaswami.
While Desikachar was trained as an engineer, he began studying with his father because he was impressed by Krishnamacharya’s ability to apply the therapeutic principles to the practice with students. He began teaching at a time when (as he said) the practice of yoga didn’t have the respect it enjoys today. Desikachar’s dedication to all of the aspects of yoga (from asana to philosophy to chanting) may well have influenced the respect that yoga does enjoy today.
According to writer and student Navtej Johar in a tribute in the The Hindu, “Desikachar’s yoga approach was unique in that it remained undogmatic, non-denominational, secular, fluid and open-minded and enquiring to the core.” In the time of the fragmentation that is one of the characteristics of modern yoga, Johar says that Desikachar “clearly saw branding or even standardisation of style as antithetical to yoga, the very nature of which was fluid in his view.”
When the announcement was made of his passing, yoga students from around the world sent their prayers and condolences to his family as well as their gratitude and appreciation for his presence, his teachings and his legacy. Desikachar’s approach to yoga, as well as his very presence touched both those he met as well as those who knew him through this students, his books, or the ripple effect of his influence.
It is an influence with a powerful and lasting effect. As his student Richard Miller said, “I am deeply grateful for the many years I knew and studied with Desikachar. Like the many he touched during his lifetime, his presence, wisdom, and love will live on in my heart and through my teachings and actions in the world.”
Desikachar’s student Larry Payne said, “When someone you love and respect passes on you are left with a deep ache in your heart and filled with a rush of emotions and precious memories.
I first heard the news about Sri TKV Desikachar when I was at a Yoga graduation at LMU and everyone around me was in tears. On the way home, I thought about how fortunate I was to have know this man personally and studied with him one on one in India many times and followed him all over the world. Once Desikachar accepted you as a student he was totally there for you in all aspects of your life. I have tried to emulate that with my students and have been rewarded for this in many ways.”
Student Amy Wheeler first saw Desikachar in India in 2001; she said that her first impression of him was of his palpable lightness. “Within days of studying his teachings, I felt that sense of lightness also. He was able to transmit the feeling of sattva [peaceful clarity] across the room.”
I met TKV Desikachar in person in 2001. It was at the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, only weeks after 9/11. I could see what Amy spoke about; while watching him lecture, chant, and teach, and in meeting him in person—his composure, his sattvic nature, his brightness and lightness—were indeed palpable. He embodied the qualities of yoga as a teacher and as a human.
His legacy lives on, through his students, and in his own words. In Desikachar’s influential book, The Heart of Yoga, he provides us this teaching on yoga, “Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present—really present—in every action, in every moment.”
One of our greatest tributes, in addition to gratitude, may be to fully live this sense of presence in every action and in every moment. We echo the words of thanks of yoga students worldwide.