Precious Memories of Desikachar in India and New Zealand by Mark Whitwell

In 1973, I went for my first lesson with Desikachar in Madras (now Chennai). I had been participating in the circus of spiritual India, and Desikachar was just one more place to go, but from the moment I met him I knew I’d found gold. When I arrived, his father, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, was seated on the front porch in a wicker armchair reading the newspaper, dressed in traditional Brahman dhoti and shawl. He looked up for half a second, and greeted me with a short smile and lively eyes.

Desikachar taught me one-to-one in a private room with his father in the room next door. He first observed everything that I was doing. He said show me what you do, and quietly observed without comment.

I proudly demonstrated my nauli, the churning of my stomach and bladder and internal organs that I had picked up as a solution to suffering weakness in my bladder for months, needing to frequently go to the bathroom. Desikachar politely asked me to stop doing nauli. I told him about my bladder issue, whereupon he gently said that it was causing my bladder issue. Desikachar later included this story of the young man who was creating the problem he thought he was solving through yoga exaggeration in his book Health, Healing and Beyond.

He proceeded to show me the basic instruction of whole body moving with the breath. During the lesson and subsequent ones, he would duck in and out of the room to discuss my Yoga problems with his father. He was learning on the job.

Afterwards, Desikachar walked me to the gate, in dear friendship even though we’d only met once, and said in a quiet stern voice, “practice what I showed you through the week, and if you do it come back — but if you don’t practice, don’t come back, because I can’t help you.”

I stayed in Madras / Chennai for a year and half before returning to New Zealand, thereafter coming and going. I saw Desikachar and his father three times a week for that year, as well as attending Krishnamacharya’s lectures, which Desikachar would translate. Desikachar would require that I had my own questions and direction of interest. He’d always say “Is there anything of interest, or should we gossip or go to the beach?”

Desikachar in New Zealand

In 1995, I brought Desikachar to New Zealand. We gathered in Auckland’s North Shore marae — the meeting house of the indigenous Māori of New Zealand. Some older Māori women asked Desikachar if he had any Yoga for “when we get down on the floor and can’t get up again.” Desikachar immediately went to them and did some movement on the floor. He showed them how to unify body movement with breath movement. His caring regard for them in his attitude and instruction was palpable. He suggested that they do it every day. It was a joyous and refreshing occasion. The atmosphere was bright and full of love and friendship and cultural respect. Later that week, Desikachar was interviewed on Radio New Zealand about his book The Heart of Yoga.

Desikachar, you had a curious quality that in all my years of travelling I’d never seen before, and that is your ability to be truly respectful of every individual that you met. You honoured their unique differences. You honoured them just for the fact that they are alive as life. Even in large groups, people could feel the way that you cared for them. You never made any demands to be treated as a “special” person. I remember how you impeccably held to the principle that the teacher is no more than friend, and no less. I remember how you always wore ordinary clothes, you called it ‘neutral clothes.’ In my experience with you, you attained ordinariness and required nothing else.

Desikachar Memorial 2018

A group of your teachers in the U.S. and Europe recently met all together in a large gathering of friends and students. It was a joyous occasion of remembrance, stories, and teaching. The one thing that impressed the students from all over the world was to see that your father’s principles were common to all the diverse range of teachers and yet were expressed in completely unique ways, through their own personality, approach, and culture.

Whether it was Sriram, your friend and student from Chennai (now Germany), chanting Veda with impeccable skill and tonal accuracy; your friend and student Leslie Kaminoff bringing his skill in western anatomy to the breath principle of asana; or the expertise of Mirka Krafstow specializing in relationship and emotional wellbeing for all: I know you would be proud to see the cooperation and camaraderie among such a diverse group, and to know that the lineage is well held by so many good people around the world.

We continue to be heart-grateful to T.K.V. Desikachar for his life and light. Thank you Desikachar, thank you for all you did and continue to do for us and all humanity, I saw you work tirelessly for us all, I knew your heart as it beamed from your sharp mind and sparkling eyes.

Mark Whitwell

This post was originally published at



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