Krishnamacharya and Yogic Mindfulness

By A. G. Mohan

There are very few videos of my teacher, the great yogi Sri Krishnamacharya. The only video we have of him demonstrating physical yoga practices is from 1938. It is a black and white film that many of you may have seen on YouTube.

What usually catches the eye of most viewers is the advanced physical yoga practices in that video—such as mulabandhasana, nauli, and inversions. But if you were to go back in time and spend years with Krishnamacharya, a different aspect of his practice would have struck you more deeply: his steady mindfulness from moment to moment.

You can observe that quality clearly even in that short video.

He never appears distracted or scattered.

He does not hurry through the movements.

He never seems out of breath.

His eyes are closed or his gaze is steady if they are open.

His face is always calm (except when he shows the lion’s breath, when the practice requires that expression!).

Each element of the practice is steady and conscious. Every step reveals mindful attention. This quality of yogic mindfulness was not an act he put on for that video. It was how he practiced yoga, and the quality he brought into his life habitually.

A small example comes to my mind. Krishnamacharya used to conduct personal classes in his room which was one level above the ground level in his house. As was customary, I would usually arrive a little early, climb the stairs, and wait for him just outside his room if he was not in. A chair or two used to be there in the space connecting the stairs to his room. I would take one of those chairs and wait for him to come up the stairs. When I heard him making his way up, I would stand up in respect. It would be disrespectful of me to continue to sit in my chair when he reached me.

I have observed him in the simple act of climbing the stairs so many times. Every step would be deliberate. He would not look around in a distracted manner. He would not climb up while lost in thought with an abstracted air, suddenly realizing that he had reached the top. He would never miss noticing my presence because he was thinking of something else.

Such a simple act—climb stairs mindfully. But to always be mindful when you climb the stairs in your own house? That is not so simple! That mindful presence is a key practice and outcome of all yoga.

Krishnamacharya’s hatha yoga teachings were inseparable from yogic mindfulness. This is a key in Krishnamacharya’s teachings that deeply transforms all the physical yoga into something much more.