T.K.V. Desikachar: Biography & Teachings of Pioneering Viniyoga Founder

The yoga we practice today was shaped massively by the pen of Desikachar.


When it comes to diving into a yoga practice, it is not only about knowing the poses and sequences. To connect fully with your yoga journey, it is recommended that you take time to learn about yoga ancestry.

This article opens the history book on T.K.V. Desikachar, a distinguished yoga teacher and guide.

Who is T.K.V. Desikachar?

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya Venkata Desikachar, popularly known as T.K.V. Desikachar, was not only a distinguished yoga teacher but also an embodiment of his father’s profound yogic legacy.

He was born on June 21, 1938, in Mysore, India. Desikachar’s journey into yoga was deeply influenced by his father, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often regarded as one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century.

Early Influence of His Father

The young Desikachar was highly influenced by his father’s vast knowledge. T. Krishnamacharya had a dedicated and true understanding of yoga, Ayurveda, and other ancient Indian philosophies.

He was instrumental in shaping his son’s understanding of the holistic nature of yoga. Growing up in such an environment, Desikachar was naturally drawn to his father’s teachings. His initial approach towards these ancient practices was one of curiosity mixed with skepticism.

Education & Early Days in Yoga

Desikachar first went to school to study engineering. This educational background brought a unique perspective to his later understanding of yoga. It allowed him to approach yoga with a blend of scientific inquiry and traditional wisdom.

As he matured, Desikachar began to realize the depth and potential of his father’s teachings. This realization led him to delve deeper into the study of yoga under Krishnamacharya’s guidance.

The father-son duo shared a profound bond; the senior yogi had a personalized approach to teaching that was a great influence on Desikachar’s own teaching methods.

Embarking on the Yoga Journey

Desikachar devoted himself to rigorous training in yoga. He had a deep desire to grasp the essence of his father’s teachings. He learned that yoga was more than just physical postures; it was a way of life, encompassing spiritual, mental, and physical well-being.

This comprehensive understanding of yoga led Desikachar to develop his own approach. This later evolved into what is known today as Viniyoga.

T.K.V. Desikachar’s journey from a curious observer to a devoted practitioner and teacher became a pivotal figure in bringing the ancient wisdom of yoga to a global audience.

His teachings, deeply rooted in his father’s legacy, yet distinct in their application, have made a lasting impact on the way yoga is practiced and perceived in the modern era.
A Desikachar quote against a background of someone meditating in front of the ocean

4 Fundamental Principles of Desikachar’s Yoga

As T.K.V. Desikachar embarked on his own yoga journey, he shifted from the “one-size-fits-all” notion of yoga. His teachings were rooted in the idea that yoga is and should be deeply personal.

He says the practice is adaptive, and tailored to the individual’s unique life circumstances and goals.

#1: Personalization of Yoga

Desikachar believed that each individual’s body, mind, and spirit required a different approach to yoga. He emphasized that factors like age, health, cultural background, and even one’s emotional state should influence the style and intensity of yoga practice.

This approach ensured that yoga was accessible and relevant to everyone, breaking barriers of rigidity in traditional practices.

My personal teaching style is reminiscent of Desikachar’s methodology. I do my best to make my classes accessible to my yoga students; they come with various levels and abilities.

I want them all to experience success in my classes. I invite my students to assess how they are feeling at that moment; to pay attention to their current state of mind and body.

They are encouraged to take note of their physical, mental, and emotional bodies and to move accordingly. Listen to what they need from their practice.

That may mean modifying poses, skipping postures, choosing more appropriate postures that suit their current situation, and even resting during their yoga class.

A Desikachar quote against a background of someone hiking

#2: The Role of Breath

Breath, or Pranayama, was key in Desikachar’s teachings. He viewed breath as the foundational link between the body and the mind. He viewed the breath as a tool for accessing the subtle aspects of the physical and mindful being.

His intention was to teach students to synchronize their breath with their movement. By doing so, Desikachar helped his students reach a state of greater awareness and inner peace.

#3: Adaptation & Sequencing

Desikachar introduced the concept of Vinyasa Krama1 Krishnamacharya: The History and Teachings of the ‘Father of. (n.d.). Yogapedia.com. https://www.yogapedia.com/krishnamacharya-the-history-and-teachings-of-the-father-of-modern-yoga/2/8983, the art of sequencing. He taught that the order in which poses are practiced is as important as the poses themselves. This sequencing was designed to be dynamic and adaptable, evolving with the student’s progress in their practice.

#4: Yoga for Personal Transformation

Desikachar saw yoga as a tool for personal transformation. He believed that through consistent and personalized practice, individuals could not only improve their physical health but also achieve greater mental clarity, emotional balance, and spiritual growth.

Desikachar’s Books

A prolific writer, his most famous book The Heart Of Yoga is still celebrated ad recommended in many yoga teacher training courses today.

Legacy of Desikachar’s Teaching

Aside from the many books he authored, Desikachar set up two organisations still around today.

Desikachar’s teachings greatly influenced the way yoga is taught and practiced today. His approach to teaching was methodical, yet compassionate.

It was important to him to keep the needs and desires of the students in mind. He trained numerous teachers with this approach, ensuring that his method and philosophy of yoga continued to spread and evolve.

  • Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM): In 1976 Desikachar founded this non-profit public charitable clinic and yoga center in Madras (now Chennai) with A.G. Mohan. The center is still open to the public today.
  • Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation (KHYF): Founded in 2006 by Desikachar and his son Dr.Kausthub Desikachar and is a global foundation representing Viniyoga.

What is Viniyoga?

Desikachar developed a yoga style called Viniyoga. It was designed to focus primarily on the individual. This style of yoga adapts various methods of practice to be uniquely tailored to the condition, needs, age, physical ability, and mental state of each person.

This individualized approach to yoga distinguishes Viniyoga from other standardized forms of practice. This methodological approach to yoga evolves over time. It takes into account the changing needs and abilities of the yoga student.

A Desikachar quote against a background of someone with a hand in their belly and another on their chest

3 Principles of the Viniyoga Practice

Viniyoga is based on a set of key principles:

  1. Function Over Form: The focus is on what a pose does for the practitioner rather than how it looks.
  2. Breath & Movement Synchronization: Every movement in Viniyoga is synchronized with the breath. It enhances the meditative aspects of the practice and deepens the mind-body connection.
  3. Repetition & Stay: In Viniyoga, the yoga poses and sequences are often repeated throughout the practice. This approach helps in building strength and understanding the effects of each pose. Further, it demonstrates how the yogi can transform during one yoga session.

The Role of the Teacher In Viniyoga

In Viniyoga, the teacher plays a crucial role. They are not just instructors. They are guides who help students explore their individual paths. The yoga educator needs to be highly knowledgeable about anatomy and philosophy to adapt the practice to different individuals effectively.

Viniyoga & Accessibility

One of the most significant aspects of Viniyoga is its accessibility. This approach makes yoga available to all, regardless of their physical condition. It opens the door for those who may feel excluded by more physically demanding styles of yoga.

If one is new to the yoga practice, this is a wonderful way to begin a yoga journey.

Practicing Viniyoga

Practicing Viniyoga2 Kraftsow, G. (2019, July 17). Try This Viniyoga Sequence to Manage Addictive Behavior. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/yoga-sequences/viniyoga-sequence-manage-addictive-behavior/ requires an awareness of one’s individual needs and a willingness to adapt the practice as those needs change. Here are some key aspects and examples of poses used in Viniyoga:

  • Individual Assessment: Before beginning, assess your current physical, mental, and emotional state. This assessment guides the choice of practices.
  • Breath-Centered Approach: Emphasize coordinating movement with breath, ensuring that the breath guides and informs every movement.
  • Adaptability of Poses: Modify poses to suit individual needs. For example, using props or adjusting the range of motion.
  • Gentle Flow: Sequences in Viniyoga typically involve gentle, flowing movements, making it suitable for all levels.

8 Benefits of Viniyoga

Viniyoga offers a wide range of benefits that cater to both your body and mind. Its adaptable nature makes these benefits accessible to a diverse audience. Here are some of the key benefits of the practice:

  • Increased Flexibility and Strength
    • Gradual stretching and strengthening of muscles, joints, and ligaments.
    • Improved overall flexibility, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Stress Reduction
    • Focusing on breath-work aids in calming the mind, reducing stress and anxiety.
    • Promotes relaxation and a sense of well-being.
  • Improved Posture and Balance
    • Enhances body awareness, leading to better posture.
    • Develops core strength, which is essential for balance.
  • Emotional Balance
    • Regular practice stabilizes emotions and promotes mental clarity.
    • Helps in managing mood swings and enhancing positive thinking.
  • Improved Concentration and Focus
    • Meditation and focused breathing improves concentration and mental acuity.
    • Useful in managing attention disorders and enhancing cognitive functions.
  • Accessibility for All
    • Suitable for all ages and abilities, including seniors and those with limited mobility.
    • Adaptable to individual fitness levels and physical conditions.
  • Holistic Well-being
    • Integrates physical, mental, and spiritual aspects for overall well-being.
    • Encourages a deeper connection with oneself.
  • Enhanced Body-Mind Connection
    • Encourages mindfulness and presence in the moment.
    • Fosters a deeper understanding of the body-mind relationship.


T.K.V. Desikachar passed away on August 8, 2016, leaving behind a rich legacy in the world of yoga. His death marked the end of an era in modern yoga, but his teachings continue to influence and inspire yoga practitioners and teachers around the globe.

Desikachar’s approach to yoga, emphasizing individual needs and yoga therapy applications, remains a significant contribution to the yoga community.

To read more about important contributors to the study and practice of yoga, please visit our Library of Yoga Profiles.

Photo of author
John Cottrell is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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