Teaching 121 lessons remained at the heart of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s priorities

TKV Desikachar and Paul Harvey

My experience of the application, or viniyoga of Yoga as a 121 personalised practice methodology transmitted from teacher to student has been formed by a 23 year apprenticeship through intensive immersions in personal lessons, from numerous visits to Madras in South India, learning Yoga practice techniques and theory and associated Yoga and lifestyle texts study under my root teacher TKV Desikachar.

My journey to this relationship with 121 lessons as an authentic and traditional medium for adults learning Yoga as a practice tool and study reference for our personal support and development started in 1972, as for most of us with joining a group Yoga Class. In my case from an interest in meditation coupled with an inability to even sit on my heels.

The following year, a lifestyle move to a small holding in the East of England and a dearth of group class choices anywhere around me led to a chance meeting at a Yoga Congress in 1974 with an individual student of TKV Desikachar who had recently returned from a 4 months study intensive with him in India.

This meeting led to me, firstly discovering that 121 lessons was the primary medium for teaching adults within the tradition of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar and secondly a curiosity around the 121 process and what it could offer for my own attempts at establishing a home practice with both a consistency and a wider ranging developmental thread in terms of the many aspects of practice and study.

I remember my first lesson vividly in that I was asked to stay and to time the breath in
Bhujaṅgāsana for 4 seconds each on inhale and exhale. Even though I had used this posture for some two years, I could not do it. This inspired my curiosity as to why and determination to explore the mystery of the breath in Āsana rather than just the mastery of the form of Āsana.

“Yoga must be adapted to an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities,
rather than adapting an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities to Yoga.”

This curiosity and inspiration for home practice, from the experience of having a uniquely customised and developmental  guidance, linked to an assessment and review process, combined with the progressive introduction of Yoga techniques and teachings, sustained through frequent lessons, nourished my Yoga study till 1976 and culminated in a meeting with TKV Desikachar.

This meeting in 1976, through a weeks retreat in Cambridge, coincided with my then 121 teacher leaving the UK to live in the US with his American wife and also led to my saving for three years to leave the UK, having been accepted as a personal student, in 1979 to live and study with Desikachar in India for two years, returning to live in the Cotswold area of South West England in 1981.

 “Like everything, Yoga must be presented intelligently. It should be spoken of carefully and offered according to the aspiration, requirement and the culture of the individual.
This should be done in stages.
Systematic application of Yoga – be it concerned with physical exercises, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, lifestyle, food, studies – is the need of the day.
This I believe – is what the word viniyoga represents.”
– TKV Desikachar

This first stay of two years as a pupil, living within the home of Yoga and studying in the home of my teacher, was followed by some thirty return visits of between one to three months over the next 23 years immersing myself through 121 lessons into the skills and teachings of working with Yoga under the individual guidance of a personal teacher.

The outcome of this sustained immersion in the teachings of TKV Desikachar and Śrī T Krishnamacharya, is that the deeper significance of the viniyoga of Yoga can only be effectively realised through 121 personal lessons, supported by associated Yoga textual and theory study within small group projects.

This focus on the need for personal lessons and small study groups also underpinned the developmental priorities of the Arts of Personal Studies and the Professional Studies Modular Programmes.

“The viniyoga of Yoga is a process to train a student, not a training to process a teacher.”

However teaching lessons within a personal context remained at the heart of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s priorities throughout their lives and it still remains the vital element in appreciating what the term viniyoga means in terms of a systematic development of the students experience of Yoga.

Principles behind why Krishnamacharya only taught adults 121……

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