Important figures in the evolution of Ashtanga Yoga
The modern day practice of Ashtanga Yoga represents the confluence of a number of streams of hindu philosophy, practice and spirituality. A number of important figures feature prominently in the evolution and representation of this particular method, but many others have played their part too.

The first is Patanjali. You will find a number of articles about Patanjali's philosophy and practice on this site and elsewhere. Historically, nothing can be said with certainty about his origins, but there are various myths legends and assertions about his life and work.

Perhaps, most importantly and controversially, Patanjali is credited with three very important works - one on sanskrit grammar (a commentary on Pannini's Ashtadhyayi), one on ayurveda (Caraka Samhita) and the philosophy of the Yoga Sutras. Each of these three texts is considered to be definitive in its field.

The second part of the Ashtanga Mantra (actually a separate mantra all together) is dedicated to Patanjali. In these verses he is described bearing a discus representing discrimination (mastery over philosophy), a sword representing mastery in medicine (the surgeon's knife) and a conch shell representing mastery over the sounds of the sanskrit language. Of course there is much controversy within the academic field over when these various texts were composed and by whom.


Hiranyagarbha is traditionally regarded as the original propounder of Yoga. According to the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, Hiranyagarbha revealed the science of Yoga in two texts (both of which have been lost) – the Nirodha Samhita and the Karma Samhita. The first text was called the Yoganushasanam, and Patanjali starts the Yoga Sutras by stating that his work is an exposition of this earlier work and then continues to talk about "nirodha" how to restrict the activities of the mind.

Vyasa, sometimes called Veda Vyasa is the most important commentator on the Yoga Sutras but is also credited with having authored the Mahabharata (which includes the Gita) and the Brahma Sutras, the principal text of Advaita Vedanta.

Again nothing is known of the historical figure and it is possible that the authors of these different texts are different people as Vyasa was a fairly common name meaning "collator".

Vyasa's commentary is so important in understanding the sutras that the combined commentary and sutras are often regarded as one complete work known as Yoga Sutra Bhashya.

Ramana Mohan Brahmacari 
While Hiranyagarbha (who's works have been lost) and Vyasa (who's works are so extensive many believe they are not the work of one person) are perhaps critical in the presentation of Patanjali Yoga, the next important link in the passing down of Patanjali's method from our perspective is Ramana Mohan Brahmacari, Krishnamacharya's teacher.

Krishnamacharya describes his first impressions:
"After searching, I reached Ramamohan Ashram, which was only a cave. A tall, long-bearded saint stood at the entrance...when I went in, I saw the saint's wife and three children." *

Significantly, Brahmachari was a family man, and it was on his insistence that his student Krishnamacharya also marry, have children and teach yoga.

Desicachar (Krishnamacharya's son):
"What were the studies in the cave? I know they embraced all of the philosophy and mental science of yoga; its use in diagnosing and treating the ill; and the practice and perfection of asana and pranayama... No one will ever know the true extent of the knowledge Sri Ramamohan imparted... My father once told me that his guru knew about seven thousand asanas. Of these my father mastered about three thousand." *

"My period of gurukulam here in Tibet lasted for seven and a half years. Rama Mohana made me memorize the whole of the Yoga Gurandam (Yoga Korunta) in the Gurkha language. The various stages of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra are dealt with in that book in a very precise but extensive commentary. That is necessary because Sutras are by definition very concise. In the Yoga Gurandam, the various kinds of Yoga poses and movements are described with great clarity. Only after studying this book can one understand the inner meaning and science of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali." **

This text was the source both of the philosophy and the practical aspect of Ashtanga Yoga which has been passed down to us today. Its author, Rishi Vamana, who is mentioned in the Mahabharata was the first incarnation
of the Treta Yuga (about 6000 years ago). There are legends and even an asana named after Vamana, but nothing is known with certainty about his life.

Probably equally important in its influence on Krishnamacharya's teaching was his family lineage which connects him to the Tamil saints and yogis of the Vaishnavara tradition. This intensely devotional stream sees no barrier for women or members of low caste from reaching the divine.

Krishnamacharya's family were entrusted with the care and running of important temples and centers of learning inluding the Parakalaswamimutt in Mysore which is like the "vatican" for this particular

Important figures inlude Nathamuni, a direct ancestor of Krishnamacharya, whose Yoga Rahasya has clearly been a large influence on Krishnamacharya's teaching, dealing, as it does, with the healing aspects of yoga and its application to different circumstances such as pregnancy.

Sri Shankaracharya
Sri K Pattabhi Jois belongs to the Smartha Brahmin sect which regards Sri Shankaracharya as its Guru. You will find a number of writings of Shankaracharya in the Philosophy section.
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