I’ve come across a lot of questions asking about how to find the best yoga school which is genuine and authentic. Often the age of a school is considered a good benchmark of its veracity. However, I feel a better way to identify the best yoga school for you is to look at its lineage. The lineage helps to see where the teachings and philosophy of the school comes from rather than a mere date of incorporation which only gives us a number.
Identifying the best yoga school for your needs
Technically the oldest documented Yoga School in India is likely the The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, which was set up in 1918. Its founder Shri Yogendra Ji was a disciple of Paramahamsa Madhavdas, a Bengali Mystic whose lifetime spanned the entire 19th century (1798 to 1921) as he lived up to over 120 years. Another one of his disciples was Swami Kuvalayananda who established the KaivalyaDhama Institute in 1924. Both institutes are in Mumbai and very credible in their stature.
Paramhamsa Madhavdas (Image Credit: Kaivalyadham)
Another popular lineage is of T Krishnamacharya who also lived over 100 years (1888 to 1989) and revived Hatha Yoga through a unique practice which he himself learnt in the depths of Himalayas. He taught each student differently and did not believe in standardized classes where everyone was doing the same thing, this style of teaching is now popularly called Mysore Style. His unique sequence of Asanas which were connected by a defined Vinyasa flow came to be known as Ashtanga Yoga (Different from the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali). In fact, he is even said to be one of the first pioneers of ‘Acro Yoga’ as can be seen in a lot of his demonstrations that were photographed
T Krishnamacharya (Image Credit: Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram)
His own school Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram shifted to Chennai from Mysore and thrived under his son TKV Desikachar, who died recently. The direct lineage ends here with a misguided and controversial grandson who doesn’t deserve a mention. However, if you’re interested in this lineage then two of his internationally renowned disciples went on to create their own Yoga Schools which still survive, those of BKS Iyengar and K Pattabhi Jois.
BKS Iyengar and K Pattabhi Jois (Image Credit: Rediff)
Probably the most popular globally would be the Sivananda lineage which has likely spanned the maximum number of modern day Yoga Gurus. It was started by Sivananda Saraswati (1887 to 1963) and the original ashram known as Divine Life Society is in Uttarkashi. Sivananda got his initiation through Swami Vishwananda Saraswati in Rishikesh, not much is known about him though this lineage has produced some very popular and commercially successful schools such as the Sivananda Ashrams of Swami Vishnudevananda (though my personal experience of this ashram differs from the popular view. ) and Bihar School of Yoga by Swami Satyananda. It is this lineage that brought to us the popular relaxation technique of Yoga Nidra from the lost pages of Tantra.
Swami Sivananda (Image Credit: Divine Life Society HQ)
Perhaps the oldest known lineage would be that of Paramahansa Yogananda if the legends of Mahavatar Babaji are to be believed. It is said Babaji is over 1800 years old (born in 203 AD) and that’s formidable as a concept. Paramahansa Yogananda was a disciple of Shri Yukteshwar Giri who was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya (1828 to 1895). Lahiri Mahasaya is known for reviving the practice of Kriya Yoga which he learnt directly from Babaji. The practices today are taught by Yogoda Society, but their selection process requires commitment and consistency.
An artistic rendition of Mahavatar Babaji (Image Credit: Kriya Yoga International)
Likewise, if you look at Art of Living, then Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was once a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi the founder of Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi had gained much popularity in the 60s as the Guru of Beatles (if interested you can read more about it here). His education can be traced back to the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (1868 to 1953). Technically the Shankaracharyas trace their lineage back to Adi Shankaracharya, if they were all true to the original principles this lineage could’ve preserved the authenticity of 8th century teachings. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Raja Ravi Verma’s painting of Adi Shankaracharya (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
I personally find the teachings of Swami Vivekananda very rich in the knowledge of Yoga. He was a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who was a disciple of Ishwar Totapuri, who was a disciple of Totapuri Maharaj (lived around 16th century). This lineage too has evolved from the teachings of Adi Shankaracharya.
Ishwar Totapuri and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Image Credit: akhada.org)
So, this way you can really go back to the source to gauge their style of yoga to see if any fit within your definition of the best yoga school. Though if you go all the way back, the source is just one, the Adi Yogi! 🙂 The oldest surviving schools go back many centuries and I reckon would require an excursion to the formidable terrains of Himalayas! With luck on your side, you might just find one, rather it would be more karmically accurate to say, the best yoga school might find you :).
I originally answered this question on Quora.com