Yoga Teachers

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Patanjali

Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, one of the most influential yoga texts in the modern world. He is also believed to have a snake-human form during his teaching. He with his human form used to perform daily routines and then transformed to half human – half snake shape covered by a curtain so that the students weren’t able to see him while he would explore the mystical techniques of ancient wisdom.

Probably a group of people…

Despite what modernized and idealistic yoga blogs and sites will tell you, it was most likely a group of people who lived about 1600 years ago, but could be as old as 2500 years. I say that it was likely a group of people because of the amount of knowledge contained in the sutras and the way that people functioned in groups thousands of years ago. We like to attribute knowledge to one author, rather than recognizing the multitudes of authors, time periods, and influences that a piece of work contains. This is particularly true of the Christian bible.

Panini was likely involved in this group of people; he is considered a father of modern language and contributed significantly to Sanskrit and compound noun theory, as well as syntax and phonology.

Patanjali is the not father of modern yoga. That title can be given to Krishnamacharya. Patanjali was more of a founder; the group of people took works from their respective time period and before, then compiled them into digestible teachings that students and teachers could reference on their yoga journeys. He created a framework that Krishnamacharya would later use to create the modern poses, sequences, and specific techniques. Where Patanjali’s yoga begins is in the traditions that Krishnamacharya learned from his father and his father before him. Until yoga became modernized and everyone could start a daily practice of yoga.

As humans we love to idealize about the past and one figure completing this vast amount of infrastructural work for practitioners of yoga, but Patanjali is not a figure that we need to deify or put on a pedestal. There were likely multiple people with the name and likely multiple people who authored the yoga sutras. However, Patanjali’s work on the sutras is enough to keep us busy thinking about our own humanity instead of focusing on the origins of the text, because Patanjali did not seem to claim any credit for the contemporary authors of the yoga sutras.

The 196 sutras, or short teachings from the yoga sutras are fantastic in their comprehensive philosophical scope. They are also written in Sanskrit, which is a great administrative language and is very specifically used in philosophy. They were, however, lost to time in the 12th century until the 19th century when they were revived by modern Indian scholars. During the 19th and 20th century the texts rose in popularity and prominence over the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasistha, and other literature on Hatha yoga.

There are four parts to the yoga sutras:

  1. Samadhi Pada – describes oneness with the divine and Samadhi
  2. Sadhana Pada – describes practices and Ashtanga
  3. Vibhuti Pada – describes “supernatural” effects of yoga
  4. Kaivayla Pada – describes moksha, liberation, or enlightenment

Each of the four chapters is an invigorating review of conscious experience and systematic functionality of the human mind. The second chapter is probably the most concrete in terms of advice for actually practicing yoga, rather than philosophy and it is where the eight limbs of yoga or Ashtanga is explained.

Ashtanga is not only a system of acrobatic yoga propagated by Pattabhi Jois, but a philosophical system for achieving Samadhi and Moksha, also known as enlightenment. The eight limbs of yoga are described as scaffolding, or a framework for ascending into the heights of the yoga of knowledge, or Raja yoga, which BKS Iyengar described to be infinite. The eight limbs are as follows

  1. Yamas – ethics and restraints
  2. Niyamas – virtues
  3. Asanas – physical postures
  4. Pranayamas – breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara – sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – single pointed meditative focus
  7. Dhyana – meditative awareness of oneness
  8. Samadhi – unison and oneness with the divine in bliss

These are the scaffolding that Patanjali assembled to assist individuals in realizing their self. Many of these concepts cross-over into Buddhist ideals of meditation, as you may have already noticed. Once the self is realized, liberation and freedom from the cycles of death and rebirth is afforded to the practitioner.This modernization of Hinduism was very well received in the western world.

In reviewing the history of something as old and popular as yoga it is important to understand that we have only theories and hypotheses about what was happening 1500-2500 years ago. No one really knows the group who made up the author named Patanjali, how old they are, how they compiled their information, or what exact sources they used. Instead we can guess, which is more fun anyways.

References:

  1. Wikipedia – Panini[1]
  2. Wikipedia – Morphology in Ancient India[2]

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"Tirumalai Krishnamacharya" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tirumalai_Krishnamacharya.png#/media/File:Tirumalai_Krishnamacharya.png

Krishnamacharya

Krishnamacharya is one of the more interesting figures in the paradigm of modern yoga’s founders. He probably had the greatest effect on the types of yoga that we practice today in the west and he healed many people during the course of his life. He used Ayurveda in conjunction with yoga to restore health and well-being to the individuals he treated and he wrote four books on yoga. He might have invented vinyasa flow as we know it today.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya lived for 100 years; was born in 1888 and died in 1989. During his lifetime he taught many of the world’s most renowned yoga teachers: BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, TKV Desikachar (his son), and A.G Mohan (worked alongside Desikachar).

Krishnamacharya had a traditional childhood; when he was six he underwent upanayaya when he learnt to write and read Sanskrit, chant the Vedas, and learnt asana and pranayama from his father. When he was 10, Krishnamacharya’s father died and his family moved to his grandfather’s house in Mysore. In Mysore Krishnamacharya attended more advanced schooling and began traveling around India when he was in Mysore.

When he was 18 he moved to Benares to study logic and sanskrit, but would visit Mysore again at 21 to study at the university of Mysore. He would continue to study and practice his yoga in Mysore and Benares until he walked 2 and a half months to the base of Mount Kailash in Tibet, where Brahmachari lived with his family. Krishnamacharya spent 7 & 1/2 years studying under his guru and took payment of teaching yoga, having a family, and maintaining a household.

Krishnamacharya returned to the world and traveled to Varnasi, where he did menial labor for a time until his knowledge was recognized and he was introduced to various nobility for his healing and yogic knowledge and skills. The Maharaja of Mysore took particular interest in Krishnamacharya and installed the yoga teacher in his palace in Mysore. Krishnamacharya would move on to perform lectures all over India, stimulating interest in yoga and eventually was able to start a yoga shala in Mysore.

While in Mysore, Krishnamacharya authored several books and taught yoga consistently, a guru to many of the world’s future gurus. Many scholars also place emphasis on some of  Krishnamacharya’s sources, saying that he used books referencing western gymnastics in many of his exercises. In 1946 India gained its independence, but this was bad news for Krishnamacharya; he was forced to travel to find students and to support his family. His yoga school eventually closed in 1960.

The remainder of Krishnamacharya’s life was spent in scholarship; he viewed himself as an eternal student. When he was 96 he fractured his hip, but refused surgery to treat himself while in bed. He lived and taught in Chennai until he died in 1989, at the ripe age of 100. Even though Krishnamacharya’s teachings radically changed the world he never left his homeland of India. He is one of the most influential figures in yoga; it is possible that he even invented modern yoga as it is known today; he was a learned scholar with degrees in philosophy, logic, divinity, philology, and music; and you might have heard of him. He is certainly one of the most influential individuals of the modern age.

References:

  1. Shreehariyoga – Krishnamacharya
  2. Wikipedia – Krishnamacharya

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k pattabhi jois

Krishna Pattabhi Jois

Krishna Pattabhi Jois is the founder of the Ashtanga style of yoga and one of the most influential yoga teachers to have brought yoga to the west through the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. I studied there in January 2015.

Jois was born on a full moon in 1915 in Kowshika in southern India. His father was a member of the Brahmin caste and Jois was taught rituals and Sanskrit from the age of 5. When he was 12 he attended a demonstration from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and became his student the following day. Jois never told his family that he was practicing yoga, but would wake up early, practice, then go to school.

When Jois was 15 he ran away from home to head to Mysore to study Sanskrit. 2 years later, he was reunited with Krishnamacharya in Mysore when the older teacher came to heal the Maharaja of a sickness that no one else could cure. He would accompany Krishnamacharya in demonstrations at the established palace shala and continued to teach the yoga sequence that he learned from Krishnamacharya, the Ashtanga yoga method and continued to study under Krishnamacharya until 1953. He also claimed to be BKS Iyengar’s guru, which Iyengar refuted.

Jois married at 18 and in 1948 moved to Lakshmipuram (a beautiful suburb of Mysore) where they had three children: Saraswathi (who I studied with in Mysore), Manju, and Ramesh. Jois was a professor at the Sanskrit college, but eventually left to teach yoga full-time. In 1964, a Belgian named André Van Lysebeth wrote a text called “j’apprends le Yoga” (I taught myself yoga) and this is what started the spread of yoga to the West. Students from all over the world would come to study with Jois including Richard Freeman, Chuck Miller, David Life, Larry Schutlz, Bryan Kest, Gwyneth Paltrow, and even Sting. Many of these people would bring yoga into the west in their own forms of the Ashtanga yoga practice.

Eventually Jois moved from his 8 person shala in Lakshmipuram to a larger shala in Gokulam, which is where I studied with Saraswathi Jois. He wrote several books and died of natural causes on May 9th, 2009 at age 93.

Jois will forever have a footprint on the world of yoga; indeed many practitioners continue to study with his grandson Sharath Jois and daughter Saraswathi at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Gokulam.

Many have claimed that Jois was inappropriate with his adjustments, but this could have been a result of major cultural differences between the cultural standards of the US and Jois’ traditional upbringing. However, it is confirmed that Jois injured several students with his adjustments, including one woman who he broke both meniscus’.

The Ashtanga method is well known for its high rate of injury, most likely due to its optimization around the Indian body type, from which there are quite large deviations, especially in the west. One survey put the rate of injury rate at 62% for Ashtanga practitioners, however, Bikram Yoga and Iyengar Yoga have both had serious backlash from the media for causing injury. Iyengar’s students also incurred injuries such as one student who wrote a letter to William J Broad for his book, The Science of Yoga: “One of the saddest and most thoughtful letters came from an elderly man who studied with Iyengar in India for 16 years. His list of personal injuries included torn ligaments, damaged vertebrae, slipped disks, deformed knees and ruptured blood vessels in his brain.” Bikram, in particular, has been known to cause large amounts of injury and the founder himself has two rape charges against him. It is undoubtable that the competitive spirit of yoga in the west contributes to this high rate of injury and lack of respect for the body’s limitations.

Pattabhi Jois helped to spread yoga to the west as one of the pioneers of the exercise. His memory will be forever remembered by the tradition he began and the students whose lives he changed with his spiritual practice of the Ashtanga method and philosophical Hindu and Sanskrit doctrines accompanying the physical yoga that he taught.

 

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BKS iyengar

BKS Iyengar

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar also known simply as BKS Iyengar, or Iyengar has been one of the foremost teachers of yoga in the 20th and especially in the 21st century. He is the founder of the style of yoga called Iyengar Yoga and passed at the age of 95 on August 20th 2014. He was also one of the students of Krishnamacharya who is considered the father of modern yoga.

He was born in 1918 in Bellur, Karnataka. Iyengar had a tough childhood; he was often sick with various illnesses including: influenza, malaria, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and was generally malnourished. His family was a part of a priestly brahmin caste and when he was five he moved to Bangalore. About four years later, his father died.

Iyengar’s life shifted when he was 15 and his brother-in-law Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya asked him to come to Mysore to improve his health through yoga practice. This steadily improved his health until he was 18 and Krishnamacharya asked Iyengar to move to Pune to continue to spread the teachings of yoga. During the

krishnamacharyas yoga school in Mysore
krishnamacharya’s yoga school in Mysore

three years that he studied with Krishnamacharya he had a troubled relationship with his brother-in-law; he was forced to do household chores and wasn’t treated as a serious student at first. Occasionally Krishnamacharya would tell Iyengar not to eat until he finished a series of complex postures. These experiences vastly impacted the Iyengar style of yoga and is one of the reasons it is so different from the semi-traditional Ashtanga that Krishnamacharya taught Pattabhi Jois (the age of the modern ashtanga practice is questionable). Pattabhi Jois also claimed that he, not Krishnamacharya, was BKS Iyengar’s guru though this was refuted by Iyengar. Together, they are the most prominent teachers in the lineage of Krishnamacharya.

Iyengar moved to Pune at the age of 18 to begin his teaching career. He spent hours each day practicing, learning, and experimenting with different techniques. He taught several celebrities and even taught the queen of Belgium Sirsasana (headstand) when she was 80.

Yehudi Menuhin was the one that brought Iyengar to prominence in 1952. He asked Iyengar to teach him yoga and believed that yoga helped his violin playing, which he was very good at. After receiving instruction, Menuhin brought Iyengar to Switzerland and afterwards Iyengar taught regularly in the West. Now hundreds of Iyengar style yoga centers are located around the world.

Iyengar wrote 14 books, the first of which was “Light on Yoga” which is one of my favorite references for pranayama, asana, and principles of yogic philosophy. His book on the yoga sutras is excellent as well and I highly recommend them to teachers and students of yoga.

Iyengar’s style is gentler than most others, focusing on alignment and the use of props to assist in yoga poses. This is likely due to his interactions with Krishnamacharya. He also injured his spine in a scooter accident, which is likely why he often made use of props for his students. Iyengar had a profound personal practice and even at 90 would practice yoga for up to three hours per day. He was also a regular practitioner of Ayurveda.

Iyengar won several awards before his death in August 2014 from heart failure in Pune, India. This included a gold medal from Krishnamacharya called Yoga Shikshaka Chakravarti, which means “Emperor of Yoga Teachers, Teacher of Teachers”. In 2004 Iyengar was called one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world and received the fourth, third, and second highest civilian award in the Republic of India. Most importantly, he is largely credited with popularizing yoga around the world and being one of yoga’s foremost teachers.

Iyengar will forever be remembered as a father of modern yoga. His teachings are useful to students of all styles and his unique approach to each student should be remembered by all teachers of yoga. He is a person that forever will be remembered for having a profound effect upon the world.

I would love for you to add any personal experiences or any impersonal experiences that you have gleaned from Iyengar’s life to this. I am very sad that I did not get to meet him or learn from him when I travelled to India. But his books will always be my favorite resources.

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Patanjali Statue from the Jois Shala

You are the Guru

Over the past few months of practicing in a traditional ashtanga setting, in what many people consider to be ‘classical yoga’ with a guru, I have come to the conclusion that the idea of having a ‘guru’ or single appointed teacher is outdated.

This is not to say that the old method of learning spiritual ritualistic techniques for calming the nervous system should be ignored, but in today’s age we are spoiled. We have the internet, multiple sources of information on everything from the endocrine system, to fluid cavities and storages annexes in the body, to advanced mechanical movement analysis from people like Leslie Karminoff (http://www.yogaanatomy.org/) and Ray Long (http://www.bandhayoga.com/).

It is important to have someone supervising you when you first start practicing yoga simply because it is going to be awkward. You’re going to feel weird and use muscles you normally don’t use. It’s also good to have someone who can observe your postures over time, so teachers, in general, are still very useful. But the idea of “having a guru” can be a limiting belief, can be an excuse to shove off responsibility, and can detract from your self knowledge about your humanity. When you write a solid research paper, you don’t use only one source, right? Though, there may be one source that stands out above the others, especially for the individual sub-topics you are interested in. You use the collective data as a whole to inform yourself so you can critically argue your point of view.

In other words, you are going to have favorites, teachers you like more or less than other because that is simply the way diversity and your brain works. But its an illusion. A part of the maya we are born into when we arrive. But the variety of teaching methods and different perspectives add accumulatively to the whole of your knowledge, especially with proper discernment and decision-making for what is important to you. No one else can decide this for you, not even a guru. You have to make those decisions.

Guru’s have been incredibly useful in the past. Think about the relationship between Socrates, Plato, then Aristotle. Transfering knowledge in the student to teacher fashion, 1 on 1, seems to be the most effective form of learning, for anyone. Being able to imitate makes doing things so much easier and it is essentially how we learn from each other. Have you ever had a friend with a different vocabulary that you pick a few words from and then notice yourself using? Our brains are always trying to copy, to compete, it is simply the way the brain functions. It helps to keep us alive.

So knowing this 1 to 1 relationship is key to learning, why can’t you have multiple teachers? Obviously, you will get some conflicting information, but that is a good thing! You want to be able to sort through things yourself and arrive at your own conclusion.

Maybe you want it easy so you decide to only learn from one teacher. Don’t you see how this can be limiting? Every instructor is going to have very different life experiences that you can learn from, different experiences in yoga that you can learn from, and definitely experiences that can teach you. In fact, you should consider everyone to be your teacher, in one way or another.

So in this way, we are all gurus and at the same time none of us are. This doesn’t mean everyone is going to be amazing at teaching yoga, but everyone knows things that we can learn from.

So we can consider individuals as one part of the collective guru, that is really inside of you and could probably be equated with Jung’s unconscious mind (yes, things are happening in your brain right now that you are not aware of). And with this comes a need for intense discernment, in the same way that you choose the food that will taste/feel best you have to choose the sources of information that have the most truth in them. This is how you gain valid knowledge, rather than running in circles choosing one person after another to think is the right one.

It’s up to you. It’s all in your head anyways, so use your intuition to feel what is right. Balancing between delving into a teachers system and maintaining your personal practice is always great, as is balancing between practicing by yourself and with some friends. Do what you want. your teacher doesn’t add validity to your yoga practice, because it’s all on you! With that said, if you have a great teacher, enjoy it cause that shit is the bomb too!

It’s probable that Patanjali was actually multiple people who worked together to create a common knowledge of yoga. This sounds more realistic than what the sacred texts say about Patanjali, being one man and inventing tons of yoga poses and ayurveda and all that other stuff one person was supposed to have done. If you ask me, sacred texts are all big marketing schemes for organizations to grow their influence (governments, churches, nobility, etc). You don’t see Jesus writing shit down in the bible stories. If you look at every major cultural movement in history, there are lots of people involved, not just one person leading it. Where would Dr. King be without Malcolm X and Rosa Parks? They happen in waves, with lots of groups of people involved, that’s why they are so enormous. If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell, he has a great book called the Tipping Point that talk a lot about cultural movements.

So yoga is a cultural movement just like anything else. Just do what feels right and don’t put too much stock into one person. Who knows whats going to happen with them anyways? Who knows what their life is like? Yoga teaches you to take responsibility for your self so you can self-manage. Take advantage 😉

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Saraswathi_Jois_Shala

Practicing Ashtanga with Saraswathi Jois

Tuesday marked the final day of my practice at the Pattabhi Jois yoga shala (kpjayi) with Saraswathi Jois. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to spend the last couple of months practicing with her and exploring the lineage of Ashtanga yoga.

Learning there was a bit of a unique challenge in my case because I have practiced for five years before I even got to India. There were certain asanas that I hadn’t done regularly and certain asanas that I was very proficient at in the advanced and intermediate series, but didn’t practice because of how late they are in the series. Even the first day was weird. Saraswathi belted out some commands to me, which I tried to enact (her english is not amazing) and we got up to the Maricyasanas. I worked through them for a while then a couple weeks later moved into kurmasana and supta kurmasana and Bhujangasana and was able to work on the finishing sequence since the beginning of practice. Eventually, 25 breaths of headstand are pretty much effortless.

My daily practice has completely transformed and now I have something to work from. I deviate into variations and stretches that I am craving and work in back bends and some of the intermediate series at the end. Soon, I will start working on the first few poses of the sequence (I’ve been working on Pasasana for over a year, except while in Mysore). And as much as I want to say that I do not care about progression, I do care about deepening my Samadhi and I find that new poses and deepening certain existing postures is a part of that. Supta Kurmasana taught by itself has deepened my practice in many ways, same with the Maricyasanas, so I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn them.

I didn’t get to drop backs or Setu Bandhasana, but that is fine with me. I will work on the intermediate series and the primary series, maybe I will even come back. I enjoyed the alone time and the doing nothing but writing a little, making some music, and making room to practice yoga every morning and meditate during the days. Having experienced the atmosphere of India I can really understand how yoga came about and why it is so powerful for the human body. History I’ve been reading makes a lot more sense now after seeing the environment that Indians live in.

Saraswathi is traditional and you really can’t blame her for that. She teaches the sequence the way it was taught to her and she is a powerful voice for many things, but ultimately you have to regulate your own injuries if the (re)occur. So with the Ashtanga practice in general comes an enormous responsibility to know your own anatomy and to increase your awareness for the functioning of your body. Without a heightened awareness, you can easily injury your knees, shoulders can get used to being hyper-extended in down dog(this happens a lot), and muscles can be easily strained. In doing yoga, you are increasing your sensitivity to your body, especially in a practice as intense as Ashtanga. This allows your to better manage your body, which increases the steadiness of your mind, because your are more aware of the consequences of your actions and of the actions of your environment, which have direct effects upon your body.

So ultimately Saraswathi wakes up early and facilitates the yoga of her students and is very committed and so are her assistants, but the Ashtanga yoga method is usually not suitable for beginners. Especially when you are older, you should have pretty much mastered sun salutations and at least practiced most of the postures. Also knowing and using yin yoga can be a great addition to an Ashtanga yoga, even though it isn’t prescribed by the KPJAYI.

If you want to take a couple of months off, practice a yoga practice that you conform to and focus on those postures for a few months while quieting your mind, the Ashtanga Institute is a great resource and so is Mysore, more specifically Gokulam.

Gokulam is an amazing place, a quiet repose in the midst of a semi-busy city that supposedly is a prototype for southern India. I didn’t get to visit too much else, but Mysore itself is an amazing city, full of animals and wildlife and scooters. The pollution there is bad as well, but I am told that as far as India goes, the pollution in Mysore is minimal.  Basically I didn’t have to wear a mask every day and the streets were walkable, though just barely.

The yoga institutes are hidden away from the city in much quieter Gokulam, with plenty of facilities to practice yoga quietly. It was an experience I will remember as having quieted my mind, as well as given me some great experience with yoga’s history.

So if you are looking to come to the source to practice yoga as it has been taught for the last five decades or so, Saraswathi is great. Ensure you know the sequence, at least the beginning and end, when you arrive. You can also take your time to learn, they are very accepting at the shala, but keep in mind that personal attention from the teachers isn’t something you should rely on. But if you need more, Saraswathi is the one to go to simply because she has fewer students and you are learning the method and not a teacher.

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ashtanga yoga creator Krishnamacharya

Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga’s Modern Lineage

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga sequences are a tradition expounded by Pattabhi Jois and is currently taught by teachers in different forms across the world. It is most likely that these sequences were originally created by Krishnamacharya for Pattabhi Jois, using knowledge he obtained from his guru, Brahmachari for short, who lived in a cave with his family in isolation. Krishnamacharya created the sequence for Pattabhi Jois who claimed that the yoga koruntha (which explained the yoga system) was written on a palm leaf that was eaten by ants. This tradition was passed orally from Krishnamacharya to Jois and Iyengar, and Jois used it to create the Ashtanga system. The existence of the document is questioned and although Jois claims to be Iyengar’s appointed guru, Iyengar claims no such relationship. The modern lineage of yoga is an incredibly interesting a complex series of relationships and history.

 Here is the known lineage of the originators of Ashtanga Yoga:

Students of Pattabhi Jois include Bryan Kest, Iyengar, Larry Schultz, Richard Freeman, and Chuck Miller. BKS Iyengar was a student, but they were in disagreement whether Pattabhi was his appointed guru. Both were called Guruji.

The Ashtanga yoga lineage has expounded yoga into the west, but its traditional original can be questioned. Many of the exercises seem extremely gymnastic to be so ancient and many people discuss where the influence of the postures and sequence really come from. However, one thing is certain; Surya namaskar

krishnamacharyas yoga school in Mysore
Ashtanga Yoga School of Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India

is an incredible movement pattern that is excellent for your body’s health if properly aligned. There are also transitions in the ashtanga series that create incredible concentration and focus, but it is certainly true that no series is perfect for every skeleton. Ashtanga yoga, while exemplary, is no exception to that rule.

Balancing the intense yang posture of Ashtanga with Yin postures that counterbalance the spinal twists and shoulder openers of the primary series is completely necessary to progress properly in the primary series. This requires responsibility over your own body. The combination is powerful and relatively unexplored, but there is no reason to spent only 5 breaths in each pose and to continue to practice the exact same way, without variation.  I think that the pattern of 5 breaths for many movements is great, but some poses can be held for much longer and indeed have expanded benefits from being held.

Yoga is not a religion. There are no rules. Attempts at trying to organize it are a joke. It is a system for learning about the self and the limitations and delusions of consciousness. Rules in regard to yoga are silly, because at its best it needs to be completely personalized. Therefore its leaders are simply the people with the most experience in the field through their own practice and assisting the practices of others. This is why it takes so long to become a true guru.

ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya
ashtanga yoga designer Krishnamacharya

I think it is important to realize that yoga has been passed father to son in many generations before a system like Krishnamacharyas was expounded and spread to the West. He even spent many years in poverty teaching before befriending the Maharaja and gaining the raja’s patronage for his yoga shala. It’s popularity was in decline up until this point, but Krishnamacharya would make demonstrations on his days off work, and would eventually travel with his students to demonstrate asana, then send students to become teachers in other cities. Jois and Iyengar were two of these students and both learned different lessons from Krishnamacharya because they studied with him at different times in his life.

To think you have to practice with a certain guru is silly. To think you “have” to practice Ashtanga is silly. The energy of India is great, but the primary series is the same no matter where you do it. Ashtanga yoga should absolutely be supplemented with other activities. The tradition of Pattabhi Jois is continued by his daughter, Saraswathi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Jois, both studied under his guideance in the same sequence as all other practitioners. Both

Ashtanga Yoga Propogators K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois
Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois

are currently teaching in Gokulam, Mysore (links to when I went). It is interesting to know where styles of yoga come from, so you may want to continue by reading Krishnamacharya’s, Pattabhi Jois’, and Iyengar’s books about yoga. Iyegnar’s book is particularly interesting, though Krishnamacharya are much more detailed in interesting ways and somewhat cryptic and mysterious. Krishnamacharya’s guru, Ramamohana Brahmachari and Krishnamacharya are the only ones that we can credit with the creation of modern yoga, though it many poses from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are much older, such as shoulder stand/sarvangasana, headstand/sirsasana, sun salutations, spinal twists, and lotus poses  They all make for very fun and interesting reads, I’m sure. Many are available online, I’ve found a bunch by searching in Wikipedia.

Modern Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Shala –

The K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Research Institute in Mysore, India http://kpjayi.org/

 

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Mahavira

The Founder of Jainism

Mahavira or Varhamana was the 24th and last Tirthankara (person who has conquered Samsara) of Jainism, therefore the founder, or reformer of the Jain religion. Mahavira, like the legends of the

Mahavira
Mahavira

buddha, was born into a royal family in Bihar, India. The name Mahavira means great warrior, though in youth Mahavira received what he desired, his father being the king. Some traditions state that he was celibate, some that he married, but most agree that he was born in 599 BCE achieved moksha in 527.

Mahavira spent 30 years traveling through India to teach his philosophy with eight cardinal laws. Mahavira abandoned his royal life at the age of thirty. Over the next twelve years, Mahavira honed his senses and killed his desires so that he became all-knowing and all-seeing in the eyes of his disciples. He taught that pursuit of pleasure is endless, equanimity of mind, and self-restraint as a means to obtain enlightenment of the greater population. At the age of 72, in 527 BCE Mahavira died and is said to have obtained nirvana.

Tirthankaras
Mahavira to the right

Mahavira taught 8 core tenets, which correspond to other teachings you are likely familiar with in the aim to increase quality of life. The eight teachings are: ahimsa (giving the highest respect and most possible kindness to each being), Satya (truthfulness, which leads to confidence), Asteya (non-stealing, one should not take anything if not properly given), Bramacharya (control over sexual pleasure), and Aparigraha (non-attachment). Sound familiar? These are the 5 yamas, or the first limb of yoga. It’s interesting to think that the two religions overlapped, but in truth, all religions do in one way or another.

Mahavira was intensely intellectual and even the Buddha is argued to be one of his mentors. He paved the way for all of Jainism and for the religions of India to flourish during the next hundreds of years. He taught a philosophy of enlightened society that was influential and coincided with traditions that would last India until the modern-day.

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Ashtanga Institute, Mysore

The Application Process for the Ashtanga Institute

This article was specifically written for people applying to the Ashtanga Institute in Mysore (http://kpjayi.org), directed by Sharath Jois and Saraswathi Jois. This was a bit of a difficult process for me and because there is not a lot of information about the application process on the internet, I figured I would write about it.

Here are some of the general guidelines for applying:

  1. Apply 3 months in advanced. For Sharath’s class, this means midnight, Indian Time, on the first of the month for three months in the future. Saraswathi’s class seems to be less full so you can actually up until 2 months before you want to start practicing.
  2. For Sharath, you should apply to start in the first five days of the month, Saraswathi you can apply to start on any day of the month.
  3. If you are new to the institute, you would be wise to simply apply for Saraswathi’s class, Sharath’s fills up extraordinarily quickly and he almost certainly chooses yogis that are returning before new people.
  4. You must stay to practice for at least one month, but cannot stay for more than 3.
  5. The Institute closes on March 31st for a few months, but I am not sure when they re-open.

I first sent my application in at noon on October 1st, to start practicing with Sharath on January 1st. It took about four weeks to get my email with an unfortunate rejection due to being full, I re-applied to Sharath’s class two days later, this time at 1pm on October 31st for a February 1st start date. I was rejected again, but this time the rejection letter came only two weeks later. At this point, I became pretty frustrated and started to do some research.

I joined the Mysore Ashtanga community in Mysore and asked about the institute. Someone actually recommended that I give Saraswathi a call from the number on her website, so I did.

She answered in a quiet tone, and almost immediately asked, ‘where are you now?’, ‘when you want to come?’, ‘Did you send in an application?’ and I responded. After my response she simply said, ‘okay, you come. Come…come to Mysore, we’ll do yoga.’ It was that simple, and I got to start near the end of January, as opposed to February because her class isn’t as full as Sharath’s. She was very kind and I am excited to practice with her.

So I got a confirmation letter about a week later which was perfect, right on time to get my VISA, multiple entry for 6 months.

Just a few notes about the actual application submission:

  • make sure your pictures are under 500KB, there are image resizers out there that will do the trick
  • Make sure the passport picture is legible
  • Apply for Sharath’s class close to midnight Indian time
  • If you are new to the Shala, you probably want to start learning from Saraswathi
  • Once you get the confirmation email, forget about the application cause you’re going to have to wait a while. India seems to move much slower than the US

Of course every case is a little different, but I figure this was pretty typical for someone new the to Institute. If you have questions, or are applying yourself and want some more details, ask in the comments 🙂

 

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