Krishna Pattabhi Jois

k 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.

 

Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga’s Modern Lineage

ashtanga yoga creator Krishnamacharya
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/