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Thoughts on fallen gurus and the transparency of Ashtanga

February 16, 2012
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or maybe doing the yogi-Shiva thing and hanging out alone on a mountain top — you have heard that one of the top yoga teachers has had a fall.

This guy obviously is not a good guru. (Can I add that I still can't believe this movie got made when it did. Seriously?)

Bobbie and I explicitly decided not to follow the story, for a few reasons. We’d refocused this blog on Ashtanga, not any other “A-yogas,” as much as possible. We’re trying to foster an environment that helps develop our own practices (and maybe yours), and while that doesn’t mean ignoring “bad stuff,” it does mean our intent is to accentuate the positive. (Believe me, that’s a struggle for me!) And, lastly, it’s sort of like, “That’s big news?”

History is riddled with teachers, people in power and, yes, yogis who have fallen from grace. You can find a whole mess of them in the book American Veda.

Rose at YogaRose.net did do a post a week or so ago on it. From there, it wouldn’t be hard to find out more, if you want.

But it is only a backdrop to my thought. Bobbie and I were talking about it last night, and we came to a conclusion: It seems unlikely, from our experience, that Ashtanga would suffer a similar incident because the teachers we have met and studied with seem, and this was the word I used, “transparent.”

By that I mean, you can look — figuratively, of course — through them and see not only Guruji but Krishnamacharya and even Patanjali. There are gurus and great teachers in Ashtanga, no doubt, but … well, to a certain extent they don’t fit one of the meanings of guru: “heavy,” or “weighty.” The force of their personality — the weight of their presence — is muted by the lineage of Ashtanga.

In contrast, what seems to define the gurus who “fall” is their overwhelming ego and personality, the extreme heaviness of their presence that draws people to them — for good and, then, for bad. (Jupiter — Thursday’s astrological body — is big and heavy and the “guru,” in a similar sense.)

With Ashtanga, I feel like it is the practice that is the draw, not any particular teacher. The great teachers are a wonderful bonus, and I understand why people are drawn to this one and that one. (And I believe firmly in the importance and value of having a teacher. Kino MacGregor has some good things to say about teachers in a post today on… get ready… Third Series.) But it never feels like it is “I” with them. It’s always “the practice,” or “Guruji,” or “Patanjali.” (“There’s no ‘I’ in Ashtanga.” Can I trademark that?)

I say this having studied with or met the following “big-name” teachers: Tim Miller, David Swenson, Annie Pace, Danny Paradise, Jörgen Christiansson. And it is true with almost all the Ashtanga teachers I’ve worked with, “big name” or not.

There always are exceptions that prove the rule, of course. It is entirely possible that I’ve been lucky and haven’t run into Ashtanga teachers whose action would argue against my point. But even if there are those teachers — and I’m sure there are — it is hard for me to imagine their getting bigger than the practice, than the system Guruji passed along, than the opening chant that thanks Patanjali.

In the worst case, if they think they are, or act like they are, it should be pretty easy to see, and then to avoid.

Posted by Steve

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:41 pm

    Steve,

    There have been many abuses in Ashtanga — financial, sexual, and power-based — just none in the age of social media. The instances and history of such would be an interesting topic to cover at the Confluence, but then, I suspect few will wish to dredge up dirty laundry.

    regards,
    jason

    • February 16, 2012 11:54 pm

      I’m happily ignorant. :)

      Perhaps part of my point is that there isn’t anyone “big” enough to tear the system down… (I could be wrong there, too, I suppose.)

      I have been lucky that I haven’t run across many Ashtanga teachers who didn’t seem… quite right. I’m sure there has been a variety of issues, as there always is with everything.

      We may have a topic for drinks, though.

  2. Michelle permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:51 pm

    I agree, the lineage seems to be more important than the teachers themselves – there’s a humility there, for the most part in most teachers I have met, to the practice, to Guru and Krishnamacharya and Patanjali. Parampara.

    While no Ashtanga teacher I know would claim to be flawless when it comes to relationships, I do feel that Guruji’s emphasis on the importance of family life (“Family life, seventh series, most advanced practice!”) has something to do with your assessment. His dedication and love for his family (and his students, too) along with his humility and respect for his teacher Krishnamacharya was an example to be followed, and I think for the most part, his students have done that as best they can.

    With JF, was there any humility or respect there to a higher authority? I’m asking a question, really, not being critical – as I don’t know him or the Anusara system. (I must admit a sheer lack of interest in finding out before now.) Who was/is his guru – what is the parampara of Anusara? Or did he just pull things from different lineages in developing his own system?

    • February 16, 2012 11:58 pm

      Oh no! You used the A word! :)

      I’m not an expert, and essentially have the same questions you do.

      Maybe another thread to what I’m suggesting — and I think you picked up on it — is that there’s a difference between folks who are pushing “Yoga,” capital A, as a whole-life system and those who are practicing something that is a part of a greater whole (by which I’m thinking Ashtanga, of course). Not that it isn’t a “whole-life” system, but it isn’t so neatly packaged all together.

      Thus, again, there’s something bigger than the individual.

  3. Jason permalink
    February 17, 2012 12:00 am

    Michele,

    I attended an advanced practice seminar with Friend at one time.

    From what I understand, at one time, JF considered Gurumayi of the Siddha Yoga tradition his teacher.

    He displayed humility of sorts, acknowledged other traditions when he cited them, and is/was a charismatic, larger-than-life figure of the Krishnamacharya/Iyengar/Remete (among others) mode.

    His brand of yoga is derives much of its underpinnings from Kashmir Saivism Tantrism, and as such differs markedly from the Classical Yoga of Patanjali and Samkhya.

    With regards to Ashtanga, you don’t want to start picking at the thread of abuse or impropriety because it will unravel and you may not like the results. The stories are many and well-known, though at this point, old news.

    best,
    j

    • Michelle permalink
      February 17, 2012 10:47 am

      Oh, I am certain that there have been many falls from Grace amongst those in the Ashtanga “elite” for lack of a better word. I’m not naive – as I said, I know they are not flawed – no human being is flawless and I suspect there are many examples of teachers falling in love with or having inappropriate relationships with students. I personally know of a few “divorce by Ashtanga” cases.

      Personally, I’ve been married for 21 years and have experienced the better and the worse during these past two decades. I credit the practice for keeping my marriage together through the worst of times.

  4. February 17, 2012 9:05 am

    ‘By that I mean, you can look — figuratively, of course — through them and see not only Guruji but Krishnamacharya and even Patanjali. There are gurus and great teachers in Ashtanga, no doubt, but … well, to a certain extent they don’t fit one of the meanings of guru: “heavy,” or “weighty.” The force of their personality — the weight of their presence — is muted by the lineage of Ashtanga.’

    Curious about how your using lineage here Steve, Pattabhi jois- Krishnamacharya… Patanjali…. really? Patanjali? I’m actually having problems with the Jois-Krishnamacharya-Brahmachari lineage idea at the moment let alone bringing Patanjali into it. To what extent can we really say Ashtanga, as we know it, reflects Krishnamacharya’s teaching or Brahmachari’s. Look at those pictures in my yogasanagalu (1941) post, more in keeping with Vinyasa Krama than Ashtanga and as such K’s teaching seems quite consistent throughout his life. Perhaps there was something different about the Mysore palace approach ( maybe Singleton is right) or to how K. taught kids but it seems strange out of all K’s teaching that’s what Jois picks up on and decides to continue. Is that lineage because I look at Ashtanga and I look at Vinyasa Krama and I wonder why Jois didn’t continue studying with his teacher and pass on what Krishnamacharya was actually teaching. At least Iyengar came out and said it was pretty much all my own work.
    I don’t think I understand Lineage, Transmission, Parampara perhaps because everybody seems unclear in their usage, distorting the concepts to meet their needs. I don’t remember Ramaswami ever using the term lineage he would just say “This is how my teacher taught me”. or “I tried different versions of virabhadrasana but was more comfortable how I learned it from my teacher”.

    I’d thought about what the reaction would be in if all this JF stuff happened in Ashtanga and decided it probably wouldn’t matter that much. There is such a strong focus on the practice and our own relationship with it that it seems to transcend any relationship with a teacher or community. I don’t really care if Jois came up with the Ashtanga series’ on a napkin over a chai latte, it’s a good practice. I do my VK subroutines, pranayama, pratyahara, meditation in the morning as ramaswami taught me as krishnamacharya taught him and my ashtanga practice in the evening, just because it got under my skin and i’d miss it if i didn’t.

    • February 17, 2012 3:03 pm

      Grimmly… I think you and I are on the same page here: it’s about the practice. My reference to Patanjali really is a way of trying to say that. Guruji said: “Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali yoga,” and while we all can understand that in different ways, I think it is an example of how he never claimed Ashtanga for himself (and thus establishes that model for others).

      I am far from the expert on this stuff that you and Jason are (although I have a pretty good sense of much of the “dirty laundry” Jason references and I know the old “Ashtanga as a cult” criticisms — and surely my “yoga is Tapasya” puts me in that camp), but I assume that KPJ got one kind of teaching from K and Iyengar, for instance, got another. I don’t think any of this is as rigid as it often gets made out to be.

      But that’s my perspective, and probably not the world’s most valuable one. The teachers I have studied with do seem to bring a certain flexibility to their own approach, though — and I think that’s how these things are supposed to go. The world changes. I understand why people would value something unchanging but… well, I guess I just don’t put the same value to that. I’d value something that is thoughtful and works. “It’s a good practice,” as you write.

      OK… I’ve re-read your comment, and I may be missing the point: lineage. I think that Guruji was trying to establish that Ashtanga fit into a long-standing world view, religion, whatever you want to call it, the one he knew in other words, but that he also was trying to not make it all about himself. In this sense — and forgive my thinking even as I write — Ashtanga may be a “yoga” (or “asana” if you want) that is more “Hindu” or at least rooted in Hindu thought, beliefs and traditions.

      My understanding is Guruji saw the third limb he was teaching as a door into that … ultimately into “yoga.” But he didn’t think many, if any, of his Western students were going to make it there this life.

      I hope that makes sense. I know you’re a proponent — rightly! — of the “Cybershala,” but there is something to be said for being able to talk about it over a cup of coffee (or, preferably from my end, something a wee bit stronger) rather than correspond. :)

  5. Jason permalink
    February 17, 2012 10:21 pm

    Modern scholarship has laid to rest any notions that the Yoga we practice is a direct and unchanged transmission from (or even bears any resemblance at all) to, in this instance, Patanjali’s era, ca. 100-300 C.E.

    Hence Singleton’s distinction of “transnational Anglophone postural practice.”

    More than Jois/Iyengar, the yoga that Krishnamacharya himself taught at the Mysore Palace and after bears little/no resemblance to the “yoga” of Patanjali’s sramana era, or of medieval Hatha Yoga practitioners.

    K.’s teachings also drastically changed after he lost the sponsorship of the raja and required paying clients.

    He adopted the idea of yoga as therapy — this characteristic was most definitely maintained by Guruji (Jois).

    The yoga of K. that is practiced today is not the Yoga that he taught, quite simply because he’s dead, and one cannot learn from him at all. While yoga can be practiced alone, for a tradition to live, it needs to be learned in the presence of a teacher.

    What we get now of K. or Jois through their teachers are not what those teachers said, but what their students heard. (As S. Suzuki.)

    As I’ve said elsewhere, deeply woven in the Brahmin tradition is the idea that the teacher is an anonymous transmitter broadcasting an unchanging, eternal (but not beginning-less) signal of information.

    This serves many purposes — it allows a presentation of a ‘totality’ of teachings (Filliozat) as the teacher becomes ‘transparent’ and through them the teaching passes (Narasimha).

    As my friend Casey notes, it’s important to remember that the principles (breath-body movement, internal awareness, looking) of Ashtanga Yoga, taught by K. and passed down through Jois, have not changed at all.

    People confuse those principles with their application to the Ashtanga sequences, which were codified in the late ‘70’s and evolved minorly after.

    Guruji was often asked the question of the differences in the sequences, specifically with regards to what Gilgoff teaches in Hawaii; I recall one conference when one of her students brought up the issue.

    Jois insisted the system was not changing, and he was right — its internal form had not changed.

    However, given the context and tradition of Brahminical culture, Guruji could not admit that the external sequence had changed, for that would be an admission of authorship.

    It’s an exercise in spiritual nostalgia to “recreate” K.’s yoga, or even to assume the fidelity of what Mohan, Desikachar et al are transmitting.

    The industry of the valorization/beatification of K. has gained traction over the years, growing in size/strength. It’s easy now to enshrine his teachings because he’s dead — he’s not around to contradict himself (which he did often and frequently, i.e. quoting non-existent texts).

    The “reconstruction” of his supposed teachings serve an historical and archaeological function, but should not be misconstrued as a practice to undertake beyond nostalgia.

    This may not even be a good idea — as Mark Whitwell has suggested in his book “Yoga of Heart,” K. died feeling he had not achieved the goal of Yoga or fulfilled the aims of a Yoga practice.

    Either he misapplied his own principles and practices. Or perhaps his conception of the aims of yoga was wrong.

    The notion of parampara is often poorly understood; but then, as Yoga is now firmly planted in the West, we will redefine it as our needs dictate. Previously, parampara was wedded to the idea of diksha had taken place, and in modern Ashtanga tradition we do not give/receive diksha as it is typically understood.

    best,
    j

    • February 17, 2012 10:32 pm

      I think what you wrote here sums up my feelings:

      “As I’ve said elsewhere, deeply woven in the Brahmin tradition is the idea that the teacher is an anonymous transmitter broadcasting an unchanging, eternal (but not beginning-less) signal of information.”

      In that form, there’s no danger of the teacher becoming more than he/she should be. (Although it still, of course, happens.)

      But that certainly is the “driving force” of Ashtanga as I’ve interpreted it during my short time studying. (Could this be our shared Tim influence?) And it’s probably why I’m more comfortable with it.

      Thanks!

  6. Stuart permalink
    February 17, 2012 10:25 pm

    Considering the ongoing dialogue of what it means to carry on Guruji’s legacy, there is a kind of resonance between what is happening in the Anusara and Ashtanga communities. Douglas Brooks, who contributed much to the development of the Anusara concept, has offered some pertinent wisdom in this interview and open letter:

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/02/conversation–statement-dr-douglas-brooks/

    “We need models of collective authority, communities that work to create models of shared power. My teacher always said, the guru is the kula, the community.”

    Perhaps the Confluence is something akin to what Dr. Brooks advocates, in contrast to who/what is understood as the single holder of parampara for our practice.

    btw – the comments to the article and Dr. Brooks’ replies are worth a read.

    hari om,
    Stuart

  7. Jason permalink
    February 17, 2012 10:53 pm

    Stuart,

    I greatly respect and admire Dr. Brooks.

    Your connection of Brooks’ words to the upcoming Confluence is compelling — hopefully the Confluence will serve as the first big public step toward embodying “multiple hearts of Ashtanga.”

    One of Brooks’ quotes from the Elephant Journal article: “Gurus are accountable to their students for the entirety of their actions. No one gets a pass.”

    Interesting broadening of the stream, so to speak.

    best,
    jason

    • Stuart permalink
      February 17, 2012 11:45 pm

      Indeed, I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Brooks lecture on the Gita. Then as now, his words are clear and compelling as those of Krishna himself. Guru or not, we are free to act, and if we do so in alignment with our gifts and with the social contract, we stand the best chance of success. If we do otherwise, we will rightly face the consequences.

      hari om,
      Stuart

  8. February 17, 2012 11:44 pm

    Thankfully the Guruji book came out and was read widely enough within Ashtanga circles that the idea of an unchanging practice seemed to evaporate over night. Now there seem to be two camps those who defer to the early practitioners of the 70′s and early 80′s and those who take Sharath as the last word. I guess there is a third group who just get on and do their practice, a group I’m keen to join again having given up blogging. I was blissfully unaware that there was a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to practice, before I started my blog, having worked the series out from my Swenson book and Darby DVD with all their options and modifications. I think claims of lineage to justify elements of asana practice raise my hackles somewhat especially when they seem to close off other limbs and a more integrated practice.

    I’m in agreement of course re the idea of an ‘essence’ of yoga being transmitted though what that is or how to make sense of it is interesting. You assume it of Brahmachari sitting up there in the cave, ‘sense’ it in those early pictures of Krishnamacharya and the early intense gaze of Pattabhi Jois 9 love that picture of him teaching pranayama to Van lysebeth), get the feeling they went pretty deep into their yoga, was something transmitted, perhaps just the motivation to practice intensely.

    ‘As my friend Casey notes, it’s important to remember that the principles (breath-body movement, internal awareness, looking) of Ashtanga Yoga, taught by K. and passed down through Jois, have not changed at all.’

    See I’m not convinced of that Jason, not that it matters, just historical curiosity as you or rather Mark Whitwell says. By looking I assume you mean drishti and I don’t find that in the Makaranda, be interesting to see if it’s in the Yogasanagalu. Internal awareness, focus, well of course but that’s in all the forms of yoga no? That leaves us with breath-body movement. I’d add vinyasa too in the sense of variations of postures. We find it stated clearly in yoga makaranda, it’s the dominant feature of Vinyasa Krama but we find it everywhere in Ashtanga too.

    Is this splitting hairs or trying to get to grips with what the essence of the asana limb of the practice within this ‘tradition’.

    ‘K.’s teachings also drastically changed after he lost the sponsorship of the raja and required paying clients’.

    I’d assumed that too but am starting to wonder if K’s teaching wasn’t consistent throughout his life, except for that group setting with the boys of Mysore palace. Look at the pictures of the yogasanagalu, K’s section of 1938 film, Indra devi. Perhaps Mysore palace practice was an abnormality and yet that makes it all the more interesting in that Jois perhaps found something …transformative in that style of practice and chose to continue that manifestation of the practice.

    We’ll never know of course and it doesn’t matter, as long as we develop and expand our own practice.

    Sorry Steve, this weaning off blogging is causing me to over comment occasionally.

    • February 17, 2012 11:53 pm

      Grimmly… I was thinking I might have to encourage you to start blogging again. :) But we’re happy to be an outlet — just don’t do too much of it!

      Steve

  9. Jason permalink
    February 18, 2012 12:35 am

    Grimmly,

    I’m not sure if we aren’t perhaps saying the same thing?

    I haven’t read K.’s YM for some time, but I recall that in it he suggests (well, more like demands) the breath move in/out through the nose with an equal length while doing asana, he explains moving into/out of asana using the breath (breath-body movement), and he specifies asana gazing points (ajna chakra I believe?).

    This is Ashtanga as Jois taught, no?

    When younger and with fewer students, Guruji was by all accounts more spontaneous (e.g. assisted hollow-back reverse planche flips he guided students through) with his students.

    I speculate this changed as he aged and class sizes grew, and now we have a much more pedagogical system.

    However, I think to attempt to recreate this situation is to simulate or mimic a Yoga practice, as there is a current Ashtanga tradition, which, fortunately or otherwise, is more fixed and pedagogical.

    Also, technically, all planned asana sequences are vinyasa krama, that is, progressive, sequential expressions of interlinked postures. The Ashtanga sequences are vinyasa krama. The Anusara sequences and Baptiste’s power yoga sequences, as much as they use breath, are vinyasa krama.

    There are also practices considered akrama, or simultaneous, synchronous, and spontaneous, though I don’t believe anyone’s really tried to do vinyasa akrama.

    I also recall K.’s writings (as in YM) as typical Brahminical normative polemics (as Guruji’s).

    Your previous online writings are a step in the direction of untangling this tendency toward scriptural norms (usually based on Upanishads or Vedas).

    Given scholarship by Singleton, Samuels, White, Doniger, Mahoney, Sanderson, et al — I approach this practice with the idea that we, as Western yogis — who, make no mistake about it, are now carrying this tradition forward — collectively and individually choose to take on the rules, limits, boundaries of tradition in order to reap the benefits of a yoga practice.

    (Which are … what exactly?)

    I imagine (but am not sure?) that you may have gotten a bit of grief from the orthodoxy?

    These can be uncomfortable questions to ask, especially if, say, you’re currently in Mysore and have a vested interest in getting karandavasana tomorrow morning.

    Thank you for your previous comment, and thank you most importantly your curiosity.

    best,
    jason

    • February 18, 2012 12:50 am

      Correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m just not at a place to find the reference, although maybe a Google search would do it), but there are reliable stories of Guruji’s working with disabled students in ways that obviously are different from the Ashtanga we all practice, right?

      So in that sense, we know he did things differently and adjusted accordingly.

      That he may have had to stop doing that when his room had 28 instead of 8 students (or 280 when he traveled) makes a ton of sense.

      Thanks for the ongoing dialogue, all.

      S

  10. Jason permalink
    February 18, 2012 1:04 am

    Steve,

    I know in conversation with Tim he has mentioned that, during his first trip to Mysore, Guruji was working with a young paralyzed woman in a wheelchair. Guruji would physically move her body through postures. Clearly, she was not jumping back. Also, some years back, there was a Japanese paraplegic couple in Mysore. Were they practicing Ashtanga if if they couldn’t do trikonasana? Of course.

    best,
    jason

    • February 18, 2012 1:07 am

      “Were they practicing Ashtanga if if they couldn’t do trikonasana? Of course.”

      I’d hope, or I should cancel my room for the Confluence. :)

      Time to start the weekend, me thinks.

      S

  11. February 18, 2012 7:34 am

    Just checked my YM Jason and your right there is more on the gaze than I thought/remembered, though it does seem less stressed, never really got the sense of it being one of the three pillars (tristana) of practice, perhaps the Yogasana will prove me wrong and I’ll find it stressed throughout that text.

    Yes heard all those stories too of adapting the practice back in the day. Was thinking of the different context of Mysore where Pattabhi Jois, working a room of eight to twelve and would be there beside you through your whole practice, and then later guiding your through your pranayama… as opposed to now where Sharath has a room of a hundred +, what four hundred in Mysore last month. Perhaps you’d find him at the end of your mat once or twice a practice. What is the point of a world tour perhaps he’s better off taking three months in the summer and just working with a handful of his certified or Authorised teachers and developing the quality of the ‘transmission’. But then perhaps that’s what Tim and Richard et al are doing and that the future ‘senior teachers transmitters of the practice are going to come from Bolder or Encinitas rather than Mysore.

    I agree same page

    Not so much grief really, just occasionally but then you put yourself out there and I can be deliberately provocative in raising the questions or begging them but then what’s the point of blogging, got to show our mental development as we think through the practice just as much if not more than how well our kapo is coming along (though you have to throw those in too it seems to keep anyone coming back).

    I agree too re taking yoga forward in the west Richard Freeman seemed to be saying something interesting recently about the end of the guru that I’ve been waiting for the weekend to look at more closely. This confluence idea is interesting, you get the feeling that here are practitioners who have spent their adult lives exploring the practice as deeply perhaps as Jois himself did and yet in the context of a householders in a modern industrial 20th/21st nation context. We should be asking what is it to be a yogi in this context and whether it can still be relevant rather than looking to the past and only to the east. Old Samkhya seems interesting here in that it too seemed to be secular, rational and with scientific leanings perhaps we’re in the right place and time to rediscover a smakhya perspective. What is even more interesting for me is that the old yogi’s added a spiritual practice on to a rationalist philosophy and that it worked/survived for a thousand years before the krishna influence on yoga. In the west spiritual practice and rationalism have always seemed mutually exclusive (at least in modern times).

    • Jason permalink
      February 18, 2012 3:34 pm

      Grimmly,

      Unfortunately, I haven’t read K.’s YM for some time, though Singleton/Narasimhan/Jayashri’s new translation was just released, so I’m anxious to check it out.

      However, your reading points up the limitations of a textual-based understanding of the practice, and not one developed in conversation and practice with a teacher.

      I am reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon. To paraphrase: two priests are at the gates of Heaven and confer with St. Peter. One exclaims to the other, “You mean it said celeBRATE?”

      One of the four pillars of Hinduism is artha, to be sure, and thankfully toward the end of his life Jois (Guruji) was able to provide for his family (as well as several families in the greater Gokulam/Laskhmipuram area!).

      Given the depth of relationship with a teacher now available in Mysore, though, it’s hard not to think that one of Jois’s greatest missteps was not limiting/capping attendance at the shala.

      Freeman raises an interesting point re: the “death” of the guru. We’ll see how it shakes out — I personally feel development beyond the submissive model/paradigm is one each individual has to make, but hopefully enough of us as a society are growing along these lines so that collectively our center of gravity moves past it.

      Again, I enjoy Douglas Brooks’ notion of deference versus submission — I defer to Tim (greatly) because I understand and respect his skill and experience in the breathing and postural practices, but I don’t submit in the sense of abdicating personal decision-making. I still call him Tim.

      In his tradition, there isn’t one chair — the chair of the ‘guru’ shifts situationally among the community depending on whose gifts are greater.

      Quite a contrast to the elevated stage in Mysore, with the large wooden chair at the head, and the implicit message “Guru sits here.” I wonder if Sharath sits in that chair now?

      Are we served by a guru-student relationship? Given the danger of corruption — the Indian sources are rife with stories of guru abuse — is this a model we even want? Are we even able, culturally and personally, able to take it on?

      best,
      jason

  12. February 19, 2012 9:46 am

    Was just going to say a thank you for the discussion, especially to Jason, I’ve found it helpful, have been a bit stuck recently trying to find a relevance in my Ashtanga practice (which I love but it sometimes feels merely an indulgence compared to my more integrated Vl practice), looking to Mysore (not for me, ten years ago perhaps but not now), to the past (origins) in search of essentials etc. You’ve caused me to think again Jason about the ‘senior’ Ashtanga teachers who have been living this practice for so long. I think we have great hopes for this confluence, I wish I was going.

    So I was going to leave it at a thank you but in the new post you’ve picked up on the importance on the guru/teacher question. And it’s interesting for me because I’ve taught myself, or at least learned Ashtanga through the books, DVD’s, Internet community and resources whereas with Vinyasa krama I studied with Ramaswami.

    Interesting too that you mention the limitations of textual understanding. I was lucky in that I went through the Yoga Makaranda line by line reading it out loud with Ramaswami who of course did the same with Krishnamacharya himself. Drishti is less…focussed on in VK as the eyes are almost always down ( K supposedly used to walk the streets that way, a form of pratyahara I guess) perhaps why i didn’t pick up on it so much in the reading, must look back at my notes. The limitations of a text are that both you and a teacher are always selective in what gets picked up on, that’s the joy of a text though, you get to go back again and again and discover and rediscover, always finding things I’ve missed in yoga Mala for example.

    So I’ve learned VK with a teacher, Ashtanga without and in the end i still feel it comes down to working it out yourself, your always your own teacher, developing the practice within however it’s transmitted to you, it’s always you who has to do the work of internalising and embodying a practice, no free ride perhaps dependence on a teacher can distract from that. That said I can see the benefit of having a teacher there to go to when questions arise, not so much about asana as of the practice in general but as you say Jason more in the sense of respect and deference ( my feeling towards Ramaswami) than surrender. Your both lucky to have Tim, Encinitas is seeming more relevant to me at the moment than Mysore.

  13. Michelle permalink
    February 19, 2012 1:59 pm

    “i still feel it comes down to working it out yourself, your always your own teacher, developing the practice within however it’s transmitted to you, it’s always you who has to do the work of internalising and embodying a practice..”

    Oh, exactly. Thank you, Grimmly, for these words. Most of my practice life in the past 15 years has been “alone,” just me and the practice and trying to figure things out from books and DVDs and internet, as you have done, stealing time from responsibilities of child-rearing and house-holding, with only a week each year with my teacher. No ability to leave for a month each year to go to Mysore, certainly. Working it out alone can lead to a sense of loneliness, and, sometimes in my case, some unattractive self-pity and doubt! Obstacles to practice. (Patanjali was so wise.)

    Reading this triggered a memory of being alone as a child, running around in the woods by myself, feeling connected to nature and to life, and experiencing loneliness, yes, but also joy in the discovery of the world without and within, and my connection to all of it.

    I think that’s why I love to practice – it approaches this same experience, as when I was a child – play and discovery and connection.

    Your words have made me more grateful for the steps of my personal journey thus far. (Many paths, and all lead to the Truth.) I feel lucky I have a chance to go the the Confluence, where I hope the nature of the discussions will be of the same quality. This has been a very interesting discussion to read and internalize – thanks to all of you.

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  1. Sunday conversation: How important is the guru / teacher? « The Confluence Countdown

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