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Changes at Yoga Workshop announced and thoughts about losing yoga teachers

August 21, 2014

Not sure how long this has been out there — a few days, maybe — but I noticed that there is an announcement at the Yoga Workshop’s webpage about a change in “ownership responsibilities”:

We are excited to announce a restructuring of the Yoga Workshop, which will take place in November. Richard and Mary will be giving ownership responsibilities of the studio to their trusted friends and fellow students, Ty and Shayan Landrum. From a day-to-day perspective it will probably not seem like much has changed EXCEPT that with fewer managerial responsibilities, Richard and Mary will have more time available for teaching at our beloved studio. We will all work together to keep the overall teachings and tenor of the studio as it has been for all these years and we look forward to you being part of the evolution of the Yoga Workshop.

There is, in my mind, a little looseness to that language and phrase “ownership responsibilities.” It doesn’t mean Richard and Mary aren’t owners anymore, although you could interpret it toward that meaning. It sounds more like the start of the process. Because Richard and Mary, and all of us, aren’t going to be here forever.

BKS Iyengar’s death this week is ample reminder of that.

And so — even as I was celebrating my birthday yesterday, which can be reason enough to think about the future and your own future’s end — a thought kept creeping its way unavoidably to the center: Our yoga teachers are growing older (as we are), and they won’t always be there — and what happens after they go, even if it is not something as dramatic as death, just “retirement.” (Can yoga teachers retire, though? There doesn’t seem to be much precedent for it.)

I wonder about the practical implications: Will the Yoga Workshop continue to be a magnet once Richard and Mary are not active there or even less active? What about, closer to my home and heart, the Ashtanga Yoga Center? (I’ll admit that when reading his blog post this week, I focused on Tim Miller’s mention of being tired as his Second Series Teacher Training started. He’s had a busier month and even summer than I’d want to tackle.) What about the House of Yoga and Zen, Nancy Gilgoff’s home base? Will these great communities — great sanghas — continue once the teacher is no longer leading them day-to-day?

Most practical of all, perhaps: Will the doors stay open? Who will run them? What’s coming next?

These are questions, of course, that have occurred countless times with gurus and teachers, including the Buddha and Jesus Christ.

I wonder also about the less practical and more esoteric implications: What about the ongoing teaching of yoga, of Ashtanga? What will be lost when their individual experiences aren’t being directly passed on to students? With Iyengar’s passing there was much talk about his influence on yoga’s rise in the West — which direction will yoga continue in the decades ahead?

I’m not kept from these semi-morbid thoughts by a piece that Leslie Kaminoff had posted at Elephant Journal — which, I know, we officially don’t link to for any number of reasons discussed in the past — but I saw it via Facebook and given the time and topic, had to look. (I didn’t look at anything else.) A link for you and a key part:

Unavoidably, my thoughts turned to my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son and—at 20 years his junior—Iyengar’s nephew.

I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.

I am immensely sad for the tragic turn that Desikachar’s life has taken. I don’t know if his condition was avoidable. But what is avoidable is the denial surrounding his gradual decline and the resulting damage to the teaching community he built.

We are, of course, not supposed to worry about things that are so out of our control. But it is human nature to do so — and perhaps our yoga nature to try to fight that urge, to be calm, to — as Ram Dass wrote, “be here now.” I worry, though, that our desire to fight it might devolve into just ignoring it.

Perhaps that’s just my own issue, though. Although Leslie’s piece suggest it isn’t just me.

Posted by Steve

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2014 5:40 pm

    Steve, you are the next generation of Ashtanga teacher. Through your blog you reach thousands. In the wake of Iyengar’s passing and the passing of Jois a few years ago, we are reminded that our time here is limited. So do the best you can do is represent your teaching to the newcomers to your style, and further the teachings to your regular students. I think all will be okay.

    • August 21, 2014 6:43 pm

      Ha ha. No way. If that’s the case, the future of yoga is just people sitting around, drinking coffee and complaining how stiff they are!

      S

  2. August 21, 2014 5:50 pm

    I guess this is when many will find out if their yoga is working for them.

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