An American in Paris, reflecting on the Guru

The Fourth of July and Guru Purnima collide today.

Well, while reading Tim Miller’s post this week — which comes directly from Paris — they do for me. As you might guess, he talks about the meaning and value of Guru Purnima and Pattabhi Jois. As you might also guess, that means you kind of have to read it:

Today’s full moon occurs at 11:52amPDT in the nakshatra called Purvashada. The Vedic Deity that rules this nakshatra is called Apas, the Goddess of the Waters, and the type of energy associated with it is called Varchograhana Shakti—the power of invigoration—similar to what we feel when we bathe. The great yogi and philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya, equated water with Sattva–the spiritual quality of life. The primary motivation of Purvashada is Moksha, or liberation. This is an excellent time to reconnect with our inherent spiritual potential.

The full moon of July is Guru Purnima—the celebration of the spiritual teacher. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was born on the full moon of July in 1915, and it was his destiny to become the Guru to thousands of Ashtanga Yoga practitioners all over the world, and to be known simply as “Guruji”.

I would probably wax poetic about Tim’s role as Guru to so many, but, well, I just did that.

I will note, and perhaps you’ve seen this, that Tim has this wonderful, simple T-shirt that reads, in block letters: GURU. He wears it — at least in my experience — on Thursdays, the day dominated by Jupiter, by the “heavy” planet in our solar system. As with much of Tim’s actions, it is both ironic and true. And it makes for great photo opps.

Posted by Steve

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Final Guru Purnima thought: The value of having a guru

I never, ever thought I’d have a guru.

That’s the most persistent reflection I’ve been having during our extended Guru Purnima here at the Confluence Countdown.

Perhaps I can boil it down to its essence: “What?”

My “yoga journey” is dotted with moments of pure disbelief: I’m singing the Hanuman Chalisa? I’m driving 200 miles to get to Tim Miller’s? I’m getting up at 5 a.m. for asana practice? My feet are getting somewhere near the back of my head in Supta Kurmasana?

I’ve scheduled an appointment with a Rolfer?

We’re going on a Yatra?

What?

These moments of disbelief are, I think, crucial. Each time, they force me back to “beginner’s mind” and keep me from taking any of the journey too seriously, for granted or too lightly.

I have a guru? is another.

On Monday, a friend who was hoping to get to Ashtanga Yoga New York for its Guru Purnima celebration asked me, “Who’s your guru?”

I didn’t even have to hesitate.

“Tim,” I responded. (Full disclosure, I really “texted.” Our cross-country conversation was on our smart phones.)

Tim and me (and Hanuman)

On reflection, the immediacy, the ease, of the answer becomes more shocking.

I have a guru?

The question stumps me because, if I’m anything, I’d think it would be “grounded.” And I don’t mean that in the way you hear it in yoga studios. You hear it said there because yoga tends to enable a bit of levity or, too put a Western pejorative on it, flightiness. In asana, you’re trying to stay a bit rooted, a bit “seated,” a bit counter to that desire to fly away to the land of Siva.

I’m “grounded” in the practical. (I’m also grounded in my body, I suppose, which manifests itself in stiffness. Thus, the Rolfer.) I’m grounded in making sure what needs to get accomplished does. I’m realistic. I’m no dreamer.

Right?

Having a guru argues otherwise. It is perhaps the greatest moment of disbelief. And thus, it keeps the yoga journey always fresh and new, each step a first one.

But it of course does something more. If there was never any progress beyond the first step, the journey wouldn’t be very successful. You wouldn’t get anywhere. The guru makes sure of the progress, nurturing things — self, practice, engagement with the world, interaction with others — along one first step after the last.

At least, that’s how it is for me. Results, I’m sure, may vary. But one thing shouldn’t:

Having the guru.

It’s easy — easier than ever? — these days to have a teacher, or teachers, even virtual ones. They might show you online how to do an asana or offer insights in at-your-convenience recorded talks. They can offer thoughts, encouragement, direction, knowledge.

But there still is something missing, something different in having a guru and not just a teacher. Is it deeper? Does it involve more surrender? Is it the historical significance?

I guess I’m just not grounded enough to put it in words.

Instead, I’ll try to demonstrate what I mean by saying: “Thanks, Timji.”

Posted by Steve

Pattabhi Jois in Maui, for Guru Purnima

You may have seen this video before, as it has been up since 2007. (Maybe you haven’t; only about 4,000 views.) These never get old, right?

Let’s see:

  • David Swenson at about :47, with a flourish? (Also, Ricky Heiman, who ran the interviews of the Confluence teachers at the Confluence, shows up at about :29.)
  • Love the Garba Pindasana adjustment at 1:25. And the overhead shot at 1:40 is, well, funny.
  • I’m eternally grateful I never had to backbend in front of Guruji.

As the video says, if you want more, go to mauiyoga.com.

Posted by Steve

Guru Purnima with DG: ‘One doc, cure is coming; two docs, death is coming’

David Garrigues has posted a nice tribute video to Guruji to celebrate today, Guru Purnima. He talks at length about the value of having one teacher. (I like the moment about 3:30 in when he acknowledges he learned from others, too. It seems honest; that could have been edited out.)

He also dives into the student’s own role in the learning process. Admission: I’d like to someday have a slightly bigger container for myself.

You are going to the celebration at Ashtanga Yoga New York, if you’re there, right?

Posted by Steve