Important new document from Guruji: Yoga and Therapy

Eddie Stern has posted a transcript of a very important lecture given by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois on the mind/body connection, providing us with invaluable insight into Guruji’s thinking about the role of yoga in well-being. Here’s Eddie’s description of the context (from his Facebook page):

In 1977, Guruji was invited to give a presentation at a Yoga Conference that was organized by Swami Vishnu Devananda in Bangalore. The papers were all collected and published in a book called “Yoga and Science”, and the title of his presentation was “Yoga and Therapy”. I had looked for the book for many years, but to no avail. Then this past fall, almost miraculously, the son of Leslie Kaminoff – who I knew from my pre-yoga days – found the book in India, and Leslie gave it to me.

It’s a wonderful read. Particularly enjoyable if, like me, you have Guruji’s voice in your ear as you follow along. All my understanding of Guruji comes from Tim Miller, and my eyes welled up with tears at how directly he has passed along to me his teacher’s understanding of yoga as a therapy for the mind as well as for the body. This is a must-read.

Posted with gratitude by Bobbie

A piano and cello for Pattabhi Jois

I maybe should have waited until Thursday — the heavy guru day — to post this, but it looks like this video is new. The brief description:

The Song “Guruji” is dedicated to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois the Ashtanga Yoga Master.
Andreas Loh wrote this tune on May 18th 2009 after he recieved the Message that Guruji died. RIP

Composition & Piano: Andreas Loh
Cello: Franziska Kraft

Here you go:

Posted by Steve

How Pattabhi Jois taught Nancy Gilgoff, as taught by Nancy

As promised, a rundown of Nancy Gilgoff’s “How I was taught” workshop from the Confluence. I want to stress that I can’t call this definitive; I took some notes, and then practiced, and some of it becomes hazy in between. Hopefully there will be some ideas and changes that are fresh and useful.

As an important reference point, here’s a link to the 1973 asana syllabus that is the touchstone for much of what’s to come, although it isn’t exactly the same. Here’s page one:

The basic organization of this workshop, which went for about two hours, was that Nancy talked for about 30 or 40 minutes up front and then we went through most of the asana sequence, “primary series,” as she learned it 40 years ago. (A few poses into Second/Intermediate by our reckoning today.) For her, that meant many fewer vinyasas, neither of the twisting standing poses and — here’s a notable point — no backbends. (Hurrah, I say! Also, no shoulder stand or headstand.)

The most important message to get out, though, is this: Nancy stressed the “compassion of the guru,” of Guruji. That compassion, combined with his well-known fierceness, came through as one defining characteristic of his. And I mean one: It seemed as though both traits were braided together in a fundamental way.

It also should be noted that Guruji essentially adjusted her in every single pose. And when I write that, I mean it to a greater extent than how we now think of that. At the beginning, Nancy recounted, she was so weak that Guruji would pick her up and throw her back in the vinyasas and toss her back through, as well. Plus, Guruji’s English was limited enough that he had to be hands-on. He effectively put her in every pose.

(Another point. Nancy said she and David Williams recently had been “comparing notes” about their initial interactions with Guruji, and while Nancy wasn’t getting vinyasas, as Guruji was picking her up, throwing her back, tossing her back forward, he was teaching David to jump back on his own. So for David the vinyasas were there. This, I think, sheds light on the individual teaching the early Western students received.)

As for breathing, Nancy learned to focus on having the inhale and exhale be the same length. You’re not trying to length the breath, she said. It should be natural. And, she said, you can breath more quickly in the difficult moments.

“It’s a much more inward practice,” she said. “It’s much more nurturing. What’s going on inside is what’s interesting.”

She made another point, which we’ve talked about before: No dinking. She said this a few times during the weekend. Quit adjusting your clothes, brushing your hair out of your face, etc. You get into the pose — and as far as you can go that day is where the pose is — and breath and move on to the next pose.

That’s the extent of what I can get from the notes I took as she talked. Here are my impressions of the practice:

  • She’s right. It is much more inward. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer opportunities to let your gaze wander.
  • Here’s a difference: In the Surya forward folds, she wanted palms on the floor/mat even if it meant bending your knees. As someone who has his fingers on his calves at “trini”, this was substantially different — especially the transition back to chaturanga.
  • Essentially, there are no vinyasas between sides of the seated poses, and — I’m about 99% sure I have this correct — there are none during the whole Janu and Marichy sequences. You move directly from a to b to c to d. That is just about 100% different. (Obviously, the point here is for you to try this.)
  • There were plenty of times when people starting into a vinyasas when there wasn’t one. We are fairly pre-programmed.
  • The other major changes: No uthkatasana or warriors and, originally, Uttitha and Arda Baddha came at the end. (Again, I think I have that correct, and this counters the 1973 syllabus.) Also:  3 Surya As and Bs (not five) and only three navasanas. She may have mentioned a Prasarita E?

I hope that makes sense. Honestly, as I think back I’m blanking on whether there were vinyasas between all of the seated poses. I think there were — just not within them (between sides). If anyone else who was there can shed more light on this (warning, Iyengar pun?), please do!

Update: Kate O’Donnell posts about her “pre-teen” Ashtanga years with Nancy, with some thoughts about how the teaching of the practice has shifted. Kate’ll be back in Boston at the end of the Month for y’all in that area.

Posted by Steve

‘We knocked on the door’

A confession: We aren’t here for the asana.

Don’t get us wrong, the asana practice here at the Confluence is great. Dena Kingsberg’s Led class this morning was a grand overload of information. Honestly, I never thought I’d encounter someone who seemed to have studied yoga so much that it seeped into their very being — other than Richard Freeman.

My sense, from admittedly a short time in Dena’s presence, is she is another. Her knowledge, both mental and physical, of the practice, of its possibilities and potentials, is staggering. Much as a month with Richard is a magnetic pull, somehow dropping everything and going to Australia is, if this is possible, a greater one.

But, we aren’t here for the asana. Really. We’re here for the discussions, for the moments of interaction among these senior Ashtanga students, for the memories of Guruji, for the insight and inspiration.

The first of these panels was on Guruji’s legacy. There are any number of directions we could go from it. Some, I suspect, we’ll take. Here’s just one:

The opening question was: How’d you meet Guruji? Two of the teachers, Tim Miller and David Swenson, met Guruji here in America. (Both are funny stories.) Eddie Stern, Nancy Gilgoff and Dena all encountered him for the first time in India, in Mysore.

And all three of their stories shared this same line: We knocked on the door.

In one way or another, on one path or another, this trio heard about Pattabhi Jois, got to Mysore or were in Mysore, and learned that he lived next to a police station. They went to his home and knocked on Guruji’s door.

They just knocked on his door.

Guruji answered when Eddie and Dena arrived (separately, I should be clear). Saraswati answered when Nancy, along with David Williams, knocked. Guruji was in the market, and soon returned on his scooter.

“How did you find me?” he asked. (Their answer: Norman Allen.)

Sitting before these teachers, as they answered questions and retold tales, it was hard, is hard, not to try to think of my own answer, as if he is whispering it in my ear, here.

Posted by Steve

Terrific video of Guruji, Richard Freeman chanting Ashtanga’s opening prayer

Since our last post, rightly, pointed all of us in a bit of an inward direction (i.e. yoga isn’t just exercise), I thought this video — not new, but, as they say, new to me! — might be a nice continuation.

It’s Guruji and Richard Freeman chanting. At about the 2:20 mark they get to the Ashtanga opening chant. And then they follow with the general teacher/student may we all succeed in our studies chant (that’s my round-up of it).

It probably is the clearest I’ve heard Guruji captured chanting. And so that means it’s wonderful.

It’s got 11,000 views so maybe you’ve seen it. But then again, it only has 11,000 views, so you probably haven’t!

Somehow it makes me very impatient for the opening ceremony at the Confluence.

Posted by Steve

Awesome old Guruji video — check out the size of the crowd

More from the Sewell Archives, which is slowly getting online a ton of video featuring Pattabhi Jois.

This is from October 1991 in France.

The first thing that absolutely leaps out at me — as the headline implies — is the size of the crowd.

On the first couple of views, it seems the sound isn’t the best. But it is hot out here in Los Angeles and I have a fan running — and I’m trying to keep quiet — so I’m not exactly blasting my computer’s speakers. But it may take headphones to really get the nuances of what Guruji has to say.

The video was posted just a few weeks ago, on August 30. Only 233 views as of our posting.

Posted by Steve

“Teach the way I taught you.”

In a post a while back, I put up a link to Nancy Gilgoff’s description of the sequence as it was taught to her and David Williams. During class today, Nancy produced a copy of a long typescript (man, I miss typewriters–I’m that old) Guruji gave her when they left Mysore, listing the poses and the sequences, so they could practice (David Swenson had not yet written his book). Being Ashtangis, we immediately got pedantic about it, flipping through the pages, looking for discrepencies and differences, asking questions like, “What’s prasarita E?”

Well, funny you should ask. Apparently, it involves the assuming the usual prasarita position, but with the chin on the ground. When the pose disappeared from the sequence, Nancy asked, “What happened to prasarita padottanasana E?” Guruji replied, “Some research. Bad for neck.”

“I could’ve told you that,” she thought.

Which brings up something Nancy said at The Confluence that has stuck with me: “We were the research.” The early students formed the practice. So when Nancy asked Guruji, “How shall I teach?” He told her, “Teach the way I taught you.” Because the class was small, the students were willing, and the teacher was learning, each future teacher learned a different way. The lesson here, of course, is to teach the way you were taught, and all is coming.

In any case, here it is, from Nancy. In full:

Ashtanga Yoga As It Was
(The Long and Short of It)

“The following is the way in which Guruji taught me, Nancy Gilgoff, the Primary and Intermediate series of Ashtanga Yoga during my first trip to Mysore, in 1973. David Williams and I stayed for four months that trip, and had two classes per day (excluding Saturdays and Moon days).

In the first class, I was taught to do five Surya Namaskara A, plus the three finishing postures – Yoga Mudrasana, Padmasana, and Tolasana. The second class, later that day, was five Surya Namaskara A and five Surya Namaskara B, plus the three finishing. In the next class, Guruji told me to only do three each of Surya Namaskara A and B, and to keep it that way in my practice, and then began adding on at least two postures per class, always with the three finishing at the end.

Guruji taught me the standing postures through Parsvottanasana, with no Parivritta Trikonasana or Parivritta Parsvakonasana. After Parsvottanasana he had me jump through to Dandasana.

In the seated postures, there were a minimal number of vinyasas. There were no vinyasas between sides. Moreover, there were no vinyasas between variations – so all of Janu Sirsasana A, B, and C were done together (right side, left side of A, right, left of B, right, left of C), then a vinyasa before Marichyasana. Then all of the Marichyasana variations, A, B, C, and D, were done together, without vinyasas between sides or variations; then a vinyasa before three Navasana. Baddha Konasana, Upavishta Konasana, and Supta Konasana were also grouped together without vinyasas between them. Ubhaya Padangusthasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana were also done together, with no vinyasa between – we were taught to simply change the hand position after Ubhaya Padangusthasana and go right into Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana.

After Setu Bandhasana, Guruji added in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – but to be put in the series back in the standing sequence, after Parsvottanasana. (Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana were not in the series at this point, nor were Parivritta Trikonasana or Parivritta Parsvakonasana, all of which were added in later.

Once Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana were taught and added into their place in the standing sequence, after Setu Bandhasana, Intermediate began immediately with Pashasana. In fact, David and I had no idea that there were two separate series until the end of that first four-month trip, when we were leaving, at which point Guruji gave us a sheet of paper with a list of the postures, which were listed as Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, and Advanced B. At this point he told us to practice one series a day, and only once a day. While we had been with him in Mysore, we had learned both Primary and Intermediate series in the first two months. He had us practice both series, together, in entirety, twice a day.

Intermediate Series also contained fewer vinyasas back then. There were no vinyasas between sides (in Krounchasana, Bharadvajasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Eka Pada Sirsasana, Parighasana, and Gomukhasana). From Shalabhasana through Parsva Dhanurasana, the asanas were done in a group, with a vinyasa only at the end. Ushtrasana through Kapotasana also were done all together, with a vinyasa only after Kapotasana. The same went for Eka Pada Sirsasana through Yoganidrasana – there were no vinyasas until the Chakrasana after Yoganidrasana.

The Intermediate series, as Guruji taught it to us during that first trip, included Vrishchikasana after Karandavasana. We were taught to hold Pincha Mayurasana for five breaths, bring the legs into lotus and lower down into Karandavasana, hold five breaths, inhale up, and then exhale right into Vrishchikasana for five breaths. The series ended with Gomukhasana. David asked for more, and so, per his request, Guruji added Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana as well as the seven headstands – Baddha Hasta Sirsasana A, B, C, and D were taught first, with Mukta Hasta Sirsasana A, B, and C following. Guruji said these were from Fourth Series.

Backbends from both the floor (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and standing (“drop-backs”) were taught after Intermediate Series, as was the rest of the finishing sequence (Paschimottanasana, Salamba Sarvangasana, Halasana, Karnapidasana, Urdhva Padmasana, Pindasana, Matsyasana, Uttana Padasana, and Sirsasana). Up until this point, we had just been doing Yoga Mudrasana, Padmasana, and Tolasana at the end of our practice.

Guruji taught us Pranayama after we had learned the entire Intermediate Series (at the end of our third month in Mysore, about a month after learning all of Intermediate).

I think it was when Guruji came to teach on Maui in 1980 (in Paia) that he added in so many vinyasas, while teaching led classes. When I asked him whether or not to do them in my own practice, as I had been practicing without Ð as he had taught me, he told me to add in the vinyasas to build my strength. By that trip in 1980 there was still no Parivritta Trikonasana, Parivritta Parsvakonasana, Utkatasana, or Virabhadrasana in the practice. (During another, later trip to the States, Guruji added in Parivritta Trikonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana. The next time he came back to Maui to teach, he saw us doing Parivritta Parsvakonasana, asked why we were doing it, and said that this was “crazy posture” and that we should take it out. But the whole Maui crew loved it so much that he said we could leave it in. (Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana were perhaps added in at some point in the late 1980’s.)

Originally there were five series: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, Advanced B, and the fifth was the “rishi” series.”

Posted by Bobbie