May 2010 – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

This month’s topic is Pattabhi Jois, this month is the one year anniversary of him leaving his body. I know many of you have heard me talk of him but I want to make sure those of you practicing this yoga know the roots of where it came from and the man who dedicated his life to the teaching of it.

Pattabhi Jois is affectionately called Guruji so I will be referring to him as Guruji. I first want to point out that Guruji dedicated his life to teaching this yoga without the thought of fame or fortune. He found his teacher, Krishnamacharya at the age of 12! By the age of 14 he left home to go to Mysore to study Sanskrit and yoga. At the age of 22 he began teaching; his “test” to become a teacher . . . Krishnamacharya gave him a sick man and said “heal him with your yoga”, which Guruji did and earned his teaching certificate (now thats a real certification!). Guruji taught all his life, up close to the time of his death at the age of 93, thats over 65 years of teaching!

And most importantly I want to point out that for 50 or more of those years Guruji barely made a living. He continued to teach yoga though it was a very lean living for him and his family. So while teaching yoga has brought forth the fruit of prosperity these last few years for the Jois family, let us not forget that he taught for many years with no rewards. He did not teach yoga for money, he taught yoga from his heart, this was his dharma and he was happy to share the gift of Ashtanga Yoga to humanity with no attachment to the outcome.

I also want to point out he has never sued anyone for saying they teach astanga yoga without paying him royalties. You paid him to take his classes in Mysore or his workshops around the world, Guruji never had the audacity to try to “own” the ashtanga yoga system and to say you can not teach it without first paying him royalties. Not many so called Gurus of Yoga can say that. Now that is a breath of fresh air in our times today!

The Yoga Korunta
This is a very controversial subject, but I like the story . . . So there is a story about the ashtanga method comes from.

Krishnamacharya was taught the ashtanga yoga sequences from his teacher Rama Mohan Brahmachari. In the old Indian methods you are verbally taught and made to memorize the ancient texts, which is how Krishnamacharya was taught the ashtanga yoga method. Krishnamacharya’s teacher told him the original text is called the “Yoga Korunta”, and later asked him to find the original manuscript, which he did in the ancient archives of the Calcutta Library. The manuscript outlined the Ashtanga System in detail, with highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, mudras, bandhas, and philosophy. Korunta means groups or gathering, the original text was written by a sage Vamana Rishi; and there is a story about Vamana Rishi as well:

It is said that he was born when Ashtanga yoga was almost forgotten, and a wise man was needed to bring it back to mankind. Vamana Rishi incarnated himself specifically for this task. Since he was already in the womb, he himself had no idea of Ashtanga Yoga. Thus he meditated on Vishnu, so that he could help him. So it happened that Vishnu taught the Ashtanga Yoga system to him in the womb. After nine months had passed, Vamana had not yet been through the entire curriculum. According to legend, he refused to be born until he had finished his studies of Ashtanga yoga.

Now as is common in the old Libraries of India where there is not much money for restoration, the manuscript was written on palm leaves that were deteriorating and had been partially eaten by ants. No one has ever seen this manuscript and the only record of it is in two books written by Krishnamacharya and its reference in the library of the Mysore Palace, so there is much debate out there about the manuscript and if it ever really existed. Some say in the ancient Indian traditions that it is a practice of humility to not take credit but to instead ascribe to another teacher or tradition. However Pattabhi Jois believes this manuscript did exist (as do I), and teaching what it imparted has been his life’s endeavor. Whether or not the Yoga Korunta actually existed I care not– even if Rama Mohan Brahmachari and/or Krishnamacharya did develop this form from years of study and research I trust the method, I have seen it heal many people on many different levels.

Let us not forget the real emphasis of the Yoga Korunta; that everything is connected and gathered into One. 🙂

However, the roots of the Vinyasa systems of Ashtanga Yoga can be found even earlier. They date back to the first written document of mankind, the Vedas.

Altogether there are four Vedas: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda.

Two of them include references to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, and in particular to the Vinyasa system.

The first written Veda is the Rigveda, which traditionally is dated to 8000 BC. The Yajurveda is more recent, but still a very ancient text. In both, you will find explanations about movement and breathing, especially in Surya Namaskara. The physical and spiritual effects are described in detail. The Yajurveda contains the Aruna Mantra, which sets the Vinyasa count of Surya Namaskara A to nine. In the Maha Saura Mantra from the Rigveda the Vinyasa count of Surya Namaskara B is enumerated to seventeen. The Ashtanga Vinyasa tradition follows the same counting method for Surya Namaskara A and B to this day.

You can make a difference!
This one man spread Ashtanga Yoga around the world. Guruji taught his ashtanga yoga in the 1930s at the Mysore Palace until the program was no longer funded after the death of the Maharaja of the Palace. After that with the help of his students he bought a small home and taught out of his home (until a big new shala was built in 2002). At first only Indians showed up to take his classes, then one day a Westerner showed up (Andrew Van Lysbeth from Belgium) who had heard about Guruji from a Swami in Bombay. Van Lysbeth mentioned Guruji in his book “Pranayama” along with his name and address, thus first the Europeans started coming to see him. Shortly after that Norman Allen (in 1973) showed up at his shala to learn yoga, followed by David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff. Guruji was invited to Europe and to America to teach his yoga, which he did accept. Although Guruji mostly taught at his home in Mysore, it is amazing how this one man spread ashtanga yoga literally around the world. Ashtanga Yoga is in Japan, all over Europe, the states, China, Australia, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Croatia, Canada . . .

Guruji’s favorite sayings:
“Do your practice and all is coming”.
“You Do”
“yoga is an internal practice, the rest is just a circus” (Guruji says without breathing, without vinyasa, without drishti, its only a circus)
“99% practice 1% theory”

Stories of Guruji that have been shared:
I like David Williams story of Gurujis most popular saying “do your practice and all is coming”. After Guruji’s first trip to the states in 1975 where he staying with David and Nancy in Encinitas, David asked Guruji if he had any advice for him from a big yogi to a little yogi. Guruji replied “Each morning wake up, do as much yoga as you want. Maybe you’ll eat, maybe you’ll fast. Maybe you’ll sleep indoors, maybe you’ll sleep outdoors. The next morning wake up and do as much yoga as you want, maybe you’ll eat, maybe you’ll fast, maybe you’ll sleep indoor, maybe you’ll sleep outdoors. Practice yoga and all is coming!”

Guruji’s advice to surrender to yoga was what David needed to hear, all his life he had been told to cut his hair and get a job. Guruji gave David two very special gifts, knowledge and freedom. With that David and Nancy have helped spread Ashtanga yoga around the world. Just imagine if David had listened to the advice of those telling him to get a job how many of us would not have found Ashtanga yoga.

Guruji not only taught with his teaching but also taught by sharing how he lived his life. In the early days those going to Mysore spent a lot of time with Guruji and his family. Guruji lived his life as a Brahmin Yogi, yet despite his ritual purity he embraced several generations of Westerners and their quasi hippie lifestyles. He welcomed them into his home and shared his lifestyle with them, this was as much a teaching as the hours spent on the mats in asana.

Once Guruji was asked if he was enlightened . . . he actually blushed a little and replied “I’m just a simple man”. Wow right answer. Living simply is the key to life, sometimes simply breathing in and out can be the hardest thing to do, but when you put forth the effort to simply breathe in and out even when it is challenging, transformation occurs.

In the stories I have heard from Nancy, I feel what would be most important to Guruji is that we continue to practice yoga and to preserve the system to which he dedicated is life, that of Ashtanga yoga. So in your practices and/or teachings please honor the method, of course all our bodies are different so the poses will fit us all differently–and we may need to modify a pose to make it safe for our body, but honor the framework of the practice, and remember it is about the internal work, the bandhas, drishti, breathing, and vinyasa.

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