(Correction noted below)
As if on cue, Vanity Fair today has published an in-depth look at the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system and growing tensions with Jois Yoga. I learned about it from Claudia Yoga and The Confluence Countdown this afternoon as Scott and I were in various stages of making our way back to Michigan, and as of tonight, several of my Facebook friends have been posting the link and commenting on it.
I say “as if on cue” because this article is hitting the day following the end of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. The timing could not have been better.
The feature mentions four of the Confluence teachers: Tim Miller, Eddie Stern, Nancy Gilgoff and David Swenson. Had the article come out during the Confluence, it would no doubt have been the subject of lots of individual conversations, and very likely have been asked about during the final panel discussion, in which the five master teachers of the Confluence touched on everything from enlightenment to why in padmasana (lotus pose), the right leg folds first in the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga method.
But because this article has come out after everyone has long left for home — full of nothing short of exuberance from the gathering — I think conference attendees are in the best possible position to keep it all in perspective.
Perhaps my favorite comment so far has come from the Facebook page of The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta:
The business of yoga can certainly be tricky. All I have to offer on this article is that we spent last weekend at a conference with 5 senior Ashtanga teachers and the place was filled with only love, adoration and respect for Pattabhi Jois & family. There is certainly a very strong community of Ashtangis worldwide that care about each other and will continue to come together to celebrate. “Yoga is about caring about the person in front of you” – Eddie Stern
From Enron to Encinitas
This new article is written by Bethany McLean, whose reporting for Fortune magazine back in 2001 first raised questions about the level of profitability of Enron. Her current beat at Vanity Fair includes business and high society life — which is how she entered this story. The teaser for the article reads this like this:
Sonia Jones, lithe blonde wife of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, has partnered with the family of the late Ashtanga-yoga master Krishna Pattabhi Jois to launch a chain of yoga studios and boutiques. That’s got many of Jois’s devotees in a distinctly un-yogic twist.
An informal analysis of the comments and tweets I’ve seen so far tells me that ashtangis who have read the article appear to appreciate McLean’s attempt to get a feel for the Ashtanga culture and to share different sides of the story. (I agree for the most part, although I have a questions about a couple of details she mentions.) In any case, here’s a taste:
It would be easy and convenient to say that if Sonia [Jones] had never gotten involved, or if she had stopped with the Florida shala, all would have been peace, love, and joy in the Ashtanga world. But that’s just not true. Discord and questions about the worthiness of the chosen successor are what great teachers, from Martha Graham to George Balanchine, leave behind when they die. This is particularly true in the Ashtanga world. In Sanskrit culture, parampara denotes an uninterrupted succession, and it is Sharath, born in 1971, who stepped into his grandfather’s place. (Guruji’s son Manju remained in Encinitas after that first trip and became a sort of peripatetic teacher of his father’s yoga.) Under Guruji’s tutelage, Sharath became the most advanced Ashtanga practitioner in the world, said to be the only person who has made it to the sixth series. In the early 1990s he started assisting Guruji in the shala and became more and more active as Guruji aged. Sharath eventually became the director of the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute—basically the new incarnation of Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute—in Mysore.
I love the quote from Kino MacGregor that the article ends with:
She points out that Krishnamacharya taught hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students, and there are only six who are well known today. “The students chose them,” she says. “The future of yoga is decided by the students, and whoever will bear the torch of Ashtanga yoga will be decided by the students. I don’t think we need to try to control it. We just need to sit with the uncertainty of it.”
What Confluence students kept saying throughout the weekend was how having these five teachers all in one place, joined by more than 350 practitioners from around the world, truly demonstrated how strong the lineage of this practice is. It was all one big inspiring reminder about the strength of the Ashtanga yoga tradition.
And if any of us have any doubts, I think we all know what we need to do — step on our mat and take that first inhale. The practice, as the Confluence teachers reminded us, is the true teacher. The tradition is strong because we are all doing our part to honor the best of it.
Only because the title of this Vanity Fair piece is “Whose Yoga Is It Anyway,” I will talk about one thing that was said by Eddie Stern at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, during the panel discussion on the eight limbs of this practice. Please keep in mind that he made a point to say he was not speaking in a veiled way about any particular type of yoga — he just wanted to make this point, since the topic at hand was asteya, most commonly referred to as “non-stealing.”
Eddie brought up how Pattabhi Jois, whenever asked about the Ashtanga vinyasa method, would say, “I didn’t change a thing.” Eddie explained that Guruji was basically saying he learned from his guru — that he was, in essence, standing on the shoulders of giants. For him to take ownership would have gone against the tradition.
“We are standing on a great, great tradition,” Eddie said. “To not acknowledge that tradition . . . is a type of stealing.”
The tradition is so much bigger than any of us — and what a gift that is.
>>Correction appended. In the comments below, Jenny points out that the article in the printed magazine hit news stands on Saturday — smack in the middle of the Confluence. So I should amend this whole post to say — well, just as well, then, that no one in my circles was talking about it, leaving me to learn about it as I was boarding my flight home on Monday. I have read with keen interest — on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and blogs — everyone’s comments on the piece, and I’m interested in seeing more and more reaction. But I am happy that, for me, the Confluence was kept pure with the energy of the five teachers and the hundreds of participants who had gathered. We have plenty of time to nosh on what was written in this Vanity Fair piece.
In this series:
- [VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Eddie Stern suggests a high-stakes Vedic debate with ‘The Science of Yoga’ author William Broad
- [VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Conference: Last day (first set?)
- Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
- Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: How inhaling and exhaling can wring us out
- Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
- The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kickoff, plus my class schedule for the weekend
- T-minus 60 minutes until the start of the debut Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — now, how do we stay digitally connected?
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