Monthly Archives: April 2006

No Lazy People Here: a Review of the Film, Ashtanga, NY

Anybody can practice yoga…

Except lazy people. Lazy people can’t practice yoga.

That quote was from R. Sharath Rangaswamy, Sri K. Pattabhis Jois’ grandson, in the documentary, Ashtanga, NY.

This 60-minute documentary about Ashtanga yoga is a must-see for Ashtangis. It’s not a practice DVD. Rather, Ashtanga, NY presents the story of the Ashtanga practice and Sri K. Pattabhis Jois along with a handful of New York Ashtangis, including some quite famous ones, describing what the practice is and what they get out of it.

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Mike D from the Beastie Boys
my favorite talking head

I was not too impressed with the talking New York heads’ take on Ashtanga. After all, what Pattabhis Jois always says is “practice and all is coming.” We don’t talk about Ashtanga; we do it. (Plus, I’d like to know who those people are.)

For me, the value of this film is in the tangible and direct — footage of Pattabhis Jois, Sharath Rangaswamy and their families, the light in the practice room during the World Tour and the juxtaposition of scenes from 9-11 versus the gathering of Ashtangis in the Puck Building.

Ashtanga, NY also provides some excellent footage of R. Sharath Rangaswamy practicing. This is truly special (as Philippe describes in his review of Sharath’s new Primary Series DVD).

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Guruji assists an Ashtangi in Ashtanga, NY

Three times while watching this film, I wrote in my notes: smile. If practicing Ashtanga can make me smile with the authenticity and warmth of Guruji, Saraswati and Sharath’s smiles, then I want to practice and help spread that smile all over the place (my thinking being that if it makes me feel this happy, then it must make everyone else feel that happy, too).

The scenes of World Tour practice starting with the dark room and then the sun rising higher in and Guruji’s calling out the postures really brought back memories of the World Tour for me. I could really feel the sun rising in those scenes. I wonder if other Ashtangis feel the same?

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The beautiful Ashtangis of NY

But the really big impact of this film —which surprisingly felt even bigger on my second viewing — was the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, right in the middle of this month-long stop in the World Tour and on Saraswati’s birthday. The juxtaposition of scenes from Saraswati’s birthday, the bombing and the practice was really powerful. Despite the tragedy, Guruji carried on with the World Tour.

But the Tour was changed and it’s this part of the film — including talk from the New York Ashtangis — that really makes the film.

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“Fierce and compassionate”
Sri K. Pattabhis Jois in Ashtanga, NY

One other lovely bit about this movie is the music. A great score performed by guitarist, Chris Cunningham, and percussionist, George Javori. The music really adds to the experience!

Ashtanga, NY is widely available. You can even rent it at Netflix. So, take a look and let us know what you think!

A Rich & Valuable Resource: 3 Gurus Interviewed

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Namarupa Issue 3 Fall ’04

Namarupa magazine recently made its wonderful article — 3 Gurus, 48 Questions: Matching Interviews with Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, Sri B.K.S. Iyengar & Sri K. Pattabhi Jois — free for all to download. The article is an in-depth interview of the three living yoga masters conducted by Alexander Medin over a period of months in Madras, Mysore and Pune.

Alexander asked the same questions of all three gurus, but their answers were wildly different. These differences highlight each guru’s unique approach to yoga and teaching.

The connection between the three gurus is Krishnamacharya, their legendary teacher. Each has a very different relationship to him:

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Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

  • Desikachar is his son
  • BKS Iyengar is his brother-in-law
  • Pattabhi Jois is his disciple

It is often striking how each has a totally different take on Krishnamacharya’s teachings:

Did Krishnamacharya teach everybody the same way?
Iyengar: “No”
Pattabhi Jois: “Yes”

What was the most important thing Krishnamacharya taught you?
Desikachar: “Humility.”
Iyengar: “What he taught me was only a few asanas. That seed was what he gave me and I developed it as well as I could.”
Pattabhi Jois: “When he left for Madras he told me, Make this yoga method the work of your life.

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Krishnamacharya later in life

What are the criteria to become a good yoga teacher?
Desikachar: “Faith in God.”
Iyengar: “One has to work really hard and show the qualities of sincerity, honesty, and virtue.”
Pattabhi Jois: “Be a dedicated student for many years before you even start to think about teaching.”

What is your personal yoga practice like these days?
Desikachar: “Next question, please.”
Iyengar: “I will not boast. Everybody will tell you that I am still practicing. I do my sadhana [meditational practice] and still do the postures. I do all the postures you see in Light on Yoga and do them every day.”
Pattabhi Jois: “I continue to practice pranayama and recite the Vedas for an hour and a half to two hours every day.”

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TKV Desikachar

BKS Iyengar’s opinion of Ashtanga Vinyasa also emerges out of the interviews:

I had to question the jumping and vinyasas [synchronized movements and breath] and see what they were…What Pattabhi Jois was taught in 1934, he is still teaching now. I’m not saying this is wrong—I also taught it—but the people I talked to said it was nothing but physical movement, callisthenic-style. But now, today, the very same method is spiritual, according to some people. I don’t understand the mentality of humans.

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BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois

But as you can see from the photo, he’s made up with Pattabhi Jois since.

This article is such a rich and valuable record that I cannot possibly do it justice here. If you want to find about more about how yoga came to the West and what its foremost teachers think of it, 3 Gurus, 48 Questions is a must-read.

So much material came out of these interviews that the work is being expanded into a book. We’re looking forward it!