Archive for July, 2007

Report on Guruji’s 92nd Birthday Celebration

[Guruji's 92nd Birthday Celebration, July 30, 2007, Mysore, India as experienced by Govinda Kai. The photos in this post come from his flickr.com photostream.

UPDATE 8/4/07: Congratulations to Govinda for his Certification!]

The first birthday celebration I attended in Mysore was in 1995, which was Guruji’s 80th birthday. In India, one’s 80th birthday is considered especially auspicious. Thus, the celebration was especially grand with many extra preparations and events, including a marriage ceremony and renewal of vows between Guruji and Amma. Because the celebration was considered extra special, nearly all of Guruji’s older students made the effort to attend, including Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Chuck Miller, Lino Miele and others. It was my introduction to the allure of Mysore and naturally, it made an extra intense impression.

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May He Have Many More…

This year was the tenth celebration that I have attended (I was not present in 2000 and 2001) and was Guruji’s 92nd birthday. Though the celebration was not as grand as the one in 1995 or 2005 (his 90th), this celebration seemed almost more precious and special. As most of you know, Guruji fell very ill this year from complications arising from his diabetic condition. He contracted a very serious form of pneumonia and at one point could not breathe on his own. There were moments during this illness that many of us thought that we might lose Guruji. Fortunately, he was able to recover and is steadily growing stronger. Guruji is now teaching from time to time, although it is doubtful that he may ever teach full time again. His presence is missed sorely in the Shala, especially by those of us who have known him for many years.

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92 and counting

So, naturally, to have him still with us for this particular celebration carried with it extra weight and significance. Guruji showed up to the celebration looking particularly well and even shone forth some of that special radiance and strength that we know him so well for. I think many people felt something very special on this day, as there seemed to be an extra amount of joy and exuberance in all the proceedings.

The day began with a large homma or fire ceremony with a coterie of Vedic priests chanting loudly and continuously. I always love how the smoke from the fire, which is fueled mostly by ghee and rice fills up the room and strongly purifies the air and the energy. These devotional rituals really do work. You can feel the shift in the energy and the heightened energy that they bring.

After the fire ceremony, there was a procession of different performances from students, friends and family for Guruji’s pleasure. These included traditional Indian singing and chanting accompanied by traditional Indian instruments (veena and tabla), as well as, non-traditional instruments (guitar), a special song was composed and sung by Peter and Daniela and a Balinese dance was performed by a woman named Miki from Japan.

After the wonderful performances, a beautiful cake was brought out and we all wished Guruji a very happy birthday. Again, I felt an extra special energy and feeling from everyone. It was truly palpable.

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Great Souls

I was very happy to see that Swami Brahmadeo was in attendance again this year, as he was last year. He is a long time friend of Guruji and the family and has, for many years, hosted students up a very special retreat/ashram space in B.R. Hills, which is in the jungle not far from Mysore. Swami Brahmadeo is truly a living example of the power of Yoga practice. I have rarely met a man who embodies such joy and selfless love. For much of the proceedings, he sat up on stage next to Guruji and you could clearly see how much joy the two men brought to each other. It was very moving.

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Much love, many guests

Naturally, the event was concluded by an extra tasty thali meal down in the garage area of the Shala. Somehow I think the food this day was infused with an extra amount of care and love.

Let us all take extra care to include Guruji in our thoughts and hearts. May he remain with us and continue to shower us with his blessings for many years to come. Shiva OM!

OM Namah Shivaya!

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  1. AshtangaNews » Sharath’s Baby Boy - Ashtanga Yoga Matters (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois) said,

    September 25, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    [...] Sharath and his wife at Guruji’s 92nd birthday in July 2007 (by Govinda) [...]

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Happy Birthday Guruji: A Year of Change

[Anne Finstad, long-time practitioner and friend, joins us at AshtangaNews.com as an editor. She is currently teaching in Portland.]

This Sunday July 29 is Guruij’s 92nd birthday.

What a wild and woolly year it’s been in the lovely world of Ashtanga Yoga. As always the wind of change seems to be blowing, but it’s an especially strong one this year. It’s hard not to reflect on the many changes that we’ve seen in Mysore just since March 2007.

First of all we are very blessed by Guruji’s returning to health in the past few months, and that he’s hung on to be with us.

For those of us who have traveled to India often, though, it’s hard not to feel like the ground below our feet is shifting. I guess we all know that nothing lasts forever, but somehow, it’s hard not to harbor the illusion that practicing in Mysore would last forever, that our little pilgrimages would go on and on without change. I know of a few old timers who have “outgrown” their visits to India based on the changes we’ve already seen: the crowds, the “scene,” or just the feeling that they received enough, and that things have changed too much for them to not feel the loss of what used to be.

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Guruji manning his usual post in the old Shala (from Govinda)

Now things just keep changing. The practice itself is the same, and that’s why many of us will not change their habits, whether or not Guruji actually teaches this fall, or even Sharath, who with Shruti is expecting a second child in September.

We who got to go to Mysore at any period are lucky indeed. The events if this year can only lead us to value what we have been given all the more.

I saw a clip of Guruji teaching in London a few years back, a clip from Dominic, and it brought back to me how visceral an experience it is to practice with Guruji. Its an experiential thing, not one of words or meanings, but of direct experience.

News From Mysore

Current reports from Mysore indicate that Guruji is still recuperating. He is doing well, occasionally on the floor teaching and coming downstairs to greet students. Sharath and Saraswati are teaching, and numbers are up as people gather to honor Pattabhi Jois’s birthday. I imagine the birthday has added to the folks there (Rolf & Marci, Govinda Kai, David Swenson & Shelley, Lino, Vance, Peter, and Charlie & Alice are already there).

Changes in Teaching Requirements

And while Philippe and Tracy have reported on the changes in teaching requirements, what was not mentioned is the addition of the 3 month yearly limit for studies in Mysore. Gone are the days when students could save money, give up their day jobs, and move to Mysore to be with the Guru. In its own way, this change makes sense, not unlike all the others, when one considers not just the students, but the well being of our guru and teachers. Not only is there the fact of the exponential growth, and the unsustainable demand for a limited teacher supply, but there’s also the fact of balance, unless one works in Mysore, there is a balance in going back and forth, between giving to one’s life at home, teaching, or what work one might do in the world, and then going to Mysore to practice and be a student and receive. This does insure that balance.

I think that part of the reasoning in the new authorization requirements is in keeping with the intent of this yoga, we are always to be discouraged from the have to get there, have to get the next pose, have to get authorized oriented practice. We are urged to surrender that for showing up with a humble attitude and patience to really understand the practice – that is my understanding of Guruji’s, Sharath’s and Saraswati’d teachings in Mysore.

All and all, the changes are probably good for us. Forcing us to adapt, to be flexible, to keep our focus within in spite of all outward things. Thank you Sharath, Saraswati, and thank you Guruji, for asking us to stand constant in the face of change, and to go to that place within our practice where we can be constant.

Happy Birthday, Guruji. May all of these changes bring good things for you.

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