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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.

2002-guruji-old-shala.jpg

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.