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3 GURUS, 48 QUESTIONS

MATCHING INTERVIEWS WITH


SRI T.K.V. DESIKACHAR, SRI B.K.S. IYENGAR & SRI K. PATTABHI JOIS
Interviews by R. ALEXANDER MEDIN
Edited by DEIRDRE SUMMERBELL

THE HISTORY OF YOGA1 but to gain this experience, we need


WHAT IS YOUR THEORY ABOUT to have faith in what they taught
THE ORIGINS OF YOGA? and a willingness to follow their
T.K.V. Desikachar: Yoga is from the methods with consistent dedication
Vedas. and hard work. It is not easy, but
K. Pattabhi Jois: We cannot know for for every sadhaka [ardent seeker],
sure the original nature of yoga, but there is profound spiritual wisdom to
according to what tradition tells us, be rediscovered from our tradition.
Shiva first taught it to Parvati, then India has a great history of trying to
Parvati taught it to Shannmuka and understand the human mind and its
Shannmuka taught it to Narada. And theories of moksa [release; liberation of
the first yoga found before the Yoga
soul from further transmigration] are
Sutras of Patanjali was when Adinatha
something other religious traditions
incarnated in this world to provide yoga
cannot ignore. Some living teachers
as a means to liberating man from the
world of suffering. Also yoga is found in are good representatives of our great
the shastras [scriptures], in the Bhagavad heritage, while others are less concerned
Gita, and in different Upanishads. with tradition, and do as they please,
AND HOW IS THIS REFLECTED IN making up rules and regulations of
THE SCRIPTURAL, AS WELL AS IN THE their own. Dattatreya, Guru of all Gurus
LIVING, TRADITION? HOW DOES PATANJALI’S CLASSICAL union of the opposing energies of
Desikachar: There are many references YOGA STAND IN RELATION TO HATHA the body and the channeling of these
YOGA? energies into the central pathway. And
in the Vedas concerning what yoga is.
It is referred to not only as pratyahara Desikachar: Hatha yoga is not in the this comes about when the surya nadi
[sensory withdrawal], but, in some Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The term Hatha [right nostril] and chandra nadi [left
Sanskrit passages, it is understood to be yoga is in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of nostril] are controlled, and the vital
the discipline of the senses of the mind. Yogi Swatmarama. It is also found in energy of these two channels merges
In the Upanishads, yoga is seen as the some passages of the Upanishads, but in the central pathway of the spine.
discipline of controlling the mind, and as far as the Yoga Sutras are concerned, So, when the prana is finally at rest and
Patanjali also focuses on the mind, as there is only one word. And that is not no longer moved by the various sense
Vedanta focuses on God. mantra yoga, not Raja yoga, not Laya organs, we then realize God inside. That
yoga, not Jnana yoga, but yoga, plain is our Self, our true identity. So, Hatha
Pattabhi Jois: In India, tradition is
and simple! All other words come from yoga is experiencing God inside.
rooted in faith. Without faith, our
Kriya yoga, and are for an agitated mind WHO WERE THE ORIGINATORS OF
whole tradition would collapse. And HATHA YOGA?
that cannot practice yoga. An agitated
it is the greatness and wisdom of our
mind is not free to perceive yoga. For Desikachar: We don’t know if Shiva
forefathers that guides us on our path
this, one needs mental support or composed the Vedas or if someone
to perfection. To come to realize the physical stimuli, which Hatha yoga else did. In India, a lot of people
depth of their knowledge and wisdom, simply acts to provide by preparing the compose works that are then ascribed
we need to gain an experience of that body-mind field to be more fit for such to ancient sources, but nobody knows
to which they testify. This can be perception. for certain who really wrote them. It
very difficult in the times we live in, Pattabhi Jois: Hatha yoga means the is a tendency in India to mythologize
1
These interviews were originally conducted in the early months of 2004 in Mysore, Pune, and Madras, as part of a master’s thesis. The full
thesis runs to some 55,000 words, a generous portion of which is made up of the interviews, which appear here in abridged and edited form.
For clarity’s sake, answers have been grouped together according to questions asked, rather than to their order in the original talks. Additionally,
there are a few instances in the thesis when brief quotes from books by the interviewees have been added to their answers to help clarify ideas
or to fill in indecipherable gaps on the interview tapes. These have been retained and footnoted. Not all interviewees, of course, answered each
and every question, preferring occasionally to pass a particular one over. Mr. Medin’s work is currently being expanded into a book.
6 FALL 2004
and to ascribe materials to ancient Hatha yoga. Hatha also means power or [Until the prana enters and flows in
founders to make them more authentic. force, but whatever the interpretation, the middle channel and the breath
Even my father, Krishnamacharya, I believe that the union of these two becomes firm by the control of the
invented parts of his teaching. I know major nadis produces a harmonizing movements of prana; and until the
that he wrote down several passages influence on the body and hence allows mind assumes the form of Brahma
in his early life which he changed in us to experience yoga. without any effort in contemplation,
his later life. He also authored works Pattabhi Jois: [Laughs] Yoga is not
up to then, all talk of knowledge and
himself, much like, in ancient times, physical—very wrong! Hatha yoga can,
ancient scholars would do and then wisdom is merely the nonsensical
of course, be used as external exercise
never acknowledge that they had done only, but that is not its real benefit. Yoga babblings of a mad man.]
so. Divine intervention or not [laughs], can go very deep and touch the soul So, we must follow the method that is
these scholars always claimed that texts of man. When it is performed in the correct and practice it for a long time. Sa
were by some superhuman being rather right way, over a long period of time, tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara sevito
than themselves. So, naturally, they the nervous system is purified, and so dridhabhumih [A practice over a long
would say that Shiva was the composer is the mind. As the Bhagavad Gita is
because Shiva is a supernatural being, period of time, consistently, humbly,
telling us.
rather than just an ordinary individual. with the best intention, becomes
And, yes, of course, they talked about Yatato hyapi Kaunteya the firm foundation for cultivating
subtleties and superhuman powers, but purshasya vipashcitah a cessation of the fluctuations of the
we don’t know how they perceived this. indriyani pramathini haranti mind.] This can take many lifetimes of
We have to rely on textual evidence prasabham manah practice—even 100,000 years!
and can only assume that there was Tani sarvani samyamya yukta asita
an esoteric teaching running parallel matparah
KRISHNAMACHARYA
with their texts. Subtleties such as the Vase hi yasyendriyani tasya prajna
pratishtita BG 2:60-61 CAN YOU DESCRIBE
nadis [nerve pathways] and various KRISHNAMACHARYA IN THREE WORDS?
energy channels are mentioned in the [Controlling all the senses, the self-
Upanishads and it is evident that these Desikachar: One word: acharya
controlled one should sit meditating
people had an insight into them, but it [spiritual teacher]. That is enough!
on Me. Verily, his wisdom is steady
is not easy for us to understand where B.K.S. Iyengar: He was a versatile man,
whose senses are under control. The
they derived their knowledge from. Like an extraordinary man—not of a normal
turbulent senses, O son of Kunti,
Shankaracharya, for example, who said kind. I revered him. He was the master
forcibly lead astray the mind of even
he learned everything from Gaudapada. of many subjects. It is hard to find
the struggling wise person.]
But who was Gaudapada? That’s why people nowadays with knowledge like
The whole purpose of Hatha yoga is to his. And how men of our low intellect
they say, gurubhyo param apnoti, which
purify and control our senses. It is the can speak of a person like him, I don’t
means a person’s clarity should highlight
his teacher, not himself. One should ultimate science of helping us discover know!
never tell anybody where a mantra was what lies behind the apparent reality of Pattabhi Jois: A very good man, a strong
received from. Instead, one should only body and mind. But look at the world character. A dangerous man.
speak of the guru, never of the mantra. today! There are so many different WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF
That’s the universal law. ways of doing yoga. Everybody says KRISHNAMACHARYA’S LINEAGE AND
Pattabhi Jois: I don’t know for certain. that they are doing it the right way, TEACHERS?
I only know what my guru taught me. but what is the right way unless it
Desikachar: You can refer to this in the
But many texts mention the rishis produces a certain change in people,
book covering Krishnamacharya’s life
Matsyendranath, Goraknath, Vamana, unless a certain energy is awakened
published by our institute.
but before them, there were other within them? As Swatmarama is telling Iyengar: As far as I know, his teacher was
maharishis. Yoga is at least two to three us, in the last verse of the Hatha Yoga Ramamohan Brahmachari of Nepal,
thousand years old, if not older. Pradipika: but we didn’t speak much about his
WHAT DISTINGUISHES HATHA YOGA Yavan naiva pravishati caran maruto guru in detail. I knew Krishnamacharya
FROM OTHER PHYSICAL FITNESS madhyamarge because he married my sister in the
EXERCISES? Yavad bindur na bhavati drdaprana nineteen-thirties. What he did before
Desikachar: According to various texts, vata prabandhat | that, I am not too familiar with. But it
“ha” means the surya nadi and “tha” Yavad dhyane sahajasadrsham jaayate is certain that, due to his being a great
means the chandra nadi. When these nanva tattvam Sanskrit scholar, he met a lot of ancient
two energy channels, ha and tha, merge Tavaj jnanam vadati tadidam scholars in India who introduced him to
together in the sushumna [spinal nadi], dambhamithyapralapah || Ramamohan Brahmachari. According
there is a complete understanding of HYP 4:113 to legend, Krishnamacharya studied

FALL 2004 7
Early poster of T. Krishnamacharya and student demonstrating twenty-one asanas.

8 FALL 2004
with him for seven years. But I don’t yoga], the Baghavad Gita, the Yoga later on, he changed and began to teach
want to create any false ideas about Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, people differently. He began to cater to
what happened. I only came to know various books on Vedanta, Samkhya the needs of the individual, rather than
him after my sister’s marriage and, by Yoga Karika—every good book ever to teach everyone in the same way. He
that time, he was a remarkable yogi. written about yoga. And not just once! also became a healer of old people.
Pattabhi Jois: His teacher was He taught them all many times over. When he taught Muslims, he would
Ramamohan Brahmachari, a very And then there was Ayurveda and Vedic quote passages from the Koran and ask
good man, a strong man, who taught chanting, and how to perform rituals them to face towards Mecca, and when
Krishnamacharya many things. All my properly, how to do pujas [homage to Bengalis came, he would teach them in
information comes from my guru and and worship of a deity], how to do Bengali. His teaching methodology also
he told me that he studied with him for cremations, how to perform marriages, evolved, which meant that he reduced
close to seven years. When he finished how to do all kinds of rites of passage. He and adapted it to the needs of individuals,
his studies, his teacher told him to go also taught me how to perform the rites to their culture and mentality. It was not
and teach yoga, so he left and started when somebody dies. My father simply standardization of the “everyone-has-to
giving demonstrations and teaching in taught me everything about ancient do-this-asana” variety. First, he would
various places around India. That is how rituals in India! And everything he connect to an individual, get to know
I met him for the first time in Hassan taught me was in Sanskrit, of course. In their background, their religion, their
in 1927. 1984, when he was ninety-six years old, culture, whether they were a woman
HOW LONG DID YOU STUDY WITH I asked him “What is your experience or a man; he taught women and men
KRISHNAMACHARYA? of yoga?” And he said; “Today, faith differently. But even though he taught
in God is the most important thing for people differently, he was still able to
Desikachar: For twenty-nine years.
yoga.” Faith in God is the quickest way reach everybody he would teach, young
When I look back at my notes, I think
to reach God. or old. He was an orthodox Brahmin
to myself, ‘Wow! What a remarkable
Iyengar: He only taught me a few and, at the same time, invited people
man!’
asanas, and then my evolution came to his home for coffee and breakfast.
Iyengar: I studied with him for two years
from my own practice. He would always feed and look after
when I was fourteen, fifteen years old.
Pattabhi Jois: What my teacher taught the people he taught. So, it wasn’t only
When I was seventeen, I went to Pune
me is exactly the same method I am about the teaching method, but about
and, every year thereafter, I would go
teaching today. It was an examination him as a human being caring for another
and show my respect and reverence for
course of primary, intermediate, and human being.
him. During that two-year period, he
Iyengar: In the early days, he was like a
only taught me for about ten or fifteen advanced asanas. He also taught me
militant. He was a fierce, harsh man. As
days, but those few days determined philosophy. For five years, we studied
long as I knew him, he was always very
what I have become today! the great texts. He would call us to harsh and strict. He may have been good
Pattabhi Jois: I studied with him from his house and we would stand outside to others and other people may speak of
1927 to 1953. The first time I saw him and wait to be called in. Sometimes, we him as a kind, loving man, but I never
was in November of 1927. It was at the would wait the whole day. He would experienced anything other than a very,
Jubilee Hall in Hassan and, the next day,
usually teach us for one or two hours very strong, demanding individual.
I found out where he lived and went to
every day: asanas early in the morning Pattabhi Jois: Very strict. If you came
his house. He asked me many questions,
but finally accepted me and told me to and, around 12 o’clock, philosophy one minute early or one minute late,
come back the next morning. Then, class. He also taught us pranayama, you would not be allowed into class. He
after my thread ceremony in 1930, I pratyahara [sensory withdrawal], demanded total discipline and was very,
went to Mysore to learn Sanskrit and dharana [concentration], and dhyana very tough. People were fearing him,
was accepted at the Maharaja’s Sanskrit [meditation]. And, in addition to the but he had a very good heart.
College. There, I was reunited with Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, he also DID IT EVER CHANGE?
Krishnamacharya in 1931, when he taught Yoga Vasishta, Yoga Yajnavalkya,
came to do a demonstration. He was Desikachar: My father’s teaching
and Samhita. And all in Sanskrit.
very happy to find me studying at the changed as he went through different
COULD YOU DESCRIBE periods of his life. Before India gained
college. KRISHNAMACHARYA’S TEACHING its independence, it was different.
WHAT DID KRISHNAMACHARYA TEACH METHODS?
YOU? In 1930, my father wrote a book on
Desikachar: What was so great about Vedic chanting in which he said that
Desikachar: I cannot even begin to my father was that he taught differently women were unsuited for Vedic practice
tell you what I learned from my father. as a young man, when he was in Mysore and should marry before puberty. In
He was such a great man! Hatha yoga, and teaching my uncle and Pattabhi 1986, he said that women must learn
pranayama [fourth limb of Ashtanga Jois. Then, he taught in one style, but Vedic chanting and that they were the

FALL 2004 9
upholders of dharma [duty; ethics]. And thank God. What Pattabhi Jois was But they create nothing but confusion.
this when he was ninety-seven years taught in 1934, he is still teaching Thank God I came up and developed
old and even though he was a strict now. I’m not saying this is wrong—I my own confidence. The one thing is
Brahmin and well-versed in the Purva also taught it—but the people I talked discipline—that is essential—and that
Mimamsa school. to said it was nothing but physical is what attracted me to the practice—to
Iyengar: I would say probably not, movement, callisthenic-style. But now, inquire, to try to understand, and to
which is why some confusion has today, the very same method is spiritual, explore what there is in the asanas. My
developed because what I think his according to some people. I don’t guru’s mentality was that he was always
method was may be different from what understand the mentality of humans. centered. Even when he walked down
somebody else thinks. But what I’m But what is important is how we may the street, he would never sway; he
teaching came from my guru, though develop the dormant consciousness was always centered within himself and
I developed it further myself. What within the body, how we may penetrate wouldn’t look to the right or the left,
I teach is Krishnamacharya’s honest from this end to that. As I’ve said, how even if there was commotion or noise.
method. Everyone, of course, wants to do you understand trikonasana on the Pattabhi Jois: Yes.
prove their authenticity with respect to right leg? By expanding down into the WHAT WAS SO SPECIAL ABOUT
Krishnamacharya. When Desikachar left leg. In a similar way, I needed to KRISHNAMACHARYA?
became his student, he wasn’t even find out what the depth of each asana
studying yoga. He was working in a is and how it works in opposition. I
company and was supposed to go to needed to find the bone of the right leg
northern India, but suddenly took a in opposition to the left. Do you know
great interest in his father, who was how to elongate it? Is the energy on the
then seventy. Of course, the difference right leg equal to that on the left leg? Is
between a person’s practice when he the energy straight on the bank of the
is seventy and when he is young is outer leg? So, these were all the things I
quite remarkable. And, naturally, the had to discover. So, intelligence had to
teachings he would pass on would be go into how to penetrate the postures Desikachar: He was not just a yoga
quite different. But my style is from to make sense of them. It is not just teacher. Whatever India represents,
the seed he planted in Mysore. It is gymnastics or callisthenic-style—that is whether Ayurveda, yoga, Mimamsa,
also from challenges that came up in not what vinyasa is about. Vinyasa can or the various schools of Vedanta, I
my own practice and from the need to be different from gymnastics, but then have never seen anybody, any single
adapt to people and their needs. I had you have to develop it intellectually. individual, who had such knowledge.
to question the jumping and vinyasas And that is what I did. I brought the When he was ninety-seven, he could
[synchronized movements and breath] refinement, but the foundation was lecture on anything. You see, it was
and see what they were. You know, from my guru, who provided me with not only about the asanas. The yoga
Pune is known for its wrestlers. There is the base that I grew out of. my father embodied was manifold. I
in India no spiritual and cultural center always thought of him as a circle, as
like Maharashtra, and Pune itself was the completely stable, and as somebody
intellectual Cambridge of India. Now, if for whom yoga was simply secondary.
you mix this with the famous wrestlers He advised people about many things,
that were here, you can naturally about farming—he knew how to grow
understand why I had to question my crops—about how to choose a house,
yoga tradition and to find out what was about medical things, about affairs of
particular to it. What was the difference the heart. He was also a great cook and
between the physical practice I was even taught my mother how to cook.
Pattabhi Jois: I don’t know. As long as
doing and the practice of the wrestlers? Iyengar: He was a great healer. He
I was with him, he always taught the
On what level was it different from had the mantra-jaya [the power of
same. the mantra] and was not just a great
normal physical exercise? At first, they
would appear to be identical. So, this DID KRISHNAMACHARYA TEACH scholar, but had the divine grace
EVERYBODY THE SAME WAY? working through him. And that divine
opened my eyes to really find out what
yoga had, particularly with reference Iyengar: No, which is why there is all grace is something neither you nor I
to its influence on the body and, most this confusion. Even the intellectuals can even imagine. No, it was greater
importantly, to its impact on the mind. of the world are just like intellectual than that: I saw him act as a physician
So, I cultivated this, but the reason for Hitlers, trying to prove who is most and help people in matters that were
my growth was my guru, though my right. They talk in such a way as to unbelievable. He was a divine healer. I
later development was due to my own confuse and try to build up their even think that the mantras he helped
hard work. And evolution is evolution, intellectual purity to impose their views. some people with had more effect

10 FALL 2004
than the yoga. He had the power of studied with him at different periods of her, “You must stretch from this end
the mantra—I don’t know how, but he our lives. And what he was in those early to that end.” And immediately when
certainly had it—and he had the siddhi days was a strict disciplinarian. People Krishnamacharya saw this, he gave me
[superhuman power], but it intoxicated can’t even imagine the way he was! You a gold medal known as Yoga Shikshaka
him. It really intoxicated my guru, I could not say one word against him— Chakravarti, which means “Emperor of
know that. He was also a good reader people could not open their mouths Yoga Teachers, Teacher of Teachers.” He
of human psychology. He could look at against him. What he said was law and said I must teach like this and not just
a man and tell the exact character of his everybody had to follow. If he told you in private, but in public. He said I must
personality. He could see beyond the to finish at a particular time, you had to become a yoga teacher and pushed me
appearance of things. finish exactly then. If he told you to do definitely in that direction. He also had
Pattabhi Jois: He was not just a great something, you had to do exactly that. remarkable skills for understanding the
yoga teacher, but also a great Sanskrit Nobody could question him. My guru’s human psyche and that’s probably the
scholar. He had studied and completed character was like that of the crazy-wise greatest thing he ever taught me.
his examination in all the six darshanas Tibetan adept Milarepa—my guru was Pattabhi Jois: When he left for Madras
[schools of ancient Hindu philosophy]. exactly the same. And the encounters he told me, “Make this yoga method the
He was known as Mimamsa Tirtha between Milarepa and Marpa were work of your life.”
[ford across the river of human misery], probably the same as the encounters
between Krishnamacharya and his DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIS
Vedanta Vagisa [lord of speech], PERSONAL PRACTICE?
Sankhya Yoga Shikhamani [jewel students!
among Brahmins]. Pattabhi Jois: Because of his knowledge Desikachar: He would get up at 3
and wisdom. o’clock in the morning, read his books,
WHY DO YOU THINK
KRISHNAMACHARYA BECAME SUCH A WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT and then practice.
LEGEND? THING KRISHNAMACHARYA TAUGHT Iyengar: He did lots of pranayama and a
YOU? little asana. I became the master of asana
Desikachar: I don’t know that he is
Desikachar: The most important thing and he was the master of pranayama.
such a legend, but thank you for saying
my father taught me was humility. I saw him do shirshasana, padmasana,
so. My father never cared for name
Vidya dadhatu vinaya [teach knowledge sarvangasana, but it appeared to me that
and fame. And here in India, a lot
with humility]. asanas were no longer that important
of people don’t know him. If you ask
to him. He used to do what we call
most people who the source of yoga is,
aradhana, which means prayer. For
they will say Iyengar. Nobody knows
more than three hours every morning,
Krishnamacharya, the great originator
he would sit in front of an idol and
of modern yoga! It’s a shame. But I am
do various rituals, parayanas [recitation
very, very proud of my father.
of the names of God], and prayers.
Iyengar: He was the founder of the
He was a free man at the time, under
modern developments of yoga. Because
the patronage of the Maharaja, and he
of his grace, the most recent advancement
devoted more time to spiritual practice.
of yoga came forth. He was the giver of Iyengar: What he thought me was only
Pattabhi Jois: No, only that he was a
the path, but each man would also have a few asanas. That seed was what he gave
to come to know the subject for himself master at what he was doing.
me and I developed it as well as I could.
as he engaged with it. In 1960, nobody The seed was very good, which is why HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR
knew my guru. When I brought out my I could grow. And whatever he gave OWN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH
KRISHNAMACHARYA?
book and showed my respect for him, me, I simply refined and developed,
everybody started saying, “Oh, there is and whatever he taught me, that’s Desikachar: I saw my father as my
this Krishnamacharya!”2 It’s the human what I developed too. Evolution came father. He was a very disciplined man,
mentality to always have to look for a later: how to progress, how to improve loving, caring, but at the same time, a
better knower, to think that somebody the postures, what to do in a correct strict disciplinarian.
else is the better knower of the method. way. He never taught me much about Iyengar: I told you I revered him.
But that is not important. What is teaching, but he saw me teach. In 1961, Although he was my guru, he was also
important is that things evolve, things he came to Pune and was teaching my my brother-in-law. I never called him
change. But for the human mentality, daughter and son. He taught them “guruji” at all, but called him, in our
it’s different. ‘Desikachar? Pattabhi for many hours, but unfortunately language, tambi [brother]. In my heart
Jois?’ it says. ‘Maybe they are the better they could not get what he was trying of hearts though, he was my guru.
knowers?’ But we all studied with to show them. When I came up and Physically, he was my brother-in-law,
Krishnamacharya. We were all given the asked what was wrong, my daughter but mentally, he was my guru.
seeds by him to evolve yoga further. We told me what she did not understand Pattabhi Jois: A normal guru-sisya
cannot speak of a better knower. We all about a posture. So, I explained to [disciple] relationship.
2
Light on Yoga (New York: Schocken Books, 1966).
FALL 2004 11
DID YOU EVER GET TO KNOW HIM whatever form of yoga they teach, can Unfortunately, a lot of Westerners are
PERSONALLY? WHAT KIND OF PERSON transform yoga. It shouldn’t just be thinking more about making money
WAS HE? men in India. But the spirit of yoga than about teaching this correct
Desikachar: We lived together until he speaks for itself. We can see this now in method. And I don’t know how
died, so of course I got to know him the healing field. What is so fantastic, beneficial that can be for people. When
personally. what is so significant, is that people yoga is only for business, it is of no use.
Iyengar: Of course, I knew him are opening up to the healing benefits People offer fifteen-day courses, even
personally. I lived with him at his place, of yoga. Even doctors in the medical one-week courses, to become a yoga
so naturally I got to know him. I knew field are coming to our center these teacher. [Laughs] How good for yoga
him for what he was then—a terrible days. But yoga is also a relationship, that is, I don’t know.
dictator in Mysore. How people later not a mass movement. It is a one-to- WHAT HAS THE WESTERN WORLD
came to talk of him as a soft-spoken, one relationship between people, not CONTRIBUTED TO YOGA?
mellow man living in Madras, I don’t commercialization. What happens in
Desikachar: I am very grateful to the
know. But he probably got mellow the West is broad generalizations and
West. They’ve reminded us Indians
after he had to give up the patronage informational teaching, and there is
about our great heritage.
of the Maharaja, when India became little personal contact, unfortunately.
Iyengar: Any Western yoga teacher who
independent. Since the Maharaja had And students really must know the
teaches with sincerity and is properly
no money, he told Krishnamacharya, value of personal relationships.
trained by a qualified practitioner
“It’s up to the government now to Iyengar: What is interesting to see is
contributes something good to the
look after you and the yoga shala that there was no respect or awareness
world of yoga.
[hall].” But the government, of course, of yoga when I first came to the West in
Pattabhi Jois: Nobody can contribute
had no money for yoga shalas, so 1960. And then gradually, as I started to
anything to yoga, but yoga can
Krishnamacharya probably came to do some demonstrations, the awareness
contribute something to everybody.
the realization that the temperament began to grow. And I have given more
than 10,000 demonstrations, three HOW IS THE WESTERN MENTALITY
he’d had under the Maharaja wasn’t DIFFERENT FROM THE INDIAN?
going to work. Whether this is true or hours long—you can ask anybody!
not, I don’t know, but after he came This style of direct presentation, which Desikachar: What I like about
to Madras, things definitely changed I developed, cultivated an interest in Westerners is their questioning minds.
with his teaching. He was a master in people. And it wasn’t spiritual things— In India, people never ask why they
Mysore, but he had to become a servant not saying that, by doing such and such, should do this or that, they just do
in Madras. Now, he suddenly had to they would get certain benefits—no, it it on blind faith. They don’t question
look after people and that is probably was those direct presentations of mine anything—“why are you telling me this?
why some of his teaching methods that attracted people. And now, fifty why should I do that?”—they never
changed. years of yoga in the West have caused ask these things. I used to question
yoga to grow and evolve. But I took it my father and he was so happy when
Pattabhi Jois: Dangerous, but kind.
to the masses. I never kept it a secret. I did. Questioning is important as it
Proud, but very knowledgeable.
Yes, I did teach famous people like is the key to finding out for yourself.
Yehudi Menuhin and Krishnamurti, Sincerity and love, of course, also need
YOGA TODAY
but having taught them, I realized that to be there. Younger people are better
CAN WESTERNERS EVER DO JUSTICE everybody needs yoga, regardless of their at questioning these days, but before it
TO THE GREAT HERITAGE OF YOGA?
background. There are human qualities was taboo. People say “guruji,” which is
Desikachar: I think there are certain in ordinary men and one doesn’t have like a slogan we have eulogized. But I
losses, but I am very inspired by the to be a philosopher or a special man believe people have slaughtered “guruji”
dedication of Westerners, as well as by to have your human potential brought with false pretences.
the care and concern of some people. out. So, I brought yoga to the people Iyengar: Mentally, a few differences
This makes me very confident, though and now the seeds that I planted exist between Westerners and Indians.
at the same time, I know yoga has carry on. Yoga lives. It may go on for Westerners try to solve their emotional
become a business, money, etc. This is centuries. But I don’t think the subject problems intellectually, but emotional
even happening in India. Even so, there of yoga is something that belongs to problems need to be solved emotionally,
are some genuine teachers out there. me. It is something that continues to not logically. Westerners developed their
And for me, as an Indian, the West is a live within individuals. Yes, there were system of logic and Indians developed
role model that I have great faith in. The many maharishis and great people of the their system of reason. When logic and
wind blows from the West here and I past, but the yoga that we come to now reason mix together, then humanity can
am very happy about this because some is what we have and that is what lives grow. In the West, we see vertical growth
of the greatest people I have met have within us. and, in India, we see horizontal growth,
come from the West. And my hope is Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is very good if but when vertical and horizontal
that yoga masters in the East and West, it is taught with the correct method. intelligence are able to work together,

12 FALL 2004
I believe in the full potential of human body cannot happen without a good That’s what Patanjali refers to. A lot of
development. relationship with the mind. Whatever people have lost their inner confidence,
Pattabhi Jois: Indian people are used to happens in the body affects the mind their strength, and what yoga does is
following tradition, to having faith in and whatever happens in the mind bring this out, which strengthens them
the system, and to believing in moksha, affects the body. And whatever happens again. Awakening this inner confidence
or liberation. But for Western people, in the emotional body affects the mind, is why it is beneficial to humanity. It is
moksha is not very important. They as well. But the essence of yoga is often our inner strength that helps us endure
practice yoga primarily for their health, not taught through the body. What is our difficulties and lifts us through
which is okay. But to really understand essential and needs to be taught is the our various trials. And it is this same
the heritage of India, one must also spirit of yoga, and that people don’t strength that helps us embrace life in
understand its ancient traditions, which understand. a better way. This is the strength that
gave rise to our spiritual tradition. Some Iyengar: Refer to my books and CD. Patanjali calls chiti-shakti.
Westerners overlook this great heritage Asanas are not meant for physical Iyengar: Yoga is a self-critiquing
and have no idea what the roots of yoga fitness, but for conquering the elements, subject. Only a yogi can criticize
are. energy, and so on. So, how to balance himself. A musician, a physiologist or
IS THERE ANY DANGER THAT THE YOGA the energy in the body, how to control other scientist criticizes their respective
TRADITION COULD BE DILUTED? the five elements, how to balance the subjects, but only a practitioner can
various aspects of the mind without come to grips with the Self through
Desikachar: It is already being diluted.
mixing them all together, and how to be
My father studied with Ramamohan
able to perceive the difference between
Brahmachari for eight-and-a-half years. the gunas [qualities], and to experience
He was dedicated and worked closely that there is something behind them,
with his teacher every day. I’ve also operating in the world of man—that is
visited Muktinath in Nepal, and the what asanas are for. The process is slow
sacrifices people have to make there just and painstaking, but a steady inquiry
to get up early in the morning, when it is facilitates a growing awareness.
cold, are immense. For a normal person, Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is one. God is one.
it is of course difficult to get up early Yoga means sambandaha, which is atma
to pursue their dedication to yoga, but manah samyogah, or knowing God
it all depends on the commitment and inside you. But using it only for physical
intentions of the mind. But the physical practice is no good, of no use—just a
side is not the end of yoga. The physical lot of sweating, pushing, and heavy
side is only one aspect. Yoga should breathing for nothing. The spiritual
not be learned by the performance of aspect, which is beyond the physical, is
postures. If you go by the performance the purpose of yoga. When the nervous
of postures, then you dilute yoga, but if system is purified, when your mind rests
you go by the inquiry of the spirit, it is in the atman [the Self ], then you can
not diluted. experience the true greatness of yoga.
Iyengar: Dilution is, of course, a danger.
WHY IS YOGA SO BENEFICIAL FOR
But dilution of any subject is the death MANKIND?
of that subject, but not of humanity.
Please note the difference. If an art dies, Desikachar: I started yoga because my
father helped a lady from India who his own practice. Through self-study
what good does that do humanity? Yoga
had hardly slept for thirty years and and self-criticism, he develops his own
lives through humanity. As long as there
I saw the effect. After that, I thought intelligence and learns to discriminate
are ardent seekers, I’m confident that
that I had to learn this from him and between what is real and what is not.
the beauty of yoga will survive.
then I just started seeing in what ways As the Self grows in him, he comes to
Pattabhi Jois: Yes, if people don’t understand. The Self alone shines forth
yoga really helps people. Yoga is not for
appreciate and take care of the great everybody, but for those who experience and permeates all his activities. That
teachings that have come down to us. it and are touched by it, it transforms is why yoga is beneficial to mankind
SOME PEOPLE SPEAK OF PHYSICAL their lives. They can connect with a because its practitioners may come to
YOGA, MENTAL YOGA, SPIRITUAL YOGA. spirit beyond themselves that elevates understand the Self. It is a development
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? them above many difficulties. I won’t from the gross to the subtle, but we
Desikachar: Yoga is a relationship. It is say that every asana will save people. I must always start with the gross—that
not that the body is not important— won’t say that standing on your head is our point of departure. What better
the body is very important; it is the is good for everybody, but the inner thing can you do in this life than to get
temple—but a transformation in the spirit that yoga awakens is beneficial. to know your own Self?

FALL 2004 13
Pattabhi Jois: Yoga is good for man instruments, some people wouldn’t be good understanding, that is not good.
because the physical body improves, able to practice at all, so they help them You need to be a student for many,
the nervous system improves, the mind on their way. many years. It is important to have a
improves, the intellect improves—so, Pattabhi Jois: That is the way of good teacher to guide you and then,
how can yoga not be good? Westerners. They are always thinking when your teacher thinks you are ready,
WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL VIEWS ON to make more money. Unfortunately, you can start to teach.
ALL THE MODERN SCHOOLS OF YOGA it is not good when the goal of yoga is WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA TO BECOME
IN THE WEST TODAY? money rather than God. Real yoga is A GOOD YOGA TEACHER?
Desikachar: My view is that if people not about money. If yoga comes your Desikachar: Faith in God. Let me tell
can benefit from something, fine! way, be happy about it. People ask me so you about Sri Dharan, my colleague.
Iyengar: I am a yogi. I will not say many questions: “Guruji, what should I He used to work as the manager of a
anything about other schools. I can only do about this? How should I do that”? I bank. He had no desire to move further
refer to the Mahabharata, which tells us say, “Don’t take your mind other places. with his job and, when he retired, he
about Dharmaraja and Duryodhana. Think only of God, then do yoga.” Let approached me and offered his services
Dharmaraja was a righteous man and things come. If you want to benefit, here. He joined our organization as our
Duryodhana was a cruel man, but both think only of God, dedicate all your head, but did not want any money. He
of them were present. So, when both actions to God, and whatever comes could have made a fortune as a business
good and bad are present, how can I your way is a gift—is His gift to you. administrator in a bank, but he chose to
answer? How can I say what is good work here, for the service of yoga. That
or bad? People will find what they are ON TEACHING is commitment, and I believe that is
looking for. WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF A GOOD what makes a great teacher.
Pattabhi Jois: Let other forms of yoga YOGI? Iyengar: One has to work really hard and
be there, I teach only Ashtanga yoga, Desikachar: My model is my father. show the qualities of sincerity, honesty,
which is real. I know that it is real and Iyengar: How can you ask a question and virtue. It is the responsibility of
everybody who practices it correctly like that? I will tell you in one sentence: human beings to move and act in truly
will come to know that it is real also. The lunatic speaks loudly, you and honorable ways and, as Patanjali said,
The essence of yoga is to reach oneness I speak internally, and the wise yogi to develop the qualities of friendliness,
with God. The ego must be understood, speaks not at all. The wise yogi is silent. compassion, gladness, and endless love.
contemplated, and released. If you only When we embody these four qualities,
Pattabhi Jois: Dedication to yoga and a
try to boost the ego, you will miss the we can begin to approximate the criteria
steady faith in yoga. And a willingness
greatest fruit of yoga. of becoming a good teacher.
to do hard work and to continuously
IS IT OKAY TO CAPITALIZE ON YOGA? IS Pattabhi Jois: As I said, be a dedicated
YOGA AS A BUSINESS ACCEPTABLE? think of and concentrate on yoga.3 student for many years before you even
WHAT MAKES A GOOD YOGA TEACHER? start to think about teaching
Desikachar: Well, this happens with
everything. We are human beings and Desikachar: A good yoga teacher has to IS THERE AN ELEMENT IN YOGA THAT
we have certain drawbacks. We have to be an example, not just an entertainer. CAN NEVER BE TAUGHT?
accept them. You see, it is not the strength or beauty Desikachar: Yes. That is why the Yoga
Iyengar: Capitalizing on yoga means of an asana practice that makes a great Sutras say that a yoga teacher is like a
commercial yoga and that is not right. yoga teacher. It is how they are as farmer. He is not the seed, the soil, or
But it is the human mentality. The individuals. the water, but the farmer who cultivates
world is like that—“How can I become Iyengar: A good teacher is one who the land for the growth that is there. A
famous?” “How can I become rich?” comes to the level of people and builds farmer can break the dam so that the
And, unfortunately, some people will them up. He understands where they water flows, but what happens next is
always take advantage of others. Take for are, what their position is. This is the not in the hands of the seed alone. It
example the instruments I developed. right approach for a good teacher is a mixture of the cultivation of the
How many centers are there around to take. I do not demand, but earn land, the watering of the field, and
the world that sell these instruments? respect. the preparation of the soil. Similarly,
Everybody uses them, though I don’t Pattabhi Jois: Primarily, you have to one can strive hard to teach the various
get anything for them. But I don’t mind learn the practice properly, you have elements of yoga correctly, but the fate
that either. You see, I’m happy because to know yoga properly, before you can of the practitioner is in the hands of
millions of people have benefited from start to teach. If you think, ‘I want to God. One can only help the process
the advantages of yoga. Without the become a teacher,’ before you have a along.
3
At this point in the interview, Sharath Rangaswamy, assistant director of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore and Sri K.
Pattabhi Jois’s grandson, joined the conversation. He had much to say in answer to the questions about teaching and many of his words
have been incorporated into Pattabhi Jois’s own answers on the subject. The decision to include his words reflects his very close relationship
with his grandfather—he is a life-long student of his—and the strength of his English.

14 FALL 2004
Iyengar: Once you have reached is essential to yoga, we believe, and WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING
realization, the teaching ends. When gives people a direct inner experience ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
the seeker becomes the seer, the teaching of their potential. To feel the energy Desikachar: I am an engineer by
stops. This is the highest teaching. As continually flowing through the spine profession. When I used to work, I
long as there is a difference between is the effect of vinyasa. But there is would meet people in a professional
guru and student, teaching is needed. environment. But in my role as a yoga
nothing that comes instantly. One
But when the difference between the teacher, I meet people as a human
needs to practice this system for many
two disappears, then they become being. I meet all kinds of people—poor
years—a minimum of five to ten
one. So, the greatest teacher teaches people, important people, sick people—
the student how to attain the level of years—to begin to experience these
and I have developed intimate, friendly
realization that he himself has reached. deep subtle changes in the body.
relationships with them. That is the
Pattabhi Jois: Only your guru can HAVE YOUR TEACHING METHODS most rewarding part of my work.
truly guide you—only someone who CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? DO YOU
FOCUS ON THINGS NOW THAT YOU Pattabhi Jois: It is to see the growth
has studied the path before you and is DIDN’T WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED? and development of students, and to
aware of all the dangers can truly direct experience the love and gratitude they
Desikachar: What I learned from my
you. And the blessing of the guru is have when they come here to Mysore,
father was to sit on the floor and to
very important too. Without the guru’s say some prayers—that is what I teach year after year. We see so many students
blessing, you cannot really progress as a people. My country is changing fast, as who come from all over the world to
student. And this blessing is to listen to you know. We have to adapt ourselves study with us. Some of them have
the guru, to what the correct method to the context and circumstances we live full-time jobs and get only four weeks
is, and to have faith in him—to follow in, and we need to be aware of what’s vacation per year, but they choose to
and let yourself be guided by him. This happening. The importance of yoga is devote that time to coming here to
blessing cannot be explained. It can viveka, or discrimination in action. It is practice with us. To see this dedication
only be experienced with the energy not performance. To know what is now, and to see the happiness in people—
and strengths that will flow from to know what was yesterday, you cannot
that is what is truly rewarding.
go by memory or by karma. You have to
within you. This strength from within WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL YOGA
develop the discrimination of what is.
you will make you firmer, more secure, PRACTICE LIKE THESE DAYS?
Pattabhi Jois: No, they have not
and stronger. Desikachar: Next question, please.
changed. They have remained the same
WHAT IS UNIQUE TO YOUR STYLE OF the whole time. Our method from the Iyengar: I will not boast. Everybody will
YOGA? beginning has been that a posture needs tell you that I am still practicing. I do
Desikachar: It is not a style. It is not a to be perfected before you move on to my sadhana [meditational practice] and
method. It is not Vini yoga. We never more difficult ones. Each posture works still do the postures. I do all the postures
use Vini yoga. Those who do, do it for progressively to increase the energy level you see in Light on Yoga and do them
the purpose of business. I have told and the opening of the body. every day.
people that if they do Vini yoga, not to WHAT IS THE BEST REMEDY FOR Pattabhi Jois: I continue to practice
use my name. So, those who come here HELPING PEOPLE? DO YOU TREAT pranayama and recite the Vedas for an
don’t come to practice the Vini yoga EVERYBODY EQUALLY? hour and a half to two hours every day.
style, they come to see me. Desikachar: If somebody asks me, then
Iyengar: Let my students answer that. I will help. But if they will not allow me ON SPIRITUALITY
They see me. to, how can I help? How can I fill a glass WHAT IS THE MEANING OF
Pattabhi Jois: What is particular to with water that is already full? SPIRITUALITY TO YOU?
Ashtanga yoga practice is what we Pattabhi Jois: Taking practice! And to Desikachar: Spirituality is not religion.
call vinyasa, which brings together make people aware of yama [the first It is to care for one’s family, for
breathing with physical movement. limb of Ashtanga yoga] and niyama [the society—to heal and look after the
Each posture is connected with a second limb of Ashtanga yoga], and interests and well-being of people. To
certain breathing sequence, which of how to control their bodies—these give oneself to the service of humanity
comes before and after it. This keeps are the best remedies. When they are facilitates the greatest spirituality within
the flow of energy through the spine aware, controlling the senses becomes man. All dogmas are transcended by
open. It also safeguards against injury easier. But, primarily, yama and niyama following this principle—that is what
and prevents energy from stagnating I learned from my father. You see, at
are the best remedies for anybody with
in the body. Vinyasa purifies the body, my age, my father was living in a small
an interest in the practice.
house, three meters by three meters
the nervous system, and cultivates the
square, which was divided by a curtain
proper energetic field in the body. It
in the middle. He was teaching in the

FALL 2004 15
front of the house and my mother is clean, like a church, I will go in. It consciousness and to expand, at the same
was cooking in the back. You wouldn’t is the same with the body. A healthy time, our level of consciousness within
believe the circumstances he lived in, body, a clean body, is more conducive the body. If you don’t know your body,
but he loved it. And I always think to reflecting the mysteries of the soul. don’t know your hand, your backbone,
of the generosity he showed. He was If you are suffering and sick and are or your knee, how can you develop this
so poor and had five children and yet approached by someone who is even awareness? When performing asanas,
his teacher had told him to go and be more sick and stinking of death than the student’s body assumes numerous
a yoga teacher. He could have been you, you will naturally feel repulsed. life forms found in creation—from the
a Sanskrit professor at any university If that person then asks for your mercy lowliest insect to the most perfected
in India, but because he respected his and help, you will feel no inclination to sage—and learns that in all these, there
teacher, he dedicated himself to passing give it and will say instead, “Don’t come breathes the same universal spirit, the
on the teachings of yoga, and to living near me! Get out!” So it is with sickness spirit of God. He looks within himself
simply and conveying the greatness of and old age. When they approach, it while practicing and feels the presence
yoga through his humble manner. The can already be too late, if one has never of God.4 So, asanas act as a bridge to
king tried to give him rewards, but he looked after one’s body. So, to fulfill unite the body with the mind, and the
would not accept them, because he your dharma, you have to honor the mind with the soul.
knew that, as soon as he did, he would body. Pattabhi Jois: Behind the strength
become a beggar. And the instant a Iyengar: That is your question—your of the body, there is an energy that is
teacher becomes a beggar to the king, mind, not my mind. I do not demark spirituality, and that is what keeps us
he is no longer a teacher. This is what I differences between the body, the mind,
alive. To gain access to the spiritual,
remember of my father. and the self. To me, the body is the
you need to understand the physical.
Iyengar: I have written about this in my biggest self, the mind, a smaller self, and
the self, the smallest self. So, they are all The body is our temple and inside that
books. You can refer to them. temple is atman, and that is God.
interconnected. In my practice, I seek to
Pattabhi Jois: Spirituality means
unite them and to experience how they HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE PURUSA?
energy and to meditate on that energy is
are all interwoven. You see, the soul is Desikachar: I am sleeping and get up
spirituality. So, developing and having the same for all individuals and nations,
faith in this energy is spirituality. What in the morning and say, “Why did
but our conditioning and culture I sleep so well?” But how do I know
the shastras tell me is what I believe, determines our predisposition and this? Because of the purusa, which is
which is the Indian custom: outlook. The body is the receptacle for something that is not sleeping, but is
Tasmat shastram pramanam te karya the soul and the mind—our operating always present within us, all the time.
akaryavyvasthitau tool for processing information and
Pattabhi Jois: Purusa is light, the
Jnatva shastravidhanoktam karma for being discriminative. The three
light that is atman, which is all
kartum iharhasi work incessantly together, but a greater
awareness of the physical body paves and everything. Purusa is jiva [the
BG 16:24 individual soul], whereas prakriti
the way for a better receptivity to the
[Therefore let the scriptures be your dormant spirituality within. Yoga [nature] is maya, or delusion. Due to
authority in ascertaining what ought to awakens the core of infinite possibility the confusion that comes from living
be done and what ought not to be done. inside and confirms to the practitioner in the world of samsara [the cycle of
Knowing what has been prescribed by the extent of its applicability, rather rebirth], we fail to see the difference
the scriptures, you should act in this than restricting it only to one area. The between purusa and prakriti, and treat
manner.] rays of the sun spread out everywhere. them, instead, as one. But they are not
So, the sacred scriptures are the whole Equally, the rays of the soul pervade one. Purusa is the pure, inner awareness
foundation of our spiritual tradition. everywhere in our operational being.
of all that is, yet It is never subject to
Without them, we are left to our own All our mental differences and
the fluctuations of the mind.
impressions. But with the scriptures, predispositions are limited by time and
space, but when we realize and rest in DOES YOGA CULTIVATE AN
we are given a guide to follow. In the UNDERSTANDING OF PURUSA?
absence of belief, we can never really the core of our being, in our infinite
potential, we awaken to a consciousness Desikachar: Yoga is like a cloud and the
lift the veil of our own ignorance and
that is universal and no longer limited practice of yoga moves the cloud. There
discover what lies beyond it. Thus
by our previous identification with it. is disturbance, there is disruption,
spirituality is believing.
This consciousness is direct, has no form there are difficulties, but the practice
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL ABOUT THE or shape, and yet is reflected in our body of yoga centers the person in his own
PHYSICAL PRACTICE? natural self. Naturally, when we sleep,
and mind as an energy field, which we
Desikachar: If I go to a temple and are free to interpret. We therefore something subsists beyond our dreams
there is a lot of mess in front of it, I don’t engage in physical exercises designed to or beyond deep sleep. That is the purusa.
feel like going inside. But if the temple both present potent information to our Equally, when we think and experience,
4
Light On Yoga: 60
16 FALL 2004
something is always there, facilitating HOW DOES YOUR SYSTEM FACILITATE the state of equilibrium inside. When
our experience. To come to grips with THE EXPERIENCE OF YOGA? something is contorted, awareness can
this is the process of yoga. To facilitate Desikachar: That is up to the student, become hard from too much effort, but
an understanding of our mental modes not to me. until there is no distortion, everything
of operation and to finally experience Pattabhi Jois: To practice asanas and will remain the same. Yoga therefore
That which is the support of the whole pranayama is to learn to control the becomes the skill of resting with
process is also the process of yoga. body and the senses, so that the inner things in their equanimity and simply
Pattabhi Jois: Only indirectly. Directly, light can be experienced. That light exploring what is presented beyond the
it is the vrittis [thought patterns] which is the same for the whole world. And pair of opposites. Energy then flows
we come to control by the practice it is possible for people to experience without interruption. Some people call
of yoga. It is not the purusa, which is this light, their own Self, through it physical, others may call it spiritual. I
constant and always there, though the correct yoga practice. It is something would say it is a homecoming.
practice does give one a clear mind, which that happens through practice, though Pattabhi Jois: The atman [individual
learning to control the mind is very soul; inner Self ] is the same in all
may lead to an awareness of It. The actual
difficult. Most important though is the people, but we give a name and form to
understanding being facilitated, however,
practice. We must practice, practice, It according to the nature of our mind
is of the thought patterns, or the vrittis. and sense organs. Taking yoga practice
practice for any real understanding
How they operate, how they bind you, of yoga. Of course, philosophy is helps control the mind and sense organs
and how you can gradually learn to important, but if it is not connected so that awareness eventually goes inside,
experience what lies beyond them—that and grounded in truth and practical toward this atman. There are two types
is what we come to understand by the knowledge, then what is it really for? of yoga, external and internal. Yama,
practice of yoga. Just endless talking, exhausting our niyama, asana, and pranayama are
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE YOGA minds! So, practice is the foundation of external. Pratyahara, dharana, dhyana,
SUTRA YOGA CHITTA VRITTI NIRODHA? the actual understanding of philosophy. and samadhi are internal. As you take
Desikachar: The understanding mind WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE practice, you come to see God inside.
plays a part in many activities. When YOGA SUTRA TADA DRASTUH SVARUPE The Katha Upanisad tells this:
AVASTHANAM?
all these are focused on one thing for a
certain length of time, as I am listening Desikachar: Read my book. Paranci khani vyatrnat svayambhuh
to you now, then you are in a state of Iyengar: Haven’t I told you this before? Tasmat paran pasyati nantaratman
yoga. Being attentive is thus a form of In asana, there is a centrifugal movement Kasciddhirah Pratyagatmanam aiksat
yoga. of consciousness towards the frontiers of Avrtacaksur amrtatvam icchan
Pattabhi Jois: Patanjali’s definition the body, whether extended vertically, Kathopanisad 4.1
is simple: “Yoga is the process of horizontally, or circumferentially, and [The self-existent Lord afflicted
ending the definitions of the field a centripetal movement as well, as the the senses so that they go outward.
of consciousness.” But to actually whole body is brought to a single focus. Therefore, one sees outer things and not
understand this in one’s being is of a If the attention is steadily maintained the inner Self. A discriminating man,
wholly different order. To understand in this manner, meditation takes desiring immortality, turns his eyes
words and concepts is easy, but to let place.5 Thus, in the advanced practice away (from sense objects) and then sees
the experience of yoga penetrate deep of asana, the rhythmic flow of energy the indwelling Self.]
into one’s heart, to realize fully what and awareness is experienced evenly and
one is made of, and, finally, to establish without interruption, both centripetally So, when the sense organs are controlled,
the mind in the Self—these are very and centrifugally, throughout the you will come to see your true Self, that
difficult. channels of the body, and a pure state is atman.
of joy will eventually be felt in the cells
Manushyanam sahasreshu WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF ABHYASA
and the mind. The body, mind, and soul
kaschidyatati siddhaye AND VAIRAGYA?
are then one. This is the manifestation
Yatatamapi siddhanaam kascinmam Desikachar: Abhyasa is the effort to
of dharana and dhyana in the practice
vetti tattvatah persist with something over a long period
of asana.6 Awareness that constitutes
BG 7:3 of time, diligently and wholeheartedly.
the very resting place of the soul is
[Among thousands of men, one sent everywhere throughout a posture. Vairagya is dispassion for the fruits of
perhaps struggles for perfection. When all the muscles are properly such effort. Both are equally important
Among thousands of those that maintained, the atman is reflected in for a yoga practitioner.
struggle, maybe one becomes perfect, its natural state, without pushing or Iyengar: They are two sides of the
but among thousands of men that frowning. So, you see, I just ride the same coin. The head is abhyasa, the
are perfect, perhaps one knows tidal wave of awareness, scale away tail is vairagya. They are eternally
Me in reality.] the layers of opposition, and rest in connected for the practitioner. Abhyasa
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is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, don’t even want to know of Him. But WHAT IS IT THAT HAS KEPT YOU
and vigilant search of a given subject, for anyone who practices yoga correctly, DOING YOGA FOR ALL THESE YEARS?
pursued against all odds and in the face the love of God will develop. And, after Desikachar: When I’m travelling, I
of repeated failures, for an indefinitely some time, a greater love for God will must confess, yoga has become an
long period of time. Vairagya is the be theirs, whether they want it or not. addiction to me—a good addiction.
cultivation of freedom from passion, It is true and that is why yoga is real. I feel sick if I don’t do my practice or
the abstention from worldly desires It develops inside you and helps you to meditate. I think that what I am today
and appetites, and the discrimination realize the inner light of the Self. is because of yoga. I see colleagues from
between what is real and what is not my university and they look so sick,
real. It is the act of giving up all sensuous THE FUTURE OF YOGA they are so bored, they have no life, no
delights. Abhyasa builds confidence and HOW DO YOU VIEW THE FUTURE OF light. Here in India, when they retire,
refines the process of cultivating the YOGA? people get bored with life. They get sick.
consciousness, while vairagya eliminates So, how do you generate health? I see
Desikachar: I have total faith in the
the things that hinder progress and my uncle—what an energy he has! And
future of yoga.
refinement. So, proficiency in vairagya I see Pattabhi Jois—what an energy and
Iyengar: My friend, why do you worry
develops the ability to free oneself from strength he has! And I see other people
about the future? Leave it to God. He
the fruits of action. But a bird cannot and they can hardly walk. There is
is eternal. If he wants it to survive, it
fly with one wing. So, we need the something about yoga. And it proves
will survive. Who am I to speak of
two wings of practice and dispassion- that it awakens an energy in people,
the future? What have I done? I have
renunciation to be able to soar up to the that it awakens something beautiful
cultivated, I have built up, I have
zenith of Soul-realization.7 which sustains and supports them
presented and developed the subject of
IS GOD IMPORTANT TO A PHYSICAL yoga. Now leave it to eternity. from within, and which reveals itself to
PRACTICE? WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION human nature.
OF THE YOGA SUTRA ISHVARA WHAT IS THE GOAL OF YOGA
ACCORDING TO YOU? Iyengar: The inner intelligence that is
PRANIDHANAD VA?
continually being revealed.
Desikachar: A good teacher sees the Desikachar: Peace, shanti: that is the
commonality of all human beings goal of yoga.
and helps each individual find his Iyengar: It is to become free of the
uniqueness. Since this is a light present actions that afflict you. When you get
in all of us, we must honor humanity rid of these and the body-mind-soul is
and let the love of human beings itself be cleansed, what is left? Yoga!
what guides us in the process. So, God WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
is not necessarily Brahma or Vishnu. IN LIFE TO YOU?
He is a reference, like my father is my Desikachar: Shanti.
reference and Iyengar is a reference Iyengar: Initially, the practice of yoga,
and Pattabhi Jois is a reference too. but now, increasingly, it is to present
You don’t know how much difficulty the correct form of yoga to my students
they went through when they were around the world. In the beginning,
young, how many hardships they had I primarily did yoga to develop my
to endure. They are thus models and intelligence and evolutional strength.
references for me. I have many gods, Now that I have the knowledge of that,
but the most important is Isvara [the I’m using it in the best way I can. So,
In-dweller]. Isvara is my model and, first, there was an involution, but now
because It is, I have to exert more effort I’m trying to improve the evolution. But
and go further and further to align I don’t teach for myself. I share things
myself with It. Whatever I need to do, I with people. I have a very big heart and
do. Whatever I cannot do, I avoid. That what my heart says is, “Don’t keep it to
is the meaning of Patanjali’s sutra. yourself. Don’t let it die.” So, whatever
Pattabhi Jois: The reason we do yoga I have, I give to others. When I die, I
is to become one with God and to will know that I didn’t keep any secret
realize Him in our hearts. You can in my heart, but let it out. And I am still
lecture, you can talk about God, but practicing, so God will probably give
when you practice correctly, you come me a better life in the next life and I will
to experience God inside. Some people start from where I left off.
start yoga and don’t even know of Him,
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