Yoga History

AYC ’13: The path to meeting Guruji


The first group panel discussion was about the legacy of Patthabi Jois, and each teacher gave their story of how they met Guruji. 

What I loved about these stories was both their personal histories and a shared history of how ashtanga was introduced to the Western world. When we think about how most of us today began practicing yoga, it probably involved pulling up a website, looking at a class schedule and picking a teacher based on a convenient time and a short description. All of these senior teachers fell into ashtanga, whether their meeting was by chance or by a proper introduction, and they all had something fun to share.

Eddie Stern’s second trip to Mysore was in search of yoga and yoga philosophy. It led him to a Communist bookstore, where he ran into someone who recommended Patthabi Jois, whom Eddie had never heard of. The directions he was given pointed to a police station… and then he met Guruji.

Dena Kingsberg’s story was similar to Eddie’s in that she was traveling through India, knocking on doors looking for yoga. She had been in a serious car accident in Australia that scared her, and she needed to do something “courageous”. Like Eddie, she was pointed in the direction of a police station and nearby was Patthabi Jois’s home.

Nancy Gilgoff was traveling with David Williams in 1973, and they were told they had 3 choices in yoga teachers to seek. 1) Patthabi Jois, 2) BKS Iyengar, or 3) Some guy who buried himself alive. She was glad they ended up at Guruji’s home, where his daughter Saraswathi opened the door and informed them that Guruji was at the market. So they sat and waited for him to return. When he did, he asked them, “How did you find me?” “Norman Allen*,” they said. “Ah.”

David Swenson began his adventures in ashtanga in 1973 with David Williams and Nancy. When they brought Guruji to the U.S. for the first time to Encinitas, CA, David said, “We were a bunch of enthusiastic hippies doing this yoga.” Manju (Guruji’s son) also went on that trip and told David, “We have come to break your back.”

Tim Miller was also introduced to ashtanga through David Williams and Nancy. His entry into teaching yoga was based on reading books, never having taken any classes himself. No one seemed to mind his lack of experience as he had (in his words) “not very discerning students.” He felt guilty teaching when he hadn’t taken a class before, and luckily, yoga showed up near his home in Encinitas. He said Guruji was the most energetic 63-year-old you’d ever meet, and his adjustments were “ferocious”. What was worse than being adjusted was being ignored by Guruji.

* In 1973, Norman Allen was the first American to be taught by Pattabhi Jois. Norman attended a yoga demonstration at the Swami Gitananda Ashram in Pondicherry; the yoga was performed by Manju Jois, the son of Pattabhi Jois. Impressed by what he witnessed, he decided to study this system of yoga. – Source: 

More stories from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence to come!

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