Ashtanga Yoga…Lineage versus Nepotism

September 16, 2008


Postings on Ashtanga News ( as well as many other sites, are discussing the changes recently made to the requirements for teachers to be certified or authorized to teach Ashtanga yoga by the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI). While many views are set forth, none seem to address what I feel is the real issue, the difference between lineage and nepotism. The lineage of Ashtanga yoga has come to us through T.K.V. Krishnamacharya and K. Pattabhi Jois, Through the years, Pattabhi has given many of his students permission to teach Ashtanga yoga and supported their efforts long before any list of authorized or certified teachers existed. Many of those students of Pattabhi have dedicated their life to passing on the Ashtanga yoga lineage to students of their own. In fact many of those early students of Pattabhi Jois who began studying in Mysore in the 1970’s or early 1980’s have students of their own who have been practicing and in some cases teaching Ashtanga yoga as long or longer then Pattabhi’s grandson, R. Sharath Rangaswamy.

Tracing the roots of a yoga lineage from one teacher to another is important. Parampara means an uninterrupted series or succession and describes the tradition of the passage of knowledge from teacher to student through successive generations. Respecting parampara is also one of the requirements to be authorized to teach by the KPJAYI. Nepotism on the other hand, is the showing of favoritism towards relatives, based upon that relationship rather then an objective evaluation of ability. Sharath is certainly one of the teachers passing on the lineage of Ashtanga yoga that he learned from his grandfather, Pattabhi Jois. However, there are many others who are also passing on the lineage of Ashtanga yoga as they learned it from Pattabhi Jois. Trying to institutionalize the tradition of parampara through the KPJAYI is no more then an act of nepotism.

Pattabhi Jois essentially planted many seeds of the lineage of Ashtanga yoga through his teaching. Those who in turn have taught others are also planting seeds of the lineage. It can begin as simply as a friend of family member of a serious Ashtanga student asking to be taught some Ashtanga yoga. The student becomes a teacher for a moment, day, or lifetime depending on the strength of their personal calling to teach. After all, there is a teacher inside some of us and not others. If there is not a teacher inside, a name on a list will not make one exist and conversely, if there is one inside it will shine through with the accumulation of knowledge and not by the granting of a certificate.

I fully support any and all efforts legitimately aimed at insuring quality teachers pass on the lineage. However the list being created by KPJAYI is made up of individuals who spent enough time practicing with members of Pattabhi’s family in Mysore, India, completed the primary series, and demonstrated a sufficient understanding of the Ashtanga system through their personal practice. It does not say they have ever been trained to teach or are good teachers. Obviously, those whose names are on the list want it to represent a significant endorsement of their teaching ability. In reality it is not, for there are no checks made to determine the quality of what is being taught. In fact the only monitored criteria is that you must return to the KPJAYI every eighteen months for at least a two month period. The list is not even complete and already there are names on it that don’t meet the stated criteria in any number of different ways.

In the numerous years that I have practiced Ashtanga yoga, I have had the fortunate experience of practicing with many of the teachers whose name appears on the list of KPJAYI, both certified and authorized. I have also practiced with teachers not on the list maintained by KPJAYI but who were clearly passing on the same lineage of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois. When I talked to those teachers, they frequently told me that they had predominately learned Ashtanga yoga from a disciple of Pattabhi rather then Pattabhi himself. I have great love, respect, and affection for Pattabhi Jois and his family and feel lucky to have been taught the practice of Ashtanga yoga. However, it saddens me to think that this beautiful and important practice of personal growth and exploration is not above being reduced to arguments over a list of names or acts of nepotism.

The point I am trying to make is that it is not a name on a list or a certificate that makes a teacher good or guarantees the continuation of a lineage. It is a combination of many things, such as: dedication, commitment, understanding, experience, compassion, intelligence, and to a certain extent innate disposition to teaching. Some teachers whose name appear on the KPJAYI list are good teachers of Ashtanga yoga and some are not. Some teachers not on the list are also good Ashtanga teachers and are true to the lineage and some are not. The important thing from a student’s perspective is to find a studio and teachers that truly honor and respect the lineage of Ashtanga yoga. Find ones that based their teachings on the Ashtanga system and not ones that just offers classes called Ashtanga. Ask the teachers how they learned and who they studied with. Then try classes and teachers for there are variances and find one that resonates with your needs, for as the saying goes, when the student is ready, the appropriate teacher will appear.


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5 Responses to “Ashtanga Yoga…Lineage versus Nepotism”

  1. sal Says:

    If it saddens you to think that this beautiful and important practice of personal growth and exploration is being reduced to arguments over a list of names or acts of nepotism, then stop reducing it to that. It’s really very simple, my darling little pot.

  2. admin Says:

    Sal, I think your comment is right. At the time the post was written it was on my mind but the best way to keep things from effecting me or my practice is to leave them behind, which I have done. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Yoga London Says:

    Hi There,

    I am doing bit of research on various famous yoga styles from India. How does yoga style by K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI)helps in purifying the mind of practitioners.

    Any information or suggestions are welcome.

    With Regards

  4. ekapada Says:

    I think it is good that someone has come up with this. I am a student of ashtanga and am in the lineage, and also i respect our guru parampara, which is of key importance, perhaps THE essential aspect of carrying on ashtanga. I have a couple answers, as I too have a guru who is on that list, and have also practiced with many, there fore we probably all are related in our practice. We must stay related you see. Guruji will die, and when he does, we must not lose sight of who he was, and what he told us, and who then is in HIS lineage. Since he was the guru in our lineage, he alone is the one. Now, the real conversation we should be having is not this one, but now we have another generation under the certifieds (not the authorized, sorry), who can then pass it along again.

    Unfortunately if you have not experienced ashtanga within the lineage you will not find it important. So those who haven’t then should not try to nudge themselves in to the lineage artificially, but are welcome to start their own lineage, but the lineage of ashtanga through KPJAYI is the direct lineage of ashtanga, you have to learn it through Krishnamachar, Guruji, Sharath, Saraswati, or one of 33 certifieds in the world, or a couple hundred authorized, so long as you do not proceed beyond primary with an authorized. it’s a good system. I am lucky though as my guru is not Guruji or Sharath, but I will go to India as soon as I have time, as directed by my guru, who is one of the 33. I have practiced with 5 of the certifieds and about 6-7 of the authorized and they are my friends, some of the certifieds are in the family of PJ. Nonetheless, you must find your teacher, and follow your teacher, and that is my advice, wether they are in the lineage or not. But for me, my teacher is in it, so it’s an easier discussion.

  5. Kheva Says:

    Interesting retoric, may we learn from K.P.’s seeming attachment to what he has so generously expressed, for us, that we may express joyously ourselves to have as much success as he and yet remain free of the need to control others.
    Thank you for you observations,
    Bless you and Bless K.P.

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