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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Pattabhi Jois on The Method of Ashtanga Yoga

July 07, 2008

A short video of a young Pattabhi Jois talking about the Method of Ashtanga Yoga can be found on youtube. You can also watch the video below. In these uncertain times of political and economic unrest both in and out of the yoga world, it helps to remind us why we practice yoga. Those of us who have practiced for some time must also help carry the simple message of yoga as an internal practice to those who have not experienced its magic. Some have made Ashtanga yoga about the physical postures only and have confused the road map for the destination. To a new comer, it can be very intimidating and to those whose body type will not allow an aggressive physical practice it can be prohibitive. An elitist attitude about being an “ashtangi” has helped push the growth of vinyasa and flow classes and lead to the proliferation of numerous modern “styles of yoga”. Let us remind ourself of the simple words of Pattabhi Jois

There is only one yoga. It is universal and does not belong to any one. It is not physical or external exercise but rather a path for internal cleaning. The goal of yoga is the acquisition of self knowledge. There is only one method and it starts with the asana. to help you develop strength and stamina. As you continue to practice regularly, your energy will increase. The method requires practice and not just talking about the practice. Practitioners should put 95% of their effort towards practicing yoga (showing up on their mat and only 5% of their energy towards the theory of yoga. Sometimes people today want there to be 99.5% theory and .5% practice but that is not good. It takes discipline to prepare your body by developing stamina through a regular daily practice. As used here, body means the three types of body: external body, internal body, and spiritual body. In order to strengthen all three, the practice of yoga must include a breathing system in the vinyasa. The breathing system is very important for without it, the spiritual body and mind will not be effected. Breathing is a very important part of the method. Without breathing there is no vinyasa. The inhale and the exhale must match the movement and be smooth and even. The length of inhale should match the length of exhale. If one is ten seconds the other should also be ten seconds. It is in this way that you practice the method of yoga.











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