On May 18th, 2009 Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, father of Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga, passed away. I never met him in person but I felt like I knew him. Every yoga studio I trained at had his photo prominently displayed on the wall. He had the same mix of tenderness and sternness I see in every grandfather I know. Men who have lived long enough to know precisely when to be soft and when to be hard. And then there were the stories, which I heard time and again from my teachers, enough so that they were more like legends and less like memories. They often came with impersonations that, if not accurate, seemed at least to be consistent across the board.
I am sure I have had many lessons in impermanence in my life, but none have stayed with me the way Patthabhi Jois’ death did. I am drawn to yoga for partly practical and partly mystical reasons. The latter I rarely talk about because I think most people would not care to hear about them, and, if they did, I’m not certain I could articulate them well enough anyway. I was drawn to Jois in much the same way. Part natural curiosity and part inexplicable drive, perhaps an attraction via the link of his teacher-student lineage (parampara in Sanskrit) that I was now a part of. And, though it cannot be compared to the deeply personal loss that his long time students, friends and family faced when he passed, something for me changed in that moment. Two opportunities to meet Jois passed me by with the reassurance that there would be yet another chance. In life, sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t.
Among that flurry of activity as my teachers readied for their trip to India to attend Jois’ funeral and navigated the logistics of finding the right substitutes for certain classes… in that empty space created by the loss of a guru and the departure of my own teachers whose council I’d come to count on almost daily, the resolve for this trip was born. No more excuses.
Though my practice for the last ten years has focused on Ashtanga-Vinyasa, I’ve been blessed to have teachers that had been trained in other styles, namely Viniyoga and Iyengar. These are sister styles to Ashtanga, born of the same source (Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya), though promoted through different teachers. Viniyoga, in particular, is dear to my heart, as have been the teachers that exposed me to it. Where Ashtanga gave me technique and discipline, Viniyoga gave me a context and purpose for them.
The class I’ll be attending is titled “The Heart of Yoga,” a symbolic title for me since, in one way or another, that is precisely what I’m after. As has been true of my yoga practice all these years, I have no idea what I’ll find. I can only pursue the drive to look. There have been moments when I’ve been afraid, and when I’ve questioned both my motivations and sanity in doing something like this in such a foreign place for what seems like such a long stretch of time. I fear as much what I’ll be away from as what I’ll be exposed to. But facing that fear, I think, is my yoga right now.
When my teachers returned from
India after Jois’ funeral, there were endless stories about both the specifics of the funeral and the oddity that is in general. I loved hearing all of it in part because it was the last remnants I had of that lost opportunity and in part because I already knew I would be in that exotic place they were describing very soon. There was a feeling in me that I can only describe as a deep sense of gratitude in those days. Gratitude for what all my teachers had offered me up to that moment, for the time and effort they had spent learning these techniques and this philosophy from their own teachers, for the wisdom of the learnings themselves, and for the way God plants these seeds that seem to bloom at just the right time. I felt like some small transformation had taken place inside me. I was seeing things differently and I knew that every person and event leading up to that moment, when I’d decided to set aside my apprehension about traveling to India, was an offering of sorts, and one for which I should feel deeply thankful. India
A few days after my teachers returned from that trip, I went to open the studio in the morning for
practice and found a small bag behind the desk in the greeting area. It was a gift from my teachers from their trip: a deck of cards, each with a quote of Vedic knowledge. What drew me most, though, was the small tag made of brown recycled paper on the bag’s handle. What it said may as well have referred to (and perhaps in some way it did) what I had felt in the previous days. Adorned with three bindi jewels, it simply read “To: Oreste, From: Mysore , With Love” India