- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: North Point Press; Reprint edition (September 18, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374532834
- ISBN-13: 978-0374532833
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #810,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students Paperback – September 18, 2012
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About the Author
Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern became students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1991. Donahaye is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga Shala NYC. Stern is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga New York and Sri Ganesh Temple, and is the copublisher and editor of Namarupa.
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In addition to the light shed on Guruji himself (and his family) a number of the student interviewees walked very interesting paths themselves to becoming noted yoga teachers in their own right. The interview with David Swenson, to cite just one such case, leaves you intrigued and impressed with his own circuitous development, not just his account of Guruji per se. Many of the other interviews have that quality too.
There are so many methods out on the shelves of the spiritual supermarket. The teachers interviewed in this collection all make the case, in their gentle harmonious yogic way, that Ashtanga yoga is unique in both its physical rigor and the spiritual signature - enlightenment through sweat, 99% practice, 1% theory. You don't need to be an Ashtanga practitioner to get into this book (though a market consisting of Ashtanga people alone would constitute a large public now by 2010!), because the point is to approach an answer to the universal conundrum of yoga: how practice of (what appears to be) physical contortionism possibly relate to spiritual enlightenment? Many good insights on the deeper linkages are offered.
That said, and though I certainly was impressed by the design and production values of this beautiful book, I do think the editors could have offered just a bit more of a crutch to Ashtanga outsiders, made the context a bit more self-explanatory and engaging. For example, famous yogi and Ashtanga author John Scott is interviewed, and he has created a classic highly compacted mini-chart of all the Ashtanga Primary Series poses. Why couldn't those lovely drawings have been used as the end papers for this book? The book might also have thrown a rope to non-Ashtangi's in the form of a glossary of basic common Sanskrit terms in yoga, and an index. A few historical and family photos are included, even more would have been very welcome.
But quibbles aside, this book will be the touchstone resource for all seekers such as me who are trying to dig back closer to the source of this incredibly addictively powerful practice, and I'm very grateful they've taken the trouble to assemble it. For the "advanced beginner" Ashtangi's like me out there, this book is a 24K gold mine of both fun and useful stuff.
Fun: for example, many of the interviewee's very poetically evoke their early experience of practice in the home Mysore shala under Guruji. You feel you're walking up the shala steps with some of these people. Also, it's comforting and funny to read about how some of these people who are currently mega-luminaries in the international yoga world, teaching Madonna or whatever, they too struggled mightily back in the day with "simple" Primary Sequence poses that are still very challenging for me.
Useful: though the reflective personal and historical stuff is the main theme, there is a boatload of incredibly useful tips of absolute practical, on-the-mat daily practice if you dig a little. Read this with a pencil in hand to note those hot spots where one of these teachers just casually throws down something you can use right away in your practice tomorrow morning. There's a lot of that. I also learned a lot of fundamental concepts from this book, for example, though I've sweated though hundreds of Mysore-style practice sessions (self-paced, supervised), and many dozens of "Led Primary" sessions with a teacher calling out each pose and transition, I have never really understood the purpose and meaning and expected benefits of these very distinct practice styles clearly til it was laid out by some of the interviewees in this book.
The deepest question of interest to me is the potential tension between two radically divergent points of view - those who assert that we must strive and sweat (via whatever method) to purify and strengthen ourselves to achieve spiritual integrity and enlightenment (perhaps many lives down the road) vs. those 'non-dualists' (neo-Advaitans) who state that all roads lead nowhere, because there is nowhere to go (but here), no time (but now), no identity, no purpose, no substantive experience, no morality, no instrument of enlightenment, and no burden of endarkenment. This book 'Guruji', as a personalized reflection of one of the greatest teachers among those who have uncompromisingly represented the former view (of gradual hard-won 'progress' toward some higher state), has helped me sharpen my understanding of both sides of this great chasm.
Anyway, the historian Thomas Carlye once wrote: "Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness." Obviously Guruji was that rare man who stepped right into his perfect calling. I'm grateful to the editors and interviewees, and wish only I'd had that one chance to touch Guruji's feet, as all in this book were privileged to do. (Hey, that would be a lot better than undergoing one of his ferocious "adjustments"!)
Though a lot of former students are included among the interviewees, I feel that the authors should have attempted to include at least all of Pattabhi Jois' certified teachers. It also would have been interesting to have included reflections by advanced teachers of some of the other schools of yoga - an interview with Iyengar or students who practiced in both "camps" would have been very interesting.
It would have been nice to have included some material about the worldwide ashtanga community would have been useful - for example, contact information for the worldwide ashtanga shalas run by certified or authorized students, how large is the community, etc.
Some of the interviews were charming and it was interesting to read about the experiences of these students, who studied with Sri Pattabhi Jois for many years. It was also interesting to read the different perspectives and the common recognition of the importance of breath (and listening to the breath), the bandhas, and the disciplined practice. There is also some interesting discussion of ashtanga (as the eight-fold path, not just asana), why Sri P. Jois emphasized asana as an important starting point for entry into the path of yoga, and of sraddha (loosely translated as faith). I do think it should be a part of the library of any serious yoga student.
Very thankful for each one of the teachers and people that shared all the stories to make this beautiful book :)