Friday, December 13, 2019

Manju Pattabhi Jois - Saving traditional yoga from the circus
Image Credit to Ashtanga Yoga Vienna (the workshop was on primary series in Vienna 2015)

In a world where selling yoga pants can make you very, very rich, 71-year-old Manju Pattabhi Jois follows back to the “old school” gurus — those who choose their students rather than the other way round.

Any big city yoga franchise would blissfully welcome the world-travelling master of Ashtanga yoga, but he’s at a small studio in Whistler last weekend because its owner made an annual journey to his father’s school in Mysore, a city in southern India, for 15 years running.

“You have to have had a relationship with him personally or his father. People have offered him lots of money and he’s not interested. He just goes to his students and I’m a long-term student of his,” Tina James, owner of Loka Yoga in Whistler, said Friday.

James, originally from London, England, said 20 yoga instructors and 40 yoga practitioners filled the spaces for Jois’s five-day visit as soon as it was announced.

People have come from Germany, the U.S., the U.K. — “yoga stalkers,” as she affectionately calls them.

“He is one of the greatest teachers alive now from the old school,” says James. “He’s so not about the money. It’s a joy to work with someone like that because unfortunately today yoga has become awful with that in mind.”

Manju Jois is the son of K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga school of yoga, which has transformed into the yogic practice of choice for celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Sting.

The death of K. Pattabhi Jois at the age of 93 in 2009 was noted around the world because of his reputation as the master of a form of yoga that incorporates a series of poses performed with slow, rhythmic breathing that has spawned offshoots such as vinyasa, flow and jivamukti yoga in the West.

Manju Jois has made his home in the U.S. since 1975 — in Southern California, of course — and has observed the explosion of yoga’s popularity over the decades.

What’s his take on it now?

“The tradition is missing,” Jois said in a telephone call from Whistler. “Everybody is starting their own style and that is going to destroy the real, traditional yoga. It’s becoming like a circus. My whole goal is to keep tradition, to teach people everything they want to know about yoga.”

That includes breathing exercises and chanting, not just the poses, said Jois.

“When people start practising that, they will get the full benefit of yoga. That’s how I learned from my father and that’s what I try to spread around the world.”

Other descendants of K. Pattabhi Jois are involved in high-end studios in the U.S. which has created some alarming anxiety among devotees who see it as pure commercialization. Jois Yoga shalas — or schools — are now located in Encinitas, Calif., Greenwich, Conn., Islamorada, Fla., and Sydney, Australia. The company has also created “a spiritually conscious line of clothing.”

Ashtanga yoga guru K. Pattabhi Jois with son Manju (right) and grandson Sharath, who teaches yoga in Mysore, India, and is a partner in the U.S.-based Jois Yoga schools. The eldest Jois died in 2009.

Manju Jois represents himself with an abbreviated web presence that includes a short biography (he began early morning yoga with his father at age seven; started teaching at 15) and a link to where he will appear next. This week Whistler; next month Halifax, then the U.S. and Brazil; Italy and Germany in June.

“I don’t consider teaching as work because I enjoy being around people and sharing,” said Jois, who travels most of the year. “It gives me a lot of energy.”

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