Getting ready for a trip to India always gets my energetic body all jacked up. I’m buzzing and it feels like when I used to take speed back in the day (hey, I was a hippie, OK?) Now it’s a natural high.
I leave on Sunday for my 7th trip, beginning with continuing my yoga therapy training with Ganesh Mohan, traveling for the first time to Varanasi and Sarnath, then leading my group of 7 intrepid first-time India travelers and global yogis for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, then my yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala. When they go home I’m off to Goa and Mumbai, each for the first time.
To say that this trip is different is an understatement. I was more involved with learning different energy healing modalities last year (which by their very nature cranks up your energy body) and this week I received some energy work, so to say that I’ve shifted is also an understatement. My gut is screaming at me that something is happening. Can’t put my finger on it but in the words of Sly Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on.
The latest is that Kausthub Desikachar has broken his silence. Coincidentally I received an email today from “Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga.” It came to my old email address that KYM has. The website is sky-yoga.net but when I searched for that site, nothing came up. There is no name attached to the email, it came from “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
After explaining the Krishnamacharya tradition, it goes on:
The Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY) is founded by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar. It will be the medium through which the whole range of the teachings of T Krishnamacharya will be extended into the current century in a traditional manner, yet relevant to the modern era.
The objectives of Sannidhi of Krishnamcharya Yoga (SKY) include
Increasing awareness of Yoga and its many applications especially in the domains of Health, Healing and Spiritual Transformation.
Promoting and sharing Yoga as a complimentary therapeutic approach both in one to one settings, as well as in specialized focused groups.
Offering Training programs of the highest standards in Yoga and Yoga therapy.
Collaborating with other modalities of healing to facilitate integrative paradigms in healing.
Creating and sharing educational resources that support the understanding and study of Yoga.
Supporting the network of Yoga teachers and therapist through continuing education. Initiating Research studies to evaluate the role of Yoga in contemporary health care.
…A choice of exciting programs are being conceptualised SKY for the year 2013. These will be conducted by experienced and senior faculty trained in the tradition of Krishnamacharya. Details of these will be made available soon.
Interesting. Someone subscribed me to this E newsletter since they have my old email address. The email listed their courses for 2013. Their address is 6 (Old# 5) Stone Link Avenue in R A Puram, near the neighborhood that KYM is in. The Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation (KHYF) that Kausthub headed and was subsequently dismissed from (rumors are that he still pulls the strings behind the scenes) is in the near area.
Call me suspicious but I doubt very much that Sri Desikachar and his wife would start a new yoga school, not given their ages and Sri Desikachar’s condition. But did Kausthub start a new school a la John Friend? Did he name his parents as founders of this new school as they were named the heads of KHYF when Kausthub was forced to step down?
My intuition says yes.
Curiouser and curiouser.
As is my local yoga scene. In the last few weeks I’ve heard stories that make me shake my head and put my hands to my ears saying “lalalalalalala……” Then I was handed some foolish online nonsense by a local teacher that it all makes me wonder what the frack is in the air. The energy workers I know all speak about a shift that is accelerating and you’d better lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
“I wish to make clear that the sexual scandal around Kausthub has no implication, at all, on Krishnamacharya’s life work and dedication to Hatha Yoga. Although lineage held in family is a historic way of preserving teachings, the lineage is not dependent on this arrangement. Krishnamacharya himself communicated to me, all who represent their teachers work with a clear heart and honest intention are lineage holders.” (Mark Whitwell, from his Facebook page.)
Mark is a former student of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, so I am glad that he weighs in on the matter and I agree with what he says. One of the things Mark speaks to is the cultural (patriarchy) aspect of this and as I said in my own first post , there are various layers to the situation and that is one of them.
In an ongoing discussion of the Kausthub mess, a friend and I cyber-chatted about one of the latest writings about it in the yoga blogosphere and he gave me permission to quote him. We have a bit different perspective on the matter having both studied at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. Many commenting on this in the yoga blogosphere have not.
“Lots of people are viewing this issue from their misconceptions about India and yoga. If guru culture (whatever the hell that means) has burned them (or they have never experienced a guru and essentially see them from a strictly xenophobic, American individualism is the highest virtue point of view), they’ll bitch and moan about it. If large Westernized organizations (whatever the hell that means) have burned them, they’ll bitch and moan about that.
So many comments on blogs have centered on how “organizations” should behave. It’s bullshit. Americans are so quick to absolve individuals of responsibility by talking about a “culture” that enables. Some cultures enable and even promote either good behaviors or bad, useful ones or detrimental ones… usually some mix of all.
But this shit could’ve been staved off easily if people at an individual level had done the right thing. They all acted in their own self interest… or mostly in their self interest (some acted in the interest of their teacher/friend/colleague).
Nobody acted in the best interest of the student. And here’s the really awful part because as teachers we are always supposed to act in the best interest of the student. You don’t give techniques to students just because you know them or are eager to teach them… or even because the student is begging for them. You give them to a student only if it is in the best interest of the student (and this takes appropriateness into account).
It’s a much uglier thing to come to terms with. But I can’t imagine that anyone who had taken this situation, regardless of what point of view they were looking at it from, and sat with it in meditation or even just considering it with some common sense to determine the right action would’ve come to any different conclusion than that it had to stop.
I received more than a few messages of support and appreciation for my writing about the Kausthub mess. People know that I have a bit different perspective about it considering how long I’ve studied at KYM. Thanks for your support!
But I received one message that interested me very much and that I thought was important enough to share. The person I received this from used to write a blog on spirituality, one I thought was a cut above the usual, one that was much deeper than the new agey blah blah that’s out there. He is someone I know who has “done the work.” He said that he did not want to comment publicly but thought I would find some value in his thoughts. I did, so I asked his permission (which he gave me) to publish his words. He said he followed (but not closely) the Anusara story and did not know much about Desikachar, either the person or the tradition.
Any serious practitioner knows that yoga is about energy. Prana is of course one of the first words we learn about in yoga. Shiva/Shakti energy is discussed in some yoga circles. And yet, what does all that really mean? Do we really understand the implications of that concept coming out of a 200 hour teacher training?
Some people are fascinated by Tantra. They think it’s all sexy and mysterious and the secrecy about it draws them in. Hell, even Oprah talked about it or at least one aspect of it — sex. Who doesn’t want in on some sexy, mysterious yoga voo-doo that may confer power over mere yoga mortals? I recall that John Friend was all up into it, to his own demise. One becomes fascinated with something that is called the Left Handed Path and they think they can become a yoga sorcerer.
What this reader refers to in his comment below is rarely talked about in modern yoga training, at least in the West. We’re all into the asana, perfecting that handstand or chilling at the yoga fests. But there is a whole other deeper aspect of yoga that is often not even mentioned, merely hinted at.
To put it bluntly, without mature guidance, yoga can fuck with your head. As Paul Grilley said in a training I did with him, yoga is slow medicine but even good medicine can kill you if taken injudiciously. That’s why it is so important to have the guidance of a seasoned, competent teacher who has done the work and can honestly answer your questions. However, ultimately, the path is walked alone.
Yoga can work some heavy changes, both positive and negative. Real yoga is about dealing with that Shadow Self. Yoga is not all about love and lite manifesting 108 sun salutations that might save the world from itself. That’s why I believe and have always said that “yoga cooks us” especially if you’re doing the important work. Kausthub certainly knows how transformative yoga is as evidenced by his lecture to us this year.
As the reader told me about his comments, you can take them or leave them.
It’s all food for thought, not just about the latest scandal, but for all of us.
My comments are more general in nature and may not apply to these specific situations, but in all likelihood, they have some merit. They are based on some observations I have made along my own journey regarding the way energy tends to flow in the realm of human interaction. They are also based at least in part on my observations of my own responses to various situations as a proxy for all human (especially male) energy.
These yoga practices can very often and easily drive up combinations of energetic imbalance that predictably result in such situations. I used to wonder why so many of these yoga gurus would end up in scandals, if they are supposed to be models of “enlightenment”, but now I can see that it is not at all surprising.
Because yoga is primarily a “fire path” (with practices designed to move shakti upward through the spinal and central channels and out the crown), males in particular are susceptible to these problems. Most men are already somewhat imbalanced toward this “fire” direction, as opposed to most females, whose “water” (cool) energy tends to flow downward more easily and are thus more naturally grounded when practicing yoga.
It’s easy to spot when this happens – the result is usually short temper, arrogance, magnetic power, etc. This imbalance tends to seek out its opposite polarity to create harmony. Thus, in the case of men, they seek out female energy. It often results in sexual activity because of the unconscious nature of its manifestation. When you’re not grounded at all and you’ve bypassed your lower chakras to shoot out the crown, those lower centers tend to act on their own. And it can also result in various forms of male/female domination, abuse, and control. The women in these situations are in many cases imbalanced as well (in the opposite direction, which tends toward sadness, depression, etc.), and when they meet this charismatic male energy there can be an explosive response. Needless to say, typically none of the parties involved are well equipped to deal with the consequences of their engagement.
Let’s face it – we’re all playing with fire here when it comes to spiritual cultivation, no matter what the path. It’s a challenging situation, and (temporary) imbalance is inevitable. It helps a lot if you can anticipate it and understand what some of the antidotes are (or if you have good teachers you can trust to watch over you). Unfortunately, as I’ve witnessed many times and am now coming to understand more clearly, virtually all “systems” of cultivation are pretty much only half-baked and often tend to ignore these imbalances when they occur. Many of these systems actually predictably create imbalances, or at least ignore large parts of what it means to be a “complete” human. I don’t want to comment specifically regarding any particular tradition, but I will say that even when they do have balanced practices available, many practitioners (especially the ones that tend toward imbalance) will ignore them and do too much pranayama, etc., in order to develop more power.
Personally, I’ve found that it’s possible to combine the best of multiple approaches, although this is also a perilous path and requires much wisdom, diligence and vigilance. Even then, you can never really know how it’s going to turn out, as everyone is different and what works for one, may not turn out so well for another. When it comes to organizations, I’ve mostly tried to avoid them, as they come with a lot of baggage and tend to crystallize their belief systems. However, I’ve also found that they can be very useful if one doesn’t get too caught up in their dogma or feel too desperate to belong to something. …
Evolution is a painful and difficult process, and anyone who thinks it isn’t or shouldn’t be that way is simply naive. The Earth itself is currently undergoing some radical shifts in its own energy/consciousness, and it’s inevitable that in the process there is going to be much resistance and upheaval. It really explains the polarization of American society as embodied in politics and the “liberal/conservative” axis. There is no difference between the micro- and the macro-, they dance with each other in unison.
These “scandals”, both the individual parties who sparked the controversies, as well as the reactions of the populace, are all evidence of this evolutionary process. We cannot separate our individual selves from them, nor should we. Rather, we can embrace the whole of who we are at both the micro- and macro- scale, and continue to work on ourselves to find the balance and harmony that we so naturally seek.
By now many people know about the latest yoga scandal about Kausthub Desikachar, all the allegations about him regarding sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse. I learned about it a week before it hit the yoga blogs, first from the search terms people used to find this blog: “kausthub desikachar scandal”; “kausthub desikachar sex abuse”; “kausthub desikachar allegations”; “kausthub desikchar rape.”
What the frack! Something huge is going on! “Uh, oh,” I thought, “this is going to be bigger than John Friend.” Then I got a Facebook message from a teacher asking me, “have you heard….” I put 2 and 2 together and then I was sent emails with attachments of the letters that have now been published in various yoga blogs.
As many of you know, I have studied yearly at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Manidram since 2005 and have written many times about my experiences there. I was shocked (but not surprised) when this news came out. I have no allegiance to Kausthub whatsoever, he was never my direct teacher. He was my teacher once for a class on Chapters 3 and 4 of the Sutras during my second trip to KYM in 2006.
The allegations made me physically ill. I will only say that I am privy to information that is not public and that I will not make public. I will also say that I am appalled that the 2007 letter from a KYM teacher to Desikachar outlining the reasons for her resignation from KYM has been published in yoga blogs. I don’t know if she knows her letter has been passed around in emails and published in blogs (I have written to her via Facebook as she was one of my teachers 2005-2006), but I am sure no one wants their private letters published without permission. Maybe she does not mind that her private correspondence was published, but I have to ask the yoga bloggers who made it public: did you ask her permission? Two women yoga bloggers came forward to write about their own experiences with Kausthub but that was their own choice.
As an advocate for trauma survivors, I believe KYM must be open and transparent about all of it. What made me angrier than Kausthub’s actions was that they were ignored by those in charge, including his father.
Many people asked me whether I wanted to speak or write about what was happening. People expected me to write about it because of how many times I have studied at KYM, but I decided not to because it was too soon and my feelings were too raw. My plans to take a group to KYM for private classes have been in the works since March and I seriously reconsidered my group trip.
The first person I asked for advice was my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami, whom many of you know I have studied with since 2004. I also study with Ganesh Mohan, whose father also studied with Krishnamacharya. They are the two I know who are closest to the lineage — they gave me good advice that I will keep private because it is between teacher-student (as was Saraswati’s 2007 letter to Desikachar.) Not keeping teacher-student confidences private is one thing that Kausthub is accused of.
After MUCH consideration and literally sleepless nights about this, I decided to continue with my group trip to KYM. Why? Because I received advice from J. Brown, whose essays and opinions on modern yoga I deeply respect. He is familiar with the lineage via Mark Whitwell. He told me that he thinks the situation is different from Anusara because there is no “spiritual head” of the tradition and it is by Desikachar’s example that there is no brand name (KYM does not call the style “viniyoga” as Gary Kraftsow does.) This means that no one person can lay claim to it and, therefore, no one person’s bad behavior can diminish the power of the teachings. In his opinion, he thought that I should carry on as planned and “stay true to your practice and the experience you were hoping to provide the people joining you and it will be good enough. The experience of going to India and studying at the Mandirim is not contingent on one particular teacher.”
“Stay true to your practice.” I will let that resonate for a while.
I also received advice from one of my favorite teachers at KYM, who is still there and whom I have known since 2005. She told me that it is always about the teachings and what we learn from it, that the essence is important and nothing else.
Finally, it was hearing the Vedic chant to Patanjali every morning in my training with Ganesh Mohan this past week that helped me decide. The chant told me what it’s really all about. The practice.
That, and the fact that the people who have signed up for my trip told me that the allegations against Kausthub did not make any difference to them — they want the teachings and they trusted my judgment and wisdom about the situation. As soon as the news hit, I sent an email to everyone who had signed up or who was thinking of signing up letting them know how conflicted I was about continuing with my plans. I asked them to give me a week to make a decision. One woman told me that she appreciated my honesty and it was because of my open and honest writing in this blog that attracted her to my trip in the first place. Only one woman cancelled her plans to go on this trip because of what happened and I respect her decision. We all have to follow our own hearts and I am at peace with my decision to continue with the trip.
Krishnamacharya’s teachings belong to the yoga world, they do not belong to the institutions or any one person whether it is Desikachar or his son. While KHYF is the money-making part of KYM, the two have always been considered separate entities. Although international students attend classes at KYM, it has more of an “Indian” emphasis and influence, with Indian teachers. KHYF was always geared to bringing yoga therapy training to the West with Kausthub teaching and overseeing the Western teachers (KHYF did not exist when I first went to KYM.) I rarely saw Kausthub at KYM other than in 2006.
About 6 years ago I considered entering the yoga therapy program (their first training) but decided not because of Kausthub. I thought his responses to my questions were arrogant. He expected me to fly to where he was teaching in the United States for a personal interview even though I had just returned from my second trip to KYM that was within 6 months of the first. Regarding acceptance into the training, he said a personal interview would take precedence over a telephone interview. I told him to forget it, that if two trips to KYM within 6 months did not show my allegiance to his grandfather’s teachings I don’t know what would.
Don’t lay this all on KYM. As I said all during the Anusara debacle, the teachers who knew about John Friend’s shenanigans and said nothing are equally culpable. The KHYF yoga therapy training program has Western senior teachers who work closely with Kausthub. If they or any other Western teacher had any inkling that something horrible was going on, they should have stepped forward, gone public, disassociated themselves. We now know that these things have been going on since at least 2007.
From all that I know about the situation thus far, I think nothing short of an exorcism can help Kausthub. Seriously, he needs long-term, intensive help. It’s not just about the sex but also about power and privilege — and power can be very sexy and attractive to some women, whether it is sexual, political, financial, or spiritual power. We all know this but may not want to admit it, Every one of us has a shadow side with secrets. And REAL YOGA is about pulling up those demons and dealing with our shadow selves. It hurts like a MFer and it ain’t pretty.
Sometimes we need a radical change and a brand new perspective and the Kausthub situation is giving KYM just that. I know they have separated themselves from Kausthub. In an email I received from the Director of Yoga Studies in response to my concerns about bringing my group, she said that KYM “strongly believes in the teachings of Shri Krishnamacharya and Shri Desikachar.” KYM appointed Dr. Latha Satish as the acting managing trustee in place of Kausthub and I know her as a wonderful teacher.
Any situation is never black or white and there are many levels to this, including cultural. I am absolutely not making excuses for Kausthub’s actions, but one thing I have learned in my 6 trips to India is to not view things in India through a Western lens — and I know that is something very hard to understand if one has not been to India as many times as I have or if one does not live there. It is something I have discussed privately with people (both Western and Indian) and it is also something I will not write about, but one can begin to get some insight from the book Being Indian
All that being said, I am wise enough to not let Kausthab’s personal failings get in the way of my respect for the Krishnamacharya lineage. What Kausthub did (and he denies nothing) is a disgrace — but he only disgraced himself and his family, not the tradition. If anything, this should be another wake-up call to yoga practitioners about putting their teachers on pedestals. Funny how people are so quick to question everything in their lives but their own yoga practice and teachers. And please…I don’t want to hear anything about how a “guru” is a bad thing — click the link and read what Kausthub has to say about the teacher-student relationship (in retrospect, apparently speaking about himself.)
Many people make claims about meditation, but still don’t understand it. They assume that TECHNIQUES are meditation.
What is happening in modern day science and medicine is that they say meditation works, but we don’t want to understand WHY it works. Books on this subject are merely guidebooks, they give no explanation as to HOW meditation works. If we take a tool like meditation and become attached to it, there is no understanding.
WHY is more important than WHAT.
There are three domains of meditation in yoga, but modern yogis are concerned with bendy bodies, fancy clothes, and taking their pictures in front of waterfalls. They should be applying for jobs in Hollywood, not in yoga. Yoga is meant to be done as a meditative practice.
The first domain is that meditation is about helping us live our lives better. We have daily activities, actions concerning the world, we’re part of a social eco-system. Many times we do not deal appropriately with this eco-system because of our klesas — we make mistakes. To help us see clearly, to improve our actions, meditation is done.
The second domain of meditation is to improve or regain our health because we get sick, whether it is body, mind, emotions, or spirit.
The third domain has to do with self-realization. The difference between animals and us is that we are not only interested in eating and sex, but as humans we have the potential for self-realization. We have the ability to question the meaning of life and our role in it, what we can give back.
It is my hope that there will be enough sanity in future yogis to move beyond the body and go inward.
So how does meditation work in these three domains, because it does not work the same in each.
For the first domain, yoga philosophy says that there is a process in which an action begets another action. We hear or read something (knowledge) and that awareness creates a desire. That desire creates an action, so we act from a place of desire. The action is not the end of the cycle because there is a consequence. The consequence leaves an impression on us, good or bad. This is where mistakes happen.
Meditation works here by addressing the source: is your awareness right or wrong? Our knowledge is not based on a fact but what we are drawn to. We have the illusion of clarity, we see what we want to see, not what is really in front of us.
In meditation for this domain, the practice is designed in such a way in order to give us clarity of perception. It takes us to a neutral space, not from a bias. Meditation can influence how we see things, i.e. with greater perception of clarity. In that way, our responses in life become more appropriate — this is the opposite of what we usually do, how we usually react in and to life.
In the second domain, it is given that the mind controls the body. For example, we have a nightmare and truly believe that whatever is happening in the nightmare is actually happening to us, we have a physical reaction to the nightmare — that is how strong the mind is over the body. In the same way our mind can influence us in a positive way. Modern science is finally seeing this. When the mind moves into nirodha samskara (YS Ch. 3), the mind becomes stable. Meditation helps us change the patterns of the mind which can thereby change the patterns of the body. In yoga philosophy, diseases and health are seen as nothing other than a set of patterns. Patanjali introduces the concept of yoga therapy in the second and third chapters of the Sutra-s. The mind is very powerful — there is a reason why it is said “mind over matter” — because the mind can literally change matter. This seems paranormal, but it is not.
The trouble is that we always want things to change quickly, but change takes time. The mind is linked with the senses which are linked to matter. What is held in the mind moves towards what holds the senses. We have seen what could be called miracles at the Mandiram, when all we do is show a person how to breath, how to meditate, when they came here and could not even lift an arm.
However, the same thing won’t work the same way with everyone. The stupidity of modern times is that everyone is the same — we want the same prescriptions. The same focus will be different with everyone. A metaphor for this is that the same food will be cooked differently whether it is cooked in an electric oven or a traditional tandoor — same food, different result. How your mind is will affect what the change is. Giving the same medicine to everyone and expecting the same results is ridiculous.
Patanjali said that each of us has different kinds of mind — which mind that holds the object of meditation will affect the change. The standardization of meditative practices is rubbish.
The third domain is the spiritual domain. The exploration of our potential is the spirituality contained in the Yoga Sutra-s.
We all have within us seeds that are dormant, seeds that will grow. Meditation in the spiritual domain is like a dry field with seeds — prana is equivalent to water for that field. The prana will irrigate that mind field so that our seeds will sprout.
But we trap ourselves. We are ignorant of our seeds. We don’t nourish them because we don’t have the patience.
We don’t want to be who we are, we want to be someone else. We think being different is somehow better. This is where acceptance of ourselves is so important — a mango can never be a papaya. We have to start accepting who were are and stop rejecting who we are.
The river of prana must water the deep levels of the mind, but remember that we also have negative seeds. Besides the beneficial seeds, a field also has poison seeds, weed seeds — we have to accept both. We do not have authority to judge ourselves or others.
If prana is remaining in you, it finds you worthy of something — look at the positive, not the negative, because no one is perfect.
This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March. I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career. Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn. I will never call myself an expert. It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage. I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.
Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga. Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep. He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages. In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.
It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.) He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana. This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical. Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.
The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body. Our perception become very sensitive. Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36. Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.
At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm. Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs. However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.
At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis. We start feeling like crap. Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years. Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.
This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting. This is the time to especially sustain the practice. Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in. The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE. Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same. Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building. This is progress.
The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built. Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp. It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.
The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach. It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.
There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation. That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now. In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference. There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.
Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga. Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead. As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute. Every mind, every body, every day is different.
The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced. He gave an example of child’s pose: it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do. Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement. But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.
Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you. When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student. Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”
Referencing current problems in modern yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays. Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability. Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation. A serious question to ask is: if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet? In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga. Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays! Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher. Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings. That is what makes a great teacher. Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.
Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties. If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain. The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.
It has always struck me how Western yoga peeps are afraid of the word “guru.” I’ve gotten into it with a well-known yoga blogger about the use of the word guru, her argument being that somehow there is something inherently bad or negative about the word. We give words their power. There are different definitions for guru: venerable, weighty, teacher, dispeller of darkness. In Buddhism a guru is seen as a teacher or a spiritual friend. So many connotations on such a simple word yet so many problems associated with it. That’s what happens when we look outside ourselves for our identity. We become lost and confused.
I was happy to be in India when the John Friend scandal broke. Yawn. That’s when the discussions of guru began. I have no problem with so many seemingly intelligent people calling him a guru. But I think the entire debacle raises questions on WHY so many people got hood-winked. What does that say about them? What were THEY lacking in their lives that they entrusted their identities, indeed their yoga souls, to someone like Friend? People can argue that we all have the need to belong to a group, we all need to feel wanted, praised, loved, but at what price? Just because the Kula Kids gave up their identities to a charismatic charletan, does not make the concept of guru bad.
I have been called a guru, albeit in India, and I don’t have an entourage like Friend. When I am in India and people find out I am a yoga teacher they automatically ask “who is your guru?” People have touched my feet in India, especially at the Kumbh Mela. I know that would shock people here and the first time it happened I was taken aback, but I realized, that’s what people do. I did not automatically think that I am any more special or more important than they are.
Kausthub Desikachar spoke to us twice during my training this month and he spoke about the teacher-student relationship. He said yoga students should look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but to focus on the teachings, not the teacher. He told us that people would always tell him how wonderful it is to have Desikachar as a father, how wonderful it must have been to have Krishnamacharya for a grandfather, that they must have been the perfect teachers. He told us, no, they were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they were passionate about the teachings, that the teachings of yoga are much more important than Krishnamacharya or Desikachar. Kausthub said that if one reads the Sutra-s carefully, Patanjali did not say if we practice authentic yoga that we will not have any problems, we will only have lessklesas. Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.
I read on a yoga teacher’s website the other day that she is an “expert in all things yoga.” Wow. Does that make her a guru? Instead of wanting to learn more about her, that makes me run like hell. I have never heard the teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram say they were experts in anything. In fact, in spite of some of them studying with Desikachar for 10 or more years, during my training they said they are still learning from him, from each other, and from us, the students who come to sit at their feet. Humility bespeaks a true yogi.
So put down that smartphone, look someone in the eye, and listen mindfully next time they speak to you. That person might be your next guru. Not the rock star yoga teacher you idolize at the yoga conference, not the yoga teacher you pay thousands of dollars to for a teacher training, but your next door neighbor. Or a homeless person. Or a domestic violence survivor.
I am blessed with serendipitious meetings when I am India and one of them was during my last weekend in India. In a land where even the beggars have cell phones, this man does not have one. He does not do email and he did not know what Wikipedia was until I told him. He is a wealthy man, a movie distributor whose father was a famous film director in 1950s Bollywood and whose mother was a well-known musician who played at Woodstock. Yet, one of the most unassuming men I have ever met. We talked about the cell phone phenomena, about how people feel lost without them, AS IF constantly checking emails and Facebook and Twitter gives them their identity. He said, “I see people all the time in restaurants, they are out together but not talking, they’re always checking their phones. Nincompoops.” He said they were missing life, missing connecting with someone who could be their teacher. A guru.
My friend said he does not allow people to make or receive calls when they are in his flat, only in emergencies, only if it is an absolute necessity. He makes them go outside because he finds it rude and distracting. This, in a country where there are more cell phones than toilets. I’ve decided that next time I am talking with someone who is more interested in swiping their smartphone or checking Google Maps, I’m going to stop talking and wait for them to practice mindful listening.
We spent 17 hours together during my last weekend in India. No computers, no phones — only walking, talking, drinking tea. And always mindfully listening to each other’s guru.