Tag Archives: Leslie Kaminoff

teacher trainings: then and now

desikachar kripalu
L TO R: Leslie Kaminoff, Navtej Johar, Mirka Scalco Kraftsow, Gary Kraftsow, R. Sriram, Mark Whitwell, Richard Miller, Larry Payne  ©2018 Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education

I’ve returned from Kripalu from the Desikachar tribute weekend put together by Leslie Kaminoff and Lydia Mann that I wrote about here.  Leslie entitled it “Celebrating T.K.V. Desikachar: We Are the Lineage” and in the photo above are the presenters who took part.

There were three yoga sessions daily by each presenter, each one presenting an aspect of what they learned in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Each night the presenters talked about how they came to the Krishnamarcharya Yoga tradition, what inspired them about it, and how they interacted with Desikachar.

Each one learned different things from Desikachar but the consistent thread was learning one-on-one with him and relationship.  Desikachar always taught that Yoga IS relationship.  Each of them went to India with different agendas, each one wanted to learn something different from the other so Desikachar taught to the individual according to their interests.

None of them went through a typical yoga teacher training with him as one does now, like a 200 or 500 hour training.  Listening to their stories it reminded me how differently they were taught then by Desikachar as opposed to now where people chase the pieces of paper that declares them a “yoga teacher.”

Does studying a mere 200 or 500 hours make you a yoga teacher?  In the 1970s and 1980s you would study with a teacher like Desikachar who would one day tell you “OK, now you’re ready, go out and bring what you learned into the world.”  Nowadays, who would be willing to study with a master teacher until they were told, in the master teacher’s opinion, that they were ready to teach?  What if that took two or three years instead of less than one year?  Be honest.

Each of the above presenters wanted to learn different things — Kraftsow was into religious studies while Kaminoff was not.  Johar went to Chennai to learn dance at the famous Kalakshetra dance school and met a man on a bus who said “you should go see my yoga teacher” and told him to go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  Kraftsow learned something that Payne did not learn that was different from Miller’s training and so it went with each one.  Same same but different as we say in India.

Which brings us back to yoga teacher trainings as they are currently taught and what makes a good teacher.

I’ve never studied with Rod Stryker but he said this:

“Above all else: never, never stop being a student; study with the best, most notably, those who truly embody what they teach. Only then can you become a teacher of distinction. Only when you grow to understand and feel a legitimate link to the vision of yoga as seen by the tradition of yoga, and relate to it as something that breathes with sublime life and wisdom––and has long before you took your first breath––will you truly thrive as student and only then can you become a great teacher.”

My first teacher training in 2002 was not even 200 hours and my teacher did not belong to Yoga Alliance, he grandfathered into it.  He also did not go through a typical teacher training.  He was living with his Indian guru who told him, “You’re ready, go to Chicago and teach,” so he came and opened one of the first yoga studios in Chicago, if not THE first one in 1984.

I went back in 2003 to do Suddha’s course again where he taught it a bit differently.  I ended up meeting Srivatsa Ramaswami shortly thereafter who introduced me to the Krishnamacharya tradition and the rest is history.  None of the intensives or private one-on-one classes I took at KYM from 2005-2015 were “teacher trainings.”  I do not have one piece of paper from KYM that says I am a “certified yoga teacher” in the lineage, yet I’ve been told that with all my trainings since 2002 I have a PhD in Yoga.  I once received an email from KYM referring to me as a “senior teacher” in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Cough, cough.  Yeah, that and $3 will buy me a Starbucks.

So where are the students who want to study with a lineage holder in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition AKA me?  Crickets.

After teaching for 17 years I finally have a mentee whom I adore because she said she wanted to study with a teacher from a lineage.  Lineage was important to her.  She drives from Indianapolis (about 4 hours) once a month for a weekend and I teach in the old school way as Desikachar taught each of the presenters mentioned above:  she comes with what she wants to learn, asks questions, and I answer them.  Simple.

She leaves and then until we see each other again, she allows what I’ve taught to resonate with her.  She recently told me:

“I have been processing a lot about being a modern yoga teacher — what is authentic and truthful to the practice and what resonates as authentic and truthful to me (in my understanding of that truth)?
What I am finding is that the Krishnamacharya lineage, as I am learning through you, has strong resonance.  I am looking forward to continuing under your mentorship.  I am also rediscovering and reengaging my practice on a very basic level.  I’m getting to my mat and simply making shapes and witnessing my body respond. …
I am feeling more relaxed about my learning journey.  It’s a lifetime.  … I am letting what I learned settle and integrate.  There is no need to hurry the process.  I was seeking to obtain some definition of who I am/what I do.  It does not matter.  The label is the suffering and has often been my suffering.  I do not fit the mold.  It’s okay.  I am enough.”
That’s REAL YOGA.

Who wants some?

meet me at Kripalu

IMG_0150
T.K.V. Desikachar chanting, September 2005 ©METTA YOGA 2018

For those who have studied in the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar Yoga tradition or for those who are wondering about it, June 2018 will give you a good opportunity to experience what that tradition is all about and you don’t have to go to India.

Leslie Kaminoff has put together a weekend in tribute to T.K.V. Desikachar at Kripalu, June 21-24.  Presenters include Leslie, Navtej Johar, Gary Kraftsow, Mirka Kraftsow, Richard Miller, Larry Payne, R. Sriram, and Mark Whitwell.  You can see all the teachers’  information and register on the Kripalu website.  My flight tix are bought and I am registered but I can tell you that most of the private rooms with private baths are gone.  The site is also very buggy and gets hung up (no matter what browser I used) so it is best to call to register.

For the last three years I haven’t done any major yoga things so I’m excited to attend as I’ve never been to Kripalu.  If you go and want to share the cost of a car from the Albany airport to Kripalu, contact me.

If you are not familiar with the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar Yoga tradition this is a heartfelt piece written by Gary Kraftsow.  Yes, there are still teachers who have never heard of Krishnamacharya or Desikachar.  I met a Canadian yoga teacher during my trip to India last year who had no idea who they were.

This part of Gary’s piece rings so true for me:

“From the beginning, he emphasized what his father had told him: “The teaching is for the student, not the teacher.” He taught me that I was not teaching students to do yoga techniques correctly, but that I was teaching them how to use yoga techniques to help them understand and transform themselves. My job, he told me, was to see the student’s needs and interests, meet them where they were, and provide appropriate and accessible tools to help them move from where they were to where they wanted to go. He said that my real goal with students should be to inspire and empower them to deepen their own understanding of yoga and to commit to a personal practice.”

  I have recently started mentoring a young yoga teacher and we did not talk about one asana for the entire weekend.  We talked about personal transformation because she wanted to know how to incorporate that idea into her classes, how to move beyond the physical practice.

While I studied directly with Desikachar in only my first two trainings at KYM, every teacher there who studied with him and were teaching us always imparted that as teachers we are teaching students “how to use yoga techniques to help them understand and transform themselves.”  I remember how nervous I was to chant a few lines of the Gayatri Mantra for Sir (as we called him) during my second visit.  He said “Good” when I finished and that was all I needed to hear.  🙂

Every year for 10 yrs, from 2005-2015,  I was immersed in the idea of YOGA AS TRANSFORMATION via the trainings and the personal one-on-one classes I took with Desikachar’s senior teachers.  At the same time from 2012-2014 I also studied with Ganesh Mohan, son of A.G. Mohan, in his yoga therapy program.  I’ve always said that “Yoga cooks us” so I was definitely getting cooked!  😀    I am so very grateful to Srivatsa Ramaswami for introducing me to the tradition in 2004 on his first visit to Chicago.

While I will never be a well-known teacher like Leslie Kaminoff, Mark Whitwell, Gary Kraftsow, Erich Schiffmann or other famous students of Desikachar, sharing the wisdom to thousands of students a year as they do, I am glad I can impart my small pieces of Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition in my tiny yoga space in suburban Chicago, one student at a time — Yoga as it is meant to be taught, in my opinion.  My mentee has already started taking it out into her yoga world in Indianapolis and that does my heart good.

I am sure this will be great weekend.

Viniyoga (trademarked) and #MeToo

pondicherry sign
Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining

The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?  Life in this here Modern Yoga World.

I’m coming out of self-imposed writing exile to write about Kausthub Desikachar again.  The latest is that he trademarked the word “Viniyoga.”   Here is his justification for the trademark.   The word “viniyoga” is in the Yoga Sutra-s so it is as if Kausthub is trademarking the word “AUM.”  Whaaat?!  I’m told that he is already sending cease and desist letters to those using the word “Viniyoga.”

Leslie Kaminoff wrote his response to Kausthub’s trademarking.  Leslie has said all that needs to be said about it, in my opinion.  I won’t add anything else other than I believe it’s all ego on Kausthub’s part and extremely misguided.  It would make more sense to trademark “Desikachar Yoga” like “Forrest Yoga” or “Bikram Yoga” or “Jois Yoga” but “Viniyoga” as a style?  Since he does not have an heir to carry on the Krishnamacharya Yoga lineage (he has a teenage daughter from a first marriage who has no interest in yoga), maybe that is his reasoning?  One can only speculate.

The ill will and anger he is creating is his own karma.  It would not be the first time that shit rains down on a yoga teacher because of EGO.  You can draw your own conclusions from both writings.

BY THE WAY, KAUSTHUB, I AM ALSO LINEAGE HOLDER
OF YOUR GRANDFATHER’S YOGA TRADITION.
JUST BECAUSE YOU TRADEMARKED A WORD
DOESN’T MAKE THAT LESS SO.

As for the #metoo movement, it affected me.  Deeply.  I have my own #metoo stories as a survivor but not from the yoga world.   At the time I looked at the Facebook pages of certain yoga teachers who were accused of sex abuse to see if they came out to own their shit, to support women.  Kausthub was one whose page I looked at.  Nothing.  Crickets.  For those who need a reminder, this is the first piece I wrote about him in 2012.  I also wrote about him here and here.

I know those who are currently studying with him in India and I respect their judgment.  I am not going to disavow friendships because of whom they choose to study with.  I also attended a workshop he taught last year in Dixon, IL given at a woman’s house because frankly, no Chicago area yoga studio will host him (that I am aware of.)  That being said, John Friend has no shortage of workshop opportunities from what I hear so who knows if Kausthub will teach here in the future.

Quite honestly, I went because I was curious, to see if things had changed with him.  I last saw Kausthub at length in 2006 in India.  Kausthub was an arrogant albeit excellent, even brilliant, teacher.  I previously wrote about him when he gave a lecture in one of my KYM intensives about 5 years later.  At the Dixon IL weekend the wisdom teachings in the yoga tradition that I have studied for 10+ years were wonderful, but all weekend I felt that something wasn’t right, something felt off to me about him.  Kausthub asked me if I wanted to bring students to his new school in Chennai as I had to KYM in 2013.  I couldn’t and I wouldn’t.  I also would no longer bring students to KYM either (given another “yoga war” which is another subject), however, I won’t tell people not to study there.

Now Kausthub says that Viniyoga (R with a circle around it) “honors women.”

I will leave that right here and you can digest it given all that went down in 2012.  As Australian yoga studio owner, Nikola Ellis, asked, “What does Kausthub Desikachar have in common with Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein?  They’re all great supporters and defenders of women (and partial to trademarking).”

The stats he cites are just that.  Stats.  Everyone knows that yoga is practiced mainly by women and the majority of teachers are women.  KHYF does not hold women higher merely because a high percentage of women study there.

Kausthub also mentions his mother.  When I was in India in 2013 I was told that his mother was encouraging women to study with her son even during the uproar of the accusations against him.

Ironically Kausthub’s message about how he honors women arrived on the same day that Yoga Alliance published their new policy on sexual misconduct.

This morning I received this email.  I don’t know who sent it (obviously someone who has my email address) or who the “concerned yoga teachers and women” are, but I believe the trademarking together with his statement on “honoring women” lit the flames of a long simmering seemingly unresolved outrage:

Kausthub Desikachar, son of TKV Desikachar and grandson of T Krishnamacharya, was reported to have abused numerous students in 2012. The allegations were extensive, pointing to serial and systemic misconduct, but were either covered up or not examined impartially.

Kausthub, and his organization, KHYF, are now aggressively promoting themselves through his family connection to his famous father and grandfather. He is offering program on topics closely related to his alleged abuses, such as granthis, shadow side of yoga etc.

He has also been registered by the Yoga Alliance recently.

More details here: https://saveyogasavewomen.org.

By sharing this and adding your voice to this message, you are doing the right thing. If the allegations have no foundation, then Kausthub will address the issue and clear himself. If there is truth to it, as we have significant reason to believe, then you will stop more people from being hurt.

Please share this email and our website. Speak up against serial and systematic misconduct. Support ethics and abuse prevention in yoga.

You can also write to the Yoga Alliance at: iwanttohelpya@yogaalliance.org.

Thank you.

Namaste,

A group of concerned yoga teachers and women

I knew in my bones that as soon as the shit hit the fan with his trademark, that someone would again raise the topic of his sexual misconduct.  It was only a matter of time.  Some of the things I referred to in my posts in 2012 are also mentioned on this new website such as how KYM and long time teachers knew and did nothing.  You can read all the links on the site.

As much as I abhor Kausthub’s actions from 2012, still think he has a massive ego, and his trademarking of the word “Viniyoga” is extremely misguided, I believe that anonymous attacks are questionable.  When I wrote about Kausthub, I put myself on the line.  When I reviewed his book on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika,  I put my reputation on the line.  When I attended the weekend workshop with him last year I put myself on the line because of what I wrote in 2012.  I was accused of being an enabler by people who don’t know me and by some who do, none of whom knew anything about my reasons for doing his workshop last year.  I am not responsible for what people think about me.  My true friends never doubted me for a moment.

I understand the need for an outlet for victims/survivors.
During the #Metoo discussion I saw the face of my rapist in my mind’s eye daily. 

But an anonymous website, should it be done that way?  I don’t know and I am certainly not going to tell a victim/survivor what they should or should not do.  You can draw your own conclusions about the “save yoga save women” website.

Kausthub will never see the inside of a courthouse.  Instead, he will have to deal with the court of public opinion that can be more brutal than what happens inside a real courthouse.

Karma bites us all in the ass in one way or another.  The Universe pushes us towards things we are supposed to do and things we are not supposed to do.  Sometimes we go against our better judgment and do questionable things anyway.  There are lessons in all of it.  My teacher in Chicago just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Life.”

One thing I’ve come to realize in my old age is that there are no enlightened beings, only enlightened actions.