Nancy Gilgoff - Vermont 2001
Guy: When did you first meet Guruji?

Nancy: It was about 30 years ago.  I was traveling in India with DavidWilliams. We went to an ashram in South India in Pondicherry and askedwhere his friend Norman Allen had gone. And Norman had gone and foundPattabhi Jois so we followed along the footsteps of Norman and went toMysore. I was 24 years old and had no expectations at all aboutanything except world travel and went to Mysore, we were quicklybrought into this man’s family. I became enthralled with the wholepractice and with who he was.

Guy: What was your first impression of Guruji?

Nancy: Oh, I found Guruji to be open hearted, friendly, a man who I enjoyed just being around him. I trusted who he was and just enjoyed him as a person. I didn’t know anything about yoga then. So to me I surrendered to this friendly man who really seemed to want to do things with me. Guruji helped me in my practice and who I was later to become.

Guy: So you started studying with him right away when you first met him?

Nancy: Oh yes, we met him and then he told us to come back the next day and we came in the morning, and he started teaching us Surya Namaskara A.

Guy: I’ve often heard Guruji say that he teaches “real” or “original” Ashtanga yoga. What is your experience of Guruji as a teacher of “true” yoga?

Nancy: What is true yoga? [laughter] Ah, my experience of Pattabhi Jois as a yoga teacher is, it’s really - is my experience of it. When I met him I was quite ill, quite weak with migraine headaches and within four months of being with him I felt better. And I had no idea, I still can say, I had no idea what yoga was. I never expected to have any health benefits for me.

So in terms of the practice of yoga over the years of studying with him i have done some investigating and I would say his knowledge of asana is genuine. I consider him to be the best asana teacher in the world....for me. He’s certainly has taken me through my own fire and has shown me a great deal of compassion in teaching me. he helped my body to heal enough so that I could do the more advanced yoga practices.

When I first met him he told me my nervous system was very weak and that why I had these headaches. He also told me right away where the headaches were coming from in my back, in my lower back, which I had no pain in, so I thought that was kind of interesting. I thought that was probably… I didn’t know if that was correct or not correct, I just thought it was interesting. And then as years went by I started to understand why he said that ,and indeed I did have a sclerosis there but all the pain manifested in my upper body.

Guy: Why does Guruji emphasize the first of the limbs, in particular the third limb of Ashtanga yoga as a starting point?nancy-guruji-and-david.jpg

Nancy: The practice, the fiery practice of Ashtanga that Pattabhi Jois teaches people is to heal the body. Again this is how I understand it through myself so that we can be strong enough to do the more advanced practices. Most of, most people in the world come into asana practice with a body that isn’t able to stand up to some of the intense pranayama and the fire that you need to do these advanced practices. I think that’s why he also doesn’t talk about the other practices. He’s told me that a person needs 10 years of this asana series before he really can talk to you about meditation or pranayama for some people, but definitely meditation.

Guy: Does he talk about the other limbs in his teaching or does it come at a later point?

Nancy: He doesn’t talk about much about the others. For me he taught me pranayama within the third month I was with him.  Now he doesn’t teach that until much later.  He doesn’t really talk about those things too much with anybody. It’s left for self-inquiry, for people to go and find their own way with those. And I thought about it a lot over the years and came to see that his expertise is the asanas and he’s so wonderful at it. I think he was probably very wise to stay with what he does so well and let the rest of it unfold naturally for the people. He will speak on any subject but you have to ask him. Otherwise being around him and following the practise correctly, the other limbs will be realized.

Guy: Guruji comes from a lineage of householders, which I think is surprising to our Western concept of  a yogi perhaps meditating in a cave or something. How important is family life in the system of yoga Guruji is teaching? And how does that affect the quality of this practice?

Nancy: Guruji’s family is extremely important to him. His family, his immediate family is the core of his life, I feel. He also has an extended family with all of us, that are his students. I think traditionally most human beings are going to be householders. There are very few people that are going to be renunciates and that’s as it should be. If we didn’t have householders we wouldn’t have the human race anymore. So there’s a way of being within the daily life of a householder that has integrity and compassion and love within it and I think that’s what he teaches by example because his family is a very loving family and they extend that out to other people and allow other people to come in and be very close to them.

Guy: Is that how he teaches the yamas and the niyamas?

Nancy: Possibly yes. Definitely, his teaching is very rarely through words. You are with him and you learn who he is and how he reacts and how he treats people by his doing it. He’s not really going to give you much on the verbal plane. We used to think it’s because he couldn’t speak English, but he speaks English very well although he still doesn’t converse. If you ask him a direct question it’s amazing how much knowledge he has on different subjects but someone has to ask him the question.

Guy: That is intentional, obviously, in some way.

Nancy: I don’t know, you’d have to ask him that. I don’t know, you know I was with him recently when a friend of mine who’s an incredible body worker asked him a question about the body and the two of them got into a discussion that left the rest of us in a complete wonderment: What were they talking about? But they had this exchange going that was so deep and so beautiful to watch them and they both were so excited and into it but most of us had not an idea of what they were talking about. It was much, way beyond our comprehension. And the same thing with his study of Sanskrit and the Sutras and all of this you know, he’s so schooled in them but very few people, really, who could talk to him about those things. They are very few people who understand it and that’s one of the things about the practice being everything. You don’t talk about things you don’t know about or with people who can’t understand it. You have to ask the right questions to receive those kinds of answers.

Guy: My one last question is about after Guruji passes on, what do you think would be his legacy? What would continue on after him?

Nancy: All of it, all of the people practicing will continue on. I think that all of the people in the past who’ve continued yoga practices are part of the same legacy. Within the framework of each practice there are different people that are going to continue the form. I once asked a teacher of mine, Baba Hare Das, “What do the students owe a teacher?” And the answer was, “To do your practice.” And I think that the legacy of yoga, the only reason that I get to practice it now is because many, many people went before myself, went before Pattabhi Jois, went before Krishnamacharya. And created this lineage that we can all use as our lineage and to evolve with it.

Nancy's website
Yoga Journal Article about Nancy

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