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Manju Jois - New York 2000
Interviews
GUY: Manju, how old were you when you started to practice?

MJ: Oh, let’s see, I was seven-years old. Mmmm. It was just like a gamefor me, you know, just to watch and then you try to do it because it’sfun. It was not done seriously, he was not making me do things. We justgo voluntarily and start playing with the postures, that’s all.

GUY: When did he start teaching you formally?

MJ: Formally when I was twelve-years old. Then we had to practiceeveryday – in the morning and evening. He started teaching me and mysister individually giving us a private lesson. That’s how it allstarted.


GUY: You started with private lessons?
 
MJ: Yes.

GUY: Then you joined his regular classes?

MJ: No, we were always private, never with any of the other students because he wanted to make us into good teachers, so he wanted to make sure we were going to learn right.

GUY: He was training you to be a teacher?

MJ: Yes, absolutely.

GUY:  When did you start learning to be a teacher?
 
MJ: Well, actually I was just twelve or thirteen years old when I was starting to jump on people’s backs and stuff like that. That’s how I started. And then he never stopped me from doing that because he’s always guiding me what to do... you know, where to push, when to push. He started training me when I was very young. So that was really helpful for me, you know, because it was so natural the way I learned it.  

GUY: Was he teaching at the Sanskrit College?

MJ: Yes, at the Maharaja Sanskrit College. That’s where he was conducting the classes for the Sanskrit students and others to take. And that’s where I used to do yoga, and that’s where I used to help all these people coming there.

GUY: Was the school at the Jaganmohan Palace already closed at that time?

MJ: Yes

GUY: Do you remember, was Krishnamacharya around in those days?

MJ: I just met Krishnamacharya when I was seven or eight years old. He came down to Mysore to give a demonstration with his son and that’s the first time I met him.

GUY: Do you remember seeing your father practicing yoga?

MJ: Yes, yes.

GUY: Could you describe what it was like seeing your father practicing?

maju-pincha.jpgMJ: Well for us it was fun to see my father doing yoga, putting himself in all these postures. You know it was really amazing. He used to pick a posture sometimes and he would like to stay in that posture for a long time. And that’s how he used to practice.  And that’s how he started telling us to do that. There’s no need to do millions of postures, just try to master one at a time then you can go to the next one. I really enjoyed watching my father doing yoga. Sometimes we all used do it together too: me and my sister and my father.

GUY: That’s interesting. He teaches lots of postures to people but to you he was advising the way he was practicing.

MJ: Well, yeah. What he was practicing was he liked to master the thing, you see. So that’s why he was always telling us: “Master that, master that.” You know, then you can go to the next one. But we are like little kids, we want to learn more, you know what I mean? “Oh can I do this? If I can do this one can I skip this one? Or can I go to that one?” Sometimes he let us do that but at the same time he always had an eye on us to go back to finish that one, you know. So that’s what he did.

GUY: So basically, you started teaching with your dad when you were twelve or thirteen years old. How long did that continue before you left India?

MJ: Well, I left India in 1975. But before, I traveled myself to a lot of places (around India). And I would ask my friend (to come) and we would go to the universities in different parts of India and give demonstrations and talks on yoga. It was very fun actually.

GUY: When did Guruji open the school in Lakshmipuram?

MJ: Mmm, that was about... a long time ago, maybe ’61, ’62. I don’t know.

GUY: He was teaching in both places at the same time?

MJ: Yeah he was teaching at Sanskrit College at the time. Then he was about to retire and we want to have our own place. So that’s how he started. Then he started to build that small yoga studio there.

GUY: How many students did Guruji have in that studio?

MJ: We had like 50 students.

GUY: What kind of reputation did Guruji have among his students?

MJ: Oh you know, they respect him a lot. We used to get people with sickness in the body like asthma and diabetes and all sorts of problems. And those are the ones who used to come to yoga because they tried everything and finally the doctors used to send all these people to my father to do yoga. That’s the kind of group we had, people with problems.
 
GUY: So doctors would send their patients to Guruji after they could not cure them?

MJ: Oh you know in those days they did not have modern medicine. And the doctor (would) say,” Look the best thing for you to do is yoga.” Because we used get a lot of doctors come and do yoga too at the time. And they have a kind of like, you know, they don’t want to believe it, (but) they want to believe it - that’s the kind of attitude.

But anyhow, when they start seeing the results with these people, who used to do yoga, you know, they started getting healthier and healthier then that’s what they used to do. They would send (patients to) my father. So the best thing to do is just go to Pattabhi Jois, and then do yoga, and then he would cure this. So we got a lot of good results from doing that, yeah.

GUY: So he had a reputation for that.

MJ: He got a reputation for that, yeah. Usually, the Indian students who used to come there, most of them were sick. All kinds of problems they had. That’s why they started studying yoga. We want to get a good yogic exercise. There, it’s not like that. There, for the therapy they used to come for that. So that’s how it started.

LORI: Did Guruji adapt the practice at all for the therapy for the different students?

MJ: Yes, yes he did. He did mostly for the Diabetic students. He’d make them sit in Janu Sirsanasana A, B, C for a long time; Baddha Konasana, all the Upavishta Konasanas  work here (points to abdomen) mostly, you know. So that’s how he started.

LORI: How did he figure that out, do you know?

MJ: If you read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it will explain, you know, which posture helps in what kind of disease. That’s why you had to study not only yoga asanas, you got to study the books too. It’s like a medical book.

GUY: Can you describe a specific instance of a cure? Guruji once told me that he cured Elephantitis.

MJ: And leprosy, yeah. We did have a student, he just started leprosy in his ears. At that time there was not like a medication for that. So he came from Tamil Nadu, his father brought him actually, you know, because he’s the only son he had.

So my father said, yeah he can do that, he will do that. So then he started teaching this yoga to this guy who was a leper. Then some of his students left because they don’t want to be there, because "oh my God!" you know, they don’t want to do (yoga) in the same place.

So they told my father: "If this guy is doing yoga here, we’re not coming." And my father said, “Ok, that’s fine. This is important for me.”

So he started working with the guy. And then slowly the guy start getting healed, you know. His ears start getting better and everything. Then after that (he cannot stay too long) he decided to go back to his own hometown and start practicing everyday. So that’s what happened.

So then, if you can cure the leprosy, you can cure anything. So then people started getting attracted to cure through yoga.

Guy: What do you think was your father’s main interest in teaching yoga?

MJ: I think mostly he concentrates on healing, you know. Healing is much more important for him. Once you start healing yourself... his philosophy is that yoga would take you automatically to the meditative state, you see.

If you are not well inside of you, you can’t do anything - no meditation no nothing, so that’s how it will draw you into the spiritual path.

See, that’s why he says the yoga asanas are important - you just do. Don’t talk about the philosophy – 99% practice and 1% philosophy that’s what he meant. You just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it then slowly it will start opening up inside of you, then you are able to see it, you know. So that’s why he likes to concentrate on that aspect – the healing process.

GUY: Does the student take responsibility for their healing process, or does Guruji make any kind of diagnosis of the student?

MJ: Ah, well a lot of people they go to Guruji, they will say: “Oh Guruji has the answer for everything!” My father sees that, you know, that’s why he gives them work: “Alright, do it! do it! You’ll find out.” You see? That’s what he does: he diagnoses, but he don’t say it, you know, he doesn’t say, “Ok, you have this problem, you have this problem” ...he figures it out how to cure it, you know.

GUY: I’ve noticed that he has a very different attitude – emotional, psychological attitude to different students. Do you think that’s one of his techniques?

MJ: I think so, yeah, that’s how it is. Because, you know he studies the students. He doesn’t like impatient students. You see a lot of people go to my father and then they say, “Ok, I’ll be here for two months.” And they expect they are going to learn a lot of stuff in two months. And then, ah when my father says, “No, no. You can’t do (that), you know. You’ve got to stay here more. You got to come here more often and continue this.” And then you know, when people get impatient about that, he cannot stand that. You know, that’s why he gets mean, you know.

Because for him to learn this practice, he put a lot of energy and time, and he’s been punished by his guru. His guru did not teach him very easily, he just tried to see how much patience he has to learn this.

He would say like, “Come at eight o’clock or twelve o’ clock to my home to do yoga.” They had to be there exactly at twelve o’clock at his guru’s place. If he’s late, then he would make them stand in the sun for an hour and see, you know, what happens. So my father went through all those things. Then when he sees these impatient students then he would say, “Hey!” [laughter]

GUY: What is your impression about where the asanas come from, did Krishnamacharya make it up? Did Brahmachari teach it to Krishnamacharya?

MJ: You mean the asanas?

GUY: The specific asana sequence.

manju-guruji-old-shala-3.jpgMJ: Well, actually it’s all taken from the books, actually you know. If you take the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it teaches a few postures, talks about it. Then Yoga Korunta it teaches, and Siva Samhita, all these books, you see they have it. So what they did was pick all the postures and then they sat down and kind of researching, you know. Ok so to put it in a sequence to do yoga, these are the postures, you know, we have to start with, you know. That’s how they created the whole thing.
 
GUY: When you say “they” you mean?

MJ: Krishnamacharya in his Yoga Makaranda, he wrote the book.  It’s all the same, like my father teaches and then ah, that’s the same thing. Then when B.K.S. Iyengar took it he just picked here and there, here and there. It’s more like a therapy, you know. It’s like everybody has their own ideas of what to do. Um, so strict Ashtanga Yoga is how my father teaches: vinyasas, breathing and then, you know, so that’s the real Ashtanga Yoga.

GUY: But this was created, you think by Krishnamacharya, he put it together? He put the sequences together?
 
MJ: I think so, yes, yes.

GUY: I think it’s interesting that this lineage of Ashtanga Yoga comes through a series of householder teachers. We usually think of a yogi as someone sitting in a cave renouncing the world, at least that’s the Western impression.

MJ: Well actually that’s a very good question because in India it is like you’re learning music or something like that. The family knows the music and they become the teachers. So for us, it is just like that. It does not have to be like a guru or you got to hide in a cave or something like that. It’s just one of those professions, you know we learn.  

The priest teaches how to chant to their children, then their children become the next priests. And then everyday they chant in their home everybody learns that just by hearing it. The wife can chant, she doesn’t have to sit and read a book or anything because everyday she hears the same thing and naturally the kids will learn it in the same way - they know how to teach and how to do it. So, it’s like, you know, a family.
 
GUY: Guruji says he only has one guru. But there’s also another lineage of gurus through Sankararcharya, the family guru.

MJ: Right.

GUY: Can you explain a little bit the difference between those two?

MJ: About Sankararcharya?

GUY: Can you explain how Sankararcharya belongs to the family lineage and how Krishnamacharya is his yoga guru?

MJ: No, there’s no relation between Krishnamacharya and Sankararcharya. Sankararcharya is the guru for the Smartha Brahmin. Krishnamacharya’s guru was Ramanujacharya. You see he’s Iyengar. That’s a different, what do you call it? eh not a caste it is different. Eh, a sect. Yeah, right. Sankararcharya is for us as Smartha, Smartha Brahmins we are called. So we follow the Sankararcharya philosophy. So it’s mostly yoga and then all sorts of things is from the Sankararcharya.

GUY: So Krishnamacharya is guruji’s yoga guru, for asanas and so on but not so much for philosophy?

MJ: I think Krishnamacharya follows the philosophy of Sankararcharya. You see, Ramanujacharya (krishnamacharya’s lineage guru) is a religious leader, you see. There are three categories: Ramanujacharya, Sankararcharya, Madhavacharya - there are three gurus.

Sankararcharya represents Advaita, that’s what we study, you know. And Ramanujacharya is vaishnava, ah you know that’s a different study, that’s what they follow. And Madhavacharya you know, he preaches Madhva Sampradaya it’s called. They have different categories, different ways to teach - because Ramanujacharya and Madhavacharya - they don’t talk about yoga or anything – it’s more like spiritual. Only Sankaracharya is more into yoga. See that’s how we started it came from Kerala.

GUY: How does Guruji communicate the spiritual aspect of the practice to Western people?

MJ: Well, actually he just does not ah put in a spiritual aspect when he teaches the Western students because he knows, he knows Western students. This is very new for them - yoga. So that’s why he just ah don’t want to talk about any philosophy because it’s too confusing for them. So he slowly wants them to practice their yoga practice.

Then slowly, you know … because actually the Hinduism is very very hard to understand. You got to go deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper; it’s an old religion. And then, you know, it consists of yoga and philosophy, and then all sorts of spiritual things. Like ritual, we call it ritual - we have to study it in India... a lot of things I did not know until my mom passed away. Then, when I had to do all those things (rituals) I said, “Oh my god so many things to learn here." There’s no ending.

So to Westerners we had to take them very easy. That’s what my father does. Just do yoga don’t talk. Don’t ask any questions, you know spiritual thing and this and that. No, you’re here, you’re doing Karma Yoga now, that’s what you are doing. Just start working on that. So that’s how he teaches.

GUY: He regards it as Karma Yoga?

MJ: Karma is action, actually you know that’s the meaning. Karma is action so you’re acting upon... and when you’re practicing yoga – Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga – so actually the yoga is one, you know. It has all these different names.

But you know, you are doing what I call Karma Yoga - you’re working on your Karmas. You see, that’s why you feel the pain. And you’re going through it slowly - that means you’re slowly burning your Karma up. So once you come out of that you feel great. So then you can concentrate on other things, and the next step.
 
GUY: Why do you think Guruji is not teaching much pranayama anymore?

MJ: Well, Guruji he wants people to learn yoga first, asanas, master that, you know. And then um, I think he used to teach pranayama to only people who had problems like asthma or something like that, he used to teach them. Even in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it says you dont have to do all the kriyas and pranayamas, if it is not necessary. So these are the things you only do when it is really necessary. You have a health problem or something like that, then you do that.

And if you have a problem with your breathing, then you do the neti kriya. Then when you have like a problem, an intestinal problem, then you do the dauti kriya, you know. They used to do the dhauti, but you don’t practice that everyday. If you are doing fine, no problem. If you start doing that without reason you are going to get sick from it.

The first thing is to keep up with the asana, that’s what my father says. Just keep doing the asanas, postures, master them, you know. It takes a whole life-time to do that.

So, and also he used to say, you know, in olden times the lifespan of the rishis… (we never know our lifespan. We think we’re going to die at 75 years, 80 years maybe 100 years) ...there was no lifespan in old times because they controlled the whole situation, you see. When they decided to leave (the body) then they used to leave and that’s it. But that’s the whole thing about that, you see, when you start having control over yourself then the next step you go to is pranayama. Your body’s under control, your breathing’s under control. So when you start controlling you are going to be in the driver’s seat!

GUY: How are the other angas of Ashtanga Yoga included in the practice we know?

manju_guy.jpgMJ: Everything is included in Ashtanga. My father always used to say, “Don’t’ say I’m doing meditation.” You know it is not apart from your practice, the whole practice is the meditation, you know, with your breathing with your practice you become one with yourself that’s unite. Yoga is called uniting, you know.

You go through the cycle, you start getting hotter and hotter and then you start sweating you’re feeling really good, then you totally become one with it. That’s the whole thing, you know. You can’t just say: “this part I did, this part I did, this part I did,” so that’s why it’s 99% asana and 1% theory, that’s the whole thing.
 
GUY: Can you tell us how you met David Williams?

MJ: Oh yeah, long time ago I was traveling all around India and then I went through Madras. This guru who used to have an ashram in Pondicherry called Gitananda, his name was Gitananda, he’s very good friend of my father and then he used to come and visit my father in Mysore and then he always wanted me to give a demonstration because he’s always saying he enjoyed me doing that.  

So he always asked me to come to his ashram and stay there as long as I want, so when I was on the road, I decided my friend and I, “Oh, maybe we should visit Gitananda.” So then we went to Pondicherry, went to his ashram.

Then immediately he wanted me to stay there, so he told me, “You can stay as long as you want, all you have to do is just give a demonstration in the morning like a led class. I would do the yoga and people would follow it. Then I said, “No problem.” You know, because I practice my yoga in the morning anyway so instead of doing it in my room I can go and do outside.

So that day he announced, you know, “Yogi, Pattabhi Jois’ son is here and then ah, he’s going to teach you, he’s going to show you Ashtanga Yoga.” And he made an announcement. All these people were there who came there to study yoga and philosophy and then Gitananda said, “Ok, Manju is going to do this so you can all follow.”

Then I said, “Well, before I teach you anything, you know, I would like to give a little demonstration, then you will know what you’re going to do. So I start giving a little demonstration and all these people in the audience, they were really impressed because that’s why they came to India, to study this kind of thing, but they did not know where to go. Gitananda gives a lot of philosophy but no asanas.

Then after my demonstration there was this guy sitting, you know with the long hair. He came to me and he introduced himself to me. His name was David Williams and then he’s from the States and he asked me, “By the way, where did you learn this? It’s what I’m looking for. I want to learn this.” And then I said, “Well, I learned it from father.” -“Oh, where does your father live?” - “He lives in Mysore.” And then he said, “Oh, I gotta go there to see your father.”

Same day he left and I gave him the address... He left then, you know, he went to Mysore to see my father. Then he started studying with my father.

LORI: Could you talk about your mother’s influence on your father?

MJ: Oh yeah, my mother used to totally be the backbone of my father. She supported him in every way whatever he does and that’s how she is… you know. She actually chose my father. My mother, she fall in love because she was watching when he was doing yoga at the Sanskrit College when she was a kid. Then she used to come there everyday. They used to do yoga and then she was in love with him and that’s how they got together.

Then she went and told her father that she already found a husband for her. Her father start laughing and my grandfather said, “Who is that?” She said, “Oh, this guy I know. He does all these yoga postures."  So then my grandfather told her, “Well, why don’t you just bring him to be introduced to us.” Then she asked my father to come to her home so he can visit my grandparents.

Then he goes there, then she introduce them. Then my grandfather looked at him and said, “Oh yeah, he can take care of my daughter, no problem. He’s pretty strong.” [Laughter]

So that’s how they started. Then they got married. So she, you know, put up with everything with my father. He’s not a very easy guy to deal with, but she was there for him all the time. So she supported him every which way possible  played a main role in my father’s life. We dearly miss her.

LORI: Did he teach her Ashtanga Yoga?

MJ: Yes, yeah. They both used to do yoga together. And then she used to give demonstration at Krishnamacharya’s place at Jagan Mohan Palace and she was very good, very good.

LORI: What kind of atmosphere did she create in your home?

MJ: Fantastic atmosphere, always at peace, you know, funny, she got a great sense of humor and then usually she never made anything like a big deal, she was always like easy going you know. So that’s how my father misses her a lot because my father gets intense sometimes and she’s always there to soften him up so, you know. She had a great quality, great sense of humor and you know, she was wonderful. She’s very loving and caring.

GUY: Sharath and Shemie were saying that Guruji was really a father to them too because their own father was away so much. It sounds like he really took care of them.

MJ: Oh yeah, my father’s a great father you know. He looked after us really well. Sometimes my mother used to get sick - then he used to cook for us. He really took good care of my mother at the same time. My mom used to get sick sometimes and then he used to do everything for her - washing the dishes and washing up clothes and then, you know, bringing her food to the bed - he’s very, they’re both very dedicated to each other, you know.
 
GUY: Can you think of any funny or interesting stories that illustrate the character of your father?

Actually my mother used to, you know, correct him all the time... it was just like sometimes my father wasn’t thinking... he’d be just there teaching his yoga in his shorts, and then once in a while he'd come out of his yoga school and he'd look out on the street and he’s not realizing he’s just wearing his underwear. And mom would be sitting right there, and she used to say, “Now, get back! Get back! Where do you think you’re going?”

Then she never let him out, you know. And he said, “Ah, I just came to look around." You know. “What are you going to look around at? You came out here to show yourself, how great you are, you know. Get in! Get in!” And my father looked at her and he would go, “Grrr.” He just grunts and walks away.  And that was really funny for us to watch him. [Laughter].

GUY: I remember you telling one time the story of how you went out to the cinema and came back at ten o’clock at night or something and he expected you to give a demonstration.

manju_namaste.jpgMJ: Right, right. One time, you know, I went with my friend to a movie - we used to catch a night show - and then I came back, I was so exhausted, you just want to go to bed. It’s like ten o’clock or ten-thirty. I come home at night and there are all these people from Pondicherry – Gitananda and he brought all his group there. And they were all waiting, and my father is telling, “Yeah, my son will be here, you know. He’s going to give you a demonstration.”

So everybody is sitting and waiting, and here I come home. My father says, “Where did you go? Now get in here.” And I said, “What’s wrong?” I did not know. And he said, “No, you are going to give a demonstration now.” Then you know, I had some food at the restaurant, movies, eating out... then come home, I said, “What? You want me to give a demonstration now?” And he said, “Yeah, they’re all waiting.”

Then I have to take off my clothes and put on my yoga clothes and start giving the whole demonstration. The next day I talked to my father “You should never agree to those kinds of things.” [Laughter]

GUY: Do you think he’s become less strict?

MJ: No, no. My father? He never changes. [Laughter]

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