Extracts from Guruji 

guruji-portrait of pk jois.jpgThe way Guruji teaches is not lazy in any way, shape, or form.
He brings the same energy, or more, to every class every day. I would be dragging, it
would wear twenty of us out. I think it was the consistency and the genuine
love and desire to see you learn this practice and improve your health. 
It took me four years in Mysore, off and on, to get into lotus. I remember
the day that he finally, after sitting in front of me, got me into
lotus. He stopped the whole class and almost started crying with laughter
and joy. I think he was more thrilled to see me in that posture than I
was. You know, that’s just one example. It goes on every day that you are
in there. Whatever posture is difficult for you, he never forgets, he always
makes you do it, even if you’ve gone by it. It’s his discipline and his
tenacity along with the love of the practice that make him unique. - Ricky Heiman

I would describe it as being one of the most sincere messages I’ve ever 
received. When you are in there with him, you know he has totally dedicated
his heart and his soul to this teaching, so you want to give him the
same in return. I’ve had many teachers of all types throughout the years,
from English to basketball, and of course, you meet great teachers along
the way. I’ve never met anybody who loved to teach as much as Guruji.
In fact, it seems to me, as he is teaching he seems younger, he’s a different
person in the room. Out of the room, he’s such a beautiful wonderful
householder that the combination was overwhelming to me. To me, he is
one of the great humans. Ricky Heiman

Guruji is tremendous, he is amazing at getting people to go beyond

where they think their limits are. It’s a little scary sometimes. I’ve seen
looks of panic and complete terror on people’s faces and also tremendous
breakthroughs. As a teacher—I’ve been teaching for thirteen years—
watching Guruji is amazing. I don’t feel confident to do the same thing
that he does. He’s got sixty years of experience teaching—he’s seen a lot
of bodies, he’s put a lot of bodies through this practice—and I feel like I
need to be much more conservative than him. I’ve seen him put people
in full lotus, and get them into garbha pindasana, kukkutasana that I
would have never believed possible. And what it gives them is tremendous
and you can take that and from that develop the discipline and love
for doing the practice, which is something that does happen through that
sense of accomplishment. Chuck Miller

One of Guruji’s real strengths as a teacher is that he obviously practiced 
strong yoga. He was clearly challenged by Krishnamacharya, and at
the same time he was also a scholar and I think that is unique. A lot of
people were just yoga practitioners or they were scholars. Guruji has
been both, and he brings that into the room. He obviously embodies the
yoga teaching, the philosophy, the lifestyle, as well as having done the
practice.- Chuck Miller

At the time I was very impressed by his energy because he was always attentive
to everyone. As soon as you tried to skip a posture, he would say,
“You there, you haven’t done that posture!”—like that. I was very amazed
that he was so attentive to reading everybody. And everybody had the impression
they were his favorite and he did that for everybody. It was afterward
that I understood that when he made us take the postures he
paid us special attention, so you got the impression that he liked you
a lot. We realized that we were each his favorite, his unique student.
And that was his manner of making us advance. I understood that much
later. But in the beginning I thought, “Oh, he likes me.” But he loved
everybody. - Brigitte Deroses

He’s like the whole orchestra. He doesn’t just have one way, he can find
a way for everyone. So he sees you and your spirit and the aspects of your
character that are competent and good and that may be lacking and
not so rounded, and he seems to be able to do that with everyone. He
doesn’t overcomplicate it, he keeps it really simple. There are three really
powerful techniques: the breathing method, coordinating the movement
with the breath; the drishti; and the squeezing, the bandhas. He doesn’t
get extremely technical, he doesn’t talk about anatomy, he doesn’t talk
about complicated energetic concepts. He keeps it incredibly simple. It
takes a brave person not to appeal to a person’s, particularly a Westerner’s,
need for information. You know, that kind of information, it’s incredibly
simple: “Breathe!” “You breathe!” “You do!” “No, no, no, don’t
think, you do!” And it’s so effective. - Nick Evans

Do you see Guruji as a healer?
Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t know if you want to talk about what kind of
healer, because yoga seems to be union between body and mind, but he
seems to get in there with you. Boy, he gets right in there, he’s right
there. And I think he heals himself every day with this teaching. I haven’t
met anybody who loves to teach as much. - 
Ricky Heiman

In the Room with Guruji

The atmosphere in the room, in the early years, was very quiet, actually.

There weren’t many students in there, could be three, four students at a
time. And with Guruji, it’s such a personal relationship you think you are
the only one in the room, and don’t really pay much attention [to what
else is going on]. In the months and the years that followed, the energy
of the other students in the room became overwhelming. I never worked
harder, I never sweat more, and I don’t know if I could work that deeply
anywhere else. - Ricky Heiman

I had been traveling around and needed to find work in order to stay

in the area. So the day after I watched class, I was walking home and
saw a huge pile of shingles in front of this house. I was a carpenter, so
I stopped and it turned out they needed help shingling this house—
something I knew how to do very well. They agreed to hire me and I was
going to start the next day at nine o’clock, after my first yoga class with

I went down the next day, did my yoga class at seven o’clock, and was

done at eight thirty, so I decided to go home and get a little breakfast and
lie down for a second, take a little nap. I woke up at one o’clock! I was
dead—I was completely exhausted! And in a panic because I needed the
job. I ran down the hill, and luckily, the people were really cool.
I got to work. I was up on the roof in the hot sun nailing shingles all
day long, put in a full day, got home about eight o’clock, and collapsed,
went to bed. I went down the hill the next day to class—the same thing
happened. I came home, just needed a short rest, woke up at one o’clock
again. It went on for three or four days, until I finally started to get my
rhythm and catch my breath. It was physically exhausting. -
Chuck Miller

I remember writing in my diary, sitting on the bench in front of the
Lakshmipuram police station waiting for class. He had told me to come
at 6 a.m. I wrote, “This man, he is going to kill me, he is adjusting me so
strongly.” I was afraid I was going to be broken from his strong adjustments.
He was on top of me in every asana and I was feeling, “Oh my
God, he’s going to kill me,” but instead of that he was healing me. His
adjustments were very good. He treated me with such love and care on
that first trip. It was superb.

When I went to India, I had fear of getting sick again. India felt very
big and I felt very small. I had fear of food, fear of touching anything,
everything was dirty, India was just huge. And when I came out after
those first two months with Guruji, I had the feeling that I was huge and
India was small. I had the feeling that the prana was huge and I was not
afraid of getting sick again. - Tomas Zorzo

Ashtanga Yoga Method

Yoga is a scientifically based technology that gives us certain techniques

by which we can awaken or uncover our inherent spirituality. The idea is
that we are inherently spiritual but that there are perceptual blocks to
our realization of that. I look at yoga as a way of removing the obstacles
to a perception of our true essence.

It’s what Patanjali talks about in The Yoga Sutras: yoga, chitta vritti

nirodhah—yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness.
When that happens then: Tada drashthu svarupe avasthanam—then the
true nature of the seer, the inner being is revealed. So yoga is all about
techniques for removing the blocks to our true perception of ourselves.
It’s a scientific method for the realization of the fact that we are spiritual
beings. In that sense it’s obviously a spiritual practice.

For me it’s been a long process of recognizing the value of the yamas

and the niyamas, the process of making yoga real in my life, how it affects
my relationships with other people, my relationship with myself.
You’re only on the mat for, at best, a couple of hours a day. What are you
doing the rest of the time? You can’t practice yoga for two hours and then
go out and act like a jerk the rest of the time. I mean, I suppose you
could and people do, but I can’t see the point in that. Ultimately, one
needs to—especially if one’s a teacher—one needs to set some sort of
example. -
Tim Miiiler

You learn that there is a wisdom contained within the practice, if you are

paying attention. Learning to listen is key. The form of the practice and
the method of the practice contain a teaching. I believe that if you are
paying attention, if you can look below the surface and ask: Why do we
start where we start? What do we do first? What do we do next? How do
things link one-to-one through the sequence? There is something informative
that teaches you something. You learn how one pose will teach
you about another. You work from the outside to the inside. You are basically
working on clearing the way and clearing the physical blocks in the
body, which are related to clearing mental blocks in the mind.
Yoga philosophy teaches that what we are doing is uncovering, cleaning,
and Guruji said over and over again, if you listen, “This is not physical
practice, this is mental cleaning.” He talks about cleaning the nadis,
clearing the tubes that energy flows through. I really do feel—maybe this
is not unique to ashtanga yoga, maybe any yoga practice has the ability to
clear the way—but Guruji’s method does it so methodically, so systematically,
with the sequence set for us, and not relying on just doing postures
as you choose. This, I think, is really difficult. It’s hard not to fall into biases,
taking a practice where you just do whatever it is you want to do, or
what the teacher wants to do at that point in time. It’s hard not to fall
into tendencies for what your preferences might be, or for staying away
from things that you don’t like. You have a sequence that is set, and
whether you like it or not, you are going to do navasana and marichyasana
D, janu shirshasana C and supta kurmasana. There is something
about putting yourself up against that which challenges you in a way that
I don’t think you would challenge yourself normally.
I remember seeing poses in the first class I watched like janu shirshasana
C—I swore in this lifetime that I would never do that pose.
It just looked impossible to me. Kukkutasana I was convinced, literally,
never in this lifetime would I do that posture, and within a couple of
weeks I was doing it. It is a tremendous thing for a person to get, to realize,
that the things that we set as extreme limits for ourselves are just in
our mind, and we have to be careful of the limits that we impose on ourselves.
As human beings it’s amazing how prevalent this is in our society. -
Chuck Miller

Why do you think this ashtanga yoga appeals so much to Westerners?

The ashtanga system, or what we call ashtanga yoga—to me, it’s all ashtanga
yoga—but this form that Guruji teaches draws a very energetic
kind of person. I think it draws the kind of person who has a lot of drive
and a lot of mental energy. And Guruji, he’s like a psychiatrist. He knows
you immediately when you get on that mat, and he works and goes after
your weakest areas within this form, whether it’s first series or second series
or third series. It’s a very stimulating form and the sequence seems
to be a very brilliant creation. I’ve watched people over the years, and it
doesn’t matter if you have a good body or a bad body, it’s very serving. -
Ricky Heiman

The purpose of our spiritual life as human beings is to pass through the
difficulties that life brings us, and to allow these things to pass through
us without getting hooked—to become more like a witness to the events
without craving, just to be aware of them. That is the difficulty. Life is
just change, and maybe your wife passes away. To see Guruji’s wife pass
away was very interesting. He felt attachment toward his wife. And I remember
him telling me something in Sanskrit like, “Time is being eaten
by a rat, you have to accept that, everything has its expiration date.”
You have to accept that everything is changing, everything is passing
away. I remember Guruji crying and telling me that. “Yesterday Amma was
here. Today, is gone. Yesterday here . . .” And he was crying so strongly. He
was not pretending. He was in the middle of suffering this attachment to
his wife. He was not going to see her anymore, and he was suffering. And
at the same time, he surrendered himself completely to this suffering
and it was interesting to see how he recovered. He was smiling again one
month later. He was so happy. And he was not happy because his wife
was gone. He could express his love toward her but he could accept that
things were changing. That is detachment. You have to say goodbye to
things that are living. You cannot control that. Life is bringing you so
much, especially if you have a family. All the time things you want are
not coming, and things that you don’t want are coming. You see the attachment
and the aversion and desire and everything right there. - Tomas Zorzo

I don’t think what he’s imparting can be said. But I think there’s nothing
else really worth talking about, because he is teaching a kind of openness
of the mind and the heart which is so stunning that, at least at times, you
don’t know what to say, you are awestruck and can’t put it into words.
That’s why there is such an art, I think, to teaching. Krishnamacharya
once made a comment to a friend of mine: yoga is not mechanical. I
think Guruji is always teaching that through a very formal system. You
have to follow the form very carefully, in fact you have to pour your being
into it with intensity to create tapas, internal heat. But then you have to
be completely not attached to it. And somewhere in that changeover,
where you are able to follow form precisely but then not identify with it,
the real yoga comes out. - Richard Freeman

Is it a spiritual practice?

Yeah, I think it’s spiritual in the way most people use that word. You
could also say it’s beyond spiritual. If someone has a concept of spirituality,
this is much more interesting than anything they could imagine. But
it’s definitely a totally spiritual practice. However, if someone comes to it
and has no interest in what they believe spirituality to be, if they just take
up the practice for improving their health or fixing some biomechanical
problem in the body, it’ll prove effective but it will also put them in touch
with their core feelings. And just by touching those core feelings they
will start inquiring into what is real. They’ll start to ask: “Why am I suffering
all the time?” “What is true?” And so they’ve come to the right
place. And so yoga in a sense is like a fountain. People will go to it, for
many different reasons but because they’ve gone to the source they start
to get a taste for it, and they might not really understand why they like it
but they’ll keep coming back to the source and eventually they’ll just
jump right back in.

It is spiritual in the sense that the Atman, the soul, is revealed, but at the
same time there is a methodology as well, so is it somehow a fusion of those
two things?

Exactly. If we say that what is of most interest to the open mind, to the
open heart, is beyond expression, beyond words, also therefore beyond
technique, our first reaction is “I won’t do anything.” But the fascinating
thing about practice is that what is manifesting as the body and the mind
is composed of strings and strings of techniques, and so yoga is actually
the art of using techniques with incredible skill and through that one
naturally arrives at a place where there is no technique anymore but freedom.
This is one of the major themes of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the
extremely illusive themes, that the truth is ultimately formless because it
generates all forms. How can it be approached? How can you realize it?
It’s actually through seeing forms with an open mind and allowing the
body and the mind to complete their natural tendencies to complete
their forms, and in that you release form.  - Richard Freeman

Why do you think they didn’t say very much?

Well, now I know. I think then I didn’t. Because there’s a lot of wisdom in
silence and in the sound of breathing. And a teacher that creates a space
that allows you to drop into the sound of the breathing and the focus on
the tristhana, the three points of attention, and doesn’t distract you from
that being the primary component of the practice, is giving you something
very, very, very precious even if you don’t know that it’s very, very, very precious.
And it is golden, as a lot of us now know, priceless. We all know. I
think that people who engage and connect with the practice in an atmosphere
of silence and devotion and acknowledgment of where it’s come
from can experience very, very deep states of meditation quite quickly.
- Nick Evans

On Practice

A daily practice brings about a gauge in your life. For me, it’s been a way

to know who I am in the moment. And it’s the only thing in my life that
is something I do every day; it’s the same practice. So no matter what
else I’m doing—I’m traveling, if I eat differently—every day the practice
being the same repetitive practice gives me a way to judge myself in a
nonjudgmental way, a way of seeing. “How am I doing? How am I holding
up to the stresses of daily life?” It’s also the only time for me that I
can take my mind out of my daily life and become free in a spiritual
sense to investigate myself, my true Self. -
Nancy Gilgoff

My experience of practicing yoga now for about twenty-three years is

that it keeps me connected to a process that is life-giving, light-giving,
and health-giving. The rewards of yoga are tangible and immediate, and
especially in the beginning. Staying connected to the practice for me just
ensures that this evolutionary process continues to unfold itself in some
kind of organic way, creating greater health, greater wealth, greater possibility,
greater opportunity, greater things.
I think it’s very important for people to develop patience in the process.
Things may not come at quite the speed that people would like them to come and oftentimes
people become attached to the physical progress in the poses, using that
as sort of yardstick to measure how well they’re doing in the practice. I
suppose everyone goes through that phase at some point, and maybe
some people never get out of that phase. -

After ten years, one starts to get a bit of a grip with the mula bandha. After twenty years, I realized this was the real strength of yoga. Now that it has been more than thirty years, more than ever I realize the real strength of the yoga is in what’s invisible. I tell
people, “What’s invisible is what’s important.” The breathing and mula
bandha; the name and the form, namarupa, is maya; it’s an illusion. And
the people who give too much emphasis to the name and form miss the
real importance, which is the mula bandha and the breathing, the invisible
internal practice. -
David Williams

On Guruji’s first trip to America, his English was pretty pitiful. He explained as best as he could in English, but if he could see you weren’t holding mula bandha

correctly, he had no qualms whatsoever about reaching behind you and
just putting a little squeeze on the rectum. The reflex is to pull it tight
immediately, to tighten up. When teaching pranayama, he was very strict
about uddiyana bandha. He would have each person sit in front of him
and he would press in very hard on that section you need to hold very
tight to keep the air locked properly. People who don’t do pranayama
don’t understand the importance of uddiyana bandha a lot of times. It’s
locking up the energy so it goes to the right places. That and the chin
lock are very important, and using the three together is like playing the
piano and using the pedals. To make the music come out properly, it’s absolutely
vital that some degree of mastery be attained. And it’s hard during
asana because you are moving and shifting position. It’s much easier
when you are sitting in lotus. Like you were saying, kukkutasana would
be a great place to practice nauli because it’s challenging. So after learning
pranayama, control of the bandhas comes more easily during asana
practice and as you shift position [vinyasa]. Mula bandha is vital. That’s
one thing that separates ashtanga from most other systems. If you are
holding mula bandha properly and keep breathing, you can try to pick up
a piano. Either you will be able to pick it up or you won’t, but the likelihood
of hurting yourself is very slim. It’s a protective device; it prevents
hernia and all manner of displacement of organs. It’s vital. The system
wouldn’t work without it, and teachers who don’t concentrate on it are
not doing their students a favor. Their students will progress in spite of
the lack of knowledge, but it will be nothing like the pace they could
achieve if they had a little instruction. It’s the cornerstone of the practice,
really. -
Brad Ramsey

Why Asana first?

Asana? I think it is because he wants us to understand the physical effort
which gives us tenacity, willpower, in order to be able to develop discipline.
He inculcates discipline so that we understand that we should be
attentive to other people and practice the first two limbs. But you haveto
go through the physical to understand the two limbs which come before.
You have to be peaceful in your head, you can not go immediately to the
first two limbs. That’s why he makes us start with asanas. - Brigitte Deroses

When you inhale, it works on the sympathetic nervous system. When
you exhale, it works on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is why
we have to bring it into balance all the time. All effort is initiated by
the sympathetic nervous system, while sleep or relaxation is more the
parasympathetic nervous system. Pranayama is how we control the nervous
system. When we inhale, you have to make an effort. Exhale is just
happening, you don’t need any effort. But to inhale deeply you need to
make an effort. When you make an effort everything becomes tense. If
you say “Inhale,” a person may screw up his eyes, raise the shoulders,
move the head up—it creates that action. In pranayama when we inhale,
we move the head down and look into the heart. You don’t raise the
shoulders. You just inhale peacefully. So you are breaking the pattern.
When you exhale you don’t fall into tamas, you keep the back straight.
Otherwise, you would naturally collapse the back on exhalation. When
you exhale, you engage mula bandha, you support the spine and avoid
falling into this heaviness [tamas]. In this way, you change the nervous
system, you gain mastery over it. And this is probably how Krishnamacharya
was able to stop his heart from beating. - Tomas Zorzo

In a lot of schools of yoga, if it hurts you are doing

something wrong. And if you were a perfect physical and mental specimen
already, then I can see how that might be true. If you are altering
the status quo in an unpleasant way, you might want to stop if you were
already perfect. But if you feel growth coming from it, and see things
changing that need to be changed . . . the series is just a mold toward a
body that meets the requirements for spiritual advancement, I believe. I
don’t think you can get there without pain. I never met anybody who did.
For me, it hurt from the first day to the last, at least something. There’s
always something. -
Brad Ramsey

First, you keep your body strong. Life demands that you have to be strong
and healthy. Also, when the person starts to practice, they change their
habits in a healthy direction. At the psychological level, you start to develop
willpower, which is also necessary in life. When you practice every
day, you develop willpower. When you relax in the asanas, you are developing
the quality of relaxation in life. So the asana practice is giving you
strength and relaxation and also the possibility of reflection. You can see,
according to your state of mind, how the practice will be affected by what
you are eating. So the practice is a mirror. You can see many things. When
life is falling apart, you still have your practice: it brings you balance.
- Tomas Zorzo

Every Saturday would be neti day.

When I got there he was using his old neti string, a really old one, a piece
of bicycle valve tube, what we call surgical tubing, but black like bicycle
inner tubes are made out of, and one of his old Brahmin threads. He’d
double it and roll it on his leg and spiral it real tight, and it felt just like
sandpaper—it was, of course, linen. So every Saturday we lined up at his
little sink in the yoga shala and he would make some of the Indian people
come, too. If they were snorting in class or blowing their nose or
something, they’d have to come and they were the first in line. We always
got there as early as we could because the sink was just cold water. The
first time I went there this little Indian kid, I think his dad made him
come because he had a kind of asthmatic sound to his breathing, really
clogged up, and the kid was practically crying, “No, no,” and they were
rattling back and forth in Kannada and Guruji was like, “Hey, you get up
here!” and the kid is crying and screaming and Guruji says, “Open!” So
he puts the tube up the kid’s nose and reaches into his mouth to grab it,
and “Aargh!” throws up all over Guruji, who jumps back and starts yelling
at him. So he does the other side on the kid, and I’m next. “Oh, no, don’t
worry,” [says Guruji] and runs his hand over it like that [to clean off the
neti string]. -
Brad Ramsey

Patanjali Yoga

All the limbs of yoga are interrelated. They’re all designed to lend themselves

to the experience of unity or oneness. In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali
did not arbitrarily come up with certain injunctions for behavior. He says:
try these things, try acting in a nonviolent way, try telling the truth, try
not stealing, try being moderate in your actions, try being generous, and
I think you’ll find that it lends itself to a greater experience of unity in the
world. Try the opposite behavior and see what happens. I think you’ll
find that [following the injunctions] lends itself to that experience of
oneness. Be clean, be content, be self-disciplined, be self-observant, be
reverent to the divine, and it all lends itself to a greater experience of

Guruji is fond of saying that the first four limbs of ashtanga yoga are

extremely difficult and the last four limbs are very easy. If we provide
ourselves with a strong foundation in asana and pranayama and in our
own ethical behavior, then the rest of the limbs will gradually evolve out
of that foundation. He seems to think that certain of the limbs of yoga
can be taught, and some can only be caught. One of the criticisms I hear
of ashtanga yoga is that there is so much emphasis on asana. Why only
asana, only one limb? There are seven more limbs. Again, we’re working
with something tangible, something that has brought ramifications in
other spheres of life.

In the first chapter of The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali first gives the definition of yoga: “Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah”—yoga is a cessation of the fluctuation of the mind.

Then he goes on: “Tada drashthuh svarupe avasthanam”—then the seer
is unveiled in its true form. I had something of that experience in the
very first class that I took. Through the practice my mind really shut off,
and underneath the mind there was just this presence that felt more like
me than anything else. This was the seer, that grounded being that was
my essential Self and I suppose it could be referred to as the spiritual
Self. -
Tim Miller

When someone says they teach Patanjali yoga, the eight limbs of yoga,
they are implying that not only do they teach asana and pranayama but
also samadhi and all of the stages of meditation and then the release, or
the self-realization through samadhi. My experience of Guruji is that this
is what his interest is. Practically his only interest in life is to fulfill the
whole yoga system. His emphasis is, of course, on intense asana practice
at first, but through that asana practice with the vinyasa methodology he
is also teaching the fundamentals of pranayama and meditation. And
much later on in his system, these particular parts are separated out and
refined. But in a sense he is teaching the eight limbs initially through
asana practice, and when one picks up the thread inside, we find that the
other limbs are very easy to practice. And so he is saying the first four
limbs of yoga—yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama—are very difficult,
but if you are grounded in them, the internal limbs are easy and occur
spontaneously, naturally. - Richard Freeman

Guruji Abroad

I was with him for a few months when he was in Encinitas and we would

take him to Disneyland. Guruji would not leave. He wanted to go on
every ride. And he went on the ones I couldn’t even begin to go on because
I would be dizzy and nauseous. And he would stand in line and he
was patient. His zest for life is unbelievable. What a great example. -
Ricky Heiman
< Prev