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Written by guy   
Sunday, 02 September 2007
norman.jpegIn 1999 I went to Hawaii to interview Norman Allen, the first American to study with Sri K Pattabhi Jois to find out exactly how Ashtanga Yoga came to the West. The interview was part of a series of interviews with with senior students of Guruji's which form part of an upcoming documentary about Sri K Pattabhi Jois' life and work.

The interview was fascinating in many ways exposing a numberof layers - including the journey to the East of the late Sixties, hisintegration in the brahmin community and his appreciation of Karnaticculture in addition to how he first met Guruji, studied with him,assisted him on his lecture demonstrations and helped him come to theWest.

Norman's way of telling the story was non-linear, so for the sake ofclarity, I have re-arranged the text to make it more readable.

After my daughter was born in Malaysa we stayed there a little while toget her in traveling order, took the ship across to Madras - we wereheading to Pondicheri. Got word of Doctor Gitananda’s Ashram. There itwas basically Yoga 101 - no do doubt about it, you don’t know aboutthis man particularly but he had this broad scale perspective of Indianculture.

Who he was and where he came from was a little bit unknown, but he was areal showman, no doubt, and he had the litany and he had the stories.And there he was 4 miles from Aurobindo’s Great Ashram. He was on theroad, he was a showman. David (David Williams) was there, I was there.It was the first sort of wave of those people who kind of made thatpilgrimage from the West, in one manner or means or another:

...in a British double decker cargo ship to Katmandu… or to hitchhike,take the bus, go this way or that way, man - but it was on toKatmandu... That was the road, those were the days, ’68, ’69, the road,there was not yet Goa to hang out in, seasonal places to hang out in,not happening.

But we went there checked out India, you know touring... it was wildyou know… I was always on my way to the East, but slowly… I was born inHollywood, CA. And I went East to NY and then to London and Greece andthen Kossovo all through Yugoslavia, hung out there - did a whole trip:Istanbul, Iran, Kabul, got married, went up to Katmandu

... and ended up in India in this Yoga 101 Ashram where Swami Gitanandawas going to give you the whole works: he had astrologers, he hadvedantic scholars come and give lectures, we did laya yoga, kriyas,man, we did levitation, we did everything that you could see in anyyoga book, he had a big menu, we had a taste of this and a taste ofthat, it was really yoga 101.

... we did asanas, pranayamas, we did chakrabrakshalas, we did everyclean out there was, we fasted and then after the fast we ate dosa(laughs) we ate the masala dosa, we did coffee enemas, we did everykind of thing, we did mainly a lot of the laya yoga kriyas,visualization, levitation…

Then the Swami organized an all India yoga conference. In a conference,in that part of the world you give an invitation and a ticket, firstclass rail ticket to the participants, because that is the way it’sdone. BKS Iyengar got an invitation, Sri K Patthabhi Jois got aninvitation... Some of them were adepts at certain procedures that wereknown in Southern India only locally - they could do a nauli kriya orsome special aspect of a nauli kriya (etc)...

One man that was invited was a yoga acharya who had the ability tocreate soma... and he would do that in Nirvikalpa Samadhi whileentombed - he was invited. (I think it was I and David who dug the holewith certain dimensions. And you can go to certain authorities and theywill give you the dimensions for a proper burial to make sure no antswill come in, otherwise he will be eaten)... so, he was invited to theconference…

… BKS Iyengar doesn’t come… sends a paper to be read, that he wrote…formal. Nauli Kriya expert came, he really spun his belly aroundnicely, (David does it well, I do it well, because (when) Mulha Bandhacomes, that’s what is really happening, that’s the foundation. We knowthat, brings up the sap).

The Yogi came to be buried and the hole was dug. From time to time youget some political problems in a place like that. The Police came out,would not allow us to put him in a hole to bury him at that time. Itwas OK, instead of that the Yogi’s wanted to demonstrate what Soma isand how you make Soma… And he declared that you have to do the KetcheriMudra, you have to catch that Soma by secreting it. The Soma wassomething from inside, not from a plant, not from outside, not from amushroom but made through certain physical adaptations... but OK, hecame did his thing beautiful guy… OK

… Pattabhi Jois he came with his wife and his daughter and his cousinand his nephew. (Guy - Vishvanath?) Yes, lean boy then, not lean now…But he was lean and really spiffy at one time so he came todemonstrate, Pattabhi Jois came to discuss, cousin came to translate,Ama came to take care of him. Saraswati was she there? I’m not sure.

A month or two before this conference, two young Indians from Mysoreshow up at the Ashram with Saris - wanting to sell saris and littlesarongs, and one of their names is Basaraju and one of them is Manju,OK? And they hung out there, in their young 20’s and this one boy Manjudemonstrates some Yoga postures that he had learned from his father… OhMan! look at that…

...and I wanna’ show you something... so I saw these boys do thisyoga work... so this one boy he had a card... and these were the twoboys:manju_yoga_mala.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

far out huh? so that is Manju Jois, huh?

So, I saw Manju and Basaraju and then a month or two later saw his father and then saw
Vishvanath demonstrate and I said: “OK, this I want to learn”.

Guy: Had you ever seen anything like that before?

No, you know that time before we met, I saw the Iyengar book in thoseearly days and that was interesting and what we did was kind of nice, alittle bit of a mix with some Sivananda stuff, very nice......but notlike that...

I wanted to study (with Jois), there was no question, andI asked, and they said: “No, he does not want to take any foreignstudents at this time, and one of the reasons was that he had had thatbad experience”

Guy: So he didn’t want to have you as a student?

No, he didn’t… but I would bring them everything that they needed: water and coffeeand I’d go to town and there’s almonds and badami... and I had mybeautiful daughter with me and my wife... and my daughter had her one yearHindu initiation with a great scholar in the Ashram in Pondicheri....so she’s a little baby, you know, in the East they like babies…

Guy: So how did you persuade him?

Well, I didn’t keep on, but… I’m a nice guy (good vibes) and Amaji toldhim or asked him to give it a chance... so because of her....otherwisehe wouldn’t take us - there was no need. In those days he was teachingat the Sanskrit Patashala, 50 Rupees a month... and he would have hischetty merchants who were his patrons, you know, and they’d come and hehad a room where the locals would come (for yoga classes)...

So, he agreed to take me on as a student, and in a month or so Ishifted on to Mysore. At first, I stayed upstairs there, where theyreside still, undoubtedly, unless they got a new house.
guruji_ama_and_children.jpeg

Guy: Was Guruji teaching non-brahmans or only Brahmans?

No, he would teach some non-Brahmans, not too many… But in the lateryears it started to happen more... but you have to understand theculture ... you grow up in South India in a rural setting and you are aBrahmin… that’s conservatism and conservatism means fundamental, that’sit, it’s hard and long before you make a transformation from that... what do you call that? Evolution?

But he certainly got throwninto the forces of a movement of society, and I saw which way he wasgoing, and I saw which way I was going, and they're opposite. But therewas a meeting.... if you go to eternity, you get off thewheel...what can I say? huh?

But I've always been a drop out. And I have been dropping out allthe time in my life, I dropped out here to Hawai’i, I drop out, theydrop in, there is no place else, no more to drop out now, but then Ithink I dropped out now in other kinds of ways huh? We’ll see whathappens there… (laughs) Change my diet… huh? got this far out dietnow...

So yeah, I went to Mysore and I used to go to market for him, I’d getflowers, I’d be on my bicycle, I brought a ten speed bike that’s onething I liked to have, I had the derailer there, nicely bike around,shop for them quite extensively, go to markets, get the Puja flowers,do all kinds of things - anything I could and go to class at five inthe morning and umm, well maybe in the beginning I didn’t, I’d waituntil everybody was done until about 7:30 in the morning then get aprivate lesson, get established and then graduated into the fiveo’clock period and I used to go five o’clock in the morning and fiveo’clock in the afternoon - two sessions. Later on between that I wouldgo to the University or do this or that and I did that for a number ofyears…

So, I used to sit and after I practiced I sat and I watched and watchedand most of everything that was being said I never understood insidethe talk between students. I would talk with people like Kokoraju andShanta, I would socialize with them and I would go to their villagesand I would learn their culture and I probably know more about Iyengarcommunity than anybody could… and even Krishnamacharya’s first studentsand teachers in Mysore, because my first wife she became a dancerthere, a Bharatanatyam dancer, her dance master studied withKrishnamacharya’s father there, so I got an insight into that. Butmeanwhile, living with these great men of a very fine scholarship youknow… a different orientation… but very sweet bhakti’s… so I got thewhole infusion...

...and then what happened was David came to America and started toteach… he was teaching in California in one of those towns… Encinitas

David wrote a letter and asked if Guruji would want to come to America,to Encinitas, and Guruji wanted to go. Talked to me about it, would Isponsor him? So, I said I’d sponsor him no problem, you know, if Icould do it, but here I am living in here - an expatriate, you know, Idon’t know what it’s gonna’ take. In those days it’s a little hard toget visas, it might even be hard nowadays...

...on several occasions when I went back to America to show theGrandchildren my baby, I taught. I taught in Philadelphia in ’73 orsomething like that and then I went to California on my way back toIndia through Hawai’i and I taught in Venice California, started righton the beach, I had a whole group and that’s the way it goes. And oneof my students was a lawyer so I wrote to him to be the sponsor forGuruji...

...his name was Friedman. Mr. Friedman sponsored him legally here. Iwent with Guruji on the train to Madras to the American Consulate thereto get the paperwork done, took care of that, we got his visa noproblem. The problem was his son Manju because Manju asked me if Iwould get him his visa as well…they said: “we ain’t gonna’ give you avisa - you ain’t gonna come back” - and he hardly ever came back...

And so, when Guruji went to Encinitas I stayed out in India and he wentfor a short trip. By that time I had been there a few years I was one of the men that would go and talk in Universities or givedemonstrations, I would give demonstrations just like Sharat might donow or whatever…

Guy: You would tour with Guruji?

… with Guruji I would demonstrate the postures and he would talk…

Guy: Would he stand on you? (the way Krishnamacharya used to stand on Guruji when lecturing)

Well it depends, in class, sometimes he would do something like that.In conferences... it depends where it was... in a university kind ofthing it was different, kind of more sophisticated than that! Becauseyou see, it’s a class kind of thing, and even though Guruji is a vidvanor even maybe a double vidvan, there is still a class consciousness ofsome type inside Brahmanical orders, and at that time he’s just workinghis way up into some kind of position himself. He was recognized as agreat man, as a scholar, as a pukka brahmin... but then when he wouldmix with the academic people - or with real rich people, you would feela little bit aside. But he was cool as long as he was in hislanguage...

the Kanada language which is so beautiful... its like a cross blend, it’s like Italian, it’s a mixture of theSanskrit and the Dravidian, so nice!

... bellowing through the streets ofMysore, (you hear) this very beautiful Karnatic music… and I used tolisten to the music - so many dozens of concerts with Guruji and Amaji… and youcould sit and eat dosa and hear the music but if you know what thelyrics were... all the lyrics of all the songs thatyou hear - this is 18th century Karnatic rap man! Spiritual rap tothe utmost! To Vedanta to Namarupa… that’s where it’s at, this is theirheart, that’s Mysore... the music is spellbinding. You can bring backthe dead to the life with this music... its his whole life!... he knowsevery one of those songs... That’s where the culture is - right there.

Guy: can you say a little bit about the character of the man himself, his teaching…

Well, I went in there and showed up and trusted him right away. I wasready to let him do it to me, to submit to that kind of practice.First, I lived in the house and I used to crawl upstairs and crawl backdownstairs. I was laid up, disabled from time to time! Most of thetime! My body was a hard body, I had been a bit of an athlete, playednorman-marichyasana-d.jpgfootball...

… couldn’t do Baddha Konasana… couldn’t do anything! A little goodform, I had some idea of form and ability to use my body, but uh? Nottrained uh? So, I could see I was in for it, it was like having a drillinstructor. And so I was a good student, I showed up, I was determinedand submitted to it. And sometimes if you’re not a natural it’s good togo through the whole cycle of events, and I most certainly went throughthe whole cycle of events; and I know what can transform and get a newbody if you want, if you persist.

so…I asked him, one day I could hardly move, I said: “Guruji can wejust take it a little easy, you know, I got time, I’m not going backover there anymore, I'm well put up here and I’m digging everything…And do we have to do it so hard like this? (six days a week, double sessions, I didthat for so long).
But you didn’t have to do it that way.

Many people inthe class with me never did it that way, they were the merchants -because (of) different motivations, (they had a) whole other kind ofcriteria for the practice. The personalities are different, the events in their time are differentand so that’s what I like about his room, you knew who came in therebecause they needed their regularity or they had too many dosas intheir belly... and this person comes ‘cause they gotta’ come but they’re nevergonna’ be jumping around but they can do something else. Maybe they aregoing to have to stand on their head for 30 minutes against the walland all these different things depending…

But you know, Guruji is very beautiful in the way he couldspeak and bring about the flowers and gems of the Vedanta ofShankacharya, his Guru - his Advaida philosophy - he was very nimble,anecdotal, mainly in Kanada and Sanskrit.

So he was known as a very erudite, perceptive and humorous man - if youknew his language. Then I started picking up on this language andenjoying part of that. But what I’m saying is that in the room youcould have - you can’t put the word serious on it - but you could havepeople that did the form explicitly and those that did it inexplicitlyto the max but with different accents - and this was going onsimultaneously in the room. And if you saw the room this morning that Itaught in I kind of do it like that because that’s the way I saw it andthat’s the way I learned it.

I’ve never seen a group class in my life yet. He started teaching groupclasses at the Ayurvedic College with Bassaraju where they did them inthe batches, and you could do them in the batches, but that’s not theway I learned it and so I learned it to look at the body, and see thesethings and go like that (give an adjustment) and that’s what he had to do to me. Maybethat’s why I learned it that way too, but that’s how I saw they did itin the room.

Sometimes you get a prescription from the Doctor/Ayurvedic School andthen you would work one on one. I used to work with him or watch himwork on a Polio victim or Stroke victim. We would do that kind of workit was wonderful to do that kind of work like that. And so, I learnedand watched and learned and watched and saw like that. And that’s whatI saw. I never saw any kind of big classes and I always wondered howthen you could see what was going on with not only the physicalposition of the body…

So he broke me in, he took me all the way, I was there and integratedthere and studied Ashtanga Yoga.

Guy: How far do you think the physical practice can take you?

In most cases probably nowhere, without taking other steps…

Guy: Without the right intentions?

Without the right intentions, without the right diet, withoutYama/Niyama it ain’t happenin’. Its just not happening...You gotta makesure that you desolve the ego, get rid of the ego. If practice becomessensational and competitive it is completely anterior, it becomestamasic. You gotta’ become sattvic in potential, in means and in intentor you don’t have a chance.

Guy: You don’t think that practice destroys the ego?

Practice often amplifies the ego depending where the intentcomes...over and over again, not a little bit you know… the warningsare out there it’s in the songs, it’s all over the place…

Guy: Do you think Pattabhi Jois makes some kind of provision forhelping people destroy that: the ego… when you were studying with him…

well yeah...what I’m talking about, everybody knows it. That’s common vedanta, everybody knows.

Guy: do you think the physical practice can lead to liberation?

… without real considerations… no, you might get a kundalini flash, anah! ooh! or an ecstasy or euphoria or something like that… until youknow you are not the body what are you going to do?
...so if you associate with the body when you are doing the practice…you got some travelling to do...

Guy: You don’t think that the obstacles that you encounter when you arepracticing can produce a sort of sudden self-knowledge andunderstanding of yourself…

Yeah, you can say: "what am I doing with this compost? This carcass here, this heavy weight?
I wanna be light! I wanna’ rid myself of it!"

But, to rid yourself of it (and your gonna’ get rid of it)... you gotta’cultivate that thing that doesn’t get rid of and that’s the Self.That’s what you cultivate. And as much as you cultivate the shell, thecarcass, this compost pile... you shouldn’t get enamored with it at all! Because, if you do, youare really going to suffer, really very much, when it goes, and it’sgonna’ go. And the sooner that you can develop yourself, you don’t haveto worry about it going anymore since you are more free.

And then there are postures and asanas - they take you out of the bodyand into the prana. You gotta go deep. You have to go to the nextlevel. Forget Yama/Niyama - prana’s where it’s at. It has to becultivated, purified and considered… that’s much more subtle, thepractice has to lead you to Prana.

And if you died right now (and thisis what they do in Mysore) they’ll tie you up into Padmasana real nice,you’ll sit good! So, I could put you in any posture right now if youwere dead - you wouldn’t moan or groan, but I couldn’t give you the pranaback, that wouldn’t be there. The body would look fine, the statuewould look fine, but the prana is not there. Prana is really the nextlevel. Everybody that has been doing this pratice for so many years ifthey are not into prana in every kind of consideration I think thatthey have some nice things to look forward to. (Laughs)

Guy: I’ve heard some people say that they see the practice asincorporating all 8 of the aspects of Ashtanga Yoga. For instance, ifyou have like a violent attitude and you exert that on your body, youexperience suffering and pain and so you learn how to develop ahimsa(…) with the breathing you are working already with pranayama, with thedrishti you are already introverting your senses and so on… Thepractice somehow contains the whole Ashtanga Yoga in itself. What doyou think about that?

Not much! (Laughs) The fine art of disposition. You can develop anykind of argument nicely and debate or anything like that to justifypositions and things like that but it wouldn’t stand in any council ofvedantists. You can isolate and say that it would be something likethat, but you would have to look... is that potentially there? And soforth... No big deal, it does a lot of things it’s going to develop… It can do everything.

If you wanna’ be a hatha yogi, then you are going to put it into thatperspective. People use that word Hatha Yoga, it’s worse than AshtangaYoga - much worse, to use generically Ashtanga Yoga as a system whenthere are only a few postures even mentioned in Patanjali’s YogaSutras. Just get the equanimity - they are talking equanimity again,they are talking equanimity from body pain and suffering like that....if that can be accomplished.

The hatha yogis had different ideas on what to do: using the body as aninstrument for emancipation, they wanted to have the pure crystal body,they wanted to use this to transmute the soul and use it as realvehicle. They are the ones that cut the little ligament under thetongue to catch this soma - which we saw take place in Pondichery withthis man. He had to have extreme vows of Brahmacharya. They couldn’t goand take their intestines out and wash ‘em without continence and soforth. That Hatha Yoga, the co-mingling of the sun and the moon, theShiva/Shakti is all it’s at… So they would not be prepared to do HathaYoga if they knew what Hatha Yoga was…

Guy: So, you think that this is some kind of fantasy. People think thatif they practice what we call Ashtanga, that somehow they will achievesome kind of emancipation without paying great attention to the Yamasand Niyamas and having instruction in Pranayama is a pure fantasy…

That’s only in the beginning. You got a lot of other things toconsider, even in Samadhi before you are going to be happening… youhave so many stages there and things to consider - (Samadhi) with seedand without seed… you're going on up, you have to bring it on up, andwhen down you gotta bring it up. It’s serious work. One in twentymillion, it’s not suited for everybody, this Yoga or any Yoga. Exceptwe gotta watch it roll - everybody on that road, who took themotorcycle, the bus, walked or tramped across to the East some yearsago… You know: Richard, Alpert? the whole works of them came back withthe good stuff ... all the gems.

We went into their box and took the jewels. They are available to us,so many choices we get as dilletants in the West. I’m afraid they arestill looking for Poncé de Leon you know, I’m afraid they are stilllooking for Poncé de Leon’s treasure! You know what that was? TheFountain of Youth, and so more for that aspect… then forget the youth!But you know, this practice has many other auxiliaries, it depends howit’s approached… don’t mistake me …

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, it’s a whole trip, but it’sincluded with all kinds of integrated things … but here we just wantthe gems, and let us have the gems, ‘cause somehow we deserve it. It’sthe same reason we find ourselves in problems again and again in theworld…

You gotta know the Gunas. How can you do anything and not know theGunas? You gotta study something... he used to say, and I was the firstone to hear it: “99% perspiration and 1% theory” but that 1% theory isa lot of theory and you have to know some theory - something…

But to have a practice that locks you into a format and a disciplinethat calls you to attention. That will teach you (that) if you getafflicted in the body, what means can you use to un afflict yourself?That’s all there. That’s precise and glorious if you can deal withthat. It’s too late to dig the well when the fire is burning and thehouse is on fire. “Oh, man I gotta go do some yoga…!” No man! You learn it early andpractice it and then when you are in trouble you can call on it,because then it’s appropriate.

That’s why, be established in it. It takes a few years of regularpractice, you get to be intimate with your body, you know when it’s outof humors and you can evoke some relief for it.

Guy: Do you have any idea where the system came from originally, do you have a sense that this is something very ancient…

See, I became very friendly with a guy and he was my Sanskrit teacherfor a while. I studied the Yoga sutras with him. You know Norman?

Guy: Norman Sjoman? (author of "The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace")

Yeah.

Guy: Not personally, I’ve met him briefly. I’ve read his book.

My very good friend. Norman was one of the first early students ofBKS Iyengar. When he took his Sanskrit PhD from Puna all those yearsback he was being beaten by Iyengar heavy duty! (Laughs)
Broke ribs there doing back bends... so I got to hear all his stories…Norman came to Mysore.
Norman is a brilliant man. He has to be the most brilliant“Sanskritist” in the world today - outside of India. I would lay a beton that. The court astrologer even wanted him to be his student overthere at Mysore palace, that’s why he got in and got those photos. He'sbrilliant. He has a few flaws but other than that! (Laughs!)

Guy: He didn’t study with Guruji did he?

No, he used to give him a hard time…but didn't study with him. The manon the cover of that book, Dattatreya, he was Norman's student and whenNorman had to go away, I taught him Pattabhi Jois style.
...so he would have his theories and I would listen, and Norman alwayswanted the document (Yoga Korunta), to see it, because he was the onewho would be able to (verify it)...

Yeah, so you asked me that question… First, of all: so what!

This whole practice is to go beyond authority and to experience... noyou can’t trace it back in my opinion to some thousand year olddocument... and you have to know the nature of Krishnamacharya and howhe first presented it... not too hard to investigate. But if somebodyis investigating something like that, I would have to know why (becausesomething is really not reaching out spiritually). Unless it’s for anAcademic approach that somebody like Norman tried to present - it’smute… I won’t even discuss it too much… It turned out to be a nicesystem.

And.. no, I don’t know, it’s mute in terms of it’s origin but it’sdevelopment, it can be isolated it, can be… mainly practiced andexperienced is where it’s at... so you enjoy it, you watch your tripand see how you develop in that trip, you got to continue, forgetYama/Niyama, you gotta do everything eventually…

 
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