"Outcome is important to the ego, process is important to awakening"
• The Series ‘a work in progress’
Often times when talking to ashtangis (A)that have been practicing for twenty years or less, they talk about how the series is done; this is the way you do the vinyasa for this particular asana, this asana comes before that one, nauli is never done during the asana practice, pranayama is done so many hours after or before asana practice and so on.
As the years went on Guru Ji became more popular and the classes had more and more students in them. With so many people to look after in classes he couldn’t get to every one unless the classes were stream lined. As I knew him, Guru Ji is a yogi and a therapist. Over the years I watched him modify the series. Granted the series is basically the same, and the fact that it is a memorized sequence contributes to the effectiveness of the practice. Once we have memorized the succession of asanas, found our pace and discovered the intricacies of each asana we are free to suspend thought, to a degree that allows us to have a deeper experience. Yoga, after all is a method geared to awakening. In all areas of our lives it is our responsibility to be conscious, aware, and vigilant with our thoughts and actions and their near and far reaching affects, both physical and metaphysical.
There were only four series for many years. But with so many people with so many considerations he took what was known as the Primary and Intermediate series and made them into First and Second series, the Advanced A and B series into the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth series. The series themselves changed only slightly, but the emphasis could change radically. This is the main difference between a fundamentalist practice and a therapeutic practice. Guru Ji would push me in badhakonasana completely differently than the person next to me. He saw a problem that I had in my spine that I wouldn’t recognize for years to come. When I taught Tim Miller Padmasana it was right foot up first. Tim has a rare anomaly; his liver and spleen are switched. Maybe 1 in 70-100,000 people have this condition. Therapeutically he switches his lotus; keeping with the theory that the liver and spleen are the reason the legs/feet are place in that order. That is all good, he does what he thinks is best being the responsible person that he is. My point is that as the therapist, Patabhi Jois told him to switch his lotus to be in therapeutic alignment, but as a yogi Guru Ji told me to always put my right foot up first, no matter how my organs were placed. I asked him why and he said that he did this unquestioningly as a spiritual practice, to honor God, and said it with tears rolling down his cheeks. I am not saying one way is better, just mentioning different ways of doing yoga depending on your state of consciousness at the time.
At one time I had two of Guru Ji’s syllabuses, outlining the series differently than the way I was being taught at the time by him. Professor K. P. Jois is an inspired teacher, researcher and yogi, he developed this system by thinking out of the box. Certain situations require modification of the practice.
I believe that K. P. Manju is the direct heir to the Yogi Krishna Patabhi Jois’s lineage and the long time practitioners are next in the lineage. If you want to understand how to make this practice work for the long haul, that is who you talk to. Manju knows how to do therapy; he knows how to keep the spine strong. Just look at him, he is still strong. Many other younger teachers have back problems, instability, weakness, all for the sake of doing an advanced backbend. Isn’t that missing the forest for the trees? We all deserve the teachers we have which is evident by the fact that they are our teachers. My suggestion is to be careful and look to the long term effect of your practice.
I have many times worked therapeutically with teachers and students fresh from some part of India that were injured. Some of these treatments were done on neophytes and some on the well known DVD teachers or the ones with the well- established schools. Guru Ji has seen me do bodywork on students and commended me for it, as he could immediately see the benefit. I remember giving Tim Miller a bit of help right in the middle of an advanced class we were all participating in. Tim, like most of us, has difficulties with certain asanas, and we all had so much compassion for each other as this young, vital, Guru Ji performed yoga surgery on us. Guru Ji watched me put hard heavy pressure on an area of Tim’s low back then helped him again with the same asana, Rajakapote. He was pleased with the difference and smiled at me as he was cranking on Tim, then it was my turn!
We are the teachers of the future and although this dynamic vinyasa yoga practice is already a most profound system, there will always be a need to modify it. The essence of the practice will remain the same, maintaining its innate therapeutic value. Yet it is very important for any therapy to be specific to the individual’s needs. Paramahansa Yogananda mentioned that the asana practice was to get your body ready to sit comfortably enough to meditate, to know God in the deepest sense. It might also be of value to be able to work in your garden without feeling unstable swinging a pickaxe or wielding a shovel.
One day after a four hour private class with Guru Ji, Ama having made us coffee, as was normal for us then. I went upstairs to pick his brain and honestly just to sit with a man I love very much. I asked about and demonstrated some basic asanas, explaining my ideas about modifying an asana to get a specific therapeutic effect. Guru Ji stood up and demonstrated the asana we were talking about. He said that there were a thousand different variations of each of the postures. He was always so enlivened and supportive at these daily encounters, and he always made reference to the role God played in yoga practice.
I am never satisfied, after asking why you do that asana in that way, with the answer, that is the approach I was taught. It is important to honor your teachers by confirming for yourself, whether a technique is appropriate or when it is appropriate. If this is beyond the scope of your abilities, seek out a teacher or a yoga therapist with that skill and with the patience to explain it to you. Take all the opinions you can get and consider each one. Feel what you resonate with and be responsible for your choices, if it doesn’t work out to your satisfaction, do not blame, just move on.