Founders of modern yoga: K. Pattabhi Jois

In the following series of blog posts, I am researching the history of Hindu Modern Yoga, engraved around three figures: Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois & Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, summarizing their life, teachings and controversies evolved over time.

In the second part of the series, we’ll look into the life of K. Pattabhi Jois.

K. Pattabhi Jois aka Guruji

K. Pattabhi Jois, known to his students as “Guruji”, began practicing yoga in 1927 at the age of twelve with the great yoga master T. Krishnamacharya. At the age of 15, K. Pattabhi Jois ran away from home to continue his studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India. In 1937, he was granted a position as yoga teacher at the Sanskrit College by the Maharajah of Mysore.

K. Pattabhi Jois continued to teach at the Mysore Sanskrit College until his retirement in 1973. He taught yoga with great passion for 70 years, retiring due to ill health in 2007, two years before his passing. He was considered one of the most knowledgeable and influential yoga teachers of the last century. His teaching has inspired and influenced the way yoga is taught and practiced all over the world.

Making Yoga International

K. Pattabhi Jois has played a very crucial role in making yoga internationally recognized. Moreover, he devoted his life to propagating the Ashtanga Vinyasa method and in the 1970s he taught famous western yogis: David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff and David Swenson. The practice caught on in the west where it gained widespread popularity and was famously eulogized by celebrities such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting.

Today, Ashtanga Vinyasa is one of the most popular forms of yoga in the world. It might be interesting to interpret the conversations recorded from his students in book Guruji (reference-Guy Donahaye : Guruji -A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students, September 18, 2012)

David Williams

David introduced K. Pattabhi Jois and Manju to America and the Western world when he, along with Nancy Gilgoff, organized and sponsored their first visit to Encinitas, California, in 1975.
In his interview mentioned in Guruji book (reference-Guy Donahaye : Guruji -A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students, September 18, 2012), he stated that his quest of looking of great yoga teacher made him travel throughout India until he encountered Pattabhi Jois.

When asked – Did you ever see Guruji practicing?
No, I’d always hoped to, but it never happened. He asked Saraswathi (daughter of Pattabhi Jois) that why he didnt practice, and she told him that he had bicycle wreck and discontinued his practice and then never resumed it.

Nancy Gilgoff

Nancy Gilgoff became Jois student in the year 1973, she credits him with curing her of crippling headaches and other health issues. She considers Jois as a healer because practicing yoga under his guidance helped her to become more aware about her body and living a healthy life.

When asked – What is your experience of Guruju as teacher of true yoga?
She admitted that when she met him, she was quite ill and weak with migrane headaches, and within four months she felt better after practicing yoga with him.

When asked – Why does Guruji emphasize, in particular, the third limb of ashtanga yoga(asana) as a starting point?
Because Jois beleived that a person needs ten years of asana practices before he/she really dwells into other limbs of practice (mediataion or prananyama)

Can you say what you think Guruji defination of yoga?
According to him, it is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory. His teachings guide to look inside, to investigate oneself. he gave the framework and all has to adapt framework as per the individual needs.

Mark and Joanne Darby

Mark and Joanne Darby were wandering souls, who met in Mysore in 1979 while studying with Guruji. They settled in India to study with him for four years, and two of their three children were born in India.

Did Guruji change the practice when Joanne got pregnant?
Joanne mentioned that he didn’t change the practice, and to surprise teaching pregnant student was new to him. He continued to teach the same until the fifth month, when Amma (wife of Guruji/Pattabhi Jois) intervened and stopped him to make Joanne do certain postures. Later Joanne broke her rib in the fifth month of her pregnancy which made Guruji bit cautius and careful in my practice later.

Did Guruji ever teach you philosophy?
No, it seemed like his purpose was to teach us asanas. he was more of a notion , that we do our practice and eventually in time we might understand other limbs of yoga practice ( yamas and niyamas)

Norman Allen

Norman Allen studied with Guruji in 1972, he also taught for Guruji during his absence and trips to Mysore.

When Guy asked Norman in his interview –
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 of thing it was different, kind of more sophisticated than that! Because you see, it’s a class kind of thing, and even though Guruji is a vidvan or even maybe a double vidvan, there is still a class consciousness of some type inside Brahmanical orders, and at that time he’s just working his 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 would mix with the academic people – or with real rich people, you would feel a little bit aside.

Jois & his family into yoga

His son – Manju Jois

Manju is Jois eldest son. He started practicing yoga with his father at the age of seven and began assisting him when he was thirteen, He travels and teaches all over the world and eventually settled in Southern California.

When asked – What kind of reputation did Guruji have among his students?
They respected him a lot, and initially we used to get people with sickness (asthma, diabetes and other sorts of problems).Those days, there were no modern medicines and even doctors used to send their patients to us for treatment.

His daughter- Saraswati Rangaswamy

Saraswati, Jois daughter practiced daily from the age of 10. She took care of the family as a motherly figure after her mother (Jois wife- Amma) died in 1997.

When asked – You were born and raised in Mysore. Can you share any particular memories or moments that stayed in your mind?
One of her experience was following ….
My father took me to so many places for demonstration while he was lecturing. My father was a big man, maybe 80 kilos and stood on my back and then started to lecture, explaining the benefits of asanas. Maybe , he was talking for one hour while standing on my back.

Acclaimed Base for Ashtanga practice – Yoga Korunta

The Yoga Korunta is a purported ancient text on yoga written in Sanskrit by Vamana Rishi and allegedly discovered by Krishnamacharya in the National Archives of India in the early 20th century. The name Yoga Korunta may be the Tamilized pronunciation of the Sanskrit words Yoga grantha, meaning “book about yoga”.Having deciphered the text, Krishnamachraya taught the method to Pattabhi Jois.

The final part of the story is that the Korunta soon-after disintegrated, and/or was consumed by ants (not implausible in the Indian climate): never to be seen again by anyone other than Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois. It is thought to have been a unique copy.

According to Jois, Krishnamcharya recited the shlokas or verses from Yoga Korunta and he faithfully recorded them. Later, he developed ashtanga practice based on Yoga Korunta (which he propagates to be only original and pure ashtanga practice as intended and known by Patanjali)

This is all about Jois teachings and practice as acclaimed by his students interviews published in book- Guruji. Apart from this, there are many running controversies on Jois practice. So you need to stay tuned for next blog of this series!!