Excerpts from “Guruji”
 
Guruji : The portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of Guy Donahaye
Pattabhi Jois’s yoga is radical. It is difficult to describe in words the kinds of experiences one goes through, but suffice it to say there are times when one encounters one’s deepest fears and is pushed to the limits of endurance, both mentally and physically. Guruji inherited this intensity of teaching from his guru, Krishnamacharya, who according to Guruji was a “very dangerous man”—this always said with a laugh. Many people would walk away from this kind of intensity. In the end of Krishnamacharya’s time in Mysore, he had only three students left. His approach at that time was too radical for most people. But for those of an intense nature who desire radical transformation, they find it here. If you walk away when the going gets tough, then you do not evolve. Guruji understood the healing and transformation process from many decades of teaching, and no doubt his own personal experience. He stayed with me throughout and helped me to heal and transform. When being adjusted in a challenging asana by Guruji, I sometimes felt on a precipice staring down into the abyss at the prospect of death or debilitating pain, but also feeling that maybe salvation somehow was at hand. Then I was met in the present moment, because nothing will distract you from the moment when you face imminent death, by Guruji’s smile: “Why fearing?” (What are you attached to? What do you cling to?) “Just trust and relax!” But I’m going to die! “Just breathe!” And then suddenly, before you know it, he has put you in the posture! The state of heightened awareness may persist for the duration of the adjustment, and during this time nothing else whatsoever troubles the mind. Afterward, there is a moment of suspension of belief, bliss, euphoria, openheartedness, ecstasy. Oh! I didn’t know that was possible! Put my troubles on one side for a moment, put aside all my preconceptions about what I am capable of doing. If one can do that for a moment, it affords one the ability to put these troubles aside at will later on, to look at these troubles and let them go. With letting go one arrives at the state of calm and confidence, which is often seen in the demeanor of long-term practitioners. The many wonderful benefits of ashtanga practice—such as good health, energy, and strength—keep us interested in the practice, but the ultimate spiritual benefits seem elusive. Thankfully, through practice, practice, practice eventually the inner nature of yoga also begins to manifest. For me, the most important lesson Guruji gave was to engrave a deep samskara for practice in my mind. From practice, everything follows. This is not an empty mantra but a reality. The teacher is there to give you reassurance that you are on the right path, but the real inner teacher is in the practice itself. For deeper understanding to arise, the mind must be transformed. But to get a feeling for what yoga is, you have to practice. How can you convey the flavor of honey to someone who has never tested its sweetness? It is the same with yoga: you have to experience it to understand. Initially this experience is impossible to articulate verbally. It is more like a flavor that we enjoy. But as the mind is transformed through yoga practice, we become better able to perceive the reality underlying our existence, and consequently to understand the philosophical basis of yoga and the direction it suggests we move in order to widen and deepen our experience of this reality. In the beginning I did not understand. But after many years, I began to. Yoga practice transforms the mind and body; it purifies, strengthens, and heals. A troubled mind has a reduced capacity for understanding and a diseased body will always cause distraction and trouble to the mind. Through asana practice, the body is healed and the mind is progressively purified and refined, and becomes more capable of grasping subtle truth. In addition, one begins to see the effect yoga has in one’s own biography as the years pass, and to understand its essence in an experiential way.  
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Ashtanga yoga describes eight steps for attaining the goal of yoga. The first four are “external” and the others are “internal.” The first two steps are yama and niyama: nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, sexual restraint, non-greed, cleanliness, contentment, purification, self-study, surrender to the divine. These first two stages are challenging and take a long time to master. They are hindered by an unsteady mind and a weak or diseased body. The third stage, asana, or posture, is the starting point for Guruji’s method. Asanas help to bring health and mental clarity, making performance of yama and niyama easier. Pranayama, or breath control, takes the purification a step further. Pratyahara, or sense introversion, results from perfection in pranayama—the senses turn inward and look for the Self. Dharana, the fixing of concentration; dhyana, or meditation, where the mind flows exclusively in one direction; and samadhi, union with the divine, proceed in this sequential order. According to The Yoga Sutras, yoga is mind control. When the mind is under control, you experience yourself as its master. If you are performing an action and your mind is elsewhere, then it is not under your control, you cannot concentrate, and the mind is your master. Once the mind is perfectly controlled then we cease to identify with it and the inner Self is allowed to manifest without hindrance or obscuration. Ashtanga yoga describes the practical method for attaining this control, first by purification through asana practice and then by bringing the mind under control through a combination of yama, niyama, and pranayama. Guruji emphasized intense asana practice. The vinyasa (breathing/movement system) combined with the asana sequencing “boils the blood” and eliminates toxins through the skin as sweat. Daily practice is emphasized, with certain days for rest, over a long period of time—“ten years, twenty years, your whole life long you practice.” It was always hot and sweaty in the room, not from artificial heating but from the bodies of the practicing students. Guruji used to say, “With heat, even iron will bend,” referring to the way in which even tough, hard bodies could be bent into shape. Under the guidance of Krishnamacharya, Guruji arranged three sequences of asanas—primary, intermediate, and advanced—which were subdivided into four further sequences. The primary series, yoga chikitsa, was designed to purify the muscles and organs of the body, while the intermediate series, nadi shodhana, was designed to purify the nervous system and mind. Once a certain mastery had been attained in these first two series, Guruji would teach an intense pranayama practice which would take the process of purification deeper.* Students with lots of energy and flexibility would also proceed through the advanced series.
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Guruji encouraged his students to marry and have families. He saw this as a way of helping students to become more settled and engage with the yama and niyama in a practical way. He used to joke that family life was seventh series—the really difficult one. The four external limbs of yoga are very challenging. When students would ask Guruji about “meditation,” one of the internal limbs, he would say, “What? Mad attention?” He contended that if you can’t keep your mind still for even a moment, what could you possibly achieve in terms of deep absorption and the rest? He held that once the four external limbs had been perfected, the internal steps would be easy. But perfecting the external limbs takes a great deal of time and effort and requires patience, faith, devotion, and much more. Guruji modified Krishnamacharya’s dictum, that everybody who could breathe could do yoga, to “Everybody can do yoga, except lazy people.”
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