Excerpts from “Guruji”
Guruji : The portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of John Scott
Have you injured yourself, and what do you see as the role of pain, injury, or opening?
On the subject of injury, I always think of Graeme Northfield, and when I was going through a very intense knee phase, Graeme said to me, “John, it’s just an acute awareness.” So from that day onward I’ve related to the word “injury” not as injury. In conversations, I sometimes use the word “injury” to know what we are talking about, but in a yoga practice there shouldn’t be such a thing as injury. If one has injured oneself during yoga, then they have broken the first and the second principles of ashtanga, the yamas and the niyamas. One is being violent to oneself, and one is being greedy or materialistic. So when we reappraise the word “injury” and call it “acute awareness,” then we learn that a blockage, or the energy stopping that has occurred, is a teaching. And everybody needs to be able to work through to understand what it is that has caused the socalled injury. So when you call it an acute awareness, by being acutely aware of what’s happening, you learn what caused it, why it happened, and what you can do about healing it or growing past it. The term “work through,” it is a terrible term. You’ve got to understand it and then treat it with respect and through that understanding to work with, and breathe through it, and grow. Yes, I have injured myself, and most of the time it’s been related to my ego. If we are too materialistic about our practice, what it looks like and how advanced it is, then you’re going to get injured. But that injury will teach you something. It’ll teach you humility for a start, and indeed, it’s a good one, for most of us will go through injuries because our ego is so out there that we aren’t humble enough to be on bended knee. Before I actually touched Guruji’s feet [in respect] it was a period that I had knee problems, and subsequently I now understand that the knee is about going forward or change of direction and also the ego, and I’ve had some ego conflicts. And I finally asked Pattabhi Jois, I said, “Guruji, you know I don’t touch your feet?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Should I touch your feet?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Guruji why should I touch your feet?” He said, “For three reasons. One, I’m older than you,” so respect. “Two, because I’m your teacher, I’m your guru,” again a sign of respect. And, “Thirdly, if you touch your guru’s feet, all bad is going, only good is coming.” And at that particular time, when finally I asked him something and he gave me the answers, I felt the respect just came out to touch his feet. I could only go down on one knee because the other knee was so swollen. And I had an ego clash with my very first teacher, Derek, and once all these issues were resolved, I was able to go down on both knees. So it teaches you humility, and again that all ties in with acute awareness. What were you doing that would cause the knee to be injured? Eventually it comes back to, as Guruji says, “Stiff body, stiff mind!”—broken knee, broken mind! The body is expressing what’s happening in your mind. So when you solve this stuff up here [in the mind], it’s all anatomical. You start to go back: Where’s the source of movement coming from? The source of movement is coming from the hip, so you become more acutely aware of how you go into lotus rather than being all egotistical about it and just ramming it [the foot] in there. So the word “injury” is just a word we use to communicate with the people on the outside. But working with it inside, it’s an acute awareness.
Do you think ashtanga yoga attracts a particular kind of person?
It definitely attracts people who have a very obsessive nature or an addictive nature. I think the practice itself can be very addictive, which is clever. So anyone who’s had a drug habit, for example, is perfect because you can swap one addiction for the yoga practice addiction. Now when you start working with the addiction of yoga, the not doing the yoga is a yoga in itself. For five years I could say categorically I didn’t miss one day of practice. I was that addicted, and I was that scared to not do it for fear of letting it go. So within the practice there are carrots hanging out in front of you to go further and further and further, but it’s always there, too, the system is always testing you. So I think these are some of the reasons why Pattabhi Jois puts in the full and dark moon to give us the opportunity to not practice. So the people with obsessive natures are also challenged within the practice to let go of the practice.