Vanity Fair Reports Ashtanga Rift

The society and lifestyle magazine points the spotlight on a brewing controversy within one of yoga's most respected traditions.
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The society and lifestyle magazine points the spotlight on a brewing controversy within one of yoga's most respected traditions.

With all the controversy about guru-student relationships in the yoga community lately, yoga students from all schools and traditions are considering the pros and cons of the traditional guru system. In the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, the article "Who's Yoga is It, Anyway?" looks at the Ashtanga Yoga (read today's post "Gathering of the Tribe") tradition and examines that relationship--particularly, what happens to a tradition that was built on the teachings of one man after he's no longer around to teach?

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When Ashtanga founder K. Pattabhi Jois died in May of 2009, he had been grooming his grandson Sharath to take over his legacy as a leader of Ashtanga yoga, but not everyone in the Ashtanga community agrees that it should be that way, according to the article--which quotes many named and unnamed Ashtanga students in the story. "Sharath is not a teacher to me," one practitioner told VF. "He is barely even a peer to me." Some Ashtanga practitioners take exception to the new rules instituted by Sharath for those who wish to become certified to teach Ashtanga. It's all an effort to preserve the teachings of his grandfather, Sharath told the magazine.

The Jois family's partnership with Jois Yoga, an upscale studio chain backed by billionaire Ashtanga student Sonia Tudor Jones and San Diego concierge executive Salima Ruffin and her husband, is at the heart of the debate. With its own clothing line and posh studio spaces, Jois Yoga appears to some to be more about making money than a way to share the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. But that couldn't be further from the truth, says Ruffin. Jois Yoga is opening its fourth yoga center in Greenwich, Connecticut, next month.

"The mission for the studios is to spread the word of yoga because that's what Guruiji asked us to do," Ruffin told us. "It's not about the money. It's not about profit." While the yoga centers are for-profit, the partners also started the K. P. Jois Foundation, a non-profit organization led by Salima's husband Eugene Ruffin, has begun to teach yoga to underprivileged children. The foundation launched last year with two schools, one in Encinitas and one in Orlando. There are plans to add 15 more schools in the next year.

Another area of contention is the location of the yoga centers—particularly the yoga center in Encinitas, California, where one of Pattabhi Jois early American students Tim Miller, who many considered Jois' protege, runs a studio. Salima Ruffin insists that there are no bad feelings toward Miller. "I love Tim, and still go to him," she said. "He just likes to do his own thing."

All of this could lead to an eventual split in the Ashtanga tradition, the article suggests.

What do you think is more important—tradition or adaptation? Is there room for both?