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Talking Shop with George Purvis

Known for his strong practice, methodical teaching, and offbeat sense of humor, Purvis once advertised himself as a "frozen rope of Iyengar purity in this languid world of limp linguini yoga eclecticism."

By Claudia Cummins

George Purvis has taught yoga in Texas and around the country for more than two decades. Known for his strong practice, methodical teaching, and offbeat sense of humor, Purvis once advertised himself as a "frozen rope of Iyengar purity in this languid world of limp linguini yoga eclecticism." In 1999 he was diagnosed with cancer and has since undergone surgery and other extensive treatments. He lives in The Woodlands, Texas, with his wife, Cynthia, his parrot, and his two cats.

Yoga Journal: First of all, how are you feeling these days?

George Purvis: I'm feeling pretty good. I underwent a year and four months of interferon therapy, which they give to you in massive doses. There are a lot of horror stories about the side effects, but I can look back and in many ways say it was a cakewalk.

YJ: After all your treatments, are you now cancer-free?

GP: So far. You never really know from one moment to the next. In terms of my diagnosis, medically if there's no reoccurrence within five years, you're considered cured. My idea of a cure, though, is falling off my mule when I'm 99 years old. Not to come across as really holy or virtuous, but a big part of my motivation to get well is to give other people hope.

YJ: How has yoga helped you through your recovery?

GP: I didn't really resort to too much in the way of yoga, especially in terms of doing enough restorative practices, which intellectually I knew I should do. I felt like I was doing a fair amount between allopathic and Chinese medicine, and I didn't want to spend every waking moment dealing with the diagnosis. Also, being on the interferon, I didn't get the same physical and psychological effects from my yoga practice. Whenever I would practice restoratives, they just did not seem to have as much effect. Then when I practiced a little more strongly, nothing felt good—my joints always felt funny, my muscles always felt funny.

YJ: So have you learned anything about yoga by cutting back?

GP: It reinforced some things I already knew about myself and my approach to the practice of yoga. I learned that if I couldn't practice with my own energetic and machismo-dominated approach, it didn't seem fruitful for me. It was as though if I couldn't practice hard, I felt I wasn't reaping the benefits.

YJ: Has that changed?

GP: It had to change. I would think I'm a little wiser now. I've had my share of injuries from pushing too hard. I hope I have a little more wisdom, and I can look farther down the road and realize it's not all immediate gratification, getting that endorphin rush of working really hard. I would hope that I can be a little kinder to my body.

YJ: How does your sense of humor play into your teaching?

GP: Humor obviously makes people relax and makes them more open to listening to what yoga has to offer them. It promotes a certain level of open-mindedness and relaxation. I think of humor as sort of like shaking out the muscles of the brain.

YJ: What do you make of the tremendous popularity of yoga these days?

GP: Obviously it's a fad right now. But you know, it's been a fad before. I don't think there's any real danger, though, because I think the real trendy stuff will fall by the wayside. You'll still have the serious masters and their methods—whether it be Mr. Iyengar or K. Pattabhi Jois or T.K.V. Desikachar—people who really do have a method that's maintained a certain level of purity. I think those will endure. The stuff that's gotten really eclectic will get more and more mish-mash, and the next thing you know on the street corner you're going to see Tae-Boga. It's gotta happen.

YJ: Anything else?

GP: Well, just that when I'm teaching on the road I always wear my cowboy boots, so no one takes my shoes. All those Birkenstocks look alike.

For more Talking Shop interviews with yoga teachers, click here.


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