Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Ganga White, founder of the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, is one of America’s yoga pioneers. After years of practice and teaching and teacher training, he remains dedicated to the freedom of inquiry that is yoga’s core.
Yoga Journal: You began practicing yoga in 1966. How did you start?
Ganga White: I got into yoga for spiritual, mystical reasons. I had no idea there was a physical practice. Some of my first teachers were hatha yogis. They told me if I wanted to see the world from a different point of view to try standing on my head.
YJ: Were you a natural-born hatha yogi?
GW: I would see people sitting with straight backs for an hour. I couldn’t do it for two seconds, couldn’t touch my toes. I was athletic and had won metals swimming, but I was fairly stiff.
YJ: Has your relationship to certain poses changed over the years?
GW: I couldn’t do Handstand for 10 years because of a high school football injury, and now it’s one of my favorite postures. I used to do really deep backbends, and I don’t find them as necessary anymore.
YJ: What is your practice now?
GW: Yoga is the context my life is held in. My asana practice varies. Sometimes it is what I call “inner-directed” yoga, where I follow my own flow. Sometimes I practice a fixed form, like our Flow Series. I don’t believe in being regimented. The off days are as important as the on days. Asana practice is one of the most important things I know—it’s so whole, so complete—but sometimes a hike in the forest or a swim can be more important.
YJ: How would you describe your teaching style?
GW: I try to approach yoga nondogmatically—in a nonauthoritarian manner. I try to balance inner feedback with the outer practice and information. We [at White Lotus] emphasize a flowing, vinyasa style, but see yoga as a tool to work on your own well-being. Our practice has humorously been called “ashganga yoga.” We’re known for challenging traditional sacred cows.
GW: People are trying to go back to Patanjali, for example, but it’s controversial as to what he said, who he even was, even whether or not he advocated hatha yoga. We question authoritarian formulas from the past, present, and within ourselves.
YJ: What teachers have been important to you?
GW: The ocean, the rivers, fire, and my injuries. But also Krishnamurti, Venkatesh, Iyengar, Tracey [Rich], and many others not so well known.
YJ: How does yoga come into play in your partnership with Tracey Rich?
GW: We’re together quite a bit. We teach and practice both together and alone. We’re very aligned philosophically. Relationship is one of the highest yogas. We treat our relationship as a meditation and ongoing evolution.
YJ: What do you think is the greatest challenge in teaching yoga?
GW: Getting people to let go of fixed ideas that have been poured into them. To lead people into freedom and openness.
YJ: Have you always been adversarial to tradition?
GW: Evolutionary, not adversarial. I started out very traditional. Now I’m interested in standing on the shoulders of the past and looking farther. We expect to see farther than our great grandfathers in most ways, and I think we can learn to see farther spiritually too. The enlightenment of the past can become the limitation of today. My advice is to avoid terminal enlightenment at all costs.
To reach Ganga at White Lotus, call (805) 964-1944 or visit www.whitelotus.org.