Eddie Modestini, a longtime student of K. Pattabhi Jois who will lead Yoga Journal's upcoming online course, Vinyasa 101: The Fundamentals of Flow (sign up now to be the first to know when this essential guide to vinyasa yoga launches), shares the three most important lessons he learned from the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, who was known as "Guruji" to his adoring students.
3 Lessons from K. Pattabhi Jois
1. Really knowing and caring for my students is part of teaching.
Guruji was deeply interested in his students. He would take us into his home every day, invite us over for Mysore coffee, ask questions about our lives, families, what work we did. He wanted to know what made us tick. I think this just gave him another window into our lives so that he could be a better teacher. He was very stern with some students while being very sweet with others, and every trip [we took to visit him in India] he would change depending on what we needed. Most of all he was a kind and loving teacher. I think today with the big yoga classes, class size is prohibiting teachers from really getting to know their students. The more you know about your students, the more you can help them facilitate the growing process that they are pursuing.
2. Every question I had would be answered by yoga if I looked carefully enough.
Guruji would say: “Do your practice and all is coming.” You start at one place and you watch and through yoga you steer your life in the directions you want to go. It’s so much bigger than the practice: it’s life, and the practice affects our lives positively. It’s common in the U.S. to go to therapy to learn more about ourselves so we can navigate through life more effectively. The asanas hold the secret: they reveal what we can’t see in ourselves. Guruji would also say: “Yoga is 99 percent practice and one percent theory.” Yoga is all about doing, it’s not about talking. To me, it’s the practice of yoga that really illustrates the process, more than the conversation about it.
3. Be where you are.
You can’t be where you’re not. Guruji would say: “One by one you take it. Why rushing? Why running? You don’t rush.” What I got from that was don’t take the more advanced pose. Be where you are, don’t get ahead of yourself. Stay in the part of the practice that is right for you. It’s no wonder he was saying this, because in Ashtanga yoga, you get the poses one after the other; only by perfecting one pose do you get the next. So many people would chase the next pose so to speak. He would cock his head and just say, “Why?” He wanted us to know the poses, take the time to fully explore each one before we went on to the next. Some students stayed at a pose for years, others for only one week. He taught everybody differently.
Want to learn more ways to injury-proof your practice, whether you're a teacher or a student? Sign up for Modestini's upcoming Vinyasa 101 course, which will cover the anatomy of the spine, how to adapt asana for various body types, and much more.