With the passing of K. Pattabhi Jois, I feel a sense of loss, but more a sense of vastness and respect. Thinking about how this man effected my life and the life of millions of others is mind-blowing. The practice of astanga yoga and all the forms of yoga that have been influenced by it are in every corner of the world. Astanga yoga has found its way into almost every culture and has empowered and strengthened and quite possibly saved lives and communities. On the same day I received notice of Jois’s death, a received an e-mail from a student (Kendra Ludwig) regarding yoga in Rwanda. Astanga yoga is being taught there as a way of giving health, strength, and emotional healing back to survivors of genocide, war, and rape. This project is called AIR Pilot Project.
The AIR Pilot Project serves both to mitigate and prevent trauma and to improve health, physical fitness, and psychological well-being. What trauma? The obdurate trauma of HIV+ genocidal rape victims in post-conflict Rwanda, and the more recent trauma of their sister sufferers in the current conflict in Eastern Congo. Click here to learn more about the AIR Pilot Project.
I believe that yoga has a special place in this world and it will continue to grow. This is not just about astanga yoga, but yoga in general. However, I believe K. Pattabhi Jois deserves great respect and thanks for touching so many lives. This is about what my teacher Beryl Bender Birch calls the convergance of activism and ascetisism. It used to be that one would either chose the path of the monk/spiritual seeker and remove themselves from the world as a path to the divine. The activist, however, would put themselves smack dab in the middle of all of the conflict and try to make change. Now, there is room for a new way. This convergence is about using a spiritual path to create change. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun and one of the foremost students of Chogyam Trumgpa, talks much about getting right into life in every possible way— especially by connecting and owning all of our own faults and prejudices, insecurities, and worse! By doing so, we become more compassionate and hopefully able to effect change by creating peace. We don’t have to go far to find a person or place that needs some lovingkindness.
I don’t think Jois believed himself to be a peacemaker. I don’t think his goal was to change the world, but he did. He did it through great passion, respect, and study of a system he felt was perfect. He spent a great part of his life teaching astanga yoga to others and therefore deseminating this system all over the world. How grateful I am to have had access to this amazing way of life. He was fond of saying many things, but two quotes have always stuck in my mind: “Astanga Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice.” “Do practice and all is coming.” Thank you, thank you, K. Pattabhi Jois for all you have done for this world!