This translation is from the KPJ Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore:
“Paramparā is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form: knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the limbs in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within paramparā.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge.
The dharma or duty of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga – lies beyond simply mastering the practice: knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what has been taught.
The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
Surrendering to paramaparā, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the traditions he or she follows is true and selfless.”
Direct transmission of knowledge is really important. It is why Sharath only authorises people who have spent time studying directly with him in Mysore and have a relationship with him to share this practice, in order to keep it potent and not watered down. You should only take knowledge from someone who has spent time at the seat of our lineage, this one source.
In much of today’s world the people who are the most confident in promoting themselves and sharing their “wisdom” are often the ones who are the most ignorant. Just look at the state of US politics and of the rise of conspiracy theories. It seems the crazier the person, the larger their platform. Unfortunately this extends into the so-called yoga world. I would advise resisting the temptation of reading articles online by people you do not know. Many of these authors tend to be whackadoodle, narcissistic and disrespectful of Sharath. You are not following paramaparā or honoring the method if you read them or give them any weight. You are contributing to the corruption of sacred knowledge.
Do your practice more than you talk about your practice or email me about your practice. Mostly don’t talk about your practice to anyone, not even to your fellow practitioners. If you have questions, ask your teacher. Of course if you need medical advice, consult a medical doctor or qualified psychotherapist.
The only resource you truly need to progress is to practice on every prescribed day. If you feel you need more than that, then keep a copy of “Yoga Mala” by Pattabhi Jois for reference or “Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana” by R. Sharath or ask your teacher.
If you want anything else to read, study the scriptures:
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (I like the translation by Sri Swami Stachidananda or Swami Satyananda Saraswati)
The Bhagavad Gītā(I like the translation by Winthrop Sergeant with a preface by Dr Christopher Chapple, my Sanskrit professor at LMU for many years).
I first met Sharath in 2002. I have not seen him in Mysore since just before the pandemic when I assisted him in the shala on my last trip. It is time for me to return there to keep this river of paramparā fresh. After so many trips to India and so many years of practice it is always within me, but it reignites my spark to touch the source and sit at the feet of my Guru. I hope to be there early next year. If I can find a suitable and authorised sub AYSB will remain open, otherwise you will need to do self-practice whilst I am gone.
AYSB closed September 1 to 15
I will going to Bali in September to retreat with my first Guru, Ananda-babaji (of a different tradition). It is again, really important that I keep connecting to parapamparā when I have the opportunity. Consequently AYSB will be closed from September 1 to 15.
If you feel so inclined, Peter Sanson, a Certified Ashtanga Teacher, will be down in San Diego from September 15 to 19 at Jois Yoga and you might want to practice with him for the weekend (although I will be back on Monday September 18th).
I really like this explanation by Authorised teacher Guy Donahuye:
Mysore style is misunderstood. Today, it is typically taken simply to mean self-practice in a group at a yoga studio. But the Mysore style does not describe a way of practice, but a way of teaching.
The primary feature of Mysore style teaching is to move a student slowly, step by step from one stage of practice to the next. This system is found in the traditional South Indian approach to the teaching of music, language, dance etc..
The idea is that you should perfect what you learn through practice and then move to the next step. It is, perhaps, understandable why this idea is unacceptable to many people in the West. We do not expect to work hard, or diligently, we expect to be able to acquire things instantly.
In order to justify this approach, people suggest that a teacher who holds a student back at a stage of practice and does not encourage them to do more, is exerting a manipulative power dynamic.
This is to completely misunderstand the logic of the Mysore approach. On the contrary, the teacher really cares about the student’s progression, s/he knows the value of a practice that has depth and integrity.
Skipping over challenges and “progressing” in practice without depth simply diffuses the potency of practice. Of course, some people do not want depth. Some people cannot cope with depth, they need to just skim the surface, because going deep may bring up their inner demons. Fair enough.
But if you are not interested in depth, then you are not interested in yoga – you are looking for something else. Yoga is for those who want to overcome their suffering, to overcome their demons, to evolve and become free.
If you just want to keep skimming along the surface and just feel OK from day to day, that is understandable. Yoga may not be for you. Stretching and breathing is good. Exercise is good. Going to church and praying to be saved is good, for some people.
Apart from the step by step method, Mysore style also depends on the repetition of simple practices until they are perfected. This repetition is done in silence, in synchronisation with one’s own breath, in one’s own time.
You don’t need a teacher constantly speaking and giving corrections, you need to get out of the head and into the body, to feel what is right.
The support for this is guidance through the teachers hands. Of course some verbal guidance is needed, but if the teacher will not stop speaking, there is no space for your own ideas or experience. That experience is unique for each person.
Hands can transmit more than words can say and leave the student free to have their own thoughts and experiences. Of course, those hands need to be well trained. That teacher needs to be in service of the student and not pushing his own personal agenda.
In other news:
- Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy course coming in October, details will follow
- I have jury duty the week of August 7th 🙁 …you know how it does. Hopefully I will not need to go in, but even if I do, I will be able to open the shala each morning