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Oceans of Yoga

Oceans of YogaT. Krishnamacharya, the father of Desikachar, taught Pattabhi Jois and B. K. S. Iyenger. They were young boys and their teacher devised yoga practices to suit their individual body types and energies. T.K.V. Desikachar, a former-engineer-turned-yogi carries on his father’s values that were brought down from the Tibetan mountains–that the individual comes first and that there is only one yoga. His son, Kausthub, agrees.

I entered their course as a typical westerner, believing yoga was only about asanas. I emerged a different person, one who could see much more through the eyes of Pantanjali and who could recognize yoga as the holistic practice it is.

TKVD=TKV Desikachar
KD=Kausthub Desikachar, TKV ‘s son
LMC=Lisa Miriam Cherry
LMC: What do you see as the most valuable feature of yoga? Some teachers espouse the physical health aspect; what do you espouse?

TKVD: The most important thing in yoga is the mind. Change the mind and the human system changes. When you did your yoga, something changed in your mind so you felt better. Yoga people should talk sensibly and talk in a way that makes sense to people in the medical professions because medical professions are only interested in solutions. Whatever helps the person’s mind will help the person. Whatever doesn’t help the person’s mind will not help the person. It may be asana, it could be meditation, whatever it is.

LMC: So the mind comes first?

TKVD: Yes. We have to be aware… this person has certain situations, I should know them (as a teacher). What is the definition of yoga? It is “state of mind.” My father, at one hundred years of age, was not able to do asanas, but he was so serene because he had his own yoga practice. On the day we honored him, he recited “Om” for fifty-five seconds. So, there were strengths to his discipline.

LMC: How would you describe the term “ocean of yoga?”

TKVD: We could have called it “the mountain of yoga.”

Think about this. A mountain is stone. It hardly changes. Yoga is flexible. That’s why we called it ocean. The ocean changes, waves change, the water temperature changes. The mind is like an ocean.

KD: It seems people have divided themselves into different groups based on what technique they practice. “If I do this technique I belong to this section; if I do that technique, I belong to that one.” But yoga is not about technique; it’s about experience. Yoga is not about whether you raise your arms to the front or from the side, or keep your fingers together or separated. It’s about how yoga affects you, what experience you have as an individual practicing it and how you become a better person. That’s when I spoke to my father about presenting this idea. We don’t teach yoga teachers. We teach people.

A couple of years ago we started a series of workshops in which we thought we’d present different aspects of yoga in the spirit of yoga, i.e. unity. Last year, we had a workshop on sequencing and along with all these interactions, we came up with the idea of presenting the wide range of tools that yoga has to offer so that people know that there is so much more involved over and above simple techniques. We can’t say that we taught thirty-five different styles. There were thirty-five different classes, but it was thirty-five different experiences, and maybe more because each individual receives the teaching in different ways. There is just one yoga. This is why we presented the concept of “the ocean of yoga.” We are aiming to present the whole spectrum of yoga rather than worrying about small boxes into which we try to [fit] everything. I always ask people this question: When you go into a shop, do you try to choose the shirt and fit into it or do you try to choose a shirt that fits you? It’s the same with Yoga. I don’t think we should try to fit into one technique of yoga. Yoga must fit into our system, our life. It must be tailor-made to be appropriate for us, not the reverse–not “if I am unable to do this technique, I am not fit for yoga.”

My grandfather always said, “if anybody can breathe, they can do yoga.” If somebody is paralyzed below the hip, does that mean they can’t have the experience of yoga? No. If somebody is mentally retarded, does that mean they can’t have the experience of yoga? No. We work with those people. They don’t fit into [some specific] techniques, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t fit into the ocean of yoga.

TKVD: Why is it that in some systems, something good happens, and in another, something not good also happens? Because of how it is received. If something changes the state of mind from negative to positive, the person changes from negative to positive, irrespective of the technique. The eighty people in our class felt a relationship with us, so the system became different. If I met each one of them, I would have been able to honor each of them. I wish I had met each one of them. So I shook each of their hands at the end. What else could I do?

LMC: What do you think of the term “Viniyoga,” which people use to describe your style?

TKVD: I think they should destroy this word Viniyoga! The word Viniyoga is what I have been speaking to you about for one hour. It means, “know the person, then after decide what you are able to do, then go step by step.” There is no style. The word “Viniyoga” has destroyed the philosophy of the symbolism of Viniyoga. It is a typical system. It’s an identification. I’m sorry, but they’ve destroyed the spirit of Viniyoga by using the word Viniyoga. Tomorrow somebody (may) call and say, “I’m starting an Ocean of Yoga School. The Viniyoga Ocean of Yoga style, based on the conference given at the Omega Center.” Watch!

LMC: So that could ruin it too!

TKVD: Yes, it’s like a grouping.

LMC: It limits the ocean of Yoga.

TKVD: It’s not only limiting, it separates. I have suggested some people go to Satchidananda. Is it because he’s a Viniyoga teacher?

LMC: No.

TKVD: So this is what is Viniyoga. It is what suits the individual. It is not a style. The moment you call it a style, you’re killing the spirit of Viniyoga. What I have received is from my teacher [T. Krishnamacharya], and what he received is from his teacher. There is a lineage of more than 2000 years.

LMC: If they named it after your father, that wouldn’t be good either?

TKVD: No, my father would be in tears. Whatever he invented, he never said he invented it. I know that he innovated things, but he would never say “it is mine.” That is the Indian philosophy of humility and respect for the teacher. They always would say, “my teacher taught this to me.”

LMC: Did you adapt anything your father taught you?

TKVD: Yes, adaptation is a necessity. I speak in English. My father taught me in Sanskrit. So

there’s already been an adaptation. Culture has changed. It is not an adaptation because I want to adapt. It is a necessity.

KD: I think even my grandfather adapted a lot from what he learned from his teacher because he was living in Tibet. It’s very different from living in Madras, which is a huge city of six million people. The pace of life is different, the culture, the values. So I think adaptations must be made, that is also Viniyoga. The spirit behind Viniyoga is to respect the situations and adapt. It is not a yoga word at all. In English, the word is ‘adaptation’, in Sanskrit it is ‘ViniYoga’.

LMC: What is your dream for the new century of Yoga?

TKVD: Many years ago, one of my students asked me “What is yoga?” And I went to my father and asked him what was the right definition. My father said, “Tell him yoga means shanti (peace).” How to offer this great timeless gift to this world? There is so much technology, there’s so much advancement in science and medicine and all that, and yet people are not very happy. How can yoga serve the community so that there is more peace? This is a great lesson. The U.S. is the richest and most powerful country in the world. People are scared to walk, to talk, even to look at people. In Denver, one hundred people came to our conference, and they felt healed. That was such an experience for me. Anybody who is interested in this can add one drop of water to this healing process. This would make me a very happy person. Wealth, power does not give happiness and peace. A heart to heart connection, as introduced through yoga, offers this. This is my dream.
For more of Lisa Cherry’s interview with TKV and Kausthub Desikachar, visit yogitimes.com.

by lisa miriam cherry/ photography by james wyinner

Lisa Cherry is a freelance journalist living in Canada. She is currently collecting stories for her upcoming book, Stories from the Yogic Heart: How Yoga has Changed our Lives. realjournalism.com & storiesfromtheyogicheart.com
Provided by Yogi Times Magazine – www.yogitimes.com

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