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Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students

By Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern


Updated May 23, 2012



Photo Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Guruji, a traditional honorific, is the title of respect used by Ashtanga yoga students to refer to their late teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Guruji follows the introduction of Jois's yoga methodology to the West, beginning in 1972 with the arrival in Mysore of his first American students, Norman Allen, David Williams, and Nancy Gilgoff. The book is composed of interviews, conducted by long-time acolyte Guy Donahaye, with many of Jois's most devoted students. The interviews trace each contributor's biography before covering a series of questions about Ashtanga's long term effects, the guru's personality, and his teaching methods.

The Advent of Vinyasa Yoga

Since Ashtanga provided the groundwork for the vigorous vinyasa-style yoga that is so popular today, Guruji is really the story about how a generation of hardcore hippies and seekers brought yoga from an Indian guru to the health clubs of America and the world. Pattabhi Jois was close sixty years old when he was discovered by his first Western students. His method, devised with his guru Krishnamacharya, was much more demanding and athletic than others. It required hands-on instruction, which students got by traveling for periods of intensive study with Jois in India. Eventually, as Ashtanga's popularity grew, Jois began to travel to the West at the invitation of his first generation of students.

Through the Eyes of His Students

The most facinating elements of Donahaye's interviews are the accounts of how each individual found Ashtanga yoga and their anecdotes of their time with the guru. Guruji also includes interviews with several of Jois's Indian students, an often overlooked factor in yoga's recent history, which reveal a great deal about the difference in the way Western and Indian students regarded their teacher and their practice. Many students recall the intensity of Jois's manipulations, during which he would physically place students into postures that they could not do on their own, even fracturing the rib of a pregnant woman in one case. This physically intimate way of teaching stands in contrast to the current trend away from hands-on adjustments, perhaps a symptom of yoga's turn away from the guru model. Despite Jois's gruff manner and rigorous demands, his students universally hold him in great regard and cherished his attention. Gururji is a must-read for Ashtanga students and will also be greatly enjoyed by anyone with an interest in the evolution of modern yoga.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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