Our beloved guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois passed away today (May 18, 2009) in India at the age of 93.
It was during the life-changing experience of practicing Yoga with him in Mysore India in 1996 that the founder of barefoot yoga drew up and created the first yoga mat bag. It was this product that ultimately launched our company in 1998. And it is the spirit of this dedicated master that will always be with us in our Yogic journey.
I had the great honor to meet Pattabhi Jois in 1996. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were traveling in India, and halfway through the trip decided we needed to do something "intense." We went to Mysore and knocked on the nondescript door of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, hoping to practice Yoga for 2 weeks. Amma, Guruji's wife answered. We were apologetic for coming to the house unannounced. She was very sweet, and in moments, Guruji himself was at the door. We told him we wanted to practice with him for 2 weeks. "No, no - no two weeks. Two weeks too short. 1 month, 2 month, 6 month. 1 month minimum!"
We walked away feeling like we'd been to the wizard of Oz, and had been told to go away. We did not have that much time.
We practiced in our room at the Kaveri lodge for a few days, while deciding if we could swing a month in Mysore. During that time, I got involved in a basketball game at a local park court that was riddled with pot holes. I badly sprained my ankle in one of the potholes, and thought my Yoga opportunity was over. I went to see Pattabhi Jois about it. He suggested an Ayurvedic oil, and to continue the practice. And so I did. We wound up extending our visa, and staying for 2 months. They were very challenging months - I opened up to flexibility I had never known my entire life, and the process caused lots of soreness. At that time I used to sprain my ankles at least 4 times a year, and since that time I have not sprained my ankles.
We've seen him a couple of times since 1996. In 2000 we did a wonderful week with him in Maui, and in 2005 at the Roosevelt Hotel in LA. The very last time I saw him on that last day of practice in LA, I arrived early and set up my mat in the second row, in hopes he would adjust me. On the very last pose of the 1st Series, we are to take are legs into Padmasana, and lift ourselves off the ground. It had been years since I could manage to get my legs into Padmasana, and as we prepared for this last pose, I saw the puffy feet of our leader in the practice standing before me. "Take padmasana!" he barked to the class, and then sharply to me, "Take!!" I pulled my legs into padmasana without a thought. "Lift up!" he shouted to the class of 300, with a sweeping hand gesture. "Lift! he shouted at me, and I did so with a sudden found strength and confidence. He slowly counted to 15, going from 13 back to 8 ("ee-ate") along the way, and then he cackled as I landed back on the mat, exhausted.
Over all the years, while so many of his students simply referred to him as "Guruji," I could not say this comfortably. But, at that moment, for the first time, I really felt the meaning of this word. It was so clear that this man had an ability to draw more from me than I thought I had to give.
In retrospect, the words and actions of this great man were always those of a true Guru. It’s true, 2 weeks would not have been enough to even begin to understand the meaning of his simple words. It’s true that after spraining my ankle I needed to practice Yoga and release the fear of injuring my ankle further. And I think it’s true that his Astanga yoga practice – like most things in life is 99% practice, 1% theory.
And so, the inspiration of this incredible man will stick with me forever, and I could not be more thankful.
Practice, and all is coming!
Official Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Web Site