Sunday, June 14, ashtangis and the greater yoga community of New York City gathered in Donna Karan‘s gorgeous Urban Zen space in Manhattan’s West Village for an evening of remembrances celebrating the life and legacy of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.
The white space was hung with long yellow scrims that caught the late afternoon light and brightened the windowless space. The black cushions on the floor were strewn with the petals of red roses, and garlands large and small framed sepia-toned pictures of Guruji at the front of the space. Food was served the back–delicious spicy popped rice with chutney, and samosas and chai.
Four hundred people had RSVPd. Those who came were a good-looking bunch, with a lean, clean, healthy glow. Many had young children with them. It was a grown-up yoga community, one that has weathered their initial zeal for yoga and matured into seasoned practitioners.
Representing the yoga world were Alison West (Yoga Union), Leslie Kaminoff (Breathing Project), Michelle Demus (Pure Yoga), Hari Kaur (Golden Bridge), Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman (Urban Zen), James Murphy (Iyengar Yoga NY), Carlos Menjiva (Jivamukti), and someone from Bikram yoga.
On the walls around the space, photos of Guruji, his family, his students, and his travels over the years played in a continuous loop. After Eddie Stern, Jois’ long-time student, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York, introduced the evening, three Hindu priests changed a part of the Upanishads, 18 minutes of piercing, passionate sound meant to disperse the elements back into the world, to help Guruji on his journey. In the background of this austere music, was the sound of children chirping and playing.
“When a great person is born into the world, he affects everyone,” said Stern. “Regardless of whether they follow his teachings or not.”
Other speakers mentioned Pattabhi Jois’ generosity as a teacher, the inclusiveness of his sangha, and his “sympathetic joy”—his availability to all who had even just a flicker of interest in trying yoga.
“He took complete delight that someone was growing through their yoga practice,” said John Campbell, long-time student.
Ruth Lauer-Manenti, a senior Jivamukti teacher, relayed the story of how she first went to Mysore to practice with Pattabhi Jois. “Sharon Gannon [director and co-founder of Jivamukti] had just come back from Mysore. She was thin, thin, thin. She looked kind of green and she had a dislocated shoulder. She said, Ruth, you gotta go. So I went the next day.”
” ‘Yes you can’ was his message—it’s what so many of us took from him,” said Lauer-Manenti whose practice helped her to heal from a near-fatal car accident.
“He always wanted you to do your best, including making it to his birthday every year.”
Jois believed—in fact, he lived the idea—that yoga is the science of transformation: 1% theory, 99% practice. Yoga is mind control: controlling your helter-skelter thoughts and practicing love (plus a 2hr, 6-days-a-week, demanding asana practice) instead.
As he famously said, “Do your practice and all is coming.”in Celebrity and Culture.