My teacher is gone. ~ Leslie Kaminoff

Via Leslie Kaminoffon Aug 20, 2014

leslie kaminoff

Editor’s introduction: From the official web site, as of this moment: “…One of the world’s foremost teachers of yoga and a renowned authority on the therapeutic uses of yoga, TKV Desikachar continues to oversee KYM’s work in therapy as well as training and guiding the faculty of KYM.”

Just above, this rather poignant quote:

The below is an opinion—one gentleman’s experience—and can not be elephant’s “official” view. It is alleged, but it is important to share in the spirit of openness, transparency, and constructive dialogue.  

PS: Here’s my outsider’s review of my experience of the talk mentioned below, from 2009.

From Leslie Kaminoff:

This is how I share him with students these days.  I play some rare footage we shot at a healing conference I helped produce at the KYM in 1996.

My teacher is gone.

Following the death last night of B.K.S. Iyengar after a brief illness at age 95, there was a vast outpouring of affection for a man who had realized his full creative potential during a long and productive life. His guru T. Krishnamacharya, also lived a very long life and taught well past the age of 100. The sadness surrounding Iyengar’s passing was not at the loss of potential unrealized, but at the loss of his living presence.

Unavoidably, my thoughts turned to my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son and—at 20 years his junior—Iyengar’s nephew.

I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.

I am immensely sad for the tragic turn that Desikachar’s life has taken. I don’t know if his condition was avoidable. But what is avoidable is the denial surrounding his gradual decline and the resulting damage to the teaching community he built.

Undeniably, the worldwide Yoga community has been deprived of another one of its great intellects and practitioners. My teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, was an interpreter of ancient knowledge for modern times, a sensitive, practical man who valued above all else the close relationships he formed with students, colleagues and clients. My sadness is both for the loss of his living presence and for the lost potential of a great mind and decades of output that will never be realized.

He was born in 1938—a year after his father dispatched B.K.S. Iyengar to Pune. He is 76 years old.

Looking back, my teacher’s seemingly peculiar and unrealistic desire to promote the career of his troubled son Kausthub makes more sense when factoring in progressive dementia.  Desikachar’s withdrawal from public life and Kausthub’s corresponding rise to leadership at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram had severe consequences for generations of senior students.

Speaking only for myself, the transition felt surreal: I was losing access to my teacher at the same time I was being asked to answer to someone who had repeatedly revealed himself as unstable and dishonest.

The first time Desikachar’s condition became unavoidably obvious to me was the last time I saw him, at the Estes Park Yoga Journal conference in September of 2009. In retrospect there had been signs something was wrong a couple of years earlier. In August of 2007, I attended a weekend seminar in New York in which Desikachar repeatedly turned teaching duties over to his daughter Mekhala.  She did her best, but was clearly uncomfortable when inexplicably made the center of attention. I wrote off the incident to a desire on Desikachar’s part to promote his daughter’s teaching abilities. At the time, it never occurred to me he might have felt the need for help presenting his material.

When my friend Gary Kraftsow and I attended the 2009 Yoga Journal conference I knew he had not seen or spoken to Desikachar in many years.  We both watched in horror as our previously eloquent teacher stumbled hesitantly through his keynote address. During the prior three days I had attended Desikachar’s “Healing Through Yoga” intensive during which he seemed a bit tired and distracted, but was able to manage adequately when his wife, Menaka, or one of his senior students was beside him.

Then—during the keynote, alone at the podium—it was painfully obvious that something was wrong.

Desikachar’s storytelling and oblique references had always brilliantly led back to his main topic in unexpected and illuminating ways. Now, his stories simply rambled on and on in random disarray, with no integrating threads binding them together. It was clear he could only access long-term memories, while his fragile short-term memory and higher functioning were severely compromised.

During intermission, I went to where Gary was sitting and we stared slack-jawed in disbelief at each other, confirming what we had just witnessed. Most of the audience likely saw a kindly old man telling amusing stories, but there were at least a dozen or so people in the room who knew Desikachar well enough to be alarmed. Most notably, his wife and senior students who had been traveling with him could not possibly have been blind to his condition. How could they send him all alone to that podium in front of an amphitheater without the support he so clearly needed?

Feeling humiliated on behalf of my teacher, a rage built inside me…I wanted to confront them, but wishing to avoid making a scene in public, propriety got the better of me.  I spent the rest of that week at Estes in a state of profound loss I’ve carried ever since.

That’s the thing with dementia—you begin mourning long before your loved one dies.

So this week, as I followed the news surrounding the end of Iyengar’s life, all these memories and emotions have come to the surface. I felt sorry for Mr. Iyengar—not that his life was ending after 95 years of productive and influential work, but because this powerful spirit who declared,

“I always tell people—live happily and die majestically!”

…expired in a hospital bed with a feeding tube down his throat. I went fitfully to sleep with that awful, sad image in my head and dreamed vividly about finally writing many of the exact words you have just read.

Why turn the words of my dream into a public message? Why risk exposure and displeasing people I respected and honored?

I have a simple, selfish reason. It’s been unhealthy for me to carry this silent burden of loss and anger for so long. I share this in the hope of a healing that will keep the beauty of Desikachar’s teachings from being tinged with pain every time I mention his name.

My personal relationship with T.K.V. Desikachar and his teachings infuse so much of what’s positive about my life and work. I know that countless others feel the same. When my teacher’s body finally looses its grip on his diminished spirit, his death notice must be more than “died after a lengthy illness.”

He deserves more than that. We all do.

I hope this truth serves his memory well, as I will continue to do—by teaching what I have learned from him.

Leslie Kaminoff

New York City

August 20, 2014

About Leslie Kaminoff

Leslie Kaminoff, co-author of the bestselling book “Yoga Anatomy,” is a yoga educator inspired by the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar. He is an internationally recognized specialist with thirty five years’ experience in the fields of yoga, breath anatomy and bodywork. Leslie teaches unique courses in yoga anatomy, which are now available online at yogaanatomy.net.

 

9,387 views

Comments

39 Responses to “My teacher is gone. ~ Leslie Kaminoff”

  1. Nicole says:

    Leslie thank you for sharing this. I am sure sharing this couldn't have been easy but your words resonated. Thank you.

  2. Linda-Sama says:

    I am glad that Leslie Kaminoff wrote this, as he said, breaking the code of silence. It is time it comes out even though the powers that now be at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram do not speak about this publicly. I have also known for a long time that Sri Desikachar has dementia. Ever since I began study at KYM in 2005 I used to go to Sir's free lectures on Saturday mornings in Chennai after studying all week. When I was there in 2011 I asked the Director of Yoga Studies whether Sir was still speaking on Saturday mornings and the answer I received was only a stern "no" and the subject was changed immediately. KYM has never indicated publicly that anything is wrong with Desikachar yet his condition is known by the still surviving direct students of Krishnamacharya (contemporaries of Desikachar) and (some) of their students.

  3. Ranju Roy says:

    Poignant, heartfelt and honest – thank you Leslie for expressing so openly what many of us have felt for years.

  4. chiara says:

    Thank you Leslie.

  5. Paul Harvey says:

    I shared Leslie’s article on my Facebook page but felt I needed to add a preface, which I quote below:

    I feel I must add a few words as a preface to the editors intro to Leslie’s article, prompted by the seemingly simple act of looking up a verse reference.

    It is triply poignant for me in that:

    Firstly I went to look up the verse reference as its not shown in the quote and find it in a copy of the text gifted to me by TKV replete with his hand written notes and comments on each verse.

    Secondly, in looking at the website reference used by the editor it is in fact the website of the KYM and I find there the same aspects of not facing the reality of TKV’s health as mentioned in Leslie’s article.

    In that they have had any contact with TKV severed since at least 2012, with the formation of SKY supposedly by TKV and his wife, quote from the SKY website:

    “Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY Yoga) was founded in Chennai, India in 2012 by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar as a medium to continue and pass on the holistic teaching tradition of Yogacarya T Krishnamacharya.”

    Thirdly that the SKY website also avoids the elephant in the room, maybe in tho instance two elephants?

    One in the closing ranks around TKV’s extremely limited mental functions. I understand that as recently as last year he was only recognising close family members with whom he had day to day contact, and the other in the avoidance of acknowledging who really is running SKY behind the scenes.

    All in all sad developments in a process that, for me, began in 2002 with my own ex-communication after 23 years as a close pupil of TKV, over his refusal to discuss the (already complex) behaviour of his youngest son and my stubbornness to blindly adhere, without any dialogue, to the instruction that I serve his sons (already) excessive style just because the King has abdicated in favour of the crown prince.

    Such was my distress around the denial at the time and the manner of the ending that I even kept all the correspondence from my attempts to communicate with TKV, in case of any re-presentation of the reality of my experiences around the ending of my relationship with TKV.

    The events around 2002 have passed, none of which leave me feeling any less grateful for what I received, only sadness at what he lives now and how his image is being used by those around him in Chennai.

    Paul Harvey 21st August 2014

  6. Paul Harvey says:

    Below are comments that I used as a preface when sharing Leslie's post on my Facebook page:
    I feel I must add a few words as a preface to the editors intro to Leslie's article, prompted by the seemingly simple act of looking up a verse reference.
    It is triply poignant for me in that:
    Firstly I went to look up the verse reference as its not shown in the quote and find it in a copy of the text gifted to me by TKV replete with his hand written notes and comments on each verse.
    Secondly, in looking at the website reference used by the editor it is in fact the website of the KYM and I find there the same aspects of not facing the reality of TKV's health as mentioned in Leslie's article.
    In that they have had any contact with TKV severed since at least 2012, with the formation of SKY supposedly by TKV and his wife, quote from the SKY website:
    "Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY Yoga) was founded in Chennai, India in 2012 by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar as a medium to continue and pass on the holistic teaching tradition of Yogacarya T Krishnamacharya."
    Thirdly that the SKY website also avoids the elephant in the room, maybe in tho instance two elephants?
    One in the closing ranks around TKV's extremely limited mental functions. I understand that as recently as last year he was only recognising close family members with whom he had day to day contact, and the other in the avoidance of acknowledging who really is running SKY behind the scenes.
    All in all sad developments in a process that, for me, began in 2002 with my own ex-communication after 23 years as a close pupil of TKV, over his refusal to discuss the (already complex) behaviour of his youngest son and my stubbornness to blindly adhere, without any dialogue, to the instruction that I serve his sons (already) excessive style just because the King has abdicated in favour of the crown prince.
    Such was my distress around the denial at the time and the manner of the ending that I even kept all the correspondence from my attempts to communicate with TKV, in case of any re-presentation of the reality of my experiences around the ending of my relationship with TKV.
    The events around 2002 have passed, none of which leave me feeling any less grateful for what I received, only sadness at what he lives now and how his image is being used by those around him in Chennai.
    Paul Harvey August 21st 2014

  7. This is a sad article for many reasons, not least of which is humans continuing desire to elevate teachers and sages to cult-like status, overlooking their very human frailties. Why can't Desikachar's family be frank? Why can't other yoga leaders, before Leslie has done so, share this information? Why can't we see our teachers as both majestically inspirational AND wonderfully human? Seeing and naming frailties as such only makes us stronger and better.

  8. gdr23 says:

    Thank you Leslie, for this. Openness, non-judgement and receptivity are qualities that our practice cultivates. We will all pass from this life. How that occurs in most instances, is not up to us. There is no shame in cancer, heart disease, pulmonary disease, alzheimer's…..whatever the cause may be. Let us celebrate how we live and follow B.K.S. Iyengar's words and , " die majestically " of whatever the cause.

  9. Colin Hall says:

    I can't help but imagine how Desikachar would feel were he to read this article. I can't shake the feeling that Deskichar is being "outed" against his will. Yes he is a public figure and yes his move to elevate Kausthab really seems ill-advised at this point. But it feels wrong to use Desikachar to make a point about mental illness and dementia without having him and his family involved in the conversation.

    No doubt it is sad to lose your teacher. No doubt it is hard to watch your lineage being handed over to a criminal. But that hardship seems rather small in comparison to what Desikachar and his family must be dealing with.

  10. Jorge says:

    Thanks Leslie (and dear Paul Harvey for the comment). As a former student of Desikachar and Kausthub I feel the same. Thanks for you, Paul and other long term students we can reduce our sadness and continue to learn and pass on the teachings…

  11. Nina Boasso says:

    I do not understand why Leslie Kaminoff has a need to write about this private situation, true or not true. He is not in the position to discuss this to the World Wide Web. Possibly looking for attention? Not sure.

  12. Rosie says:

    Thank you for writing this and sharing this with those of us who will never meet him. I love his work and feel so close to him.

  13. yogarasayana says:

    I last met Sri Desikachar in 2006. He was kinder, gentler and more compassionate than I had previously known him to be. I believe he was well aware that something was not quite right with his health and perhaps I fancied a certain air of sadness behind his softening. He offered me a book about him written by his son. Almost like he was trying to remind us both of who he had been. If I was to be daring I believe he was devastated by what was becoming apparent in one of his son's behavior. And I saw the huge joy he had in his grandchild. I also know that privacy is a large part of the family ritual in India. It may not be right to treat mental disease as something to be ashamed of but so it is. If he was compassionate towards his own condition, perhaps we might be compassionate towards theirs. Right or wrong. We decide that ultimately by our standards. Perhaps by bringing this out Leslie Ji, you might open a door of perception for those hiding behind shame: that it is alright. We will not judge them. We will grieve with them. But then again, I do not know the details you refer to. Only my own experience of his softening.

  14. I'm empowered and uplifted by two things: Leslie's release of something held for too long at an undetermined cost and his courage to share it this way when prevailing winds appear to be blowing in different directions.

    While we can define Yoga in many ways, it is so obviously wielded as a tool or set of tools for exploring, discovering, and addressing that which might otherwise be retained – be it beliefs held in our consciousness or emotions stored in our tissue.

    In our current context the term yoga teacher can be earned in a weekend and worn without having a personal practice or integrity of any sort. I'm warmed Leslie is NOT such a teacher but rather one who is living his practice and doing so in such an honest, open fashion.

  15. Claudia says:

    Thanks a lot….

  16. jennifer willis says:

    Thanks Leslie. The truth is always what it is, and we always know it when we are willing to shut up in our minds and listen.
    Back in 2006 i attended a workshop in Cambridge, MA with Desikachar. I think it might have been one of the early instances of the father handing over the reins to the son. I had long cherished my copy of Heart of Yoga, and was really looking forward to the workshop. I had no idea it would primarily be run by Kasthaub (who was unknown to me at the time). At first i was intrigued by this potentially wonderful hand-off. Unfortunately, i was profoundly put off by Kasthaub, who answered one of my questions with a shocking condescension and dismissiveness that was so completely out of synch with my understanding of his father's teaching. I carried that confusion for many years, until Kasthaub's issues came to light. My grandmother had Alzheimer's, and i know how unsettling and sad it is to witness a loved one disappear.
    I'm so very very glad you spoke out–and put words to the truth that so many of us have been repressing or distorting. It takes a lot of courage.

  17. mletag says:

    "That’s the thing with dementia—you begin mourning long before your loved one dies." brought me to tears. So many people (literally millions) mourn with you – not just for the yogi, your teacher, but through losing a loved one to the fog of dementia. It is SO hard to lose someone to dementia – to see their bodies in front of you while the personality & intellect dissolves before your very eyes. Equally hard when the people, the family, around the person proceed for so long like nothing is wrong and then dress it up or even hide it. I watched my great-grandmother and my grandfather disappear before my very eyes and am forever haunted by the experience, forever wondering if it will happen to me, to my children. Thank you for sharing openly – you inspire others to share openly in our own families and communities.

  18. I was heartbroken when Kausthub's behaviour came to light. One of the reasons I felt so much trust in this lineage was that it wasn't (in my impression) a guru-type approach. I thought it would be safe. As is said in 12-step programs, we are only as sick as out secrets and I think it is for the greater good that truths are being spoken.

  19. Kath says:

    Much has been said about the son but as a female of Indian descent caring for a father with dementia my empathies are with the close female relatives discussed in this thread. Although I understand why you have written the article, I do hope that laying bare their family troubles does not result in more hardship or heartache for them. From your comments it seems that you are implying that they were complicit in 'travelling' a mentally diminished TKV around the world and in trying to cover and cover up for him they have judged to be lacking on both counts. As an Indian female it is ingrained, inherited and part of the culture that you care for and serve male members of your family no matter what. I don't know these women but as I see it that they perhaps tried to care for TKV whilst preserving his dignity and the family yoga heritage in the best way they could and maybe the only way they were allowed.

  20. Suresh says:

    Its amazing what people will do for publicity!!! They continue to use names of KYM, and Shri Desikachar and even his health to get noticed!!!

    Best of all everyone blindly support by taking pot shot at an amazing organisation that continue to do the good work Shri Desikachar wanted done, offering tremendous services in the field of therapy to many people including me to recover and get back on our feet.

    If you are confident about yourself you will praise other good work done and not try to find petty issues on what is written on a website a long time ago. I am sure Sri Desikachar continue to inspire people at Mandiram to do the amazing work they do.

  21. gurudevini says:

    Ahimsa: I wish no harm to Leslie Kaminoff. I am sure he means no harm to others. Satya: Since I want to see a world free from pain, I must create the truth I want to see and must cause no pain to Leslie Kaminoff. Asteya: I must not create contentment for myself by stealing the little Leslie Kaminoff might have from him. Brahmacharya: I must love Leslie Kaminoff the way he loves his teacher and the way his teacher loves his son and his family. So I must remember that Leslie Kaminoff is surrounded by those who love him and do not want to see him suffer in any way. Leslie Kaminoff's teacher is also surrounded by those who love him. They do not want to see him suffer in any way. Most of the people surrounding Leslie Kaminoff are not yogis. They do not embody yoga. They do not protect any lineage. They are just brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces. They will act as brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces do. Yogis should recognize that others do not practice. But those who do yoga should practice what yoga says. They should practice even when it is difficult. Otherwise, what is the point? So I must try hard to cause no distress or discomfort to those who surround and love and respect Leslie Kaminoff. Aparigraha: Life is full of change. It is hard to let go of images and memories, both of the self and of others. Others are not who we think they are. We ourselves are not who we think we are. That is what the teacher teaches. It is very difficult to let go of anger, grief, pain, disillusion. That's why few do it. The teacher is a mortal who expects us to awake within and to realize we are immortal. The teacher's job is done when we see the eternal. When the teacher relapses into the mortal, as all teachers do, and as all teachers must, each in their own way, the teacher's hope is that the student still sees the immortal. I hope Leslie Kaminoff sees the eternal one day, as his teacher wants. That is what I learned from my teacher and my teacher's teacher and my teacher's teacher's teacher who are one with Leslie Kaminoff. I hope, very much, that Leslie Kaminoff believes I mean him no harm as I hope very much that those who surround and who love Leslie Kaminoff also believe that I mean him no harm. This is what I believe our teacher taught us: "My teacher is not gone if I practice".

  22. Bonnie Schwab says:

    How tragic this lack of transparency prohibits the community from grieving the loss of a great teacher together. In addition to the cultural taboos and dishonesty about Mr. Desikachar's dementia, you have raised another important issue: the assumption that yoga and meditation practitioners' heightened neuroplasticity and practice-generated merit will protect us from the ravages of dementia. It is my understanding that ONE IN FOUR of us will suffer from a dementia-related disease. We still have little scientific understanding of dementia as a disease and there is no treatment! A profound ignorance and arrogance we all need to address.

  23. Guest says:

    Leslie Kaminoff, I am left wondering what prompted this article NOW. It is an obvious attempt to distance yourself from the Kausthub debacle, but it is a day late and a dollar short. You provide a link that references the scandal back in 2012. Am I to believe that the death of Iyengar prompted this article?

  24. PS in NY says:

    I appreciate your honesty, and feel so sorry for Mr. Desikachar, his family, and his many devoted students. My mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease at the end of her life, and I experienced my own family's denial of and refusal to understand her condition. Admittedly, it was very hard to accept, but denial certainly did her no good, nor did trying to get her to comprehend or do things she was no longer capable of doing. My own ignorance of the disease didn't help either. It is important for everyone to educate themselves about the different forms of dementia, and to support research into the causes and treatments. Sadly, many of us will be dealing with it at some time.

  25. Gilad Harouvi says:

    Gurus and Lineages belong in another era and culture, with different attitudes and different defense mechanisms. nearly all attempts to establish a Guru situation these days is futile, it just do not belong in today's vast temptation-saturated life. thanks, Leslie, for your honesty and hard head! flexibility needs a hard head. much thanks to Paul Harvey, too- you guys combine a distinct Anglo-American toungue-in-cheak way of facing reality that should be wide spread. anyway, I LOVE IT.

  26. Ann says:

    Hi Leslie,

    I'm really touched by the kind of love and devotion you have for your teacher. And also you have so much of gratitude for the teachings and life he has given you. My worry is , if he is such a great yoga teacher and therapeutic healer, can't he heal his disease or untie from his family. My confusion is, Is yoga which is a solution for all kind of physical and mental problem doesn't help him.

Leave a Reply