The First Western Student to Visit Pattabhi Jois.

Via Claudia Azula Altucher
on May 17, 2011
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Way back in ’64—and he was a Self-Taught Yogi, at that.

Andre Van Lysebeth (1919-2004) was the first Westerner to arrive at Pattabhi Jois’ yoga shala in 1964—Jois is the force behind the Ashtanga Yoga style.

1964 was also the year in which the Beatles reached #1 in the US charts with “I Want to Hold your Hand,” and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

I was not yet born then.

Andre Van Lysebeth's Facebook Photo

Wikipedia does not say much about Lysebeth, perhaps because he is Belgian and his website is in French or perhaps because…I don’t know why.

I got curious about him when I read that he arrived so early at Jois’ place—David Williams did not get there until 1973- So I looked him up and got his book Yoga Self Taught. It turns out he spent quite a bit of time in India, mostly in the Sivananda tradition and the Vishwayatan ashram in Dehli -one I had never heard of before-.

Reading Yoga Self Taught, it is clear that he was not very influenced by Jois’ teachings but that rather Sivananda was the main teacher. For example Jois’ name does not appear in the book -although I do realize that this is a later edition and Wikipedia says that in the first one he did mention him and that is what prompted other western students to follow-.

I get the sense that Andre was a very prominent teacher in Belgium, perhaps the most famous -his teacher training course is four years long-, and he mostly did his own style of yoga with a Sivananda flavour.

In the book, the first thing that caught my attention was the one-liner he chooses from his guru, Sivananda: “An ounce of practice is worth several tons of theory“. Perhaps you also catch the similarity to the “99% practice 1% theory” of Jois.

The surprise

Shoulder Stand water color by Chris Carter

The sequence he chooses to show for beginners, is one he learned at Sivananda’s and the most surprising thing to me is that it starts with the shoulder stand.

When I say surprising what I mean is that I feel weary of a sequence starting with the neck in such a possible compromising position before the body has even had a chance to warm up through a standing sequence.

I guess he anticipated people would question it on it and so he maintains that the rishis suggest starting with the inverted pose for circulation purposes. I am left scratching my head. This is the sequence:

Sarvangasana – Shoulder Stand or Candle – for 1 minute Halasana – 2 minutes Matsyasana – 1 minutes Paschimotanasana 2 Upward dog – Cobra – 1 Shalabasana 1 Dhanurasana 30 seconds Ardha Matsyendrasana 1 min Headstand Shirshasana 1 to 10 minutes or more Uddyana and Nauli 1/2 Breathing 3 mins Relax 3 mins

Also of note is that the word “vinyasa” (or how to move from out of one pose and into another one) does not appear in the index.

He has some interesting explanations of why the poses are named the way they are as in for example matsyasana -fish pose- which he says is because the belly goes up and resembles a fish floating in the water. And he also goes extensively into how important it is to breathe (has almost 3 chapters on that although not many exercises)  and to clean the body -great tongue scrubbing explanation-. He also presents 3 whole chapters on relaxation! I liked that part.

I would be very interested to hear if anyone from Belgium is reading this and has had a chance to meet him, have you?

The beautiful shalamba sarvangasana -shoulder stand- water color comes from the website of Chris Carter, who paints beautiful asanas images.


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Krishnamacharya: 8 Short Stories That Reveal What Kind of Person He Was

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About Claudia Azula Altucher

Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for a long time. Her only focus these past eight years has been on Ashtanga through which she studied at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India (three study visits so far), and at Centered Yoga in Thailand (focus on practice, philosophy and pranayama). Currently she studies at Pure Yoga in NYC. She has taught yoga classes in both Spanish and English. She is also the Author of: 21 Things To Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice (you can get a free PDF at her blog). She writes daily at And you can follow her on Twitter:


10 Responses to “The First Western Student to Visit Pattabhi Jois.”

  1. Interesting, Claudia. And I'm so glad you were able to connect with someone from Belgium through Elephant.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  2. Claudia says:

    Yes that was the most interesting part! Thanks Bob

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Claudia says:

    Emmanuelle, that is so sweet!. I have heard that people tend to rememebert he young days stories with clarities… After I read your comment I continued reading and found his other book Pranayama… I wonder now about those strange noises he made in the room when alone… I hope you get to write about it, maybe even in a post of yours 🙂 Would love to read

  5. […] Guruji eventually began to teach out of his home, and in 1964 the Belgian student, Andrew von Lysbeth, discovered his class and wrote about it, beginning to spread the word. A wonderful account of this encounter, written by Claudia Azula Altucher, appears here on Elephant Yoga. […]

  6. Esther says:

    Hi Claudia. Thank you for this part of the dissemination story of Ashtanga yoga. I didn't know much about this crucial encounter between Guruji and the West, and it's so interesting to see how this method that is now widespread began to slowly grow.

  7. Claudia says:

    Thanks Esther, yes it is very interesting, and it keeps on getting more and more interesting with time…. glad you liked it, I appreciate your comment 🙂

  8. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. Tracey Hall says:

    Wow, cool blog. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Brad says:

    Hello to all. I have often claimed that Andre Van Lysebeth changed my life. His book "Yoga Self Taught" literally set me firmly onto the path of yoga, and I practiced with that book and his "Mi Sesion de Yoga" for years (I read this second one in Spanish because I could never find it in English). I then followed these up with "Pranayama – A La Serenidad por el Yoga" (also in Spanish!). All three of these books have been constant sources of references for me over the past 15 years. However, my question to anyone out there is this: How exactly did Van Lysebeth pass away? What happened to him? Was he active until the end? And my adjunct question would be: What happened to his partner, Denise? Is she still around? And finally, if she is alive, is there any way of contacting her? Thank you all for your consideration! Best wishes, Brad