Does Authorization Matter? ~ Genny Wilkinson-Priest

Via Genny Wilkinson-Priest
on Nov 13, 2013
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Technically speaking, only teachers authorized by the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYRI) in Mysore can teach the intensely physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

There are 441 authorized and certified teachers in the world today: 75 in Asia, one in Africa, 28 in Australia/New Zealand, 18 in South and Central America, 157 in Europe and 162 in North America, according to the KPJAYRI website.

But visit any gym or even fully-fledged yoga studio around the world and you probably won’t find a KPJAYRI authorized teacher teaching an Ashtanga class.

It begs the question—does it matter? Lots of people who are unauthorized teachers teach—should they?

I spoke with more than 30 authorized, non-authorized and senior teachers for this article. I also spoke with students, and a major European yoga centre.

Most didn’t want to go on the record with their thoughts for fear of damaging the relationship with the very institution that has sole authority to grant authorization.

To my surprise, some of them were critical of the authorization process—even the authorized teachers themselves. But everyone stood by the value of parampara, where knowledge is passed undiluted from guru to student—and how Authorization is currently bestowed in Ashtanga Yoga.

(Full disclosure: I have been practicing traditionally for 13 years with a certified teacher, and am a British Wheel of Yoga/Yoga Alliance accredited teacher. I went to Mysore last year, but regular visits are not on the cards right now as I have four young children. While I teach primarily Vinyasa Flow, I do not regularly teach Ashtanga only because there’s a certified teacher in London, and several Authorized Level 2 teachers. I recognize their superiority. I might, however, feel differently were I to be living in a city without such experienced teachers.)

The authorization process has been in flux ever since Guruji started giving his casual “blessing” to teach back in the 1990s. (Before that, students went to Mysore to learn yoga, not for authorization.) This loose permission was never formalized until about 2000 when Guruji recognized the need for greater quality control amongst his students seeking to teach.

Authorization was born, and the list grew following three teacher trainings conducted by his grandson Sharath Jois in the 2000s. Though these are no longer offered, at present there are two ways to get authorized: One, visit Mysore a minimum of four times for least one month’s duration each time. And two, under special circumstances some students who have a long-standing relationship with certain certified teachers are given authorization in less time as Sharath sees they are ready.

Within the Ashtanga community, it generally seems to be the view that in order to gain authorization not only do you have to know the practice inside-out, have progressed through much of Second Series, and honour the tradition as taught by Sharath—but you have to have the money and lots of free time to go to India.

You also have to have sharp elbows.

“Too many sincere practitioners, people who don’t have the resources or the time to make it Mysore, people who don’t have the swagger to make it through the throngs of people gagging for a bit of Sharath, people who have children and family commitments, often fall through the authorization net,” said a UK non-authorized Mysore teacher who has been to KPJAYRI four times and practices with a certified teacher.

But one American Level 1 Authorized teacher told me that he couldn’t understand why a single parent or a carer who can’t take time off work to visit Mysore would want to teach this system in the first place as the hours are gruelling and the pay is poor. “If someone is really committed to teaching daily Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga classes then going to India a few times is actually is the easiest part of the job,” he said.

Many people I spoke to noted that many recently authorized (and usually young) teachers don’t always have the life experience necessary to be a good teacher, as compassion and reduced ego usually come hand-in-hand with real-life responsibilities and obstacles.

One long-term practitioner said lately she’s seen a lot of 20-something “trustafarians” that have the money and freedom to go to Mysore three, four times in quick succession and get authorized. “I’m not sure they have gained a lot of depth in the process,” she said.

A European Level 1 Authorized teacher told me the problem lies with the class system within the Ashtanga community as Sharath decides everything—who can teach, and who can progress in the sequence. Both can be very random, he said.

Some fear the authorization has become a vanity badge.

“The currency of the Authorization is devalued because a) lots of people have it, and b) some are not very good (teachers),” said one UK Level 2 Authorized teacher. “We are not given any direct teaching skills. Being told … “teach the method as we have taught you” is at best vague and at worst completely inappropriate. I personally wouldn’t dream of teaching my students in such an intense way—having said that I do push people and have high expectations of them.”

Critics say the authorization stamp doesn’t have enough weight behind it. There is no anatomy course requirement at KPJAYRI, no teaching of detailed alignment or modifications and no formalized philosophy class. An aspiring teacher must learn these things by themselves. (To be fair, most do.)

But here’s where the cultural divide causes confusion and leads to perhaps unfair criticism: it’s hard for Westerners to understand that “teacher trainings” in India are nothing like teacher trainings in the West.

In the Wes,t we learn about femur bones and anterior rotation in the anatomy side of a TT. India’s anatomy classes are based on Aruyvedic medicine, with the study of nadis and chakras.

In the West, you attend TT classes once a month during the weekend over a period of 18 months or more, breaking down essential points of alignment in postures like Tadasana for hours at a time.

In Mysore, you practice. As the Hatha Yoga Pradipika  (Chapter 1, Verse 66) says:  “Neither by wearing the garb of a siddha, nor by talking about it is perfection attained. Only through practice does one become a (teacher).”

As one senior teacher told me: “The hoops you have to jump through in Mysore are not obvious, and Westerners don’t like that.”  Nor do Westerners like the fact that you can’t buy authorization the way you can buy a teacher training in the West.

Whether in India or the West, no teacher training—be it Iyengar, Forrest, Vinyasa Flow—will automatically produce a good teacher. So why, then, is the authorization process important or even unique to Ashtanga?

In a word, parampara—or the principle of transmitting knowledge directly from the teacher (in this case Sharath) to the student.

“There is more to being a teacher than knowing anatomy and being able put your leg behind your head,” Certified Teacher Hamish Hendry told me.

He said Ashtanga is unique in that authorization is secured only through direct parampara with the relationship maintained over a long period of time. “The guru sees when someone is ready to teach. It’s not just that the (aspiring teacher) has knowledge. Only the guru can make the judgement as to whether this person is ready to use their knowledge wisely.”

One U.S. authorized teacher said much of the learning doesn’t even happen in the main shala in Mysore, but over a coconut shared with other highly experienced teachers who have been studying this method for years. “There’s simply no substitute for that anywhere else.”

He does not believe those not authorized should teach at all: “Why is it necessary for someone who is not authorized, or even on the way there, to call what they are teaching Ashtanga? If someone doesn’t want to respect the wishes of the Jois family, why do they insist on using the system they taught and the name that they called it? Isn’t that really a kind of stealing?”

Supporters of Authorization say it’s imperative would-be teachers go to Mysore to pay their respects to the system itself.

“I can’t express how important it is for me to keep coming here to stay sharp and stay connected,” authorized teacher PJ Heffernan told me from his laptop in a cafe in Mysore. “I too would slowly water down the practice if I didn’t return as often as I do. I have a strong opinion on this because I have been on both sides of this fence.”

Before PJ was authorized, he taught Ashtanga, though called it Hatha. “It was bullshit and I didn’t help anyone. Almost all of my students from that time quit. I often feel that I created frankenyogis. Little ego monsters of delusion. That’s my karma and I learned from it.”

PJ—who is based in Wisconsin, USA and is on his ninth trip to Mysore—said only authorized teachers have demonstrated proper commitment, dedication and respect. “We have shown courage and fortitude as India is a tough mama. We have experience adjusting here in India. We have a better cultural codex having lived here for years. We have a guru who knows our name and is available for us to ask questions. We have an epicenter to gather every year to discuss and practice together. We have solidarity and unity.”

Ultimately the authorization questions lies with the students. What do they think?

One London student she would always ask why a non-authorized teacher hasn’t been to Mysore. “If it’s because they are supporting their students or family an can’t leave them for practical reasons then that’s one thing. If they don’t practice with Sharath because they don’t believe in it, or have some issue with the traditional lineage/system then they’re not the teacher for me.”

Still another U.S. student who went to Mysore for the first time in 2012 said when spending money on a workshop or retreat, he looks for the authorized/certified status to help him differentiate between an authentic teacher and one spawned by other teacher training courses, especially those that exist only to spin money.

A New York student who has been to Mysore many times said respect for lineage is paramount.  “But there is something special about the teachers who have studied with Guruji and Sharath and have been blessed to teach. You can’t always have that available though.”

Many students I spoke with in London said they have had some amazing non-authorized teachers who knew and understood the practice better than 20-something newly authorized Ashtangis. “Experience, knowledge, respect and understanding are far more important than an authorization,” said one student.

London—like New York, Tokyo, Oslo, Boulder, Philadelphia and Miami—has a certified teacher and it may be the case that these cities are where the best authorized and non-authorized teachers can be found.

One excellent non-authorized teacher that I have personally practiced with has several teacher training certificates, a committed and advanced practice, and has studied yoga history and philosophy at a post-graduate level. She said of her qualifications, “I don’t think this automatically translates into a divine right to teach. I can tell you why I teach, but I can’t know for sure whether I should teach.”

She says she does not pretend have all the answers. “I can teach from my own experience but I cannot pretend to have any sort of superior knowledge.”

Triyoga is Europe’s biggest yoga studio, offering a Mysore program as well as led classes in three different locations in London. Some of these regular teachers are authorised; some are not. They also have certified teachers like David Swenson, Kino MacGregor and Tim Miller as guests, teaching week-long workshops.

“Every teacher brings their individual teaching qualities and we love the diversity,” Triyoga’s founder Jonathan Sattin said when asked about the issue of authorization. “Our primary interests include the quality, inspiration, intention, safety, authenticity and detail they offer students. This, and the diversity, enables us to appeal to a wide audience who visit with varied agendas to start, deepen and continue their practices.”

Paradoxically, the very success and global spread of Ashtanga is due in large part to the unauthorized teacher.

They are the ones teaching in sweaty gyms around the world, sharing the practice’s physical and spiritual benefits.

Yet as a senior teacher pointed out, “They are the ones who have contributed to the devaluation of authorization if they go on to get it.”

 

 The Truth about Ashtanga Yoga.

Are You in the Ashtanga Cult?

Why I Still Practice Ashtanga.

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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About Genny Wilkinson-Priest

Genny Wilkinson-Priest has been practicing yoga since 2000, and started teaching it when the births of four boys in six years side-swiped her career as a journalist for the likes of Reuters and Time Magazine. She teaches Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow, and recently started the charity “CalmaKid” which brings yoga to children in underprivileged London schools.

Comments

36 Responses to “Does Authorization Matter? ~ Genny Wilkinson-Priest”

  1. Christian says:

    "Things are not what they seem, nor are they otherwise" 🙂

  2. Lisa says:

    This last line leaves me hanging….
    "Yet as a senior teacher pointed out, “They are the ones who have contributed to the devaluation of authorization if they go on to get it.”"
    ??????????
    So if they go on to get authorized, after teaching as a non-authorized teacher, then they devalue it?? I would think it's the other way around…that they've discovered and realized the benefit.
    Maybe I'm just not getting it.

  3. caro says:

    very interesting article… you DO need money and NO obligations towards your family, you can be motivated as much as you want but it is important also to have a balance with the people that surround you.
    Why not have a Mysore training in every country instead off flying back and forth to India (think about our Ecological foot and all these people going to Mysore) Wouldn't that be a great idea – less expensive and this for sure will provide us more authorized teachers. 🙂

  4. Malinda says:

    Namaste to my teacher PJ. Thank you for keeping it Pure for Sure!

  5. Koen says:

    The funny thing is that there are a lot of certified teachers that give teachertrainings themselves.
    Some of them are only for a week. Some of them a couple of months .
    Some of them are a year and maybe other trainings more i dont know of . Should they stop doing that and refer to Mysore then ? Isnt that also Parampara that authorised teachers start teaching their students for a longer period of time ? And maybe as long as teachers AND students practice in honesty and within their own integrity and sharing knowledge , i have no problem at all wether it is an authorised or 'Non"- authorised teacher/student. That told within all due to respect to the lineage 😉 Somehow when i read this article it gave me a feeling of separation instead of union. For me yoga is reconnecting within and without , so that there is a sense of wholeness, not of some kind of split . Basicly there is no teacher , no student and no teaching, there is only : this … and practice happening in it 🙂

  6. Genny says:

    Hi Lisa – I'm Genny, the author of the article. My source meant that as unauthorised teachers, they are devaluing the system. It's ironic in that they go on to be PART of the system, even though they once devalued it when teaching it without being authorised. I hope that makes more sense, and I'm sorry if it was unclear.

  7. Agni says:

    In my view there is a paradox in the never ending debate on Ashtanga authorisation here: on one hand we want to spread the benefits of Ashtanga practice with as many people as possible so that everyone can benefit. (I agree!) On the other we want to keep the practice and teaching exclusive to only the handful of authorized teachers and their direct students out there… I love Ashtanga, and although am not certified in Mysore, but did several other trainings around the world I still call my classes Ashtanga yoga due to respect and gratitude I feel towards the guru and his system (why would I dare to call it otherwise, in my view that would be cheating). I believe if we all stick to teach WHAT WE KNOW from our personal practice then our students will benefit.
    BTW I studied with David Swenson, he is a truly fantastic teacher despite the fact he actually is NOT authorized by Jois.

  8. Qvintus says:

    I know David Swenson used to be listed as authorized at KPJAYI. This article says he's certified, but actually now he is not even listed, which of course could be on his on request, or because his authorization has been withdrawn, possibly due to lack of attendance in Mysore? So, this makes me wonder: Is he authorized, certified, or none of it? Personally, I think he definitely deserves to be certified.

  9. Ashley says:

    The authorised teachers are the ones I tend to run from. Too young, too bendy, don't know what to do with bodies that aren't.

  10. Scott Johnson says:

    Fascinating read. I have long played with this scenario about authorisation, being an unauthorised London teacher myself who has not been to Mysore because of family commitments. I made sure, when I new I couldn't go to Mysore, that I aligned myself as best as I could with the lineage through Guruji so to be as close as I could be to what is true with this practice. That I learnt from those who had spent direct time with Guruji and then I took the Parampara from there. Because, forgive me if I am wrong, but what of all the senior certified teachers who were there practicing when Sharath was a young boy, who spent the time with Guruji since the late 80's early 90's and really connected with him, so much so that they received early certification. Do the sincere students of those teachers, who have spent time and daily practice with them not count? I have spent 10 years practicing with my certified teacher, listening to him, taking his teachings, advice and practicing what he teaches me. How does this then relate to the bigger picture? He has supported me immeasurably. I invite him, and other senior teachers, to my space so that the lineage stays true and the practitioners who come to our space see where this is all coming from. I feel that I have a very strong grounding in the lineage, with great teachers/friends who I can check in with, with out the need to go to Mysore. This is not to say I wouldn't like to go, one day I would, but I also have to figure staying away from my wife and children for a period of time who may not have the desire to go. Weighing up those options, if it doesn't happen then I am fine with that. I respect them and do the best I can to keep the lineage alive through methods I can control. When I see my teacher I am invariably with friends and colleagues and we have those same conversations that would be had in Mysore, just not around a coconut stand. Mysore is an incredible place, with an incredible lineage but I would argue that there are just as valuable places to go when looking for a place to practice Ashtanga Yoga.

  11. shareen says:

    Sharath actually does fly around the world and teach in various locations for up to two weeks at a time, so more people can experience authentic ashtanga yoga, however, it is not the same as being in India at KPJAYI. But it's better than nothing. I do both! 🙂

  12. Sky says:

    My mind was not keen on the ageist comments re '20 somethings'. Everyone has a right to achieve and practice their truth regardless of age. Similarly we are always learning. My ashtanga teacher is authorised. She is absolutely brilliant and through practice I understood my own wisdom, I enjoy practice with one teacher. Blessings to all. Love.

  13. christina says:

    The reason I did not return to Mysore after my first visit is that P. Jois touched me inappropriately in 1999. It was very obvious to me that he had a problem with Western women, but unfortunately no one wanted to hear about it, as Jois was and is too much revered by his students. I can tell you that the ridiculous justifications I've had to hear would be funny, if it wasn't such a serious issue. There is an indoctrination process in being part of the ashtanga community- no one wants to see the elephant in the room. So, having practiced ashtanga yoga for 15 years and being a teacher of yoga, I am naturally drawn to teach the sequence – I don't feel comfortable teaching anything else, even though I am a 500-RYT. I teach from experience, my practice which I love and which has been an excellent physical therapy for over 15 years. I teach what I know outside of the ashtanga tradition, quietly, without upsetting anyone in the community. Though Sharath is very different from his grandfather, I don't wish to align myself in reverence of a man who had a big problem, even as I am grateful for the practice and what this man did have to offer to the world. He is simply not my guru.

  14. black says:

    I would like to add to this article that Manju Jois is also fully within his right–both in relation to parampara and his birthright as eldest son of Pattabhi Jois– to grant authorization and certification. Politics run rampant in most families and this includes it seems–as I have heard firsthand–the family of Jois. Manju Jois turned down his father's wish that he return to Mysore to take over the KPJAYI, but chose to stay in America with his family and travel the world to spread the traditional method of Ashtanga Yoga. I would not imagine for one moment that Pattabhi Jois would not recognize a teacher given the stamp of his son Manju's approval.
    There are many senior teachers of Ashtanga, ones that have been practicing for years longer than Sharath, who deserve credit for passing on their knowledge either in teacher trainings or otherwise. I believe they have a very broad understanding of the evolution of Ashtanga and the traditional, therapeutic nature in which it was intended to be passed on. Manu Jois, of course, has not only the experience of Pattabhi as his Guru of Ashtanga yoga and Sanskrit scholar, but insight into his nature as a father, family man, his identity as a rising star in the yoga world and memories of the overall way Pattabhi lived his life behind closed doors. Manju should also receive the respect of a foremost authority of Ashtanga Yoga, alongside Sharath and Sarastwati, in the Ashtanga Yoga lineage.
    Also, in support of other senior teachers, it defies logic to me that someone who has been trained and worked alongside a senior instructor such as, for example, Richard Freeman for years would be less qualified to teach than someone who made four one-month trips to Mysore and was deemed enthusiastic and competent by Sharath based on those few early morning practice sessions and inquisitive nature displayed during question period. (I'm also hoping that Saraswati may also suggest a teacher be granted approval. She has much more seniority than her son does.)
    Much respect to the Jois family and the practice of Ashtanga Yoga that I love and have poured by heart into. Some of the politics, however, do not sit well with me.

  15. 808yogi says:

    This article neatly groups Ashtanga teachers into one of two categories: authorized and non-authorized. It neglects the fact that there are several teachers who were granted to teach Ashtanga Yoga by Guruji himself in the early days, although there is brief mention of this "blessing" in one sentence toward the beginning of the article. Do not skim over the fact that the early Western students like Nancy Gilgoff, David Williams, David Swenson, Lino Miele, Norman Allen, Cathy Louise Broda and many others were granted this "blessing" in the form of a letter or word of mouth indicating that they are eligible instructors of Ashtanga Yoga. They may or may not be aligned with the current lineage, but they deserve the utmost respect and gratitude. They have, in many ways, blazed the path for the Ashtanga method and Ashtanga practitioners in the West. By ignoring this fact or trivializing it, you discredit them and a lineage of Guruji. I am not trying to criticize the current system because I have studied with several authorized and certified teachers — some good, some better than others, some not so good. I am trying to highlight the fact that these early western practitioners, such as the ones I have noted above, are fountains of knowledge and experience that are incomparable and, furthermore, the students and teachers that have resulted from these respective lineages should be honored as committed, dedicated Ashtangis as well.

  16. Anon says:

    Not all students in Mysore are young, naturally bendy and trustafarian. Many are older and make huge sacrifices throughout the rest of the year to come, make big changes to lifestyle, give up cable TV, meals and coffee out etc to save the funds to come and make career changes to allow for the time. Quite a few manage to bring families and children during school holidays etc. I would say if someone really wanted to come to pay respect for the tradition they are teaching and making a living from anyone in the West could make this happen at least once.

    There are many factors in choosing your teacher, look at all of them and see how they live themselves.

  17. Anon2 says:

    I agree with the statement above. It is very easy to make excuses: "I can't go to Mysore, I don't have the money." "I can't go to Mysore, I have a family." As stated in the comment above, there are plenty of people that give up many things to go to India. People who give up the $4.50 a cup Starbuck's coffee, or the Cable connection or the dinners out. Most yoga teachers do not make a lot of money, yet many scrimp and save to come as often as they can. At any moment in time you can find a number of families studying in Mysore. Single parents come with infants, families come with 2, 3, 4+ year olds working around school vacations. Spouses who come alone because their significant others understand that this is important to the person they love. If you want it bad enough then you'll make it happen. I'm not judging those who don't go to India, everyone has their own path to follow, but let's stop rationalizing our choices. We have to be honest with ourselves first, if traveling to study at the KPJAYI isn't your priority then say so.

    There are a number of amazing authorized and certified teachers all over the world that people can choose from. But once you decide to teach the Ashtanga practice then traveling to India should be a priority. Not just because of the authorization, that actually should be the last thing on your mind, but because there's a connection to this practice that you can only get in India. As PJ stated above, India can be a tough Mama, there is something to be said about putting this practice in its social and cultural context, and living outside of your comfort zone for months at a time. Saying that one comes to India for the authorization is oversimplifying the lessons that can be learned, and the lessons that come from being in Mysore are unparalleled.

  18. I'm with Scott on this one. There are replies below that commend people on giving up 'cable TV … takeaway coffees …' etc. Everyone's situation is different — some have to live on the extremes of life commitments to hold that beautiful, daily practice top of the list of priorities amidst meeting family commitments and overcoming personal obstacles. I'm not trivialising the sacrifice of 'coffee and TV' … everyone's situation is different and relative. Getting over to Mysore is bloody expensive and for some, an impossible goal in terms of financial savings, particularly if family situations gobble up any extra financial reserves. But the YOGA, and the commitment to this practice is not a club t-shirt to be worn; it is a form of respect for the goodness of the lineage that we make a soul-felt commitment to literally breathing into ourselves, our homes, our lives, our families, our neighbourhoods. Some of us have situations where a family member is dependent on us in a context that makes being thousands of miles away for over a month at a time inhumane, let alone impossible. Absolutely — this is a huge bind and a great dilemma in terms of what 'commitment' to Ashtanga and 'non-attachment' means, but the answer I found through my own soul-searching is to simply do the best I can in terms of constantly developing my personal practice. I found Scott's senior teacher recently and am blown away by how he constantly resonates with the integrity of parampara that he passes on, it is so alive in him. My own compromise is to be ruthless about saving money to study with him in the UK several times a year and to pull gratefully on the cooperation of other family and friends to enable me to go completely away from my home situation and immerse myself in these teachings. I am humbled and moved more than I can say by the sense of lineage that comes through him, and the love with which he communicates it. Others responding to this article will be testament to the fact that Ashtanga is indeed a healing system that enables them to live with chronic illness … a daily practice might be their daily physician where all other healing arts fail. A long-haul trip to India, acclimatisation, etc. could end up being the very assault on their immune system that a daily practice holds off when they are in their own home environment. These people could be the 'certified' but 'not authorised' teachers validated by senior teachers for their worth as practitioners who have had to overcome personal struggle to reach that point of being able to inspire a new generation of students with compassion, and with a lived, proven example of the fact that Ashtanga — the whole physical, philosophical and spiritual system — is a beautiful hand to hold when it comes to facing one's barriers and limitations. OF COURSE there is an immense sense of longing to experience the 'at homeness' of Ashtanga in Mysore … but this is the reason that Manju teaches in small groups around the world. This is the reason that Guruji's essence manages to come through the Nancys, John Scotts and David Swensons of Ashtanga teacher training … they have absorbed him and his teachings … they train upcoming generations of teachers with such love of Guruji and his own teachings, that those of us who can't get our asanas over to Mysore can be sure that we are in the very best of hands as homebound disciples of these ambassadors. Previously, I had felt myself to be at a great disadvantage at not being able to make it over to Mysore for the forseeable future. I held onto the belief that it was limiting my practice and it was bloody hard not to be resentful of the very love that keeps me from travelling too far away for too long. Now I can see that the real practice is in approaching it with love and commitment wherever we can, from whatever circumstances we live with daily. If I can't go to the home of Ashtanga, I make sure to recognise and honour the immeasurable worth of those senior teachers who bring 'Mysore' to their students … and keep a close and watchful eye on our worth as a new generation of teachers with no less love of the lineage from which this beautiful, life-changing, life-supporting tradition comes.

  19. Mick says:

    Anon2, I take great offence to your last post. There are always reasons why someone might not be able yo make the trip to Mysore.

    I am a disabled person with a genetic illness. When my condition flares I need immediate hospital treatment by specialists that understand my condition. In the last 10 years I have had 21 operations, over 100 hospital admissions and experienced pain that few can imagine. Through out this time I have used the practice as a therapeutic tool both physically and mentally.

    Putting it in simple terms – if I went to Mysore and had a flare I would most likely die. So, there are always reasons why a dedicated practitioner can’t make the journey to Mysore.

    I also ask you this question and I want you to search you heart before answering. (And this goes for anyone else who thinks you have to go to Mysore to prove that you are a devoted practitioner)

    Do you really think that someone who goes to Mysore 3 or 4 times has proved they are more capable of teaching and are more devoted to the practice than someone who has used the practice to live with serious illness for the last 10 years?

    I completely respect the tradition of the practice. I’d love to go to Mysore. But for me it is simply not an option. Does that make me less of a practitioner?

    I’m sure there are many devoted practitioners out there who simply don’t have the money or who are not in the position to make the trip to Mysore.

    As for authorisation is concerned, I have come across both excellent and (let’s just say not so good) “authorised” teachers. I have met authorised teachers who have no understanding whatsoever of how Ashtanga was taught in the early days.

    Being a good teacher is not about how many trips one has made to Mysore.

    It is about you as a person and how you connect with other people. It’s about sharing what the practice has done for you with other people. All I can do as a teacher is share my own experience of the practice – and that experience comes from a continuous practice over several years. From a practice that has nourished you through lots of different life experiences. From a practice that has repaired you when you have been sick both physically and mentally. From a practice that has been there as your rock when you feel life has forsaken you.

    It’s is this that makes a good teacher, not a few trips to Mysore.

    There are in my opinion, to many good teachers slipping through the net that is “authorisation”. The method that is used to determine if someone should be “authorised” to teach needs to change.

  20. Louise says:

    Oh for god's sake! What is so special about Ashtanga yoga that everyone MUST go to India? This smacks of elitism and is a good example as to why some yogis want nothing to do with the Ashtanga community.

    You no more have to go to India to be a "real" Ashtanga teacher than you have to go to Israel to be a "real" rabbi or"real"priest.

  21. AbbyHoffmann says:

    Absolutely…such a good point…

  22. Louise says:

    Thank you so much Mick for your comment. To me this is the best reaction to this article. 2 words never appeared in the article or comments: Ashtanga is also (or mainly?…) about Yamas and Niyamas and Nick they shine through your words. I am pretty sure I would take you as my teacher without any problem or concern about your ‘certification’..!! Sri K Pattabhi Jois wrote in the Yoga Mala that ashtanga yoga does not belong to any individual, but to humanity as a whole. In my teachers I look for that ‘humanity’, not for the certification.

  23. Vanessa T-Y says:

    Yoga is not so straightforward to empirically evaluate. Its phenomenal success has led to a multifarious proliferation of teachers and inevitably not all instruction is of equal quality. Some standards are therefore to be welcomed. The seal of approval on a teacher conferred by the founding organisation of Ashtanga must surely give confidence to prospective students.

    However authorisation can be a way of controlling quality but also enforcing ownership. And ownership in more than a strictly financial sense, instilling and cultivating a dependent obedience in those who are within its sphere which is the enemy of quality. A situation that seeks to impose an unaccountable and feudal authority will ultimately be counter-productive. It is impossible to keep hold of Ashtanga and retain control while at the same time disseminating the ideas and techniques that comprise it. If an organisation insists on its imprimatur it risks becoming an irrelevance as people inevitably progress and develop these same ideas and techniques independently.

    A lack of transparency does not promote understanding; Mysore needs to take a leaf out of the book of global franchising and adopt a worldwide quality control model. It should be meritocratic – not based on favoritism, the ability to pay or any other unrelated criteria. It will need to take into account the impracticability of all Ashtanga teachers attending sessions in India while retaining the benefits of teaching through a direct lineage. This would allow the best teachers around the world to be authorised while reducing their carbon footprint. Clearly, this will be a challenge but if it does not adapt KPJAYI will seem an outmoded dynastic sham.

  24. Vanessa T-Y says:

    The English invented Cricket. But they are not the only people to play it. It it not necessary to visit England in order to do so. Even some of the very best players may never come here. In other places the skills required to play the game may vary. A young cricketer from Yorkshire might well struggle to teach the game as well as a local in Hyderabad, Barbados or Brisbane. Cricket is a game with rules and a score and so it is easy to prove that talent and understanding of the game has spread outwards from its initial source.

    Yoga is not so straightforward to empirically evaluate. Its phenomenal success has led to a
    multifarious proliferation of teachers and inevitably not all instruction is of equal quality. Some standards are therefore to be welcomed. The seal of approval on a teacher conferred by the founding organisation of Ashtanga must surely give confidence to prospective students.

    However authorisation can be a way of controlling quality but also enforcing ownership. And ownership in more than a strictly financial sense, instilling and cultivating a dependent obedience in those who are within its sphere which is the enemy of quality. A situation that seeks to impose an unaccountable and feudal authority will ultimately be counter-productive. It is impossible to keep hold of Ashtanga and retain control while at the same time disseminating the ideas and techniques that comprise it. If an organisation insists on its imprimatur it risks becoming an irrelevance as people inevitably progress and develop these same ideas and techniques independently.

    A lack of transparency does not promote understanding; Mysore needs to take a leaf out of the book of global franchising and adopt a worldwide quality control model. It should be meritocratic – not based on favoritism, the ability to pay or any other unrelated criteria. It will need to take into account the impracticability of all Ashtanga teachers attending sessions in India while retaining the benefits of teaching through a direct lineage. This would allow the best teachers around the world to be authorised while reducing their carbon footprint. Clearly, this will be a challenge but if it does not adapt KPJAYI will seem an outmoded dynastic sham.

  25. Ilpo says:

    Hi, I start Practiced Ashtanga at 93-94, I got Guruji´s blessing to teach at 2004, he just said me that I don´t need paper about it, cause that would been 100$ to guruji and same to Sharath – every year. Then it took while, my students got rightaway practice up there, whereI had teached them. There was somekind of big bullshit (at Europe) like, "only those student who´s name is at Shala´s home page, they are "real" teachers." I was building up new shala so I asked. Then I got authorisation paper right away.
    Few things. OFCOURSE you don´t need to practice _only_ with Sharath. You can take Saraswathis classess and get same papers, they know student who go there, no problem! Now I practice allways with Saraswathi cause she asked and she give me teaching about history and so on after every class, even if I don´t ask. I have been Mysore14 times, I think it make things at different perspective. I have Guruji´s blessing to first and second series, but authorisation paper only to first series 🙂 And I am not think to buy second paper. I am not too rich to do that and they don´t ask me to do that, still it´s ok for them that I teach full intermediet.

    Other thing, this four time trip to Mysore doesen´t mean you got paper. No, one of my friend, who is teaching at my shala. He has been 7 times in Mysore, many months every time and he is the one who helped Laksmish to collect all chanting texts and Sanskrit materials. He has really smooth primary and half of intermediet, practiced about 10 years. Still Sharath don´t give paper for him. Not even say like "next time you got it", just nothing. So I hope after your letter students don´t just think that four times is enough to get some permission to teach this tradition, cause it´s not like that. Maybe it´s better to think this thing more Indian way! Thank you for your intresting resarch.

  26. Ilpo says:

    Hi, I start Practiced Ashtanga at 93-94, I got Guruji´s blessing to teach at 2004, he just said me that I don´t need paper about it, cause that would been 100$ to guruji and same to Sharath – every year. Then it took while, my students got rightaway practice up there, whereI had teached them. There was somekind of big bullshit (at Europe) like, "only those student who´s name is at Shala´s home page, they are "real" teachers." I was building up new shala so I asked. Then I got authorisation paper right away.

  27. Ilpo says:

    Hi, I start Practiced Ashtanga at 1993, I got Guruji´s blessing to teach at 2004, he just said me that I don´t need any paper about it, cause that time you need to send 100$ to Guruji and same to Sharath – every year. Then it took while, my students got right away practice up there, where I gave poses. There was somekind of big deal (at Europe) like, "only those student who´s name is at Shala´s home page, they are "real" teachers." I was building up new shala so I asked. So they gave me authorisation at paper 2012.

    Few things. You don´t need to practice _only_ with Sharath. You can take Saraswathis classess and get same papers, they know student who go there, no problem! Now I practice allways with Saraswathi cause she asked. And then she start to teach about history and so on after every class, even if I don´t ask.

    I have been Mysore14 times, I think it make things at different perspective. I have Guruji´s blessing to first and second series, but authorisation paper only to first series 🙂 And I am not think to buy second paper. I am not too rich to do that and they don´t ask me to do that, still it´s ok for them that I teach full intermediet.

    Other thing, this four time trip to Mysore doesen´t mean you got paper. My friend, who is teaching at my shala. He has been 7 times in Mysore, many months every time and he is the one who helped Laksmish to collect all Sanskrit materials. He has really smooth primary and over half of intermediet, practiced about 10 years. Still Sharath don´t give paper for him. Not even say like "next time you got it", just nothing. So I hope after your letter, students don´t just think that four times is enough to get some “paper” to teach this tradition, cause it´s not like that. Maybe it´s better to think this thing more Indian way! Thank you for your intresting resarch.

  28. nihanta says:

    “yoga is universal. Not one Man property not one

    country property.” – Pattahbi Jois

    There is a method. Do the method, understand it deeper everyday. Be as awake as possible. I will hold a progra in my Bronx apt.

    Hatha yoga sadhana. Just like Mysore program. 99 percent practice.. Periodical juice fasting. body work share monthly, deeper work with pranayama and meditation in non dual still styles inherent in life it self. Lineage rights from life itself

  29. parampara says:

    You may find this interesting, a chapter on parampara in Ashtanga Yoga in Mark Singleton's new book http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199938728….

  30. parampara says:

    wow given the role of israel in the religion and culture of Jduaism it seems like actually going there might shift your understanding as a rabbi?

  31. Boodiba says:

    Isn't it a huge possibility for many that they weren't able to find the time, space and money in their lives until a certain point?
    I've met a lot of yogis who don't need to earn their own rent and I can say it doesn't make them well rounded as individuals. In other words, it's very easy to be judgmental if you've never had to sweat your rent.

  32. Boodiba says:

    And lead with their egos. But that doesn't necessarily diminish with age. I was injured once by a very experienced, certified teacher. It wasn't a major thing & I forgave, but you can't count on judgment & humility trumping ego.

  33. Boodiba says:

    Ya and the early students learned when it was up, close & personal with Guruji – not the big, vast room. In the Guruji birthday video, Rolf is filmed saying he's not even sure if Guruji knows his name. He's saying that it's not important to his practice. But, if ROLF wasn't sure Guruji knew his name, how close of personal relationship do all those rapid fire, new authorizations have? I wonder!

  34. FAdams says:

    I think PJ from the article is a great example of this. He for years before he was authorized taught primary series, and even started a mysore program at his wellness center/shala after he started going to India, but before he was authorized. He devalued the system and has gone on to openly condemn others who did what he did – teach ashtanga without being authorized.

  35. OffTheReservation says:

    With the way the new generation of Authorized teachers talk, how the old guard of ashtanga teachers are not following perfectly in line with Sharath, I think the article should really be "Does Certification (by KPJAYI) Really Matter?"

  36. Michaela Clarke says:

    Nice article and interesting comments Genny. It's good to note that there are some teachers (such as Gingi Lee and myself) were trained directly by our teacher of many years, Derek Ireland, (who was also the first teacher of Hamish and John). By the time we went to Mysore, we had already been teaching for some time and did not feel that we needed to be authorised as we had the blessing of our own teacher. This is parampara, as far as I know…Guruji loved Derek and used to allow him to adjust during his classes.

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