Friday, August 24, 2012

Authorization and the Ashtanga Mafia

This blogging business is a funny thing. Recently, I have found myself going for days without writing a single post. But then this is my second post for today. It really does come and go, the blogging muse...

But I'm writing now because I just read this really honest and funny and heartfelt post on Patrick Nolan's blog about going to Mysore and getting authorized. Patrick relates how when he first started practicing Ashtanga, he asked his teacher, Greg Nardi, what he needed to do in order to teach Ashtanga. In response, Greg explained that:

'in our thing (please forgive the gratuitous mafia movie reference) the only way it could happen is that I would have to schlep over to India not once, but several times at least, my response was understandable-- "Fuck that, I'm going to sign up for the 200 hour teacher training at the 23rd street yoga shala."'

Eventually, Patrick did go to Mysore, and has now completed his third trip there. He writes:

"In addition to my time with Sharath, I have been extensively trained by teachers of international renown.  I teach yoga full-time for a living and am solvent in doing so.  My asana practice is somewhat strong.  I have a grasp of, and a keen interest in, yogic philosophy.  But I am still not authorized.  Didn't happen this trip.  I was pretty fucking bummed when Sharath didn't call me into his office after my last practice this morning.  Although this disappointment is something of a taboo, I confess this freely and openly.  We're supposed to go to India to learn from Sharath for its own sake, not to be chasing a certificate."

I really like Patrick's brutal and uncompromising honesty concerning his own feelings ("was pretty fucking bummed"...) about not being authorized. I think that talking about authorization in this open and honest way takes a lot of the mystery and emotional charge out of this delicate issue.

Patrick concludes his post by saying:

"One's ability to carry on and convey the message of our lineage should be assessed by Sharath and Sharath alone.  To bring back the mafia analogy, chain of command is very important our thing.  Sharath seems pretty deeply intuitive to me.  I resolve to trust his judgement in these matters, and to keep returning to Mysore, authorization or no."

I like the Mafia analogy. If I may extend the analogy even further, I guess I must be a Mafia foot soldier, since I have yet to go to Mysore :-) Well, hopefully someday in the future, I will go to Mysore, rise up in the ranks of the Mafia. And then maybe (just maybe) one day Sharath might call me into his office and make me an offer I can't refuse...

[Image taken from here]

But wait! I'm not supposed to expect to get that offer. Okay, never mind. Forget I said that. But I hope you get that offer soon, Patrick. Maybe next Mysore trip? :-)  


  1. I don't know Nobel, I'm not really buying that Sharath is the only person on the planet who can authorize students to teach Ashtanga. It would be lovely, yes, and I dream of studying with him. But at this point Ashtanga is bigger than one man and even one place.

    1. I understand your feelings about Ashtanga being bigger than one man or one place. In fact, I should, since I always tell myself to distrust authority. And I can't really explain this, but somehow I think that Ashtanga as a whole is better off because of the fact that the stamp of approval issues from only one source. This doesn't mean that I can't practice on my own (I do that) or teach others without having being authorized (I do that too), but it just feels right to me that there is one unambiguous source from which it all flows. I know I'm probably not making much sense here, but I can't think of a better way to put this.

  2. This is clearly mentioned in KPKAYI site and in spite of it , if people come expecting a certificate then it is their fault :
    "The Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute is dedicated to the education of yoga practitioners. Practitioners should come with the sole purpose of studying the tradition from its source. Students traveling to Mysore should not come with the expectation of obtaining Authorized or Certified status."

    1. Hello Krishna,
      I'm sure Patrick knows that (he's been to Mysore three times); his post (and mine) are meant to be taken in a tongue-in-cheek way.

  3. This reminds me of the "beginner's mind." When I first started Ashtanga, I chose my teacher based on personal fit, style, quality of assists, etc. As I learned more, I began focusing on whether they were "well-respected", which eventually began to translate to whether they were authorized or certified. Now I realize how little that matters - what matters was exactly what mattered at the beginning - whether they are a good teacher for me.

    Obviously I hope you are happy and get what you want-- if that means going to Mysore so be it, but I think it's even more powerful to have dedicated practitioners of mysore style yoga (like yourself) continue to show that it is possible to have a meaningful practice and community without conforming to (mysterious? arbitrary? impractical?) rules.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Anon. I like what you say about the beginner's mind. But I feel that acknowledging and respecting that the practice flows from a certain place (Mysore), and that whatever knowledge and abilities I have ultimately flow from there is also an expression of beginner's mind.

      I do want to go to Mysore at least once in my lifetime (hopefully soon), because that is the historical point of origin of Ashtanga. I can't say how much that actually means to my practice, or if it is what I really ultimately want, since I haven't actually been there. Actually, come to think of it, I'm not even sure if I'll like the experience, given that I have lived Stateside for so many years, and have lived in the so-called developed world all my life. And I wouldn't say that my practice is any less complete just because I haven't been there. But I still think that going to Mysore is an experience that is essential for the practice journey, at least for me.