"When I arrived in Mysore in the early '90s Guruji used to give regular theory classes, but his ability to communicate was often thwarted by language problems.
Guruji spoke a little English but he had a strong accent which was often hard for English speakers to understand and mostly impossible to understand for non-native English speakers when he started to talk about philosophy.
In the first few years I was there, there were 15-20 students at his theory classes. We were French, German, English, American, Dutch, Swiss… a jumble of languages with varying limitations on the grasp of Guruji's broken English and Sanskrit. So his efforts were often mired in frustration. I felt for him (and for myself - I was also frustrated we were unable to learn more from him in this forum).
There were also increasing numbers of students who did not want to think too deeply. For them being in India with Guruji was perhaps a bit of a lark and not an opportunity to absorb the fullness of what he had to offer. Often they turned Guruji's theory classes into a bit of a circus.
Guruji was a scholar and had the desire to share the gems of the Upanishads or the Yoga Sutra with his students, but as time went by, the quality of the interest was often brought down to a lowest common denominator by questions such as "Guruji, what is the best kind of yoga clothing or mat to use?" or other perhaps important, yet mundane subjects.
In the end Guruji would often shake his head in frustration and resignation and say "You don't understand! Just do your practice and all is coming!" This was accepted by increasing numbers as a motto, and for some, as an invitation not to question any deeper. But I felt it was said in the context of frustration that direct teaching through the mind was not possible."
If Guy's account is correct, then it would also seem to be correct for us to surmise that if Guruji had a stronger command of the English language, he would have spent more time teaching yoga philosophy and theory. And if this had happened, then perhaps Ashtanga would not suffer so much from the bad rep it has in some corners of the yoga community: That it is a very "physical" yoga that is totally concerned with unquestioningly doing what your teacher tells you to do. And it probably also doesn't help that another of Guruji's famous aphorisms is "Yoga is 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory."
Another thing that also seems to lend support to this view--that the relative lack of yoga philosophy instruction in traditional Ashtanga is due to Guruji's being hamstrung (no pun intended) by his limited command of English--is the fact that many of Guruji's senior students (Tim Miller, David Garrigues, Richard Freeman, Kino MacGregor) have since gone to great lengths to expound and expand upon the yoga philosophy that underwrites the practice in many of their lectures and workshops. It's hard not to conclude that at least part of these teachers' motivation for doing this is to fill in a gap in Guruji's pedagogy, by using their much stronger command of the English language to do what Guruji was not able to do. So in a sense, we can say that Tim, Kino, Richard, et al, are Guruji's verbal proxies. I don't know this for a fact, this is just my personal theory. Don't go around quoting me on this (like I can stop you anyway...).
But here's an opposing thought. What if it really didn't matter one way or the other that Guruji's English was limited? Guy Donahaye believes that "do your practice and all is coming" was something that Guruji "said in the context of frustration that direct teaching through the mind was not possible." Well, consider this: What if direct teaching through the mind (whatever this means) is something that is ultimately impossible, regardless of one's language ability? After all, language is just one of several different tools that one can use to get ideas across to people. Could it even be that Guruji's lack of facility with the English language may ironically have made him a more eloquent teacher, because he was not constricted by words and their linguistic/conceptual associations in the way that many of our western minds are? Could it be that because he wasn't so verbally eloquent, his students were forced to get out of their heads more, so to speak, and relate to him on a more... visceral and immediate level? I don't mean to make things unnecessarily mystical and esoteric, but we all know that many of Guruji's students' most cherished memories of him involve his famous, often grammatically incorrect aphorisms ("Why fearing, you?"); aphorisms that arguably would never have come into existence if he spoke better English (in which case he would probably sound like Mr. Iyengar). So perhaps it is as it should be: Guruji is the best Guruji there ever could be, with his linguistic limitations and all. In any case, David Williams also famously said that, "Before you practice, the theory is useless. After you practice, the theory is obvious." So maybe all really is coming when you practice :-)