“It’s a man’s man’s man’s world… but it would be nothing, nothing without a woman…” ~ James Brown
Pranam to the lotus feet of my great gurus-teachers! Gratitude for their stream of blessings!
The most influential and inspirational yoga teachers with whom I’ve had the good karma to study and practice with over more than a dozen years have all been students and disciples of guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who was himself a disciple of the great guru Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who was himself a student of his guru, Rammohan Brahmacari, who is said to have been a cave-dwelling yoga master from the Lake Mansarover region of the Tibetan Himalayas.
In 2004, I met my first yoga teachers (themselves students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois), Barbara Verrochi & Kristin Leigh of The Shala in NYC. At the time, I was suffering a lot while losing my best friend to a terrible illness, completing university, working on a Hollywood film, dealing with bad romances, etc. This yoga school was my first refuge. I studied ashtanga inspired vinyasa yoga with them on and off for 8 years before completing their yoga teacher training in 2013. It took me 8 years of moving awkwardly from their beginner classes to their intermediate/advanced classes, and then more confidently back to the basics, before I connected with their traditional Mysore ashtanga classes – thanks to inspiration from workshops with visiting teachers Marla Meenakshi Joy, Ron Reid, Maia Heiss, and later with Tim Miller, as well as by taking Led Primary Series classes with Sherry Russell. Soon enough, I was hooked on Ashtanga. During my yoga teacher training at The Shala, I also had the opportunity to apprentice Barbara as she taught in the Mysore style.
After reading the wonderful book Guruji A Portrait Of Sri K Pattabhi Jois Through The Eyes of His Students by Eddie Stern and Guy Donahaye, I wanted to study with its authors, both of whom were running strictly ashtanga yoga schools near my neighborhood in NYC. I practiced with Guy Donahaye for several months, and later with Lori Brungard, who actually recorded the initial interviews for the Guruji book. At the Broome St. Temple, I studied and practiced with Eddie Stern and Jocelyne Stern for over a year, and I continue to return to their new school, the Brooklyn Yoga Club, to connect with tradition, community, and Hindu puja practice.
In 2014, I met my principal yoga teacher, paramguru Sri R. Sharath Jois, grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, while he was teaching on tour in NYC and I had the good fortune to get to Mysore, India in 2016 to study directly with him at the international bee-hive hub of ashtangis, KPJAYI – the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. In the USA, I maintain a daily home practice, and continue to study with Sharath during his intensives on tour. He has taken me through the complete Intermediate Series, which, alternating with the Primary Series, constitutes my regular weekly practice.
I’ve also been fortunate to study with Sri Saraswathi Jois – daugher of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and the first woman in India to study Sanskrit at the Mysore College and eventually to teach yoga to both women and men together – as well as with her daughter and Sharath’s sister, Sharmila Jois.
Most recently, Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor have inspired and informed my practice, both in reading their books and in studying and practicing with them. They are living proof that the practice of yoga can remain fresh, fascinating, and flowing with nectar for a whole lifetime, and probably many many lifetimes at that. Richard and Mary, together with Robert Thurman, have also helped me to see how two major streams can merge: Ashtanga Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism.
Like yoga, I have been drawn to Tibetan Buddhism since my teens – and yet, I didn’t find a teacher in yoga nor in Buddhism until later in life. When I was 17 years old, I travelled by land with my sister from Kathmandu, Nepal to Tibet. We made it all the way to Lhasa and I had this feeling then that I was looking for someone or something to help me live a better life, for myself and others. Flash forward twenty years and I continue to seek to know the direction that I am going. However, thirteen years after my trip to Tibet, I walked into the Symphony Space auditorium in NYC and was shaken to the core with tears to feel that I had potentially found someone I was looking for: Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. I felt his vibration and saw his picture at the welcoming ceremony for his reincarnation, the Yangsi Rinpoche.
Immediately after meeting Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche along with Matthieu Ricard, Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche in NYC, I hopped on a plane, maybe in an enlightened act of impulse, and followed him to Mangala Shri Bhuti in the Rocky Mountains, where I first took an official refuge ceremony in the Three Jewels. I also received a Vajrayana empowerment (one of many) into the heart teachings of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Although I struggled to stay connected with the practice of his sadhana, the exposure to his mindstream has helped me to find motivation and meaning through much suffering.
Within a year of meeting the Yangsi, I found myself feeling more aware of my blessings and more committed to my yoga practice. My connection to the sadhana of Ashtanga yoga began to grow and stabilize. I realized that I wanted to teach yoga, too, in order to share the path of spiritual awakening. That said, I continue to find wisdom and compassion from a myriad of teachers and traditions. One of the best retreats I’ve ever participated in was on the shamata meditation on the Four Immeasurables, or Brahmaviharas, at the Chinese Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY with Ven. Dhammadipa Sak. Interestingly, the Brahmaviharas are also a key practice outlined in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
Ultimately, the practice of Ashtanga Yoga integrates 8 Limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi and different teachers can help to study and practice different aspects of each of these. Jai Ganesha!