The Anatomical Gifts That Keep on Giving

University of Massachusetts anatomical gift donor form

In a temporal twist of fate, last week I got the news that my father, Harvey Kaminoff, passed away about 5 minutes after I returned from the local FedEx office to overnight his anatomical gift donor forms to the UMass Medical School. Although my father’s death was sudden, it was not unexpected. Fortunately, I had just organized a family visit with him the day before his death at the nursing home where he had been cared for since last October. Over the decades of my anatomical study, Harvey expressed interest in donating his body to help others gain the same kind of experience he’d seen deepen my knowledge and practice.

I am extremely grateful to Amanda Collins, the Director of Anatomical Services at the UMass medical school, and her colleagues, who helped expedite the donation process in record time. The fact that Harvey’s body will be helping first-year medical students learn gross anatomy this fall in Worcester, MA tremendously brightened an otherwise sad occasion. You can read more about my father’s influence on my life and work in this Facebook post. It seems to have struck a chord, garnering more engagement than usual.

In my decades-long study and teaching of anatomy, I have been personally and professionally enriched by the generosity of many donors like my father, and it has been an honor to facilitate an anatomical gift – this time from the family’s perspective.

My dad in his youth, on the left, and with my three sons and me in 2017.

While I’m on the topic of anatomical gifts, I’ve just learned that two spots recently opened up for our previously sold-out Movement Anatomy Hands-On Cadaver Lab in Colorado Springs March 14-18. We are limiting participation to 6 students per table, so if you’ve ever dreamed of learning anatomy in this amazing format, our lab will be as up-close and personal a setting as you will find.

I will be teaching alongside the amazing Lauri Nemetz, MA, BC-DMT, LCAT, ERYT500, C-IAYT, a yoga and movement educator who specializes in myofascial anatomy as well as one of the lead dissector on the international team at the Fascial Net Plastination Project, and past faculty dissector for Anatomy Trains Dissections®. Once these 2 spots are taken, the course will be full, so reach out soon via the KNM Labs website.

I have provided links below for those inspired to learn more about anatomical gifting, which serves a different purpose from the organ donation choice on the back of most drivers’ licenses. They fill a vital educational need, and many regions across the United States are chronically short of full-body donations for the kind medical study we do in our labs.

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Greetings from my self-imposed isolation in New York City!

Stale Peeps-on-a-stick pair very nicely with a fine rosé.
CREDIT: Lydia Mann 

I hope you and your loved ones are faring well and staying safe during this challenging time in our shared history. Lydia and I are nearing the end of a self-imposed 14-day quarantine after returning from a month-long teaching tour of Australia. 

The trip home was….well…a trip. Our original flight on Cathay Pacific was canceled, so we enjoyed a 15-hour layover in Hong Kong. We wore our N95 masks, did our best to sequester ourselves in the near-deserted airport lounge, and we had a whole bulkhead row to ourselves on the half-empty flight back.

In spite of all our precautions, I got off the plane from our 44-hour journey with a cough, sore throat and a bit of a fever.  Ordinarily I’d expect to be a bit under the weather after such a travel ordeal and would have paid it no mind but, given the current concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, we exercised an overabundance of caution and self-imposed the quarantine at home. My fever went away in a couple of days and I was feeling myself a few days later, consistent with my ordinary recovery from a trip down under.

Unsurprisingly, several of my upcoming live workshops have been rescheduled for later in the year. We’ve got wonderful hosts who are doing all they can to accommodate the changes needed during these chaotic times. There is still so much unknown, but please refer to my calendar page for updated workshops.

Much yoga teaching has moved online in the past few weeks, a rapid and wonderful alternative during this crisis. I have made sections of my online course “Practices” and selected resources from “Fundamentals” available for free as part of a larger project called “Studio Relief.” This initiative by Mark Walsh, founder of The Embodiment Conference, brings together teachers from many styles who have donated online resources for the house-bound public. You can access my classes at this link.

As wonderful as these heartfelt and generous offerings are, I feel the need to point out that it is imperative not to permanently de-monetize our value.  If a studio is offering free classes in hope that members or card-holders do not cancel ongoing payment plans, that’s a valid business strategy. But if you are an independent teacher putting classes online for free to stay connected, consider asking students to pay on a sliding scale. It’s simply a matter of offering value-for-value. After all, internet service isn’t free nor are your electric or food bills, so neither should the yoga instruction you offer.

Wishing you and yours well,

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A very full (Mr.) September!

Well, the month I’ve been waiting for is finally here: September 2019 is when everyone who purchased the Jade Yoga Calendar gets to look at my bare chest for a whole month. Being a calendar model is now something I can check off my bucket list, along with being on the cover of Yoga Journal (although it was the back cover, when Jade used my calendar photo for an ad in the May-June issue). A big special shout-out to the amazing photographer Francesco Mastalia, whose wet plate collodion work is truly gorgeous.

Now, Lydia and I are off on the first of two fall European teaching trips, and we’re excited to be starting our tour by visiting three new cities, as well as returning to some old friends in the fourth. That makes four workshops, in four countries, in three weeks.

First stop is Stockholm, Sweden to teach a weekend workshop for Yoga Shakti titled Breath-Centered Yoga and “Reimagining Alignment,” September 7-8.

Next, we land on the beautiful coast of Ireland in County Clare’s Lahinch Yoga for a midweek (Tuesday-Wednesday, September 10-11) program focused on integrating body, mind, and breath as well as non-linear teaching methods and arm supports.

Then, we hop over to Amsterdam where we recently added a Friday evening masterclass to accommodate the waiting list for our sold-out weekend program for Global Flow Yoga. The weekend will touch on some cool topics like fascia, fluids and creative chaos in the classroom, September 13-15.

From Amsterdam, we fly to Valencia not to teach but to visit the home of one of our favorite dishes – paella! It’s a trip we’ve wanted to do for a while, and we’re very happy to have a couple of days there before we wind up the trip in Madrid. This will be our fourth time teaching for our good friends Blanca and Pablo at Dhara Yoga. We really enjoy teaching in Madrid, and during this visit we’ll cover some more advanced topics related to Hatha Yoga theory and practice like Shushumna Nadi and the physiology of meditative states, September 20-22.

After all that, we will be more than ready to come home just in time for some rest and fall foliage. Enjoy the beginning of your fall!

ANNOUNCEMENT: For those of you who have been following my Wednesday night online classes on OmPractice, please note that due to my travel schedule, I am suspending those classes until further notice.

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My Friend Ti.

I want you to know about a friend of mine. Her full name is Terecita Mahoney Blair, but everyone calls her Ti (sounds like “Tee”).  August 8 is her birthday and I sincerely hope it marks the start of a wonderful next year.

Ti is one of my (s)heroes. Life has dealt her some pretty tough cards yet she consistently inspires with dedication, determination and a relentlessly positive, honest outlook.

I don’t know too much about her early life, but in 2009 Ti got hit by a bus. Her spine was badly broken, and she needed 5 surgeries in the years that followed. Turns out, the hardware that was implanted did not do what it was supposed to and she has been struggling with a host of bizarre and awful symptoms, often being dismissed by orthopedists and other medical professionals. It’s a wonder she was vertical at all, once she learned that nothing more than scar tissue and muscle spasms were keeping her vertebra together (photos below of the faulty and replacement hardware).

photo of spinal hardware
Bad spinal hardware, that never should have been put into anyone’s body, and never permitted spinal fusion to take place.

Ti wrote about her new spinal hardware: “Bottom screws into sacrum, L5 and L4. You can’t see them, but new Titanium plated cages were inserted. Bone should grow within the vertebrae and on the outsides of all the hardware, making for a solid fusion.”

I met Ti five years ago this month in Los Angeles, when I taught a workshop at Black Dog Yoga, where she was working as their Teacher Training Administrator. Ti was familiar with me through my online courses, which Black Dog had been using as part of their teacher training. You never know who’s going to walk into one of your classes. All educators need to remember that. Ti was just four years post-surgical, and I could have asked a million questions of her, but if I thought I could keep her *safe* during my workshop, I would have been sorely mistaken. All we can do is set up reasonable experiments for our students to try on their “rectangular laboratories” (aka yoga mats), and encourage them to notice what they are experiencing.

Ti at her temporary work station (laptop on her bright pink walker) answering questions from students in my online Yoga Anatomy course.

Ti was a careful and wise student, applying the anatomy and asana practice I was presenting, and referencing what she found in her own body. As she wrote in a recent Facebook post: “Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy (is) the foundation of how I teach and understand pain, relationship and balance.” As an educator, I couldn’t possibly hope for a better student.

When Ti and her husband moved to Denver, it was a natural fit for her to connect with the creator of our online courses Kelsey Kaufman, who lives in Fort Collins, CO. Ti eventually became our anatomy homework coach for the online courses. I am touched and honored to know that her work with us has been a lifeline when she’s been so laid up with physical pain, she’s had to take a break from pretty much everything else.

I travel around the world teaching yoga for a living – mostly to other yoga teachers, and I feel privileged when I meet people like Ti, whose primary focus is on doing whatever good they can for populations they care most about.  For Ti it’s seniors and first responders, two groups that often get lost in the cracks of our society.  For others, it’s trauma survivors, prison populations, people in recovery, teens at risk…the list is endless. This commitment to using the tools of Yoga to better the world is a never-ending source of inspiration.

video link Last year, we were thrilled when she was voted the 2017 Silver Sneakers 2017 Instructor of the Year. Please watch this video celebrating Ti’s award and bear in mind that – unbeknownst to her – her spine was being inadequately held together by ill-conceived hardware all the time she was jumping around and leading these classes! Ti’s commitment to frequently invisible populations, in this case older folks needing to get or stay moving, catapulted her along and her life-experience made her a sympathetic example for these elders experiencing their own physical challenges.

What really makes Ti a hero to me is that through all the pain of recovery as well as her internal demons, she not only maintains a positive attitude but keeps focus on what really matters to her: other people who are struggling. The way she walks through the world reminds me of my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar’s, admonition that “yoga is relationship.”

Reconnecting with Ti in Los Angeles a number of years after she showed up in one of my workshops, and just as she was joining my online courses as homework coach.

There is a great deal of talk about corruption of yoga, and commercialization, and the need for third-party reimbursement and licensing and blah blah blah blah. But Ti is an example of true yoga in action. She has made it her life’s work to seek out and serve communities in need, people who might not otherwise know about coordinating breath and mind and movement in a way to enrich and embody their day-to-day experience. She works one-on-one with veterans and first responders recovering from traumatic injuries, and has forged remarkable relationships with many of them.

She has been brutally honest about the pain and despair that lurks behind her smiling face and started a Facebook project to help her through this really tough post-surgical period. She is using the medium to raise awareness for many of the causes she supports, by wearing a different “Ti-shirt” every day emblazoned with their logos. Here are a few of the organizations she supports:

The 2018 Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb honors and remembers fallen firefighters.  Ti has promised (with her surgeon’s permission) to climb at least one stair on 9/11.  She has set a goal of raising $1,111.00 by then, and I am certain she’ll do it simply because it is something she has set her mind to. I just donated $108.00 and hope you will too, if you can spare it.

Safe Call Now: A no-cost confidential crisis referral service for public safety agency employees all first responders and their families nationwide.

Emergency Responder Trauma Counselors (ERTC) provides specialized counseling for emergency services personnel and their family members, related to their work and home life and the variety of stressors in which affect them. Including but not limited to PTSD, anxiety, addiction, depression and grief.

ResponderStrong: Emergency responders working with the National Mental Health Innovation Center to improve mental wellness among Colorado responders and their families. .

Officer Involved Project: Officer Involved is a thoughtful documentary that examines officers who have been involved in deadly force incidents during their tour of duty.

I am proud beyond measure to know Ti and others like her, who constitute the vast majority of the yoga teaching universe.  I’m similarly proud to offer what I can in the way of teaching to the online community we’ve built over the years – a community that now spans 45 countries and over 4,000 students – many of whom are lucky enough to have Ti as their homework coach. On the occasion of Ti Mahoney Blair’s birthday, I recommit to keeping my yoga real and staying connected to those around me. I hope you are inspired, as I have been, by her life and work.

Happy birthday, Ti!

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I was asked “What is your favorite quote?”

You know those Facebook quizzes…the ones that ask a bunch of questions and then deliver what is supposed to be some insightful truth about you, which you’re then supposed to post for all the world to see? I hate those. If you invite me to take one (or to play Candy Crush) I will unfriend you.

That’s why I was surprised at how deeply I responded to a series of philosophical questions posed by the folks at Triyoga in London, where I’ll be teaching at the end of June. As it happens, the key question they asked me was “What is your favourite quote?” I instantly knew the answer.

Even before I was attracted to yoga in my late teens, I had been very curious about fundamental world views. My readings at the time tended toward the mystical as well as the philosophical. As part of my yoga training with the Sivananda organization, I got a big dose of Vedanta and Yoga philosophy, which I continued to study for many years.  In spite of the fact that I ended up teaching the basic tenets of Yoga/Vedanta, I developed deep misgivings about what I saw as the disembodied nature of the teachings. Years later, I stumbled on a quote in the book Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand:

Humans are beings of self-made soul.

That one devastating statement shattered any remnants of the mystical thinking I had inherited from my days at the ashram. It awakened me to the fact that the fundamental essence of my being is my own creation, and it belongs to me, and no one else. In other words, my soul is not on temporary loan from god or some great undifferentiated cloud of consciousness. Through the accumulation of the countless free-will choices I’ve made ever since I’ve existed, I have created the kind of person I have become.

I came to realize that mystical teachings get it backwards when they insist that existence emerges from consciousness. Rather, consciousness can only exist as an emergent attribute of a physical entity. This is a fundamental point of divergence between my view and that of most other yoga teachers. The issue has been called the primacy of existence vs. the primacy of consciousness. The primacy of consciousness view allows for the separability of body and soul. My yoga is grounded in the indivisibility of body and soul – the primacy of existence.

The dualistic roots of yoga philosophy can easily reinforce disembodied thinking by reducing a person to two fundamentally incompatible elements: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (physical nature). This is reminiscent of another Ayn Rand quote from her book Atlas Shrugged when she wrote that proponents of the soul-body dichotomy “…have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost.” Similarly, Samkhya (the darshanic partner of Yoga) famously describes a human as a lame man who can see (Purusha) being carried around by a blind man who can walk (Prakriti). By asserting the indivisibility of body and soul, I reject both models.  Humans are not the ghost of a consciousness somehow being carried around by a dead lump of matter.

I’m grateful that the questions sent me by Triyoga for their blog post created an opportunity to consider these and other issues. I’ll be offering a special 90 minute donation-based program while in London: Free Will and The Nature of the Soul: A Philosophical Inquiry with Leslie Kaminoff with all profits going to a favorite charity of mine, The Africa Yoga Project. This will be on Facebook Live too, so we hope to see you there!

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Relationship: it’s the key to what I do

Just finishing a month of teaching in Australia, I’ve had innumerable opportunities to practice a principle my teacher T.K.V. Desikachar often emphasized: “Yoga is relationship.”  One of our Brisbane hosts is the witty and fierce president of Yoga Australia, Leanne Davis. I was intrigued to learn her community is small enough that they all know each other. With only around 100 teaching programs in the whole country, Yoga Australia is able to provide support, check-ins and coaching in a really personal manner. It’s not a model that could directly scale in the U.S., but it’s worth noting that the only valid way to deal with ethics and scope of practice issues lies in the context of the community in which teachers operate. Studios, peers, colleagues – as well as the students –  always need to be in direct relationship to teachers, and feel empowered to give them feedback. We all need to be answerable to someone, but that someone should be part of our immediate community.

I have been thinking about the role of coaching and personal connection in relation to the specialized work I do. It will be a big part of my upcoming 5-day (30-hour) immersion “Breath Education: Coaching Better Breathing,” August 20-24, 2018, under the aegis of my educational nonprofit, The Breathing Project, Inc. With an intimate group, I look forward to covering the anatomical and practical underpinnings of breath coaching, as well as how to nurture supportive relationships for therapeutic breath work with individuals and groups.

Having just turned 60, I can confidently say that every good thing I’ve achieved in my life, every positive effect I’ve wrought, has been based on a willingness to be related. Whenever I shied away from relationship by generalizing or depersonalizing, I have failed. I am committed to remembering this for my next 60 years.

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Return to OZ

Lydia and I are preparing for a month of travel and teaching, in fact it’s our biggest teaching tour to date! We are really looking forward to the upcoming tour, which takes us to:

We work hard on these teaching tours, but we always schedule a couple days on each side of the workshops to enjoy the host city. We’ve heard Sorrento is beautiful and while I’m teaching there I’ll turn 60 years old (on March 13). Word on the street is there may be some celebrating going on, so come out to the workshop on March 14th to help cheer me into my 7th decade! I believe there’s still room in some of the workshops, so if you or someone you know is down under, please come out and say hello.

All this planning got me feeling nostalgic about my first visit to New Zealand and Australia in 1983 so I dug out some old photos. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles with my partner Lynda Huey where we worked at Dr. Leroy Perry’s International Sportsmedicine Institute.  Lynda was the athletic director and, although I was teaching yoga flexibility to the athletes, my main job was to administer a new form of electro-therapy that was getting great results with pain and soft tissue injuries.  The instruments I specialized in, the Electro-Acuscope and Myopulse, were in great demand around the world at the training areas of track meets so, eased by the fact that Lynda and I were also working part-time as travel agents, it created a perfect opportunity to travel.

August of 1983 found us in Helsinki, Finland for the first-ever world championships of Track and Field. Towards the end of 1983, we were invited by Australian Olympic swimming legend Murray Rose to present our rehab work at a Sports Medicine event at Sydney’s Town Hall. After a stop to visit some friends in Auckland, we arrived in Sydney and were taken on a whirlwind tour of the city by Murray and his friends.

In this photo, I am posing for an AP photographer with Evelyn Ashford, who at the time was the world’s fastest woman. Evelyn had sustained a hamstring injury in an early heat of the 100 meter dash, and I was treating her with the equipment.  She recovered well enough to make the U.S. team and win a gold medal the 1984 L.A. Olympics in spite of a slight re-injury at the team trials (for which I also treated her). As part the promotion for the Sydney event, I was invited to a T.V. interview on “Good Morning Australia.

This photo shows me on set preparing the equipment for my segment.  I am wearing my best (and only) suit for the occasion. I was apparently still wearing that outfit when we visited a game preserve outside Sydney.  There, I met kangaroos for the first time. Once the film was developed back in L.A. , I also noticed for the very first time that I was – at the tender age of 25 – going bald on the top of my head. I was shocked and devastated, but I’ve gotten over it.

The rest of our trip was terrific.  We traveled to Canberra to tour the brand new Australian Institute of Sport, and the headed up the Gold Coast to visit with some friends in Nambour before continuing up to check out the facilities at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Finally, we went all the way north to Cairns, where we had a memorable scuba dive off the Barrier Reef. Lynda and I actually returned to Sydney in 1984 for a return visit that was more of a pleasure trip.

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I teach Viniyoga®. So, sue me.

Mocking t-shirt mockup by Leslie Kaminoff.
No rights reserved.

This blog post is inspired by a series of comments on Facebook regarding a controversial action by Kausthub Desikachar, my teacher’s son, who has announced that he has trademarked the term “Viniyoga”. He states, in part: “…to maintain its authenticity, the KHYF, as an international organization, has copyrighted the term Viniyoga in over thirty countries and will ensure that its use is authentic and legally regulated…”

Whatever emotional reaction I may have to this situation, here are two things I’m very clear about:

1. A quick search of the United States Patent and Trade Office database reveals that as of the present date, Kausthub Desikachar has no legal right to the exclusive use of the term “Viniyoga” in the U.S. In fact, Kausthub’s application was denied, and he has until April 4th of this year to appeal.

2. Aside from the legalities involved in the ownership of the word “Viniyoga,” the key issue is that there is a huge distinction between being connected to a teaching lineage and inheriting a family business. Kausthub apparently fails to see that difference, and is seeking to control both as if they were the same thing.

A teaching lineage is not held only by someone with a certain surname. All of Desikachar’s students, and their students, ARE the lineage. In fact, the very notion that a lineage can be “held” at all is false, and anyone who tries to control one betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of both teaching and lineage. The sharing of knowledge is not a zero-sum game – like sharing the only cookie in the world.  If I have that singular cookie and share it with you, it would mean I have less cookie for myself, but the sharing of yoga teachings (and knowledge in general) operates from the opposite premise: what I’m actually sharing is the cookie recipe and, the more I do that, the more cookies there are in the world (and the more variations on the recipe).

Contrary to what his ill-informed actions suggest, Kausthub Desikachar did not create, nor could he inherit the “brand” Viniyoga. His father’s students were using that word to describe what they had learned from their teacher when Kausthub was in diapers. These elders are some of the senior people now being asked to “kiss the ring” in order to keep using the term “Viniyoga.”

Sadly, I am not at all surprised by Kausthub’s current behavior. It is completely consistent with many of his past actions. Perhaps he thinks he’s being a clever businessman, but the really smart move would have been to trademark his family name as “Desikachar Yoga.” There’s an established practice of name-branding yoga in his line of teachers (Iyengar Yoga, Jois Yoga) and that – at least – would honor Desikachar without pissing off generations of his father’s students.

The funniest part of Kausthub’s trademark grab is that it really makes me want to start using the word “Viniyoga” again; partly as an act of defiance towards him, but mostly as an ironic act of loyalty to the teacher who asked me to drop it in April of 2003 when he sent the following email:

Dear Friends,

When I introduced the concept of viniyoga in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I never imagined that it will replace the word “Yoga”.
I am extremely disappointed with the situation today, where this has become the case and caused so much distortion and confusion.
Hence I request you to either delete the word Viniyoga to represent my teacher’s teaching, or remove my father’s and my name from your communications. This is the least you can do for me, as a guru dakshina.
Please feel free to forward this to other students whose email addresses I don’t have.

With Best Wishes
TKV Desikachar

It has been suggested that this request was a ploy to reserve the term as a legacy for his son, or that the email was actually authored by Kausthub, but when I first saw the message I believed my teacher was sincere when he lamented that Viniyoga’s “branding” had gone too far.  I admired him for his stand, and I also realized I had never been deeply invested in the word anyway, so I had no trouble transitioning to using “Individualized, Breath-Centered Yoga” to describe what I teach.

Now, 15 years later Desikachar is gone and his son wants the word to himself. Well, f*ck you Kausthub – I teach Viniyoga.  So, sue me.

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A Space for Memories

This photo was taken on July 15th as I sat alone in the empty studio following the Breathing Project’s closing party. In the nearly two years leading up to this moment, I was asked innumerable times what I was feeling.  My stock reply was “everything,” and that pretty much sums up what you can see in this picture.

I didn’t get too visibly emotional about the closing when other people were around, but at times like this, when I sat alone in that room, memories and feelings would often flood through me.  As it happens, I remember quite clearly what was on my mind at the moment my partner Lydia Mann snapped the photo.  I was thinking of my boys, and how this room was such a special place for most of their childhood.

I was remembering how, in the summer of 2003, my teacher Desikachar’s family joined my family, friends and colleagues for a small ceremony to help inaugurate our new studio.  Taken on that day,  this photo shows me and my teacher and my middle and youngest sons, Jai (8) and Sasha (3).  Afterwards at Vatan, our favorite Indian restaurant, Desikachar mischievously offered $20.00 to Jai if he would eat one of the hot chili peppers on the table.  Jai was game to try it, but I intervened.

Back then I was splitting my time between New York City and Great Barrington, MA, and the boys would always enjoy their occasional weekend visits to NY, when they would camp out on the floor of the big room and watch movies I would project – cinema-sized – on the wall.  There were many times when our basket of Gertie Balls would cause a spontaneous game of dodgeball to break out.
I also recalled how my oldest son Shaun would eventually become a work-study student in the 2014-2015 version of my Yoga Anatomy course – the sessions that were recorded for my online Principles course.

Today, Desikachar is no longer with us, Shaun is 27, Jai is 22, Sasha (who wishes to be called Alex) just turned 18, I will be 60 in March and Amy Matthews’ Babies Project is creating a whole new generation of memories in that space.

Happy New Year.  I hope 2018 creates memories that are as precious to you as the ones I’ve shared.

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An early thanks-giving

1987 Yoga Journal Magazine featuring Gary Kraftsow
September/October 1987 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine featuring a Life-Styles piece by David Frawley on Gary Kraftsow

Lately, I’ve been feeling tremendous gratitude for the way my life and work have turned out – even amidst a host of societal, political and environmental disasters – and I recently experienced a lovely bit of synchronicity that highlighted this.

I was seated onstage at the 2017 Yoga Therapy Summit telling the story of first becoming aware of T.K.V. Desikachar. Glancing down at the front row I saw Larry Payne, who I first met back in 1981, after he had returned from something of a guru-hopping tour of India. Back then, I remember asking him which teacher impressed him the most and the name he mentioned was the only one on his list I didn’t recognize: Desikachar. When I asked him what made this guy so special, all he could tell me was “It’s all in the breath.” This cryptic phrase struck me deeply and became a focal point for much of my curiosity about the role of breath in yoga for the next six years – and then I picked up the September/October 1987 issue of Yoga Journal. Here at the Yoga Therapy Summit seated beside Larry was Gary Kraftsow who – 30 years ago this month – was featured in that very issue of the magazine.

It was the cover, which featured Ken Wilber, that had attracted my attention. As hard as it is to believe – considering how asana imagery has so thoroughly permeated popular culture – back then, Yoga Journal went through a long stretch of 7 years and 40 issues (July 1983–March 1990) without a single asana photo on their front cover. Instead, the magazine featured all manner of new-age topics, trends and personalities. I had read Wilbur’s magnum opus “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” and was interested in what the “Einstein of consciousness” had to say. I really don’t remember, because I don’t think I ever got to the Wilbur article. Instead I was stopped in my tracks by a short, single-column “Life-Styles” article written by David Frawley about a yoga teacher named Gary Kraftsow he had encountered while teaching an Ayurveda program on Maui. It led with this: “Rather than focusing on the asanas as an end in themselves, he shows students how to apply yoga for their own unique physical structure and condition.” As it turns out, that small piece of writing would mark an essential turning point in my life and my yoga.

As I continued to read, more of Kraftsow’s perspective eerily echoed much of what I’d been thinking and teaching: “emphasizing function rather than form…individualizing practice to each student’s unique structure and condition…not to teach students where to go, but to show them how to get there…” Then I read: “Kraftsow began his yoga study with T.K.V. Desikachar in 1974…” and I felt a palpable jolt of recognition as my mind flashed back to the name Larry Payne had mentioned six years earlier. No wonder the words of a Desikachar student were striking such a chord – my own obsession with the role of breathing in asana had led me down a similar path!

Reading further, I learned that Desikachar was the son of T. Krishnamacharya, who Frawley described as “perhaps the most renowned yoga teacher of our time.” The article ended with Kraftsow saying, “Yoga refers primarily to the quality of action through which transformation can occur.”

So I was completely hooked. I knew — as clearly as I’d ever known anything — that I had to meet T.K.V. Desikachar.  The article said he lived in India, but didn’t specify where.

In the pre-internet, pre-Google age of analog information retrieval, my only resource was Gary Kraftsow’s phone number, helpfully provided at the bottom of the article. I left a message asking for more information about Gary, his programs, and the whereabouts of T.K.V.Desikachar. I heard back later that day from Mirka Kraftsow, who informed me that Desikachar lived in Madras, and that Gary would be presenting at an upcoming conference, Yoga and New Frontiers of Healing, at Murrieta Hot Springs in California. (This was my introduction to the group Unity in Yoga which later became the Yoga Alliance, but that’s another story!) Though I signed up for every class Gary was teaching, I cannot recall any of the specifics, but I do remember a powerful sense of connection with this tradition.

When people talk about finding their lineage or teacher, they frequently report a sense of “coming home.” I’m not sure if that’s how I would describe what I experienced, but I was clear that I’d stumbled on a line of inquiry focused on the same questions I’d been obsessed with ever since I started practicing and teaching:

  • How does the act of inhaling and exhaling relate to specific movements in asana practice?
  • How can the form of a pose be modified to serve its deeper function?
  • How can one teach these modifications in a group class?

I was relieved to realize: “I don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel — there is a line of teachers who have been figuring this stuff out a lot longer than I have, and that lineage has a name – Viniyoga.”

At the conference, Gary told me about a program with Desikachar scheduled for that summer at Colgate University. That August of 1988 was when I first met Desikachar and became his student, although in reality he became my teacher the minute Larry quoted him saying: “it’s all in the breath.”

Three decades later, I am proud and humbled to be part of this amazing teaching community – each of us teaching in our own way – with a common core of inspiration: T.K.V. Desikachar and his father, T. Krishnamacharya. If we are lucky to live long enough, we get to thank the people who have been important to us. As I said onstage at the Summit, I am so very grateful to have this chance to publicly thank Larry and Gary for introducing me to these teachings.

2017 Yoga Therapy Summit, Chicago, IL (aka the Desikachar students’ old-timey reunion!)
Back row: Amy Wheeler, Gary Kraftsow, Kate Holcombe, Sonia Nelson, Chase Bossart, Laura Jane Mellencamp-Murphy, Clare Collins
Front row: Richard Miller, Leslie Kaminoff, JJ Gormley, Larry Payne, John Kepner
CREDIT: Lydia Mann

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