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  • Writer's pictureJérôme Jaquier

The appropriation of yoga in a world distorted by images of personal brands.

Updated: May 22, 2022

Many yoga teachers have branded yoga through their own personal image, like a fashion catalog, by showing themselves in photos and videos that in the end only show excessive egos, which is not yoga. While there is only one yoga. At ashtanga yoga Lausanne we don't feel that it is very interesting. We are more caring about a practice adapted for each practitioner than about creating a brand for the teachers.

An interview with TKV. Desikashar inspired us a lot by explaining what yoga should continue to be:

"Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you yourself, but as it applies to the other. " — T. Krishnamacharya

This view was expressed by Desikachar through a seminar in Omega, New York in May 2002 around the theme “The Ocean of Yoga – From the Parts to the Whole” as:

“The current world of Yoga seems to be made up of many small parts, each one competing with and often confusing the other. This is not consistent with the spirit of Yoga, whose very meaning is “to unite”.

The application of Yoga according to the person.

The intelligent and systematic application of Yoga, be it concerned with physical exercises, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, lifestyle, food, studies, according to the person and together with the persons current situation.

Our Yoga practice as a personalized process that moves from a short term practice adapted to our outer limitations towards a longer term practice that explores our inner potentials.

"The more they (the student) like you, the more they become attached."

"We should be careful if we feel very enthusiastic, because it could distort the spirit of the teaching."

- TKV Desikachar speaking with his senior Western students London 1998.

"There is an image in the world today that the guru has a following and his students follow him like the Pied Piper. This is not good.

The true guru shows you the way.

You go your way and then you’re on your own, because you know your place and you are grateful.

I can always thank my guru naturally and enjoy the relationship, but I do not have to follow him around, because then I am not in my own place.

Following the guru’s destination is another way of losing yourself.

The yoga concept of svadharma means “your own duty or nature”;“your own way”.

If you try to do somebody else’s dharma, trouble happens.

The guru helps you find your own dharma."

-- TKV Desikachar. Book: The Heart of Yoga Developing a Personal Practice

Interview with Desikachar through a seminar in Omega, New York in May 2002. By Lisa Miriam Cherry.

Q: Have you teaching methods changed over the years?

D: I’am not the same person I was. My body’s not the same. My age, my goals, my abilities and my wishes, are not the same. Sometimes even my environment is different. My goals have changed. At 21 I want to excel in all the asana that was my goal. Today it is different, and one year later will be different again. When I become a Yoga student, I lost a lot of my friends, because they thought I was doing something crazy. They thought of me as an engineer. They were ashamed to be yoga teachers in the 1960s. When Yoga became more popular in the West, India began to look at yoga differently, and today because of this contribution from the West, Yoga is now accepted. It’s now in the mainstream, it’s in many medical schools, there’s a board that decides who should be recognized. In India, still the wind blows from the West!

Q: In what way do you think Yoga can help where western medicine cannot?

D: I have discussed this with many doctors. There are some situations where both approaches are good. I cannot help someone who has a deep fracture. Even my father (T. Krishnamachaya) had to go to someone when he had a serious illness. I cannot say that where Yoga starts, medicine stops. Or where medicine starts, Yoga stops. The human system is not just the body. You can take charge of yourself to some extent. That makes a big difference. And we need to make sure that we understand Yoga correctly. I will not say that I can cure all diseases. That would be ridiculous. I have seen so many books writing about this Yoga asana helps in this way. It is a joke. Some Yoga teachers have written books saying that they’re ‘curing all these diseases’. But how did this person feel better? My father enlisted the help of person’s whole system.

D: The most important thing in Yoga is the mind. Change the mind and the human system changes. When you did your Yoga, something changed in your mind so you felt better. Yoga people should talk sensibly and talk in a way that makes sense to people in the medical professions because medical professions are only interested in solutions. Whatever helps the person’s mind will help the Person. Whatever doesn’t help the person’s mind will not help the person. It may be asana, it could be meditation, whatever it is.

Q: So the mind comes first?

D: Yes. We have to be aware… this person has certain situations, I should know them (as a teacher). What is the definition of Yoga? It is “state of mind.” My father, at 100 years of age, was not able to do asana, but he was so serene because he had his own yoga practice. On the day we honored him, he recited “Om” for 55 seconds. So, there were strengths to his discipline.

Some people take things lightly and some people take things very seriously. You have to look at the person in totality. If you want to talk about transformation, transformation is not reading a book and picking some asana and doing them. It’s not fair to the person, it’s not fair to the art, it’s not fair to the art, it’s not fair to the science. We have seen so many people with problems at the Centre. We have the data of 35,000 people. You will find the approach to each is so different. A most important factor to mention is their trust in what we are giving them, their personal discipline and their trust in the teacher which have also contributed to their wellness.

Q: When they come to you, they tell you how they feel, and what’s wrong with them?

D: We have a procedure. We have trained people how to look at those who come to us, not just now to do asana. We have a system so that when a person arrives they’re briefed. Then a senior teacher looks at them, collects some data and makes their own assessment. When necessary, they may ask me for help. Then it is decided which teacher would make the best connection with that person. We discuss with that teacher what she/he should to teach this patient and we offer some feedback on how they can adapt the practices. It’s not a ready made “prescription”. Every week, the student comes back after practicing for 5 or 6 days and we make a review. Based on that review, we go to the next step. We work every day except Sunday. We do have some doctors on call and know what is our limit. We never promise to cure… we only say “try”. The most important thing is one’s attitude to what we offer. One must make a decision that one will practice.

Q: What do you think of the term “ViniYoga” which people use to describe your style?

D: I think they should destroy this word ViniYoga! The word ViniYoga means know the person, then after decide what you are able to do, then go step by step. There is no style. The word “ViniYoga” has destroyed the philosophy of the symbolism of ViniYoga. It is a typical system. In India, they talk about Ayurveda. There’s no such word in the ancient text. It’s a branding. It’s an identification. I’am sorry, but they’ve destroyed the spirit of ViniYoga by using the word ViniYoga.

Q :What if people started calling it Desikachar Yoga? Would that ruin it because you suddenly have a label?

D : It is really murdering - they are murdering my spirit! What I have received is form my teacher (T. Krishnamacharya), and what he received is from his teacher. There is a lineage of more than 2000 years. How can they label this Desikachar? They are murdering me because they are murdering my teacher.

Q : If they named it after your father (T. Krishnamacharya) that wouldn’t be good either?

D :No, my father would be in tears. Whatever he invented, he never said he invented it. I know that he innovated things, but he would never say “it is mine”. That is the Indian philosophy of humility and respect for the teacher. They always would say, “my teacher taught this to me.”

Q: So you would be appalled if people called you their guru?

D: I would not be appalled. I have no comments to make, because I cannot stop people from doing what they want!

Q: Did you adapt anything your father taught you at all?

A: Yes, adaptation is a necessity. I speak in English. My father taught me in Sanskrit. So there’s already been an adaptation. Culture has changed. It is not an adaptation because I want to adapt. It is a necessity.

Q: What is your dream for the new century of yoga?

D: Many years ago one of my students asked me ‘What is Yoga?’ And I went to my father, and asked him what was the right definition. My father said, ‘Tell him yoga means ‘shanti’, peace.’ How to offer this great gift-timeless gift-to this World? These is so much technology, there’s so much advancement in science and medicine and all that, and yet people are not very happy. How can Yoga serve the community so that there is more peace? This is a great lesson. The US is the richest and most powerful country in the world. People are scared to walk, to talk, even to look at people. In Denver, 100 people came to our conference, and they felt healed. That was such an experience for me. Anybody who is interested in this, can add one drop of water to this Healing process. This would make me a very happy person. Wealth, power, does not give happiness and peace. A heart to heart connection, as introduced through Yoga, offers this. This is my dream.

I’ll give a very important example, what I discovered in Tibet. In one small village where we were, there were many poor people who often only had the set of clothes they stood up in. I don’t know what they eat in winter. But they have such strength. There was a little girl and we gave her a small photo of the Dalai Lama. She became almost an enlightened person. She smiled. Her feet were dirty, her clothes were dirty. That was inner strength. For that person, that small photo made her a different person. So we have an inner strength, and I think Yoga helps us discover this. It is not technique that gives it. We can be next to a great spiritual person, and we are not peaceful? These people are in Tibet where they’re not sure what will happen tomorrow, there’s always tension because of China, but in these small villages, they’re so soft. It is not easy, but they have strength. This is what I discovered in Tibet. Each of us have an inner strength which you cannot buy. It is priceless. But somehow we los it because of our temptation and what happens from the outside.


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