This book is definitely going to be of interest for you if you would like to know more about the beginning of the journey of „Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga“ from its origin in Mysore (today Mysuru) in India to the entire world. It is mainly thanks to this book’s author, David Williams, that Ashtanga Yoga managed to make the first big step on this big journey, the step into the United States.
You will have to be patient: the encounter between David Williams and Patthabi Jois, the creator of this yoga style, is only described towards the beginning of the second half of the book, in chapter 81 of 170 chapters (David is using short chapters for segmenting the text instead of page numbers).
David describes his intensive search for „yoga“ at the beginning of the 1970s – and how he in the end manages to find his yoga.
His search results in two overland trips from Europe to India, to ashrams, to gurus, saints, and like-to-be-gurus. His description of the overland trips via small buses from Istanbul to New Dehli with a colorful company of hippies is most interesting.
On his first trip, after many trials and tribulations across India, he ends up with a guru for Hatha Yoga, in Pondicherry in the south east of India, in Tamil Nadu. This guru will disappoint him in the end. Nonetheless, during his stay there, he witnesses a yoga demonstration by two young yogis travelling through. The advanced asanas that they show impress him so much that he absolutely wants to learn this style.
After being asked where in India David could learn this form of yoga, one of the two travelling yogis answers: “I learnt from my father. He is a yoga master in Mysore.“ Thus, in March 1972, David hears for the first time about Patthabi Jois, from the mouth of the eldest son, Manju Jois. Manju is uncertain whether Patthabi Jois would teach David: “My father doesn’t have any foreign students. He doesn’t know English. You can try though.“
Picture with kind permission of David Williams, from his book “My search for Yoga”, chapter 82
The story has a happy end – for David and for the many who during the almost 50 years since then became happy practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga (and some of them also teachers). David makes it to Mysore on his second trip to India, Patthabi Jois accepts him (and Nancy Gilgoff, his companion on that trip) as students, and Nancy and David also start teaching Ashtanga Yoga, initially in California and later on Hawai’i. Patthabi Jois even starts making trips to the US to teach, and his son Manju decides (against Patthabi Jois’s wish) to stay in the US and in this way contributes enormously to spreading Ashtanga Yoga there.
The book ends in 1977. By then David has learnt all series of Ashtanga Yoga from Patthabi Jois. This had been his goal, because he was afraid that they would be lost otherwise, as at that time nobody was practicing beyond 2nd series.
David’s writing is unbelievably personal, and with such detail that I am very impressed. Maybe he kept a diary.
He also addresses critical issues: the danger of adjustments, his doubts if one really should always start the lotus pose with the right foot, the risk of putting the guru on a pedestal, and tragic events, also within the Jois’ family.
He shares many pictures from back then: Patthabi Jois with his family, Sharath at the sweet age of 2, and also the original sequence of the Ashtanga asanas, as Patthjabi Jois taught them in the early 1970s.
The book is very nicely designed. It is not cheap – currently US$ 93 without postage, which for one book adds another US$ 75 for sending it from Hawai’i (it took three months to reach me, of which the time within Hawai’i was the lengthiest). Three copies make it cheaper per copy, since postage is the same for sending one or three books.
“My search for yoga“ is really something for lovers of Ashtanga (and of books on Ashtanga). If you belong to that group, you will definitely enjoy it.
If you would like to order one or several, get directly in touch with David, by this email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find his website here.