It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes on John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar
1. Structural Flaws Mirror Interpersonal Flaws
When the Anusara scandal broke, I suggested that a structural flaw in mass-market yoga was as much to blame for the community’s implosion as John Friend’s shreenis. Namely: a homeless, credit-card-and-air-miles-dependent “movement” built on a mostly-fictional spirituality will probably incubate many thin, dishonest, celebrity-heavy, mutually-enabling, power-distorted, ungrounded, woo-woo relationships. I argued that Friend created the perfect mirage to cover for his shadows and sins: a transnational brand of universalist sentimentality so thick with the jargon of Shringlish that his top shareholders lost their ability to speak truth to power.
We can judge the personal shadows and sins as we must, and call for justice as we should. But as we consider the larger themes of yoga culture and pedagogy I believe we also have to pay attention to is how these shadows calcify into the social structures that then protect them. I think we can agree: we really want to stop creating yoga schools that purport to teach yoga when their corporate and spiritual bureaucracies force them to do the exact opposite.
We want to stop it in Encinitas, but equally in Chennai. Because now it is even more clear that corrupt yoga community is not simply the specialty of late-capitalist yogis, who have been accused of both appropriation and shameless invention, and who, because they lack “grounding in the tradition” are presumed to be ripe for scandal. Dysfunctional community is also to be found at the acclaimed root of the modern global yoga tree. Recent allegations against Kausthub Desikachar have enveloped the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) and Kausthub’s affiliated venture, Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (KHYF), in scandal. It smells like the Anusara situation, notwithstanding the fact that the two organizations run on opposing meme-sets (neo-Tantric , and neo-ascetic) and have built their marketing on differing modes of celebrity (the self-made man, and the genetic heir). To me, both of these corporate yoga models are dysfunctional, and if we look at them clearly, we can envision something more real.
At least five women have accused Kausthub Desikachar of emotional abuse and sexual harassment. The details are out via this letter from KYM insider Sriram, and they are nauseating. I encourage you to read them to appreciate some of the analysis that follows. He stands accused of psychological intimidation, spiritual bullying, humiliating his students sexually in group settings, subjecting female students to bogus “granthi” massages, promising to endow them with special powers through intercourse, and of course demanding silence and secrecy from his victims. Rumours abound that the number of his victims are much higher. Reports have been filed with the police in Austria.
I am sure that other very painful stories will emerge over time. The elements are achingly familiar: systemic sexism, vulnerable students seeking psychological validation, magical thinking, a self-deluded, developmentally stunted and perhaps sociopathic teacher abusing his power in the hotel rooms of his ennui. What we’ll have to dig for is the murkier but critical social story of Kausthub’s enablers, from his associates at KYM and KHYF, to his American and European hosts and champions, all the way up to his father, the venerable T.K.V. Desikachar, son of the late T. Krishnamacharya.
Inquiring into T.K.V.’s possible enabling role at this point will be very uncomfortable. The man is in declining health. As we can see from Sriram’s public letter, his students will now feel compelled to protect his sanctity and legacy, upon which many of their own reputations are surely hinged.
But the question must be asked: is everything in order at the top? It seems that as far back as 2007, key figures in KYM/KHYF were complaining loudly about Kausthub’s predation, and their voices were either unheard or silenced. V. Saraswathi hand-delivered a letter to T.K.V. on July 24th, 2007, detailing Kausthub’s abusiveness and misogyny going back for more than a decade at that point. What is so painful about her appeal is that it is being made to the man who is perhaps his primary enabler:
But there comes a point when the very teachings and practices you have empowered us with have woken us up from a very deep slumber… Many people in this tradition, just like me, have woken up to a very harsh reality – in the form of your prodigal son. This may also be your wake-up call.
A. Ranganathan, a long-term student of T.K.V., writes:
It hurts me that Sri. Desikachar, a stickler for discipline and ethical behaviour among his students and teachers, turned a blind eye to his own son’s unpardonable misdemeanors.
We don’t know if these charges of negligence are true. KYM/KHYM should be responding to them transparently, and quickly. But so far, key players seem to be ducking for cover. The first thing that’s happening is that the non-profit parent organization, KYM, is trying to sever ties with the for-profit “son”, KHYM. Sriram calls, in fact, for a boycott of all KHYM activities, and – presumably – its affiliated teachers. A former student of Kausthub, Scott Rennie, has decried the unfairness of this action, describing how the two organizations have long-term financial ties, and that the programming activities of the Kausthub-led KHYM have recently been a substantial portion of KYM’s income, to the point of having paid in full for their new building in Chennai. Indeed, KHYM lists T.K.V. Desikachar as one of its founders and a head faculty member. And in light of the breaking scandal, T.K.V. and his wife Menaka have resumed proprietorship over KHYM. On November 6th, they are scheduled to preside over an “Evening of Healing”, during which they will offer Vedic chants for the community far and wide. From the outside, it certainly looks like Kausthub has never fallen far from the tree: his organization is being reabsorbed even as he is being isolated. Which calls into question the 10/19 statement of KYM Managing Trustee Dr. Latha Satish, who writes: “The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram has never had and never will have any involvement with any activities of the KHYF.” A key objective of Satish seems clear as he closes his letter, “As always we seek your continued support and patronage.”
I don’t imagine amputating Kausthub will be easy, nor should it be. As with the Anusara episode, we are seeing at KYM/KHYF a corporate yoga structure that seems to have allowed a terribly wounded and insincere person to hold power for over a decade over those who seek healing and sincerity. As the curtains are drawn back, both scandals raise profound questions about who is given authority in yoga culture, how we form learning relationships, how we project our yearning onto idols, how we nurture intimacy, and where we consider the heart of our practice to lie. It’s becoming clear that neither fly-by-night showmen nor the patriarchs of tradition offer functional and transparent leadership for our new yoga culture. It’s becoming clear that neither the entrepreneurial model of Friend nor the dynastic model of the Desikachar family can form equitable and democratic community. It’s also becoming clear that often when we chase a hyper-spiritual dream, we deepen our evolutionary sleep. We have to find another model. I don’t think we have a lot of time before the entirety of yoga culture becomes a pop-culture punch-line.
2. Pain and Confusion as a Community Unravels
I want to be very clear that in my analysis of both situations I am not implying that meaningful connections and lifelong learning can’t or didn’t take place on the kula-bus or over chai in Chennai — or, indeed, within the context of yoga instruction. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of students have benefited greatly from the tools and networking that both Anusara and KYM/KHYF have offered through the years. This makes the story all the more complex and painful. My critique is aimed at the cultural frameworks of ungrounded celebrity-worship (in John Friend’s case) and corrupt hierarchy (in the case of KYM/KHYF), and how these both squander the true potential of yoga community. I hope to shed light on why we’re attracted to these structures, what we can do to force them to change, and how we can turn our attention elsewhere.
I want to acknowledge that one of the most difficult things that happens when a scandal like this breaks and challenges the integrity of an institution like KYM/KHYF is that many people who enjoyed their learning experience with the organization and benefited from it suddenly feel polluted and defrauded, as though the abuses they were unaware of at the time now somehow invalidate their own personal narratives. For those of you who feel this way – and especially those who are currently enrolled in the now-paused KHYF programmes in Austria, Estonia, and elsewhere – I hope that you can take comfort in the notion that the goodness of your learning experience speaks mostly, if not completely, to the integrity that you brought to it.
I also want to be clear that as I critique KYM/KHYF, I am doing so from an outsider’s perspective, which means that I am analyzing how the organization presents itself to the public, the commonly available documents that expose the scandal, and also presenting insights from conversations I’ve had with those who have been affiliated with KYM/KHYF over the years. I have never met any of the principles involved, and I bear no one ill will on a personal level. This makes this article a political act, aligned with the commonly accepted practice in modern democracies to analyze and critique public figures and institutions from afar.
I’m including this quasi-disclaimer because in my experience so far I’ve found we’re still trying to get comfortable with open critical discourse of our leaders and institutions in modern yoga and mindfulness culture. In response to two instances of my criticism – writing about Anusara and exposing the deadly corruption at the heart of Michael Roach’s neo-Buddhist cult – I have received hundreds of emails from devotees accusing me of interference or malice or jealousy or even blasphemy, because, I believe, they are intensely hurt by the revelations and do not know where to direct their anger.
So where is this “afar” from which my observations come? I’m a community builder in Toronto yoga culture. My practice has been honed in India, the U.S., and Canada. I am a non-denominational practitioner fascinated most by the integrative embodiment strategies that yoga has to offer, and how they intersect with somatic psychotherapy and neuroscience. I care little for yoga metaphysics and less for gurus. I am compelled to write about KYM/KHYF because I am a shareholder in the broader yoga tradition and have a deep interest in how it can become a globally relevant culture. And when something as bad as this happens, I have to act.
On a personal note, I also have to act because my own baby boy was born just this week, and something in me aches for the tangle that T.K.V. and Kausthub are in. I wish them transparency and healing, and I week for father-son relationships worldwide.
Being primarily a North American yogi also means that I cannot speak to the politics of KYM/KHYF from an Indian point of view. Having spent some time in India, I know that KYM/KHYF is embedded within a web of cultural influences that I will never fully understand. I hope that my postmodern and North American critique inspires something equal from an Indian counterpart, who can speak to the meaning and position of KYM/KHY within Indian yoga culture particularly, and Indian culture generally.
3. Resorts and Ashrams, Vacations and Pilgrimmages: Where Shall We Find Yoga?
As I described last winter, the Anusara situation presented a kind of systemic vata derangement with regard to relationship, intimacy, and home. Too much air and wind element, too much wandering-lust, too many qualified elders bailing out of the tour bus, too many householders borrowing against their homes for yoga vacays with John, too many DVDs, too many breathless people opening their unboundaried hearts at too many eco-resorts. The violations of Kausthub and the so-far hunkered-down responses by KYM/KHYF, by contrast, seem to have the sticky coating of excess kapha. Entrenchment disguised as stability. Stunted infantile sexuality. Self-satisfaction disguised as authority. Possessiveness over teachings disguised as “lineage purity”.
Constitutional imbalances aside, both organizations project the same distortion: yoga as an exoticism to be purchased in a place more hallowed than your hometown. There are differences, but I believe each system leads us away from our hometowns and existential facts. Friend hawked the pseudo-Tantra of “follow the Shri”, while KYM/KHYF promotes the throwback transcendentalism of Patanjali. Friend was always a little more accessible in the “manifesting abundance” department, offering a liberal distribution network: he vended in conference centers and wellness destinations, and assessed his students by video. The Desikachars, by contrast, have leveraged their exoticism through an opposite, scarcity model: you have to make a pilgrimage to their home to get the goods. In a way, Kausthub has bridged the two models with his travelling training show, but the umbilicus of his authority reaches back to Chennai.
Here’s my main point: between the junkets to Shringri-la and the devotional pilgrimage to the feet of teachers upon which we project our unintegrated wishes, I believe our daily experience, local resources, and workaday lives – which is where our yoga is really found and learned in the end – are vastly undervalued. Our studio newsletters and yoga magazines are filled with advertisements for places that are anywhere-but-here.
Why not just stay home and build grounded communities, rather than corporate satellites for cultures not our own? Is it too plain-Jane? Too every-day? What is this star-dust in our eyes?
4. Assessing the Memes and Products of Corporate Yoga
I’ve gleaned certain things from the opposing memes of Anusara and KYM through the years. The pilgrimage to KYM seems heavier in tone and commitment than zipping up to Denver to Blow Your Mind™. Those I know who have gone to Chennai speak of their trips in low voices, using few particulars. They use the word “authentic” a lot. They take their time with their words, cloaking what they have learned with caution and humility. This is in stark contrast to the barkers of Shringlish, who couldn’t seem to refrain from bullying everyone with the presumed divinity of everything. They’ve recently gone quiet, thankfully.
The KYM/KHYF product seems to be framed by the journey to KYM/KHYF, a pilgrimage to make contact with the body of the son of the father who lived there once: T.K.V. is the lineage-holder of a kind of cryogenized shaktipat. I imagine he has needed to hold this power close, because he offers no easily-extractable method, as does Friend. You can’t boil yoga therapy down into UPA-style sound-bites, sellable in 20-hour doses in Puerto Vallarta. Yoga therapy demands the touch of a master so intuitive and specialized, it cannot be packaged. You have to sit at his feet for years to learn how to do it. It’s so very complex, you might just have to be his very son to understand it, inherit it, to own it, and to pass it on.
The Anusara product offered a lot of excellent instruction, but seemed to stake out its financial position through a kind of grandiose self-validation scheme, available to everyone who could pay to play. The KYM/KHYF product is subtler and richer, projecting a hushed sanctimony, and available to those willing to devote themselves to months per year in India, and a lifetime in the master’s shadow. On the Anusara side we have a product that shareholders are eager to divorce from its disgraced inventor. They can afford to dispense with Friend, because they can divide his product from his charisma. But on the KYM/KHYF side we see a product that is intrinsic to the master’s DNA. If T.K.V. is found conclusively to have sheltered his son from ethical scrutiny, what would be left of the organization he has built upon his character and his family name? He seems to have delegated relatively little substantial authority, except to his son. Even one of his most prominent Western students, Gary Kraftsow, was forced by some behind-the-curtain intellectual property-rights battle to rebrand his teaching syllabus as “American Viniyoga”. “American”, as in: “parts of it came from somewhere else, but now it’s mostly my own thing.” The message seems to be that real viniyoga remains safe within the Krishnamacharya gene pool, although they no longer even use the word “viniyoga”. The deeper message? Genes trump knowledge? This is sure to backfire when the genes begin to deviate.
5. In the Shadow of the Fathers
I’ve thought for a while that the global attraction to a place like KYM/KHYF is in part an attraction to the same paternalism that now factors heavily in its troubles. Perhaps our drive to follow the son of the father of modern yoga, and then the son of the son, reflects our chronic need for a protective “authentic connection” to the “source”. Perhaps KYM/KHYF is a popular self-transformation destination in part because it serves up yoga with a sheen of that paternal certainty for which postmoderns are unconsciously nostalgic. See the tintype portraits in the hallways. Dream of being adopted into this venerable caste. Dream of approval, of being at the centre of things, of the benediction-pat on the head.
But seriously: who believes that father-son dynasties are altogether healthy? I look at those pictures of T.K.V. sweating through asanas under the “eagle eyes” of his father and wonder: Did you really choose this? And your son – did he choose it too? Or are we seeing in you guys a chain of demands, and the anxiety of influence? I remember the story of Krishnamacharya snapping both of young Bellur Iyengar’s hamstrings to force him into hanumanasana to show off for visiting dignitaries. How imperious might he have been with his own son? It is clear that Mr. Iyengar has gone on to injure some if not many of his own students. Aadil Palkhivala stood in front of a room I was in a decade ago and smiled as he regaled us with the story of how B.K.S. humiliated him by commanding him to perform handstand for an hour in front of the group. “I couldn’t lift my arms for six months afterwards!” he laughed, which is what men do when they don’t know how else to process the absurd violence committed upon them. (They also laugh in deference when they are still scared.)
Elder male/younger male – not to mention father-son – dynamics are complex enough without adding in the spectacle of a public family business built upon spiritual exceptionalism. Anyone with a shred of basic psychoanalysis on board can see that T.K.V. stepped into a long shadow when he donned his father’s dhoti. And I imagine that if we scratch the surface of any of these first families of modern yoga we will see – as we do in every family and every culture – strong evidence of transgenerational cycles of violence and repression. Or do we think it’s somehow all simpler and more benign because it’s Indian?
6. Infantile-Aggressive Sexuality
One of the strangest themes in the allegations against Kausthub is his apparent aggressive sexual infantilism: enshrouded in magical thinking, enraged frustration, intense guilt and slut-shaming. These are accounts of a child-man playing sadistic doctor: pressing marma points with enough force to send one woman into convulsions, slapping buttocks and poking breasts, creating public scenes of icky innuendo, and assaulting female students with full-tongue kisses and potty-mouthed epithets. This is not John Friend’s schmaltz of multiple smooth-talking seductions and sophisticated lying that kept women waiting for him in supta baddha konasana in every port-of-call. Although it seems like Friend’s neo-Tantric sexuality couldn’t just be sex either – it had to be “therapy”, involving the very well-known and double-blind-tested procedure of “urethral-pouch massage”, for example. Or it had to “raise energy” for the coming global Shreevolution. It could be anything except intimate.
If the allegations against Kausthub are true, we’re seeing something much darker in Chennai. I’ll read it, hypothetically, through Freud:
Kausthub seems to present a sexuality arrested at a pre-Oedipal stage in which the child-man has been wrenched from the maternal sphere to be disciplined into the patriarchal path, and is now turning to women to beg for attention and validation as he tries to overcome his father’s power. But he unconsciously hates women, projecting onto every one he meets the image of the mother who seemed to abandon him. He digs deep into the misogyny of patriarchy, and runs with it: women are troubled, they are sick and degraded, they are possessed – and the fact that they do not yield to him proves their pathology. He pokes them, prods them, punishes them and slaps them like an overgrown toddler. This is straight-up limbic brain sexuality, murky and aggressing. It fears castration. It’s neither procreative, nor self-confident, nor joy-seeking. It is overwhelmed with a BPD-like terror of abandonment. It attempts to impersonate the power of his patrilineage: he told one woman that having sex with him would heal her, because he would let her hold Krishnamacharya’s ring during intercourse. It is the gross amplification of the sick and fearful tremor that many boys feel on the terrible threshold of autonomy and sexual action, and which he has not been allowed to resolve.
The tremor will deepen to the extent that a boy has been force-fed the psychological splitting of a sex-shaming and body-digusted tradition. Should we really be surprised at the shadow-explosions of a man like Kausthub, given his spiritual heritage? Given that T.V.K. and KYM/KHYF have taken their neo-ascetic reading of Patanjali as their root scripture, which says “By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies” (2.40, translation by Sacchidananda)? Or given that all Krishnamacharya would say about the sexual practices of the 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was that they were “dirty”, and “improper”? Or given that A.G. Mohan, Krishnamacharya’s other senior student beside T.V.K., is still giving Victorian-era tsk-tsk-ing lectures on how “Spirituality and Sexuality are Diametrically Opposed”? What are we to expect, amidst this much repression? A man-child with urges that disgust him throwing himself at women who both disgust him and whom he must objectify, all in the shadow of a father who unconsciously humiliates him with his virtue, fame, and sublimated virility.
7. Boycotting Guru Culture
I say: let’s help KYM/KHYF close up shop for a few years and do their family/communal therapy in private. When they re-open, it should be with a revamped Board of Directors in which less than a third of the members are direct students of T.K.V. Desikachar. Administration and devotion shouldn’t mix. When they do, decisions benefit internal delusions more than the common good.
Let us encourage senior KYM/KHYF teachers to make full disclosure of what they knew about Kausthub’s behaviour, when they knew it, what they did to address it, and what they saw others do to enable it. How can they remain qualified as teachers of yoga therapy without this step?
Let’s request that KYM/KHYF refund 100% of the course fees of any current trainings with Kausthub that have been suspended because of the legal action — including for portions of courses that have already been completed. Interim KHYF director Anupama Das has already tried to head off this obviously-ethical move at the pass by declaring that in one current but unfinished programme, “intangible knowledge has already been transferred”, and that discussion of refunding would acknowledge guilt. I would argue that the best-faith gesture KHYF could make would be to refund immediately to show willingness to restore confidence amongst the student body. They should also suspend their tasteless request for membership renewal monies. It is precisely this kind of bureaucratic arrogance that amplifies the interpersonal arrogance of which Kausthub is accused.
Let’s go further, and request that if any former students of Kausthub now feel that their certifications are invalid, that their fees be reimbursed.
Let’s request that KYM/KHYF offer to hire independent, qualified therapists/counselors to meet with anyone who has been in a programme with Kausthub if they apply. These counselors should be fluent in therapeutic languages outside of the language of yoga therapy, which I’m sure has been gutted of integrity for many of these students. The last thing they need is someone “correctly” massaging their granthis or re-tuning their cakras.
These are ethical no-brainers as far as KYM/KHYF is concerned. But the global yoga community can do even better than this, and take this terrible opportunity to show that we can actively take care of our own, while carving out new models of relationship.
Let’s take up a collection – maybe launch a Kickstarter campaign? – to help the victims with their legal costs and to finance those students who desire to complete their training, covering their travel expenses, etc. This recovery-training should take place with another organization, i.e., one that has not lost their trust. Perhaps another yoga therapy institute would consider organizing a special training period for those who wish to continue. Perhaps the students might ask Mr. Kraftsow if he is available. Let us also ask the associate-teachers of KYM/KHYF — especially those who distanced themselves from the organization based on suspicions they were not able to confirm at the time — to provide active support and mentorship for those who are now trying to “exit”.
And in the meantime, the rest of us can stop fetishizing the perfect and the exotic. Sriram’s letter calls for a boycott of Kausthub’s activities in order to sever him from the fathership. I say: let’s boycott guru culture altogether, because it’s not working. While we’re at it, let’s stop being bamboozled by charisma, and let’s give up on the tyranny of the “authentic”, because it should be clear by now that everyone is creating something. Yoga culture is growing because we’re making stuff up, for better or for worse. Adventurous teachers are creating dance-asana hybrids. Hatha and mindfulness are cross-pollinating. The Desikachars have created a family dynasty out of a name and a disparate array of practices. John Friend created Shringri-la. Creativity isn’t the issue. Motivation is. Transparency is. Developmental maturity is. (I don’t care who your guru is — if he hasn’t gone through some kind of psychotherapy because he’s too special or famous, he’s probably got a pile of unexamined shit in his closet, and he’ll look for any opportunity to dump it onto you.)
Things might be simpler if we just ditched the language of lineage altogether. Honestly: there are no real “lineages” in modern yoga. There are movements, art forms, brands, celebrities, and memes. Ideas float, combine, change, and disappear. Irony: Krishnamacharya himself was a syncretist, a bricoleur – sewing together a tapestry of Vedic, Tantric, and Hatha influences, collecting techniques from Lanka to the Himalayas. Who was around in his day to crown him “authentic”? He did then what we’re doing now – weaving together the tools that make sense to us in our own time, regardless of where they come from. He opened a bunch of old boxes and put a bunch of stuff together in a creative way. Assuming he nailed the whole thing down and passed it on completely to his son is like thinking John Lennon mastered music and then mind-melded all his talent into Sean. In what other sphere would we imagine that a son had osmotically absorbed the grace of his father, other than one so rife with magical thinking and totemism?
At the nitty gritty level, boycotting guru culture means looking at the ways in which we’re seduced by an over-determined notion of “teacher”. A regular and useful teacher of yoga is just somebody with good manners and a few good tools for self-inquiry they can show you in an encouraging way. You learn with them until you more or less get what they have to offer. But in the process you’ll make it into your own thing, because what’s worked for them can’t ever completely work for you. When you’re bored you’ll move on to someone who has a different focus. No teacher can give us everything we need: expecting them to is a psychologically immature refusal to accept the always-incomplete nature of the growth process.
8. Where the Real Teachers Are
It’s taken me a bunch of years to wipe the star-dust out of my eyes, but now I have a good sense of where the real teaching is. If you live in a city of a million or so, I guarantee you there are at least a dozen teachers who have been instructing asana and breathwork and meditation in relative obscurity for fifteen years or more. They began in the mid-nineties or before, when YTT programmes were few and far between. Maybe they took one, maybe they didn’t. They learned what they could from whomever they met, and did a lot of work at home. They stopped spending their money on the big conferences a decade ago. Some have traveled to India for ashram retreats, and some have road-tripped through the mid-sized towns visiting the older teachers who also work in low-overhead, quiet studios: mentors like Francois Raoult in Rochester, or Kim Schwartz in Albuquerque, Erich Schiffman in Ojai, or Angela Farmer wherever she shows up. They’ve practiced consistently and read and digested many of the key books. They’ve been teaching and learning and serving, largely on their own, mostly unrecognized.
But most importantly, our best not-famous teachers been living their normal lives: giving birth, raising children, paying taxes, voting, getting injured and recovering, working out sexual issues, staying put most of the time, sitting on PTA boards, getting married, getting divorced, celebrating anniversaries, getting foreclosed on, feeling tired, getting cancer, opening something new, undergoing chemo, doubting what they do, going into remission, and loving what they do, relapsing, crying in the dressing room after class. Their yoga is practical and bling-free, it’s not jacked up on power dynamics or heavy paternal pressures. Or if it was, they got over it. They know just enough to show you just enough for you to find your path. They are good-enough. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage or learn Hindi to learn from them. They are just like you, only a little older. You can see into their lives plainly. You’ll never amplify their flaws into social crises, because you reflect each other’s commonness too closely.
O precious teacher! Precious, precious teacher – humble and good, kind and normal – however shall we find you? I’ll tell you how. It’s dead easy.
Go to any class at any yoga studio. Approach the teacher after rolling up your mat. Ask them “Who are your favourite well-rounded senior teachers in this town?” They will give you three-odd names. If they all work at that same studio, press for two more names. If they’re all under 40, press for two more. Make a commitment to yourself to go to each of the named teacher’s classes in the following months. You will definitely find somebody you resonate with. Someone who is good enough to simply start you on your own path of inquiry, which is all you really need. They won’t be perfect, and they know it, and that’s good. They can’t give you everything. Some day you’ll move on.
Forget heart-openers on the beach in Costa Rica. Forget prostrations in Chennai.
We need to learn from someone like ourselves, right where we stand.
What we need is as close as we are to each other. We’re here to learn together.
Idols stand between us because we prop them up.
Falling, they will become human again, and seek healing and integrity with the rest of us.
MM….I wholeheartedly disagree with the whole “boycott guru culture”. If people are silly enough to get infatuated with asana teachers as some type of enlightened guru, then they deserve whatever they have coming as their own karmic lesson. I spent over a decade in the Iyengar lineage, but it is very clear that Iyengar is not an enlightened saint. While he may know the body better than any of us will ever know and indeed performs miraculous healing with some people and his work is a boon and I respect him- he and many of his pupils are terribly imbalanced.
With that said there ARE teachers out there sir, who do have a connection with the divine and are only interested in having you experience God. I practice under the tutelage of Shri Anandi Ma and yes her roots are deep in the soil of India ( see “This House is on Fire” for an introduction to her teacher). No she is not uber famous, does not preach big words or put on a persona, and her following is rather small because who really wants to give up their ego in the west? Who really doesn’t wan’t to come back into a body anymore? Not many of us (which is why we’re so obsessed with hatha)! But she is pure and is the real deal. Just sitting next to her can induce meditation and want to get it all straight if you have the connection. So please don’t completely dismiss the fact that real sat gurus exist, even if you haven’t had the good grace to meet them .
Thank you so much for this article. Your explanation give me lots to consider. I have never experienced the urge to blindly follow anyone anywhere yet. I do appreciate many yoga gurus and teachers as well as the work they have given to us all. I think you provoke one to pay close attention for their own sake. Keep up your good work.
This is the most honest and well written article on yoga I have ever read.
Thank you. Your voice resonates with passionate dedication to a human approach
Rather than an over guru enlightenment approach to yoga.
We share the same passion.
I trust your voice.
Interesting in that I have studied in tradition of Krishnamacharya and I did my teacher training at Kripalu. I remember when at Kripalu they addressed the “scandal” of Amrit Desai. Senior teachers didn’t go into great detail, though it appears similar to what Kausthub Desikachar is accused of. However, they did point out that Kripalu successfully transitioned from a guru/devotional organization to a basic non-profit with a board of directors, etc. My point is, it can be done.
I am reading these reflections with appetite and appreciation.
I like the question you ask of the father and son asana photo: “are we seeing in you guys a chain of demands, and the anxiety of influence?” Yes, if we freeze-frame the mythological narrative of holy father and living-spirit-carrier son, we can see them as simply and perhaps innocently (yet painfully?) guys. The anxiety of influence…I recall Mark Whitwell saying that Krishnamacharya worried that he had made himself and others miserable in pursuing his life’s goal. Which I guess was invested in him through the influence of his own revered teacher. Whitwell reports on U.G. Krishnamurti’s critique of K’s goal of “God realization”, which U.G. viewed as a huge myth/fallacy serving the construction of social power structures. Guruism being one manifestation of that, perhaps.
As much as she may be part of the guru tradition, I find Indra Devi a refreshing figure in the Krishnamacharya story. And a figure notably absent from the contemporary pantheon and narratives.
Thanks, Doug Moore
Interesting article but I must disagree with and attempt to make Desikachar an enabler of Kausthub’s behavior, whatever it was. Kausthub was a grown man when this happened and thus is responsible for his own behavior. I abused alcohol for many years, was my father an enabler? of course not, he allowed me to make my own choices as a good father does. And as Yoga and Desikachar teaches we do not tell others what not to do we give them something good to help them overcome what they see as a problem, when they ask for it. I have met and learned from Desikachar several times, is above reproach and should not be included in these allegations against Kausthub. I am amazed at the number of people who have come out and included anyone but Kausthub in these articles. The lineage is intact and is about as close to real, pure yoga as anyin this world. I have searched and looked at other “so called” lineages and found they are merely financial structures or teach a practice that may hurt certain people, certainly not in line with comfort and stability. There are of course other teachers who do this but only one real lineage in my mind, that of Krishnamacharya.
Thanks for the note John, but unless you and your father occupied key positions of power in a pedagogical establishment responsible for the well-being of its students, and your drinking was ruining the family name, the very teachings your father had entrusted to you, and the mental health of your students, I don’t think the comparison works. And I’m not “attempting” to make TKV an enabler. I’m reporting known allegations: that TKV was alerted by at least one long-term disciple in 2007 of his son’s long term sexual predation. I imagine that the limited and subjective character witness you provide for your teacher, from whom it sounds like you received a lot of good, will not console Kausthub’s victims. As far as the “one real lineage in your mind”, that sounds like a lonely place. I hope you can dismount the high horse for long enough to see how good it feels to find out just how many people in the yoga world are also doing really good work.
Thank you for your work on this. [–Needs some typo’s fixed, and some sentences have problems making complete ‘sense’. Minor stuff.]
I do ‘believe’ in shaktipat, or whatever. I’ve experienced it myself. I was completely surprised by the ‘event’.
I do ‘believe’ TKV is a yoga guru. With a capitol Y and a capitol G.
Perhaps TKV ‘out did’ his father –in some/many ways. And, –he was a good son, lol.
And I do ‘believe’ in the power of physical yoga to bring ‘awakening’ to the heart and mind/body. In and of itself. Just plain asana. When practiced with one’s breath, in the quiet early (very early) morning hours.
I do believe the ‘heritage’ of the Brahmin caste it a remarkable thing. A ‘thing’ of great beauty. For any ‘flaws’, I forgive ‘it’.
I do believe serious students of yoga are well aware of a connection to a tradition. An ‘authentic’ tradition. While Yes, I agree; the word authentic is problematic.
But the tradition of Yoga exists.
In it’s multiple forms.
Those community teachers are connected.
It’s what drew them in to begin with. Their integrity is to be connected to something bigger than themselves.
I did understand TKV being: Unwilling to do –double blind studies– while investigating the ‘results’ of yoga ‘therapy’ for various ‘complaints’.
[In that someone would be given a placebo.]
— I did understand why TKV would be unwilling to –follow the lead of science– in this way…
I hear all you are saying, and I’m not disagreeing with you.
I usually tell anyone who will listen that I don’t believe anything. And really, I don’t hold anything too close.
But I have my lived experiences. And they have been ‘profound’. Like having an hour long orgasm in my left SI joint.
I mean, some things you just can’t make up.
— And that isn’t even the shaktipat story.
Gary Kraftsow has his own stories of shaktipat.
Gary Kraftsow is going to tell any students –shunted his way– that ‘authentic’ is necessary. And authentic IS an evolving entity. Always has been.
An authentic teacher would have much to share.
It always gets back to WHO DESERVES this authentic teacher. These teachings.
This is where the shoe pinches!! This is where the pain and confusion centers.
Yes, i agree with you on TKV, anonymous.
Lineage (parampara) is an important part of Yoga, one that has been an essential part since yoga began.
I find it interesting that Gary Kraftsow asks for authentic when he has appropriated the term Viniyoga for his own use and that of his institute and this is against the teachings of Krishnamacharya, and as I have heard, his former teacher TKV Desikachar. Viniyoga is a process we all use in the lineage of Krishnamacharya and is not a noun to be used in the way Mr. Kraftsow uses it and not to be appropriated for your own wealth, fame, ego, etc. This request for authentic is quite ironic in my view, or perhaps you were being sarcastic?
Thank you for your feedback John.
It is my understanding that no one has appropriated the word ‘viniyoga’. It is a word that can be used, and what TKV understands that words are necessary. It would be preferable if yoga didn’t have style names, and this is why, on principle, TKV eschewed any direct imprimatur to the word ‘viniyoga’. It is a misunderstanding to say that TKV was ever ‘against’ the use of the word ‘viniyoga’. What TKV has always said:
“… If it is useful, then it can be used…” I believe he was talking about a western style collared shirt that he wears, even though it is ‘western’ (not Indian) it is useful. SO, TKV wears a western shirt.
Just think of the term viniyoga as a ‘western or European or whatever’ word. That is all. I see that the confusion is problematic, and needs some dialogue! I ‘hate’ it when there is ‘turmoil’ borne of misunderstanding.
No, I’m not being sarcastic.
But I do bristle at some of the sarcasm in this article. There is a ‘problem’ when discussions happen from the ‘outside’.
While I enjoy this article, it lacks ‘authenticity’. Okay, I’m being sarcastic.
HaHa. ‘kinda fun being anonymous.
Best to everyone here.
Well, I would disagree with you. Mr. Kraftsow has most certainly appropriated this word and he knows full well he has and if I am not wrong has been informed of this. His institute uses the word as a descriptive term and his students are called Viniyoga teachers, when certified. Most certainly an appropriation.
And I did not say TKV Desikachar had any problem with the use of the word “viniyoga” but in proper context,as the verb that it is, a process to teach yoga to the individual as that individual needs.
For what it’s worth, John, I believe that since this controversy, Kraftsow has been careful to qualify what he does with the descriptor “American”, as in “American Viniyoga”. But I wonder about the charge of appropriation: this incident sounds more like a teacher-student break to me. Besides, global yoga over the last 200 years has been a swirl of cultural exchange, with ideas and techniques flowing back and forth over an increasingly porous East-West divide. Nobody really owns any of these words or ideas. The problems come in when we don’t credit each other, and it seems as if Kraftsow has been very clear that he has “evolved” what he does from his learning with TKV.
No, i am not or never was a student of Gray Kraftsow’s, nor am I likely to be. As you say noone owns these words and neither does Gary Kraftsow. The problem does not lie with the use of American but the use of the term Viniyoga as proprietary as in Viniyoga Institute. And he and his students freely use this term Viniyoga with a capital letter in the middle of a sentence. He has taken the term from verb, process, to proprietary noun. Yoga terms are as they are, there has been too much of this excuse that I am evolving Yoga. As long as it is within the basic principles of Yoga fine. But this violates one of the basic precepts of Yoga, that Yoga is for all, that these terms are not ours to use as if they are. Gary Kraftsow did not invent this word, and unless I am wrong he is no longer a student of TKV Desikachar’s, does he have a teacher? And if so, why not?
It is my understanding,
–having been in teacher training with Kraftsow, at the exact time of this name/logo coming into ‘useage’ that TKV Desikachar ‘helped’ his student, Gary, to brand his yoga –with –this –term (American Viniyoga}.
The term American Viniyoga was ‘coined’ with Mr. Desikachar’s blessing.
–Now, in the UK, the fight was ‘different’. And Mr. Kauthaub was the protagonist.
I believe if there is an ‘viniyoga’ issue to beat with a lathe, it might be in Europe.
In fact, TKV Desikachar met in Seattle with Gary Kraftsow, and all of Gary’s students, while Gary flew the flag:
The name was used repeatedly during the meet up.
Nobody, least of all TKV, took issue with the term, except to say, as always, that viniyoga was another word for vinyasa krama.
I hope this settles something. In light of Mr. Kausthub Desikachars chariness over the course of years, it’s good to just say — what is what.
Well, i would suggest that your information about TKV Desikachar is innacurate. I know for a fact from a reliable source that TKV Desikachar disapproved of this. Where did you get this information from? And, anonymous, as a student of Gary Kraftsow’s did you get this from him? I would suggest that you reassess what you think to be true.
And I will say about Kausthub that, yes, these actions, allegations are quite heinous, of course. But there has been a great deal of villification about this man. I have known Kausthub for about eight years now and at heart he is a good person. Now, given that of course his actions are inexcusable in this latest matter. He has imparted many wonderful teachings to me and others but of course this one area is egregious. If there is one teaching I have gotten from TKV Desikachar, in his presence several times, is that beware of the klesas, they can rise up and bite you and they most certainly have in Kausthub’s case. Now, I am not going to go to him for teachings until I am certain that he has made amends to these women and healed himself, which could take many years. but he most certainly can do this, he has available to him the best and most committed teachers in the world. So, please can we move on with this. I would suggest sutra 1.33 for any one still troubled by this. and I would also assert that Mr. Kraftsow is also a victim of his klesas, that of asmita, ego. I suggest there is quite a bit of viparyaya (assuming one sees the situation clearly when one does not) and I may be a victim of this as well but I do have my information from a very reliable source.
Vinyasa Krama. The steps we take.
Viniyoga. The steps we take.
Basically the term means how we get from point a. to point b.c.d.e.f….
It does not strictly mean ‘yoga adapted to the individual, I’m sorry to say. This is simply a misunderstanding.
This is what happens when ‘the teacher’ has gone AWAL.
–Perhaps we have truly entered the Kali Yuga.
Or perhaps it is true, what mremski is saying. Yoga’s sun is setting…
if we don’t stop this nonsense,
This is where the teacher of yoga slaps the student!
Oops. No longer a tool in the box.
Man do I LOVE being anonymous.
Look, anonymous, before I can take you seriously at all it would be nice to have your name. And Vinyasa means to place in a special way (vi=special, nyasa=to place) so I suggest you rethink your definition of either term. I have been given these definitions by people who have studied Yoga a long time and I know their definition is correct. i would suggest you reassess what you think you know as I have said before (viparyaya again). Yoga’s sun is not setting and I am one person who will make sure this does not happen. that is why i am vigilant in revealing those who distort Yoga or assume it is theirs to change as they please.
And I am not your student and will never be, based on your comments, I have teachers who actually know what these terms mean and the proper context to use them in, i will go to them.
Look John, Why not get really mad at the:
Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India.
No7, 25th Cross St. Besant
Nagar, Chennai -600 090
Give this ‘guy’ a piece of your mind.
Nyasa means ‘to place’.
Vinyasa Krama means one foot place in front of the other.
How to get to the next point, in the proper order.
One foot in front of the other.
So. I’m sorry John. I don’t mean to say anything other than that there is misunderstanding. No way do I want slap you.
I want to be here and discuss this. I think it all needs to be talked about.
Thank you for talking with me. I mean that. We all have to heal from this.
Vinyasa is to place in a special way, if it is your feet you are placing then yes.
I checked out the Viniyoga Healing Foundation of India and the head is DR N.C. I know this man, he was the former head of Yoga Therapy at the KYM. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer, gentler, more humble man than he. He taught one of the Yoga Therapy modules i was doing with the KHYF. This man is a healer in the finest sense of the word, holds a degree in Western medicine and one in Ayurveda, brilliant and wonderful, no ego at all. I trust he knows what to do with this word and I am not concerned about Yoga in India, I am not Indian and there are enough people there to take care of things. I am concerned with Yoga in the west, as there are many people taking advantage of the term and it seems few people saying anything. I have waited to say something but when I see something I know is incorrect i point it out. I know the situation with Mr. Krafstow so I feel confident in speaking about it, I do not know the situation in India but as i said trust that Dr. N.C. is doing the right thing.
I am not mad, Gary Kraftsow matters very little if at all to me, but as I said, I will point out what I see as errors.
My point is that Dr. N.C. is using the word Viniyoga.
With a capital V. You don’t like this, or am I not understanding you?
Not only is this fellow (I’m sure he is lovely, as is Gary Kraftsow, by the way)
… this fellow using the word ‘V’iniyoga, he is using KYHF’s Other Parts!! Healing Foundation. Stealing that which isn’t his to steal??
I’m pointing out this fellows business name, because I was sure it would rankle you. Apparently your issue is with Mr. Kraftsow.
–I’m pretty sure you don’t like Gary Kraftsow because Kausthub Desikachar is grinding his axe about about the words American and viniyoga with a capital V.
Some issue with nouns vs. verbs?
That people like Gary Kraftsow matter little to you is one thing.
But John, what you see as errors are plainly your misunderstanding of the facts.
I WAS THERE in Seattle with Desikachar –while we all were with Gary –and his American Viniyoga enterprise
–as one big body of people together!
With Desikachar clearly as the head of this body!
Whatever break –may– have occurred between Gary Kraftsow and TKV Desikachar, it hadn’t happened yet. There were signs it was coming. But this appears to have been Kausthub’s doing. I have pretty good evidence for this.
You’re in Bellingham? Did you ever meet Desikachar’s student there in Bellingham?
A direct student of TKV? I’m not giving names, I’m just asking.
I note that at least one studio in the US that used to use the word viniyoga has RECENTLY purged the word from their website, and now claims to be continuing to study directly with Kausthub. This senior teacher (and studio) are not ‘waiting’ as you are. And the V. word has been banished. — I’m just ‘sayin.
Keep your eyes wide open. Ears too.
Well: Viniyoga has been trademarked now.
That explains a lot!
Association For Yoga Studies (in the UK)
-do a Google search for aYs Association for Yoga Studies
-click on the ‘about aYs’ section -to read details.
“… It was Kausthub Desikachar’s desire to disband other national organizations and to unite the whole tradition under a –world umbrella organization–
hence the formation of KHYF in 2005…”
at the same site
From the now defunct Viniyoga Britain:
“… in 2002… Desikachar… asks that students…refrain from using the word (Viniyoga)… in their publicity, or stop being his formal students…”
Personally I learned from Gary in the late 90’s that term viniyoga in any written publicity had always been discouraged –but well tolerated.
As well, we students were discouraged from using Krishnamacharya’s name –when crafting handouts or brochures.
–There was always some angst about what would be okay.
–We knew it was ‘okay’ to use the word viniyoga.
And we all did, and still do. Here –and– in Europe.
It seems that Kausthub pushed for direct severing of the term Viniyoga, in order to collect his “world umbrella organization”… and seize control of the term viniyoga.
Good for Gary.
The term viniyoga is today more properly spoken of/used this way: “the viniyoga of yoga”. As Has Always Been the Case.
All in all, Kausthub’s bullying began early, and was, by report, brutal.
A service organization would have a servicemark, not a trademark.
It is not required to secure a trademark or servicemark,
–if you can show that you are the sole user of the word or phrase.
SO, you can give yourself a TM or SM after your name, it is what it is.
Gary formally put up the name American Viniyoga Institute, LLC in 2001 (in Hawaii).
The name is administratively terminated in Hawaii as of June 5th, 2011. Non payment for many years of the 25.00 yearly fee led to termination. Near as I can see from the public documents.
I don’t see any registered trademark for American Viniyoga folks.
Why then does the AVI website have all this TM everywhere?
I see TM appear after the word phrase American Viniyoga TM, as well as seen with the lone word Viniyoga TM there on the Kraftsow website. Based in Hawaii.
Not that I grudge Gary his TM
(Transcendental Meditation, do these guys have a TM?)
Transcendental Meditation has a Trademark
(not a Servicemark, probably because they sell stuff?)
TM’s TM is followed by an R with a circle around the R. TM(R) sort of. A real live REGISTERED Trademark.
So, this cinches it. Gary Kraftsow does not have a registered trademark, but he is trademarking his brand, although at this point, his behavior is redundant and completely unnecessary? Probably not.
This is the viniyoga of trademark.
The steps one takes to feel ‘trademark secure’.
Next: Viniyoga YogaMats, The Chicken Soup of Viniyoga… Viniyoga Vin (!)
Matthew, I enjoyed another of your articles. Emic/Etic.
I have to say, I feel cured of the need for a teacher.
But I want FB friends that are like minded. I want a sanga on paper. To feel in control of my world. (!!). Hey, I’m only human.
And I have to add that the idea that the local teacher is a way forward?
I wonder about that, Matthew.
Talk about a ‘split’. Insider/Outsider.
As I mentioned early on in this call and response: WHO DESERVES the teacher and who gets the ‘deeper’ teachings.
THIS IS WHERE THE SHOE PINCHES.
This is where the pain and confusion gets kicked up into the horrible swirl.
The basic human ‘sins’ begin to infringe. Human Approbation Lust, Greed, Gluttony (couldn’t resist)… on and on.
It has been –the plan– within the Viniyoga world
(ohh, i feel like a transgressive…)
to have the –world– filled with Local Teachers.
So that we all could imbibe. It’s for ‘everybody’. Tailored. Like a straight-jacket.
The foot soldiers must all have the brand uppermost. AND the brand must not look like a brand. Stealthy. Secretive. Special.
This ‘plan’ entails the uber-teacher to suss out the talents of those that literally and figuratively –buy in– and then: Use these minions to further the ’cause’.
These ‘gifted’ teachers are groomed, and on and on.
We get it.
Soon, the sussing of talent is left to the senior minions. And on and on. Harvesting talent, and keeping it local. Local is ‘in’.
The internet allows these ‘groomed ones’ to have ‘followers’, and drop pearls of wisdom to said followers.
And inundate the follower with all manner of communications meant to create the cult-of-personality (consciously or unconsciously).
Doubt this? I can say from my own experience this is true, having watched Gary Kraftsow introduce various students to Desikachar, listing the number of people that average in that persons local yoga class! This is so-and-so, she teaches 20 classes a week and the classes average 50 students…
Because –this is what is needed to deploy the ‘plan’.
Basically, operation Viniyoga (ohh, I feel the transgressive tingle again…).
Blah Blah. I could give many examples of this ‘grooming’ behavior. All in the name of helping others to receive the ‘yoga of yoga’ product.
The hierarchy is tightly controlled. For example, now that Kausthub is ‘ill’, (but recovering nicely thank you) Other Teachers step into the void to answer any questions that need answering.
Apparently many answers go like this: “Gary Kraftsow is a greedy megalomaniac”.
The student has all answers provided from those people that are trusted to provide the correct answers. Today. These ‘trusted ones’ may get the boot (or be shown the door) -at any moment.
No book reading please, and if ‘outsiders’ attempt to communicate?
Get in touch with the hierarchy.
REPORT THIS to the authorities.
Do not, repeat, do not, assume that truth and beauty exist outside the sanctioned inner sanctum.
Especially one should be very wary when an heretic discusses the meaning/s of a word!
Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so.
It is very sad that TKV Desikachar is experiencing the effects of a degenerative brain disease. I am in the middle of this with my mother. She can fake it pretty good, but there is always the ‘tell’; the comment about losing 30lbs this week, or some such.
The mind -as it fails- is a terrible thing to witness. I feel for the family.
I believe Kausthub, in his eagerness to take the reins/reign, has blundered badly.
Yes, Evolving. This is how it has to be. It is inevitable.
I love the teachings.
I want that sweet drink.
Get that heretic out of my face!!
I have much sympathy for Matthew, and for anyone who is harmed in any abusive relationship.
“We are not the masters of all we see…”
“We are the masters of ourselves if we have enough ‘talent’ for this (measly?) task…”
Here’s the actual text sent out to all TKV’s senior students several years ago. Just for the record. Love the spirited discourse. Wish we were aloud to have more of this when we were studying with Kausthub ( I was one of the original ‘sangha’ who, collectively came up with the idea for a KHYF organization. I was also one of several who left the group in 2007 when we saw what had become of Kausthub (or what Kausthub had become). Here’s Desikachar’s email
Subject: Message to my Students Dear Friends
When I introduced the concept of Viniyoga in the late 70â€™s and early 80â€™s, I never imagined that it will replace the word â€œyogaâ€. 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 teacherâ€™s teaching, or remove my fatherâ€™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 donâ€™t have.
With Best Wishes
I recall that each of the two times I was with Desikachar, he discussed the word yoga.
— TKV saying that there was simply Yoga. Taking time to do something you don’t usually do. Following the principles of yoga with a fresh creativity.
It was interesting that the decision to have an ‘overarching KHYF’ was a group generated idea. Like to hear more details.
What was lacking?
What was the ‘problem’?
It seems like it was always thus. And we all dealt with any ‘confusion’. It was an opportunity to elucidate the principles of yoga. Whenever you mentioned that your ‘style’ of yoga was called My cousin Vinney.
An opportunity to have that conversation right off the get go.
To me, Viniyoga was a very useful ‘tool’ as a teacher. I have to consider that TKV once felt that way himself.
I think –someone– made the issue huge. That’s my educated guess.
I recall TKV making light of the word ‘problem’. He would say. There are no problems…
HaHa. Unless there is a ‘problem’.
It is great to talk.
The letter written by TKV is very straightforward. The request is clear, and heartfelt. The request means business.
Those that wouldn’t comply would be, generally speaking, very disrespectful.
However, I believe the tradition of paying dakshina was a one time deal, and maybe Gary had paid already.
The teacher gets to –tell you what to do with your life– once, as I understand it. According to tradition. Usually when the teacher sends the student out into the world. Or some such. Gary was out in the world already. He had paid his dakshina, I’ll wager.
Here is what G. Kraftsow has to say:
“…My prayer is that we avoid trivialization and dilution of this profound tradition in the well-intentioned effort to be inclusive…”
In this Yoga Journal piece, under the heading “The Yoga Innovators”, Mr. Kraftsow always uses the words –viniyoga yoga– to discuss what he is offering.
Respectful is as respectful does!
I don’t see greed/ego or whatever.
I see a man making a living and working tirelessly to share.
What his students do and say? I have to admit, I’ve seen some egotistical stuff on the web from a few Kraftsow students. But they came with those egos. They didn’t ‘get’ those egos studying with Gary K. nor from the principles of viniyoga yoga.
Honestly? Calling these offerings Viniyoga?
It’s also a way to understand what is on offer and from whom. NOT A BAD THING. Necessary in fact. For consumers.
To be FAIR:
I spent some time on the KHYF website, Using the link from a devoted follower and teacher and teacher trainer listed with KHYF.
I found that:
Mr. Kausthub has –not updated his personal profile– under the heading ‘Teacher Trainer’ listing
–under the cue ‘Finding a Trainer’.
For the record. Kauthub has not updated his teacher trainer profile.
— His child is still and infant,
— and he is still the “Chief Executive of the KYM, where he is…
— a senior teacher and yoga therapy consultant.
He is also a Patron [capital P.] of the British Wheel of Yoga and an adviser to the IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists]
Currently working on his PhD in Psychology Department University of Madras, on the role of Yoga enhancing the quality of life…”
Everyone who is involved formally with KHYF is listed in the directory,
–including even TKV Desikachar and TKV Desikachar’s wife!
Kausthub has not updated his profile to indicate any –untrue information– on HIS post.
I can see that students I know, have updated their information,
–and it is LEFT UP TO THE LISTER TO UPDATE THEIR INFO.
Kausthub has NOT UPDATED HIS PROFILE to reflect THE TRUTH.
-Kausthub is not the Chief Executive of the KYM.
-I doubt very much that he continues to be “… an adviser to the IAYT…” [!!]
Respectful is as respectful does.
Kausthub? Gets himself an Zed/F –for Honesty, –Integrity, –whatever.
The hierarchy is (obviously by the website, just spend the time and see for yourself…
–Beyond anything Mr. Kraftsow has every –levered– in his efforts to please the Machine/Beast of the about-squandered Krishnamacharya legacy.
I hate to put my name on this post.
I love many of the people on the listing!
The “umbrella organization” IS the work of a megalomaniac.
Perhaps ALL g-urus are. Even if they don’t want you to use the -g word.
For sure, this kind of –posturing– is nothing we have ever seen from
– T. Krishnamacharya
Again, Great to see this spirited discussion which can only lead to more clarity for all concerned. As I stated earlier, I was one of the original members of Kausthub’s inner circle, called ‘the Sanga’. who. collectively. came up with the idea for an organization called ‘the KHYF’ to separate those who had actually studied one on one with a teacher in the lineage and those increasing numbers of students who, upon reading ‘The Heart of Yoga, declared themselves students of Desikachar’s. I was also one of the first few to leave in 2007 when we saw what Kausthub was becoming.
What Desikachar did or did not know about his son’s behavior is still unclear, but when several of us confronted TKV with tales of his son’s misdeeds (mostly power tripping and sloppy boundaries at this point), Desikachar’s only response was, “He’s still young, please don’t abandon him, give him a chance to grow into the teacher he can become.” Many chose to stay on, but I decided that although every chef has to make a few mistakes on their way to becoming great, I personally didn’t fancy becoming a ‘burnt cookie’ while Kausthub was finding his groove.
Needless to say, things only got worse from there, (much worse).
I chose to present this original article on FB because, I think it presents some very insightful points. That said, I still disagree with the author on several key points. First and foremost, I still maintain that lineage, a relationship with the right teacher (there’s still a few of us out there) who themselves have a teacher, is the living Heart of Yoga. I believe that true accountability to their teacher is essential for a any teacher to keep them from rising to the top of their own heap.
Though John Friend clearly exemplifies the problems with the teacherless teacher, in modern Yoga culture, the list of well known (and not so well known) teachers, answerable to no one, is quite long. A relationship with a teacher also serves the important function of continually adding to and refining a teacher’s knowledge base, cheering them on when they do well, offering tech support when needed, and pointing out their blind spots (we’ve all got them), to prevent the teacher’s personal imbalances from polluting the teachings. Kausthub was my third teacher in this lineage, (after Mark Whitwell and Gary Kraftsow who I ultimately found lacking in the character traits and behaviors I could admire in a teacher.) I currently study with another teacher in the lineage and have finally found someone who ‘walks the talk’.
This unique relationship gives me the support and confidence to train teachers, educate, heal, and ultimately invite my students to link with something much larger than themselves, a traditional Yoga lineage, the timeless river of wisdom of which anyone may choose to be a part. This emphasis on lineage is, more than anything, what I feel defines T Krishnamacharya’s teachings as ‘authentic’ or ”traditional’. But hey, that’s just me. 🙂
Well said Robnonymous.
Yes, Matthew, there are lovely teachers in the world. And these lovely authentic teachers are connected in a healthy way, with a teacher who is available to them. Not a mentor, who is sub-contracted to the field in order to field questions.
At times: the mentor is ‘assigned’ to you.
Many of the disgruntled ‘teachers’ under the rubric KHYF were once Gary Kraftsow students. Why did they leave?
–Because the teacher was too busy to be a teacher, and said so,
–these folks ‘went over’ to Kausthub’s camp.
?? No wonder they have so little ‘regard’ for the ex-teacher ??
It appears that many who ‘lost’ their teacher have ‘shared’ the disappointment with their new sanga. Coloring the group dynamic?
A sanga/sangha is something other than the teacher, and can be a help.
But this mentoring isn’t the student – teacher relationship, and the bait and switch is ultimately a shell game. ( A perversion of that relationship). Never mind the rationale for mentorship. It’s a great scheme!
What is true, is that any rock-star teacher cannot have 100’s nor 1,000’s of students, and provide the kind of student – teacher relationship the ‘tradition’ speaks of.
Tradition can evolve, no doubt. But then, we can’t pretend to Have a teacher!!
One might say I might have had a ‘real’ student – teacher. Not his giant group grope.
This is my complaint. Students become the means, the money; The hierarchy simply believes that what happens to anyone is what is supposed to happen.
No worries. No foul, –even though harmed.
Meant to be. Blah Blah.
Yep. Absolutely I –can’t– see this as respecting the individual… (rationalization, rationalization, rationalization).
Yes, yes, large group teaching is efficient. And minions make the world go ’round.
Multiples. Iterations. Stamp of approval…. Registered. Tradmarked.
Let us not think that the ‘leadership’ is providing tradition/authenticity.
I think this is the problem with touting ‘authenticity’.
When you can’t have a ‘private’ with your ‘teacher’, then the notion of authenticity is bunk.
All these shell-shocked mentors.
Having to deal with the myriad ‘issues’ of scores of men-tees. Without much help. ‘Good’ soldiers are not going to complain. But things “…will come out sideways…” (to quote Mark Whitwell). When the mentor is strang-gling under the weight of it (read Kausthub).
It is safe to say that this –hierarchical set-up– puts the mentors (‘teachers’) under some stress!
What I know is happening is that the mentors (teachers) burn out. They become glassy eyed. They complain about all the calls, all the people who NEED them. Need them all the time. Pretty soon, the poor dears can’t trust anyone -to complain to.
This is a problem.
They want to turn off their computers and move to Fiji.
And there, in paradise, they find Mark Whitwell
What really happens to the senior mentors? They think –after a few years of ‘service’– that it’s time. Time for THEM to withdraw. And they go off to contemplate their navels with a great deal of self-importance (or shame) and let their ‘underlings’ handle it.
I’m confused Rob.
‘Teachers’ who read the Heart of Yoga and declared themselves students of TKV Desikachar?
Pretty rare, I’d imagine!
I don’t believe what you say –here– could have been a serious issue, necessitating a worldwide umbrella organization called KYHF.
Kraftsow already had his listings of ‘approved teachers’. Many of these students actually did study one on one with the senior teacher himself, in the tradition, with TKV Desikachar as the root teacher, along with Krishnamacharya as well. Lineage present and accounted for.
It seems obvious that Kausthub wanted such a hierarchy too.
Not to be outdone, kind of thing. And besides, this would discredit his rival Kraftsow in the race to produce ‘authentic’ students. Especially since TKV and Mr. Kraftsow were now ‘at odds’ (over the word viniyoga??).
Rob, If a few ‘teachers’ have done something like what you describe above, reading the Heart of Yoga, and then claiming to be direct students of TKV –why in the world would that lead to the idea of an umbrella organization such as KHYF?
The reasoning isn’t sound, and I think this –telling– is some fishy. I don’t believe this problem was one that would require this so-called solution.
What, Rob, were the real reasons? In retrospect.
What about all the students and teachers who study directly under A.G.Mohan and also, under Sri Ramaswami? These are authentic lineage holders, aren’t they??
— These great masters are not listed as teachers under KYHF; not listed even under the category of ‘others we like, but aren’t US’.
I’m thinking that the whole ‘lineage’ thing is the issue here.
Again the parsing of words and the meaning/s of those words.
–Lineage– (shades of viniyoga…)
It appears that Kausthub Desikachar is telling the world that only direct blood descent qualifies students to be of a ‘lineage’. That means him (and his brother and sister if they were teaching yoga.
Wives don’t count, by the by.
Now, the students of these three people, and the students of Desikachar (by default Kausthub now, and any of their offspring) …these tutored/mentored students of blood relatives of TKV (Krishnamacharya) CAN NEVER CLAIM to be Lineage! However: by the grace of the Lineage (place holder), can ‘use’ the descriptive names of the Lineage (capital L, NOUN).
Can the students claim to be ‘of the lineage’? Only if blood says so. Only if blood says so. Only if blood says so. If you take the word lineage with a capital L. The noun.
Except that this isn’t really useful. In fact, it is king like and bizarre. Given the masters who studied with Krishnamacharya, and teach teachers in the lineage in the United States and beyond!
— Since students of Krishnamacharya ARE NOT ON THE LIST.
Indian students. Who spoke the masters language, and studied with him from childhood or very young adulthood.
These men (and their wives and children) are not Lineage. And these masters are not acknowledged by KYHF as lineage holders.
So: –any students who are not DIRECTLY aligned with Kausthub and the KYHF (or KYM) are NOT AUTHENTIC TEACHERS NOR STUDENTS in/of the lineage.
There is no word for the group, only the acronym/s KYHF or KYM.
Only those who are detailed in the KYHF listing are attached to the ‘AUTHENTIC LINEAGE’. Connected to the blood of Krishnamacharya?
BUT and HOWEVER, Krishnamacharya was not related by blood to his various teachers in the distant past. Oopsadaisy.
I know! Blood Brothers!! Maybe the mixing of fluids? HaHaHa. But there is the baudy/sinister side of this kind of thinking…
If ever evolution coined a verb?
That word would have to be the verb ‘to lineage’. HaHa.
The sad part I see, is that so many senior teachers have been left no choice but to have their names on the KYHF. Or be loathed by the Lineage. Lose their sanga, so to speak. I think this is yet another form of ‘having your way’ with others, just about against their will.
Okay. That is the meaning of –parapoompa– or whatever.
I’m hesitant ‘to student’ with a Lineage holder.
Too much drama.
Takes away from the message!
Effective delivery of the Krishnamacharya/’authentic yoga’ message is a done deal? We ‘get’ it? We have many books to peruse, and a body/mind to ‘practice’ with.
What of the other blood…
What’s the story there?
Didn’t one son break with the father long ago, and moved to France to teach yoga? Isn’t another son of the father in a tight-little-world-of-the-mind? A ‘genius’ unable to really be in the world in the ‘usual’ way?
Thank you for this great read! 🙂
Matthew, I hope you are well, and I wish you all the best.
Peace and love,
Lovely to see that the signal/noise ratio here has dropped to zero. As I read the article, it certainly didn’t sound to me like it was written about whatever is happening in India or elsewhere, but it was about “community” and “governance” in western yoga. And that is an extraordinarily difficult problem, because there is neither community nor governance in western studio-based yoga. The only accountability in the system as it stands is profitability, yet people are largely looking for the kind of moral authority structures found in a Christian Church.
I find this very strange. Given the situation that exists in western yoga, Matthew’s suggestion about finding good teachers is arguably the only one that makes sense. Even more so, I would be leery of calling anyone a teacher, who didn’t have a good 7-10 years of their own, solitary, practice under their belts. Not because they could lack the skills to effectively communicate the facts of bio-mechanics or the wisdom of sages passed down to them, but because it is impossible to know the long-term effect of such without experiencing it over a long period of time.
But I digress. My deeper concern is that the notion of community that I see in most of these discussions appears to leave out what is possibly the most important component: the end practitioner. The people that come into the studio every week, but don’t spend the money to travel, or take “immersions” or “teacher trainings”. This is the level where community starts, and the modern studio system almost completely prevents it from arising. Independent teachers with pop-up classes in rented rooms actually provide more opportunity for community to develop, even though they have less stability of place, and less comfortable accommodations. Even so, at the end of the day, the only accountability is financial. (Admittedly the after-class gossip has a powerful influence on where the money flows)
I don’t really have any answers to post here (partly because of the limited space) so I am really only taking this dog out for a walk. There are some very important issues in Matthew’s article, and debating the good/bad/whatever of the latest yoga culture scandal has little to do with them.