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In loving memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “Guruji”

July 16, 1915 – May 18, 2009

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(This is a personal account of my connection with a great teacher. For a more detailed biography of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois please read Alex Medin’s very well written article about him, his life and work. Also view Barry Silver’s pictorial to music.)

By Paul Dallaghan

The first time I heard his name I thought the teacher was talking about some Irish guy called Paddy Joyce. Intrigued, being Irish myself, I caught the teacher, who happened to be Sharon Gannon, after class to ask her again about this “guru”. I then got the name right but stayed curious about who he was. In the early 1990s I lived in the East Village of Manhattan, New York City, above a young and vibrant yoga studio called Jivamukti, owned by Sharon. I had been doing some Sivananda but now could not resist but to get involved here. The yoga was “ashtanga” and jivamukti’s approach to vinyasa. Being quite devotional themselves there were always pictures up of the Gurus so I started to get to “know” Mr Jois through the photo. Little did I know.

As the years passed by I got more immersed in yoga and eventually formed a dedicated ashtanga practice, initially with Eddie in downtown Manhattan. He is very devoted and traditional so I immediately felt the strong force and influence of Guruji. That first year in the ashtanga practice started to open me up and change my practice. Ironically, it centered me and gradually reigned in all my wild energies. Naturally I had doubts and many questions along the way but was always advised to keep at it. It takes time. It must go in. For a year in the late 1990s Manju, Guruji’s son, was teaching in New York so again I was somehow drawn closer to this man.

Many times I tried to make it to India but limited funds and opportunities held me back. Then Guruji and family came to New York. Still very intrigued and respectful I was also weary of the whole Guru worship thing. As I reflected within about this I could see what he passed on to me and many others and how it strongly influenced my every day back then. My wife, then new girlfriend, Jutima, had also started the practice and I had observed how it positively affected her. Together we went to our first visit with Guruji not knowing what to do. People were bowing down and touching his feet. Never in my life had I done such a thing but I was up for it. I found myself asking inside “what am I doing?’ as I approached, offered flowers and touched. He looked at me like “eh, who are you?, eh” or at least that’s what I imagined. Somehow though the initial direct connection had been established.

Pattabhi Jois, 'Guruji'

Guruji especially loved children (with Sean Jan 05)

Soon after that first meeting I made one of fourteen trips to Mysore to study with him and family. Jutima with me. In fact by 2001 we knew our time in New York was done and wanted to be between India and Thailand. So Mysore almost became a home for us between 2001 and 2004. In that time we started Samahita Retreat and had our first son. All along we kept visiting and practicing with Guruji, Sharath and Saraswati for four to five months a year.

Pattabhi Jois, 'Guruji'

Guruji’s 90th birthday celebration.

As I look back I cherish those days without a plan and just in it. My love and respect for Guruji really grew from the time I started to practice with him in the then old shala in Lakshmipuram, Mysore. Part of my practice now had become the ritual bowing down and carefully touching his feet after savasana. I now did it with total surrender and felt good. I noticed the change just in the nerves along my spine allowing me to now freely bow down, from which before I had resisted.

Pattabhi Jois, 'Guruji'

Guruji gave me blessing to teach and eventually, when I last saw him, two years ago in 2007, certification. I am truly grateful. It has been a great and special connection. My personal experience with him was always extremely positive. He was cheerful, helpful and friendly with me. Though he always kept his space I felt he cared for me and took time to check in, just in how he said my name or tapped me on the back. As a student you had to go to him with an enquiring mind, ask and listen. Then take what you’ve heard and reflect on it. Knowing there wasn’t much time left I guess I took as many opportunities I could get to go in to that little office of his and ask him a bunch of questions.

Pattabhi Jois, 'Guruji'

New York City 2000.

In time he knew my name, a unique feat, and always loved to hold the children. My first son Sean, got to spend time with him on his stage and even sit in his big chair, courtesy of Sharath during led class. Guruji introduced Sean to the love of chocolate which exists to this very day! How could we say no as guruji pulled out the chocolate bar, broke off a square and handed it to Sean. He ate it with delight and was wired all night and kept us up. These memories always stand out for me. The last time we saw Guruji he had just recovered from being sick. We had a few private visits with him in the house and brought our new son, Dylan. As Guruji played with Dylan his whole face lit up. I thought to myself, though he may be old and time is near the end now I have never seen such a beautiful bright face. Automatically it touched my heart.

And that is what I carry from Guruji. A soft beauty in my heart as I recall him and all the different encounters coupled with a discipline and dedication to the path of yoga. To me he always expressed joy and, when needed, a fierce control. This living joy I saw as a manifestation of years in yoga practice.

Pattabhi Jois, 'Guruji'

Paul and Sean honor Guruji.

Long live his soul and the legacy of his teachings which now embrace millions all over the world, many unaware of his hard work directly affecting them over the years.

To you, Guruji, I bow down with love and respect, and wish peace and love in whatever this next stage holds.

Om Namah Sivaya

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