Parampara, Lineage and Non-Attachment in Practice

Chai Talks Lecture Notes

Thanks again to all the students who joined Lara, Michael and I for our first series of “Chai Talks” at Land Yoga!

July 9 Chai Talk with me!

Parampara, Lineage and Non-Attachment in Practice

Presented July 9, 2016

“First I want to give an overview of the lineage this yoga practice comes from, what that means and who our teachers are. And then I want to touch on the concept of non-attachment in practice and how that can be of practical and beneficial use for the long-term yoga practitioner.

I think the most interesting way to link these two is through the opening and closing chants.

The opening chant is actually a combination of parts of two different mantras, combined together and used to give thanks to all the gurus that have come before us and taught this practice, our guide to the removal of ignorance and the path towards happiness, peace and control of the mind.

Michael’s Chai Talk on Ego, May 14

The opening chant first bows to all gurus and then specifically hails Patanjali, the ancient sage who codified the Ashtanga yoga method.

Click here to read and listen to the opening chant.

As we “bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,” in the opening mantra we acknowledge that Ashtanga Yoga is taught in a paramapara lineage system. This term is an Indian concept that comes from the idea of a guru-shishya relationship which is very common in Vedic, Hindu or Buddhist studies.

Paramapara is a Sanskrit word that means a direct succession of knowledge passed from teacher to student. Literally an uninterrupted row or series, order, succession, continuation, mediation, tradition.

It’s as undiluted as possible, it’s in a pure form and therefore is most valuable because it’s based on direct and practical experience and knowledge 

Teachers of this lineage:

  1. Krishnamacharya

Click here for the book I use to learn more about this teacher.

  • born in India in 1888
  • “Father of Modern Yoga”
  • learned yoga first from his father and went on to study in Varanasi and earn many advanced degrees in yoga and vedanta
  • found his teacher in the Himalyas of Tibet: Ramamohan Bramacharya and studied with him for 7.5 years
  • King of Mysore, Wodeyer 4th was patron, he traveled giving lectures and demos
  • Opened the yogashala at the Mysore Palace 1926

2. Sri K Pattabhi Jois

  • born in India 1915
  • studied with Krishnamacharya from 1927-1953
  • established another yoga shala at the palace in Mysore
  • 1948 established Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute at his home in Lakshmipurim
  • began teaching western students in 1960’s. Moved the shala to its current home in Gokulam, Mysore in 2001.
  • came to USA in 1975, Encinitis CA
  • Book Yoga Mala 1962, published in English 1999

3. His children, Saraswati and Manju

  • Saraswati and Manju both still teach today, Manju in the US and Saraswati in India.
  • Saraswati was one of the first women to teach yoga in Mysore. She taught in a local temple and the opened a shala in her home.

4. His grandson, R. Sharath Jois

  • born in 1971
  • assisted Guruji from around age 18 until his death in 2009
  • current director of KPJAYI in Mysore India
  • Guruji’s most advanced student
  • First edition of book Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana released in 2013


What does Patanjali say? –Yoga Sutras 1.15

Patanjali says that there are two core principles upon which all of yoga is built – we know one – practice! The other non-negotible is vairagya – non-attachment.

Screen shot 2016-07-23 at 8.05.42 PM
Chai Talk with Lara on Long Term Practice, June 18

Vairagya literally means – “not getting stirred up” and is the willingness to let something arise without reacting to it.

“Practice leads you in the right direction, while non-attachment allows you to continue the inner journey without getting sidetracked into the pains and pleasures along the way.”

When we talk about dis-attaching in a yogic sense, we are really letting go of reactions towards pleasure or away from pain. So positive or negative – reacting connects us to the “me-ness” that separates us away from the universal.

Every time we soften to an experience that would otherwise cause us to react we break or habit of setting our personal consciousness apart from nature.”

This does not mean we “don’t care” about yoga or practice or the physical poses. Instead we care deeply and practice with devotion and connection but are learning to not be devastated or too excited about any of the outcomes.

The closing mantra which is a shanti mantra – a peace chant – that literally asks us to give up the fruits of our efforts and send peace to all beings.

By making this not about “me” or the “success” or “failures” physically or mentally at the end of my practice, we’re more able to connect with the true transformation yoga offers.

In order to get it we have to let it go. By dedicating to the good of all – we’re practicing non-attachment.”

Click here to read and listen to the Closing Mantra from the Rg Veda.



Eyes Open


This practice of yoga has opened my eyes. It’s been a prying open. Raw. Like you might see in a horror movie: a victim’s eyes forced wide to watch some terrible scene on a flickering television screen.

Except what I’ve seen since my eyes have been forced open is not terrible at all. It’s been scary at times, but it’s ultimately been beautiful.

I have experienced joy. Inspiration. I have felt pain.

There has been loads of doubt. Almost more doubt that I could handle at some moments.


I’ve had moments of fear and moments of peaceful calm. I have surfed from that peaceful calm to the highest of highs. I have been intoxicated with love.

It has hurt. It has felt good. It has felt comforting. Like visiting a new place for the first time and immediately feeling at home.

I have become physically stronger than I thought possible. My mind has expanded in unimaginable ways.

I have felt small. And I have found the courage to talk to God. To even say ‘God.’

Today I bow to the lotus feet of my teacher, Sharath. Remembering all of these feelings and feeling all of these memories and knowing, as he says, that

“Yoga is the greatest gift a human can receive.”


Mysore Trip Four: Yamas and Niyamas, Pillars of the Practice

Every morning I wake up, rub the sleep from my eyes, make a cup of coffee and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I start with a few hours of asana. I inhale and exhale, bending my body into different shapes and experiences, and hopefully removing some of the samskaras stuck between my joints. I try and I fail and sometime I fall flat on my face. And after the yoga rug is rolled up and the laundry is hanging out to dry, I keep trying to practice Ashtanga Yoga.

Because this yoga thing doesn’t end at the corners of my mat.

I’m attempting to allow the remnant feelings from the ritual of asana practice to spread like butter on bread throughout the rest of my day. I try to be nice. I try not to do harm. I try, through interactions with others and with myself, to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I try and I fail…

Pillars at Melukote Temple
Pillars at Melukote Temple

For the past few weeks in conference, between beautiful discussions about guru and mula bhanda, Sharath has continually brought our attention to the first two limbs: the Yamas and the Niyamas. (If you’re a Land Yoga student or following me on Instagram, you might have participated in or seen The All Eight Limbs Movement’s first few monthly focuses: the Yamas, where Lara invited us to share photos about non-violence, truth, non-stealing, energy conservation and non-greediness.)

He keeps coming back to this starting place. We can do all kinds of “yoga practices,” but if we don’t place attention on the first two limbs, the foundational pillars on which the rest of our practice is built, something big will be missing. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Recognizing my failures and seeing my efforts…

“How will you know the depth of the sea if you continue to sail around on the surface?” Sharath asks, echoing one of his favorite analogies. “You have to dive in to know the beauty of the sea. Just like this you must apply all the Yamas and Niyamas to your practice in order to experience an in depth understanding. This process won’t happen suddenly…”

Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple
Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple


The Yamas are:

Ahimsa, non-violence:

Yoga Sutras 2.35 “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-violence (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.”

Being non-violent is important. Sharath says that our asana practice creates heat and strength, but it is important not to misuse the strength! Grounding ourselves with peaceful thoughts and actions off the mat is vital.

Satya, truth:

Yoga Sutras 2.36 “As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.”

We should be true to ourselves and to others.

Asteya, non-stealing:

Yoga Sutras 2.37 “When non-stealing (asteya) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.”

Sharath reminds us that a yoga brand that steals postures to create its own yoga “style” is not practicing this yama!

Brahmacharya, celibacy or energy conservation:

Yoga Sutras 2.38 “When walking in the awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya) is firmly established, then a great strength or vitality is acquired.”

 Aparigraha, non-greediness:

Yoga Sutras 2.39 “When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”


The Niyamas are:

Shaucha, cleanliness:

Yoga Sutras 2.41 “Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.”

This applies to internal thoughts and our external environment. Asana helps to clean the internal body, but we must also do our part: keep our mat, our clothes, our home and our thoughts clean. (Also, it’s important to shower before asana practice!)

Santosha, contentment:

Yoga Sutras 2.42 “From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.”

This niyama asks us to be happy. To be deeply, internally, happy and to think good thoughts and not compare ourselves to others or to what we don’t have. We should relish each moment in this human life and find happiness that comes from within! “Santosha does not come from the iPhone 6…because next week iPhone 7 is coming!” Most of our stress and delusion will melt away with the practice of santosha.

Tapas, discipline:

Yoga Sutras 2.43 “Through training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions.”

This niyama is related to the Sadhana, the practice and leading a disciplined life. “Without discipline,” Sharath says, “it’s impossible to learn something.”

Svadhyaya, self study:

Yoga Sutras 2.44 “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.”

Self-study is the art of doing internal research and putting effort into understanding what your teacher has told you. We should become a Sadaka, one who does Sadhana.

Ishvarapranidhana, surrender to the divine:

Yoga Sutras 2.45 “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.”


So we have our work cut out for us! These foundational concepts are deep and complex. I love hearing Sharath talk about them and reminding us of the well-rounded life we should aim to lead. Which is why I say each day I wake up and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga… Some changes have been easy for me, like maintaining a vegetarian diet based on ahimsa…others not so easy, like keeping a disciplined schedule.

What about you?

How are the yamas and niyamas working in your life?

What are you trying to practice?

Mysore Trip Four: Travel Update and Conference Notes

“A Beautiful Habit.”

Shala Card

To get to Mysore from New York City takes roughly 30 hours. Between taxis and planes and layovers and delays I notice a sense of internal calm I haven’t felt before. This is my fourth trip. I’ve already done this three times. As my boyfriend says, it’s not a coincidence anymore… I’m not going to India on a whim. I’m consciously choosing to make this trek year after year after year.

I arrive in early morning of October 1st, stumble into a taxi and sleep for most of the 3.5 hours it takes to drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Sharp stops and turns and then,

“Madame! Sleeping? Mysore coming!” says my driver.

I pull myself upright and recognize the stretch of road we’ve entered. By the time we reach Gokulam (the neighborhood where I stay and where I practice Ashtanga Yoga), I’m ready for a proper nap.

I find my small studio apartment, shut the curtains, settle into another typically hard Indian bed, and snooze until the shala opens at 3:30pm for registration.

I have my passport photos ready and copies of my Indian Visa. I’ve printed my confirmation letter which grants me access into the increasingly in-demand shala. I have my rupees counted and stacked to pay tuition.

Because it’s the opening of the season (my teacher only opens the school for western students to practice for part of the year) it’s a week of led Primary Series classes to begin. Jetlag wakes me up at 3am the next morning. In the pre-dawn dark I make coffee and prepare for practice.

Class just feels right the next few days. Strong and soft at the same time. The shala rugs feel a faded shade of familiar. I place my mat in the front row and listen to my teacher chanting the opening mantra just a few inches away from me. I practice with a smile. I see friends from past seasons, meet new ones from all over the world, and surrender to jet lag. I get my only-in-India pink elephant print bed sheets out of storage and make my bed. I walk around with wonder still in my eyes at the sights and smells of India. I try a new Eggplant curry at lunch and marvel at how they’ve cooked the vegetable just right so it actually does melt in my mouth.

Right now everything feels comforting here. The familiar and the unfamiliar. I want to keep this beautiful habit of coming to India year after year…

As the week of Led Classes (classes during which our teacher calls out each posture and we practice together as a group) gives way to the regular classes (called ‘Mysore Style’ classes during which each student practices only the postures they have been taught, individually without a teacher leading) my back starts to ache. I see a sweet Canadian for acupuncture sessions and the pain slowly melts into comfort.

This year the day off is Sunday instead of Saturday as it has been in the past. Conference with our teacher, Sharath, is now on Saturday afternoon. It’s a small change that funnily enough has most of us wondering what day it is – constantly holding to that old, conditioned pattern of ‘the week.’

So we adapt to our new week and pile into the shala each Saturday to listen to Sharath’s wise words…

Some Conference Notes October 11, 2014

“Yoga is the greatest gift,” Sharath says to start this season at the shala. Words so simple and true we all smile softly in a reply to him.

He explains that yoga is special because of the breath and the vinyasa system, the art of placing the breath in a special way connected to your movement. This process of breathing and moving takes time to learn. It must be tuned like an instrument or like a singer might train to tune her voice.

Once one has learned to control the breath, automatically control of the mind happens.

Student questions begin to flood the room.

“Is it possible to practice with perfect vinyasa?”

Sharath says yes, it is possible and we are all working towards it. But this is something that you must do one posture at a time, slowly. At the beginning we might spend two weeks on just Surya Namaskar A and B. The first day to complete a sun salutation it takes 25 breathes! But the more we practice, the more we train to breath correctly, and over time we can complete it with one breath per movement, the nine vinyasas required to complete a sun salutation A.

A question about the importance of alignment prompts Sharath to remind us that of course the alignment of muscles and bones are important, but so are the movements, the breathing and the heat that this helps to create. These moving asanas help to purify the lungs and nervous system and create a spiritual transformation within us.

Some Conference Notes from October 18, 2014

During the second conference of the season Sharath reminds us that there is no recoded birth date for yoga. For as long as there has been this universe, there has been yoga.

Almost universally it is agreed that yoga is for calming and controlling the mind. These initial stages lead to deeper understanding and ultimately higher consciousness.

In order to begin to control the mind, Sharath spent time talking about the importance of the Ashtanga Tristana, the three points of focus. They are asana, pranayama (breathing, which brings control to the mind) and dristi.

Sharath specifically mentioned the power of the gazing point, dristi, and it’s ability to bring more focus to our practice. Our attention is always on others, on the outside. The more we bring the focus inside the more potential the practice has to become a meditative experience which can lay the groundwork for deeper spiritual growth.

Pranayama can be described as the expansion of prana. In one day we take 21,600 breaths, he says. But we can expand the breath. And if we can expand the breath we can expand our life.

The ancient risis knew this, he reminded us, because of many, many years of practice, research and experimentation. He told a story of Guruji’s village, Koushika, where the great sage Vishvamitra did many thousands of years of meditation and research. Now everyone is rushing, but this research takes time!

Sharath reminded us that “yoga cannot be described. Yoga cannot be purchased. Yoga is all that happens within you.” And without the yamas and niyamas asanas are useless. He spoke of the importance of especially satya, to be truthful to yourself and others and asteya, not to steal. He also mentioned ahimsa, nonviolence. He warned us that asanas make us strong and create heat, but it is extremely important not to misuse the strength!

One of the points that made the biggest impact on me was a question regarding the global community of teachers and practitioners and the unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable conflict and competition that arises. Sharath really encouraged the community to commit to be wise enough not to fight, and instead to unite. To have an internal focus and not worry about the actions of others. To not get worked up in politics and external distractions, but instead to correct our own actions and build a supportive community that way.


“You can sail around and around on the ocean for years. But it’s only when you dive in that you know the beauty of the sea.” -R. Sharath Jois


Conference Notes December 8, 2013


It seems like the whole shala has been sick at these past few weeks. Poor Sharath finally caught the bug and began conference apologizing and telling us he’d do his best to get through. His doubt was unfounded because he delivered an inspiring and poignant conference, as always!

Sharath began conference this week by quoting a passage from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. By doing asana, it explains, sweat is produced. We shouldn’t waste the sweat, but instead to rub it back into the skin (a note to all you vigilant sweat wipers!). This opens the pores and allows all the toxins to come out, which in turn makes the body light and strong. Sweat should come from within, from hard work, not from a heated room. Through the effort of working on asanas and building stamina we sweat and cleanse.

He also made sure to note that we should work towards a balance of every element of practice, both strength and flexibility. That’s why in this system Guruji taught primary series first, beginning with the Surya Namaskara. The teacher should analyze the practice of a beginner, as the work with sun salutations. They should see that the vinyasa is done correctly and move them slowly along, building strength and flexibility from the ground up. The body should be given time to adjust to the asanas and the vinyasa system. Vinyasa plays a big role in the sweat and detoxing process within our practice and it is very important to do it correctly.

We really got into a discussion on the breathing style used during our asana practice. Sharath really wants us to understand that what we are doing is free, unrestricted breathing with a little sound. It is not ujjayi pranayama! This is a pranayama technique, which is totally separate from the breath we use during practice. We should hear the sound of our breath, but we shouldn’t try to breath very loud or very strong. That would be too taxing during the intense physical exercises we’re doing. The inhales and exhales should be even. We should relax into each posture with a free flow of breath.

In connection with our lively discussion on breath, a student asked about how bhandas relate to the breath. Sharath said he didn’t even mention bhandas in the discussion because they should be active all the time! Udiyana is more pronounced on the inhale and mula is stronger during exhale. Jalandara, he said is mostly reserved for pranayama. Only when bhandas are perfect during asana should we move on to pranayama. Asanas are like our test grounds to perfect bhandas to ensure that when we get to pranayama study, they are a sturdy foundation.

Despite the physical nature of our asana practice, we are not in Mysore (or attending Mysore style yoga classes in our hometowns/countries) to work out. We are here to gain better clarity and more knowledge. We are here, Sharath reminds us, to bring peace to ourselves and to come to know who we are. The practice can reveal the answer to the question “who am I?” if we let it…

Sharath also took time to address some of the most common questions he gets from students: how often should I practice, how much should I eat and how much should I sleep? All of these should be done in moderation, he said. We should do a little physical asana practice once a day, we should eat enough food to nourish and fuel us, not too much that we become dull, and we should sleep for 6.5 – 7 hours per night. Moderation in everything!

Next a student asked about correcting mistakes. At some point we’ve all, knowingly or unknowingly, hurt another person. So how do we correct the mistakes and move on? Sharath says, simply, to be a better person. Yoga is an ideal tool to help us be better. Make up from your mistakes by changing and acting differently in the future. He reminds us, yet again, that yoga is not just gymnastics. If we are in Mysore to work out and show off, don’t come! Come to learn and be a better person. The world needs more people like yogis. People who learn from their mistakes and actively try to do better going forward.

“You can sail around and around on the ocean for years. But it’s only when you dive in that you know the beauty of the sea.” It’s like this that we should try to dive deeper into yoga, past the physicality of it. We should use it as a tool and an exploration to know ourselves.

“Yoga is my breath and my heart.” –R. Sharath Jois


Conference Notes December 1, 2013

Sharath receiving an award

Sharath began conference by quoting a passage from the Bhagavad Gita and noting that yoga is not new to us. It was old even when the Bagavad Gita was written! He said that when god created this universe, then yoga started.

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna talks about parampara. This means the passing of knowledge from guru to student. A guru is no ordinary teacher…he is one who dispels darkness and gives proper knowledge: jnana. So, Sharath says, we don’t learn yoga through videos or books. Without a teacher it is impossible to transfer proper knowledge.

I’m always happy when he talks about the difference between cultures in the West and here in the East. He’s aware that most of us in the shala from the western world are used to questioning authority and he’s sympathetic to our experience but invites us to try to surrender. There is a difference in cultural norms from the west to the east. In the west it’s ok to question and rebel from the teacher, but in the east there is a surrender required, which can make practice so much sweeter.

To illustrate, Sharath tells the story of a day he was in a lot of pain from practicing and assisting Guruji with all the students in backbends. During his practice, Guruji came to him to drop him back and Sharath said “No I think I shouldn’t do backbending today.” Guruji smiled and said “no it’s ok, you do,” and somehow as he surrendered to him, he had no pain. It was one of his best practices!

He goes on to say that there’s too much attention on books and videos today that teach the technicalities of yoga. How to jump back and through. How to do asanas. This creates confusion. There should be more attention on the fundamentals of yoga: how to behave, how to act: the yamas and niyamas. These fundamentals make our spiritual foundations strong.

Of course asana is very important but we should understand why. Yoga is to bring health and stability to the body, it is sacred, supreme knowledge. Sharath begs us to leave from our mind the thoughts that a physically advanced practice means an advanced yogi. This is just not true!

There was also time for some student questions during conference. Someone asked how the parampara lineage in Ashtanga Yoga is designed to pick a successor. Sharath explained that it is not designed like that in the Ashtanga system…its not like an ashram, no successor is selected to take the place of the guru. He said (and he’s said it before, which I love) that if we have the knowledge, each one of us can be the successor of the Ashtanga lineage!

There was a question about the six enemies of yoga practice: lust, anger, attraction, pride, greed and jealousy. He makes sure to note that they are enemies to humans, not just to yoga. We are like a pearl covered in an oyster shell. We have six layers outside of us just waiting to be shelled off and to reveal the pearl within, the true authentic self. This takes a lot of hard work. It doesn’t come by taking a workshop or gaining an authorization. But if we are consistent we can make progress.

Sharath also took time to address one of Guruji’s famous quotes: “99% Practice, 1% Theory.” A lot of students have misunderstood the meaning of the quote, he said. It doesn’t mean that we should just do asanas all day and only think about a little bit of theory. On the contrary, it means whatever theory we learn, read, study or encounter, we should put to the text by practicing it applying it to our life. Only then, through practicing the theory is it useful to us.

Someone posed an excellent question, asking: can Ashtanga yoga change the world? I think all of us in the room knew the answer and were so happy to hear him affirm that yes, if practiced correctly, yoga can change the world. Tenants such as ahimsa (nonviolence) can be extremely important to creating world peace. Awareness of our natural world, the resources and their value is vital to saving the world. Again he talked about Guruji, how he never sought fame, but lived simply and did his practice. We too, he advises, should not chase fame and money, let it chase us…run away from it.

To close there was a question about money. Are finances an obstacle to learning yoga today? Sharath immediately answered yes, but said that the KPJAYI has a scholarship program and quite a few students are studying on scholarships. I think it’s important for shalas all over the world to follow suit, offering work exchanges, scholarships and other ways to help make yoga more accessible so that anyone and everyone who wants can become part of this life and possibly world changing yoga.