Sharath Jois with family and students

R. Sharath Jois: Ashtanga Yoga is a Family Tradition

It’s early Sunday morning in Mysore and usually the street in front of the KPJAYI shala is crowded with students waiting in the queue – but this is Sharath Jois’ one day off from teaching. That’s not to say I was able to stroll past easily. No, there was a young boy standing in the middle of the road and, as I approached, he held his hand out and cautioned me to stop.

“What’s the password?” he asked.

“Eight,” I replied.

He knitted his eyebrows and looked hard at me. Then with a wave of his hand, he stepped aside and said, “You may now proceed.”

On my way back through, the little boy was still there. But this time, since I’d already proven to him my exceptional mind reading skills, he must’ve concluded I was ready for my next lesson – levitation. He said it was a trick his father taught him. Turns out, this one was tougher. I’d clearly need a few more lessons!

I never asked who his father was, but I didn’t have to. I recognized him as Sharath’s son who walked into our led primary class and climbed up onto his papa’s lap while he taught. There, in between the ekams and the dves you could hear father and son chatting in their native tongue – a language foreign to me. Still, I didn’t need to understand the words to recognize the familiar, comfortable exchanges between parent and child. That’s not something you hear – it’s something you feel.

I enjoyed those random classes when Sharath’s son would visit. India is a long way from home, so I found those playful interruptions welcome and enjoyable. They reminded me that this Guru I had traveled so far to learn from, and who often seems larger-than-life, is also a dad. In other words, he’s human.

Truth is, I don’t know Sharath very well, though I’m not sure how many students do, despite their claims. It further occurs to me that this may be somewhat intentional. Sure, I’ve read many a blog or social media post interpreting his words and behavior, written as if it’s their duty to announce a message from their Guru. But Sharath discourages such storytelling. In fact, I get the feeling, he does his best to teach the yoga without any influence at all, including his own. Of course, this may be a bit of my own story telling …

Click here to listen to the Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast with Sharath Jois

Yes, I did note some instances of clear preference. For in a place where the Insta-famous practice anonymously in the midst of the ordinary, there was a group that Sharath did notice – the families. Practice times and places in queue are strictly kept by everyone, except parents of young children. Moms and dads are given no set time at all and practice can be taken at their (or rather, their child’s) convenience.

So that being said, Sharath did know who I was, despite the short length of my first visit – but not because he knew anything about Ashtanga Dispatch – or cared, for that matter. He knew me simply as the more and Meghan, as the daughter. In fact, this seemed to please him, for it’s certainly a relationship and language he understands and speaks fluently.

Actually, in the first conference I ever attended in Mysore, Sharath spoke reverently of a mother as every student’s first teacher. And until the day comes that a student takes on a teacher outside the family, parents hold that sacred position.

As he spoke, I could feel my daughter beside me, and my eyes filled with emotion – it was as if Sharath was speaking directly to us. Of course, one look at the glistening eyes around the crowded room told us his message resounded in the hearts of many more than just Meghan’s and mine.

My daughter returned to Mysore a month later that year – without me. It was hard for me to leave her, but I had another child at home and a husband that I missed. Besides, I know she’d be in good hands. He’s a dad, I reminded myself.

Sharath offering Meghan photography tips on a hike this past year.

When Sharath saw Meghan, he asked, “Has your mother gone home?” She told him, yes, and he nodded his head. No more was said, because no more was necessary. My time was over and now it was theirs.

This is tradition. And one that begins with family.

This was an excerpt from the Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine, Special Edition.

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*Top photo by Nitesh Batra from Mysore, India.