My Search For Yoga by David Williams – Book Review

A riveting “On the Road” style adventure for the Yoga Generation! My Search for Yoga by David Williams is an autobiographical account of the authors search for yoga. It starts at the tail end of the 1960’s and ends in 1977.

Who is David Williams?

My Search for Yoga by David Williams

David is the first person who taught Ashtanga Yoga in the West! He is a highly respected ashtanga yoga teacher and lives in Maui. I discovered David through one of his students and friends David Swenson. My own practice of Ashtanga Yoga is based around how David Swenson teaches. I love his Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual.

Being inquisitive, it took me to David Swenson’s teacher. As a result I discovered that David Williams was leading a workshop in Sitges. Sitges is just outside of Barcelona in Spain so basically on our doorstep compared to Maui! A few YouTube interviews reveal a gentle endearing soul. An “Aloha” catchphrase accompanied by a shaka surfer hand salute! We booked to go to Spain and then a world pandemic struck and lockdown.

Some friendly emails passed between David and I. As a result I purchased his recently written memoir, My Search For Yoga by David Williams!

The American Dream or Nightmare?

David’s journey towards becoming the Yoga Detective starts back in 1967 as a beach lifeguard in South Carolina. His version of the American dream is mapped out ahead of him, college, university, the legal profession, working 9-5, suburban life. The potential middle age spread and unhealthy older age. David desired another way, a different way to live life. The ever present risk of being drafted in to the Vietnam war existed in the background.

He meets his first “guru”, a fellow lifeguard called Bootie. Bootie imparts the following pearl of wisdom, which could only have been said in the late 60’s,

“….. you can do anything you want to do. You do not have to live a boring life like all the squares you have seen growing up.”

This spoke to David’s longing for an alternative lifestyle. The American counter culture at the time were embracing slogans such as turn on, tune in and drop out. Thankfully this was balanced with people that viewed the standard American dream as a dream. They successfully entered legal professions and other careers that keep society functioning. The equal and opposite lifestyles provide balance to our society. The rich tapestry of human individuality expressed through lifestyle. There is not just one way to live your life but a myriad of opportunities. David’s book encourages us to work out the path that is right for us.

Discovering Yoga

Whilst at the Uni of North Carolina, David comes across Yoga for the first time via a fellow student. Tales of Yogis free from the shackles of the material world fire his interest.

The first Yoga class David attended was at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in June 1970. The class was introduced as;

“Before you get high on drugs, why don’t you try getting naturally high with Yoga”

At this music festival David was also lucky enough to see one of Jimi Hendrix’s last performances! As a music fan I am certainly a bit envious of that!

The underground Yoga scene is interestingly documented. People practicing Yoga from books and the odd teacher here and there.

On the Road in Search of Yoga

After reading a Ram Dass book David sets his heart on travelling to India to learn Yoga. David and his girlfriend fly to Europe and then embark on an epic cross land journey. They travel around Europe and make their way to India via Afghanistan and Iran.

A search around India for Yoga ensues. Whilst staying at an Ashram he witnesses a demonstration of Ashtanga Yoga by Manju Jois.

Returning to the USA, David is determined to return to India to further his study of Yoga. Another road trip across Europe to India takes him and Nancy Gilgoff (his girlfriend) to Mysore.

The descriptions of travelling across Europe to Indian in the early 1970’s are engrossing. You feel like you are on the road with David. The places he travelled through in the early 70’s are places that it would be very difficult and scary to travel through in 2020.

Pattabhi Jois physical assault / inappropriate adjustments

On arrival in Mysore for the first time, David learns that a previous student had left with a broken leg. However, David has made an epic journey to get there and begins to learn Ashtanga Yoga from Pattabhi Jois.

David refers to Jois with the respectful title Guruji. He is indebted to him as his teacher. Learning Ashtanga yoga changed his life and set him on a trajectory on which he continues to this day.

On the last day of his first trip to Mysore, Pattabhi Jois seriously injured him. He was strongly “adjusted” in an advanced posture. David describes how his trusted teacher almost broke his back;

“The force of his adjustment compressed and rotated a vertebra in my lower back to the point that it punctured an intervertebral disc, the cushion between my vertebra.”

This is truly shocking to read. I was obviously aware of the serious allegations of sexual assault against Jois that have come to light in the last few years. The testimonies of those abused can be easily found on the internet and there is video footage which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Physical assaults and serious injuries that he inflicted on people in the name of adjustments were something that I was unaware of.

David does not address the abuse allegations in his book and I respect his right not to. This is David’s story of his search for yoga and the book would have a very different feel if it were to become an investigation into Jois. I have read elsewhere on the internet that David would warn people against going to Mysore.

David Williams – successful Yoga Teacher

The start of David’s journey to becoming a world renowned Yoga teacher is covered in his memoir. Let us remember here, he was the first Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the West! His make shift yoga Shala in Maui is where he went from strength to strength.

A 17 year old David Swenson is recruited to cover teaching at the Shala in Maui. David and Nancy return to Mysore where David learns the final series in the Ashtanga Yoga system.

A young Eddie Veder from Pearl Jam features. He was inspired to take up yoga after a demonstration given by David at his high school.

We should pause for a moment and realise that Ashtanga yoga is the source of the modern vinyasa style of yoga that is so popular around the world. David was the person to bring this flowing style of yoga out of India and to the west. Without David, the story and popularity of modern yoga could be very different.

Pattabhi Jois – Lazy by his own definition?

A very interesting detail in this book that jumped out to me is that Pattabhi Jois was not practicing yoga asana (physical postures). David meets Jois when the latter is 58 years old. At this point in his life Jois had stopped practicing yoga asana. He is still practicing pranayama. As a result I find it a little difficult to comprehend his dogmatic approach. Jois is oft quoted as saying;

“Ashtanga Yoga is for all people: old people, young people, fat people, skinny people only not lazy people.”

“Practice Yoga and all is coming”

“Yoga is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory”

Jois is therefore lazy by his own definition! The only time David Williams saw Jois demonstrate asana was a Sun Salutation B practiced incorrectly.

Jois’ lack of practice of asana is in stark contrast to his teacher Krishnamacharya and also his contemporaries such as B K S Iyengar. It is well documented that Krishnamacharya practiced yoga asana, pranayama and chanting until his death aged 100.

Whilst David was clearly very fond of his Guruji, I felt that Jois comes across as not a particularly likeable character. At times arrogant and not open to any kind of questioning of his methods. Jois was influential in spreading ashtanga yoga and training many people in this particular method. Perhaps that is the more traditional method of teaching, however, it does not stand up to scrutiny. It does not allow for any sort of open dialogue and is rather dictatorial. A way of learning that I certainly would not enjoy.

In Summary – My Search for Yoga by David Williams

This was a very enjoyable book to read. A real page turner. It is both a great document of a travel adventure but also a very significant historical record of one mans search for yoga in India. A search which resulted in Ashtanga yoga being brought to the West.

We have a copy of this book that you can purchase from us. This book is only available from David Williams. To purchase a copy directly from him would cost $155 (about £126) including deliver to the UK which is what bumps the price up. It takes around 6 weeks to arrive. We purchased 3 books from David. We are keeping one, have sold one to a friend. As a result we have one to sell and can sell it at £108 which includes UK postage.

If you would like to purchase a copy of this limited edition book please email us at enquiries@yogasmiths.org

Links

Check out David Williams website here: http://www.ashtangayogi.com/

If you enjoyed reading our review of My Search for Yoga by David Williams then check out our other book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

In David’s own words

David described his book to me as follows;

Aloha!

After over ten years in the works, I am excited to tell you that my book has arrived, and we have just begun shipping them. 

My Search for Yoga is my memoir. It focuses on the years between 1970 and 1977, telling my story beginning with my early fascination with yoga at age 20. That fascination evolved into my role as a “yoga detective,” searching in Europe, on two overland trips to India, and during the early days in the Carolinas, Florida, California, and Hawaii. My book includes many of the crazy stories (and more) that I have shared in my workshops over the years. It highlights the characters who were a part of my journey and the sometimes-hazardous, often wild adventures I experienced.

In addition to the stories of those days, my book documents the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus as originally taught to me by Pattabhi Jois as it appeared on the wall of his yoga shala when I arrived in 1973. I later demonstrated this in my complete Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus poster which is available on my website. 

The details: My Search for Yoga is a hardbound book measuring 9″ x 12″. It is 315 pages, weighs a little over 3 lbs., and has 132 color images that include the following:

90 color images from those early days

15 pages of my original documentation of the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus

12 letters from Pattabhi Jois (27 pages), written for him by various letter writers

Through my story, I hope my book will tell my part in the early history of how Ashtanga Yoga made its way out of Mysore, India, and into the lives of millions of practitioners around the world today.

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2020|18th – 24th May

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Since 2001, the Mental Health Foundation have campaigned around a specific theme for one week each May raising awareness of topics such as body image, stress and relationships. Mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time and so mental health is everyone’s business.

This year, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Kindness’.

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Why Kindness?

During these challenging and uncertain times, the positive news that we have seen is always one of kindness. The bravery of our NHS staff and key workers. Captain Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden to raise funds for our NHS. Neighbours getting the shopping for their isolated elderly neighbours. People helping people. The everyday acts of kindness that we are seeing all the time. And we saw this right from the start of the crisis. It is what makes others lives better and makes our lives better.

Kindness can transform our schools, work places, communities, and our society as a whole. As Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation says: “Acts of kindness can help improve emotional wellbeing. This is true whether we are giving or receiving it.” Kindness is clearly good for our mental health – both giving kindness (acts of kindness) and receiving kindness from others. Both can make us feel better.

In yoga, the first of limb of the eight limbs of yoga is called Yama – self-restraints. The first of the five Yama is Ahimsa. Ahimsa means ‘non-violence’ or more simply ‘compassion’ or kindness. Such is the importance that it is the first aspect of the eight limb path of yoga that is discussed. This involves kindness to ourselves and kindness to others. During Mental Health Awareness week let’s think about how we can spread this kindness to ourselves and to others.

How can I get involved?

During Mental Health Awareness Week you can carry out or reflect on an act of kindness. This can be anything – big or small  – every act of kindness is important! It may be an act of kindness that you have done or that you have received. And we can learn from one another! You can post about this on social media and may even want to add a photo or video (with permission!) and use the hashtags #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. There is no need to stop at one act of kindness either! You can do as many as you would like! However, do remember that we must always be kind to ourselves too – don’t overstretch yourself by giving too much of yourself if you’re not able to, or by going beyond your personal resources. Acts of kindness can of course be to yourself – self-care, recognising what you need in the present moment – be that space, a treat, or just permission to relax.

You can also share on social media your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health using the same hashtags #KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Let’s start the conversation. We’ve seen how kindness is so important in all our lives, particularly over the past couple of months. How can we take that forward?

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What are acts of kindness?

The possibilities are endless, and by sharing our ideas online, we can learn from one another. The Mental Health Foundation shares lots of ideas of acts of kindness that you can do during this week and going forward. You probably do many of these already without even realising how much your act of kindness means! Acts of kindness can be to others and also towards ourselves. Often we find it easier to be kinder to others than ourselves but we must remember that both are important

Some examples include:

Acts of kindness to others:

  • Give the gift of yoga with Yogasmiths to a friend for free during Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – see full details below!
  • Call or have a virtual catch-up with a friend or friends – perhaps a friend that you haven’t spoken to for some time
  • Tell a family member or friend how much you love them and appreciate them.
  • Let someone know how proud you are of them
  • Say ‘thank you’ to someone  – show them you appreciate them and the work they do.
  • Surprise someone you live with to a homemade dinner. Or simply make them a cup of coffee or tea
  • Spend time playing with your pet! They’ll show you how much they appreciate it!
  • Give or send someone a small gift – something homemade or something you’ve grown is always nice
  • Offer support or just check up on your neighbours – many people are self-isolating and may be experiencing loneliness

Acts of kindness to yourself:

  • Relax and unwind by giving yourself time to do something that you enjoy – for example reading a book, listening to your favourite music, a warm candle-lit bath, a walk in nature, yoga, exercise, gardening, baking a cake, learning a new skill, etc. What helps you? Could you give yourself some time everyday just for you – be kind to yourself.
  • Self-care – look after yourself – perhaps this means having a routine, going to be bed earlier, giving yourself time to cook a healthy meal for yourself, exercise, yoga, mindfulness, etc. Taking time to care for your physical, mental and emotional health
  • Connect with others – call a friend or connect online. Join an online class or group.

Find our blogs on self-compassion here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/02/17/self-compassion-by-kristen-neff-book-review/and https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/07/mindful-self-compassion-course-certificates/

What are we doing for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020?

  • Free Yoga classes

    A0AE55FB-5FBA-410D-B7FD-090CC0D7424CDuring Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 we are inviting anyone who has attended one of our classes to give the gift of yoga to one of their friends who has never been to one of our classes before! All you need to do is send an email to your friend (remember to copy our email into the email: enquiries@yogasmiths.org) inviting them to attend one of our classes for free! That’s it! Your friend can then contact us and let us know which class they would like to attend. You can copy and paste the template below into your email:

(Title of email – Free Yoga Class! Random Act of Kindness for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020)

Hi

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 and the theme is Kindness. As my act of kindness, I would like to offer you to attend a free yoga class with my yoga teachers Yogasmiths before the end of May. The classes are taught via Zoom online video conferencing software.

Yogasmiths are Paul and Stephen Smith and are based in West Kirby, Wirral. To see the weekly Yogasmiths yoga timetable just visit:

Shop

And then email Yogasmiths at enquiries@yogasmiths.org to let them know which class you would like to book on to. They can then send you the details to access your free class!

For more details about Yogasmiths classes just visit https://pauls93.sg-host.com

Thanks and enjoy your free yoga class!

Terms and Conditions – you are only eligible for a free class if you have not attended an indoor Yogasmiths class in the past. One free yoga class per customer. The free class must be used by Sunday 31st May 2020.

  • Virtual Pub Quiz with Yogasmiths

Saturday 23rd May. All profits from this quiz will be donated to the Mental Health Foundation. You can book on to this quiz at: *event has passed* . Cost is £5 per person. If you’ve attended one of our quizzes before you know it’ll be lots of fun and it’s the taking part that counts! It’s just nice to all get together and have some fun.

  • Daily acts of kindness 

    We’ll be posting acts of kindness posts daily during Mental Health Awareness week using the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #Mentalhealthawarenessweek. These posts will include acts of kindness we are giving to others, to ourselves and acts of kindness we’ve received. Look out for these and let us know what acts of kindness you have given and received. We’ll also consider how we can all build a kinder society.

What else can I do?

Virtual fundraising:

If you do hold a fundraising event please let The Mental Health Foundation know about it – including any photos/videos. These can be sent to events@mentalhealth.org.uk. Fundraising or separate donations can be made to The Mental Health Foundation at http://mentalhealth.org.uk/donate

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival has a special programme of online activity running all this May. Artists and audiences will be exploring what kindness means to them. For more information visit: http://mhfestival.com

Spread the word – spread kindness

The Mental Health Foundation has lots of posters, graphics, booklets and more available at http://mentalhealth.org.uk/mhaw

Stay up-to-date with what’s going on during Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond – follow @mentalhealthfoundation on Facebook and Instagram, and @mentalhealth on Twitter.

You can read more about the Mental Health Foundation’s innovative programmes, campaigns and transformative mental health research at: http://mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work

Check out our previous Mental Health Awareness Week blogs;

https://yogasmiths.org/2019/05/16/mental-health-awareness-week-13th-19th-may-2019/

https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

 

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Mindful Self Compassion Course

Mindful Self Compassion course certificates

Mindful Self Compassion Course

Earlier this year we completed a Mindful Self Compassion Course in Hoylake Parade Community Centre with Rita Bennet and Pauline Johnson. The course was a fantastic experience. Here we run through some details about the course and discuss its benefits.

Each course runs across 8 weekly sessions and also includes a silent retreat morning. The course teaches you practical methods and techniques to help you foster Self-compassion.

Mindfulness teachers Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer developed and put together the MSC course. You can find links to their websites and work in the Further resources section at the end of this post.

The course was split over 8 morning sessions and also an additional silent retreat session. Each session has its own theme;

  1. Discovering Mindful Self-Compassion
  2. Practicing Mindfulness
  3. Practicing Loving-Kindness
  4. Discovering Your Compassionate Voice
  5. Living Deeply
  6. Meeting Difficult Emotions
  7. Exploring Challenging Relationships
  8. Embracing Your Life
Mindful Self Compassion Course
Steve & Paul with their Certificates of Attendance on the MSC course

The MSC Course provides you with 3 core meditations, 4 other meditations and 20 informal practices. This ensures that you can pick the practices that you like and that work for you. Likewise, it gives you scope to not have to do the practices that you do not find useful or do not like. This practical side of the course provides you with a toolkit of techniques. You can use these whenever you need to, dipping into your tool kit for the right tool!

Mindful Self Compassion and Yoga

The Yama are the first limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yama means restraint. Patanjali sets out behaviours that we need to restrain and puts this at the start of the Eight Limbs. Ahimsa is the first Yama in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The sanskrit work ahimsa is often translated as non-violence, non-harm or compassion.

We tend to think of compassion as a giving concept. That we are compassionate towards others. However, compassion goes both ways and we need to consider self-compassion. In a yoga class for example this would be practicing to your own level and ability. Therefore, not being violent towards your own body.

Taking this concept wider, self-compassion is about being in tune with what we need at any given moment. Being kind to ourselves. Talking to ourselves in a kind compassionate voice. This is often the hardest part! We tend to talk to ourselves with the voice of a harsh critic. Talking to ourselves in a tone / manner that we would never dare to use with others. The MSC course helps you to begin to find a kinder voice towards yourself.

The Importance of Self Compassion

At this current time, the tool kit we developed as part of the Mindful Self Compassion course has been particularly helpful. It is quite a natural response during this lockdown period to have fluctuating moods and emotions. Consequently we can begin to feel stressed or anxious. Stopping and asking yourself what you need right now, is a powerful technique. Always remembering that you are looking at things that are within your sphere of influence. Do you need to sit and watch the breath? Or perhaps you need to offer your self a compassionate touch? Maybe you need to go for a mindful walk? There will be something within the Mindful Self Compassion tool kit to help.

Rita & Pauline

A quick word about Rita Bennet and Pauline Johnson. They are great teachers and facilitators. Rita is a fully trained teacher of Mindful Self-Compassion and also teachers MBSR courses. Pauline is a Clinical Psychologist and Mindfulness Teacher. Consequently as a teaching team they have lots to give their students from different perspectives.

Mindful Self Compassion Course
L-R Paul, Rita Bennet, Steve and Pauline Johnson

Paul previously attended a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course with both Rita and Pauline. Because Paul loved the MBSR course we both jumped at the chance to attend the MSC course in Hoylake.

As a result of reading this blog, if you are interested in the Mindful Self Compassion course, you can email Rita to register you interest. You can contact her at: ritaalicebennett@gmail.com

Further Resources

You can find our review of Kristen Neff’s book here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/02/17/self-compassion-by-kristen-neff-book-review/

Purchase Kristen Neff’s book here: 

Find out more about Kristen Neff on her website; https://self-compassion.org/

Find out more about Christopher Germer on his website; https://chrisgermer.com/

Check out our Lockdown Resources blog here: Lockdown Resources

Here is a previous blog relating to tips for dealing with stress; https://yogasmiths.org/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

We are members of the Amazon Affiliates programme.

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Free Online Lockdown Resources

Lockdown Resources

We want to share with your some interesting free online resources that have caught our eye over the last few weeks. The following links are great lockdown resources to help both with mental health through Mindfulness but also some reading resources and free TV!

Wellbeing Lockdown Resources

Many of you will know that we have taken our Yoga Classes online during the lockdown. You can join us via the Zoom app and undertake a yoga class in the comfort of your own home. Our classes are suitable for all abilities from absolute beginners to seasoned yogis! We teach a staged approach to Yoga postures. As a result beginners are set up in poses first and then options given to take things further if you want to. You can purchase a place at one of our weekly yoga classes at Shop and also check out our weekly offering of classes there.

Yogasmiths on YouTube

We have created a YouTube channel where we have uploaded a guided Mindfulness of Breath practice and also a Yoga Nidra / Body Scan longer relaxation. These can help you to find a bit of calmness when you need it. If you go to YouTube and click on subscribe you will be notified of when we upload more content to YouTube. Check out the links below, you can listen to these directly from our website here;

Yogasmiths Observations of Breath Mindfulness Meditation 10 mins
Yogasmiths Yoga Nidra / Body Scan 20 mins guided relaxation

Future Learns – Mindfulness course

Future Learn is a great website that has many classes that you can attend for free. We would particular recommend the Mindfulness For Wellbeing and Peak Performance. During this challenging time we can get lost in being unmindful. Lost in our field of thoughts with rumination and worrying about the future. Mindfulness can help bring us back to the present moment and provide some clarity and calmness. The free course on Future Learn provides you with a great introduction to Mindfulness and a range of techniques. As a result you build a personal tool kit of practices that you can dip in and out of as you may need them.

Free Online Magazines

Om Yoga Magazine has been made available for free;

Vegan Life Magazine has also been made free;

Plant Based Magazine from the same publisher is also free;

Books / Reading Lockdown Resources

We have always been big fans of reading. If you are looking for inspiration for new books to read you can check out the book reviews we have written on our blog here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

If you prefer audio books, Audible have made part of their catalogue available for free on their website. A lot of the books are for children so would is a great Lockdown Resource for parents. It also has some literary classics available too. You don’t need to sign up for an account either, you can just access and stream from their website.

Free TV shows online

HBO have made over 500 hours of content available for free;

Free Courses online

Coursera have a free online course on What is Contemporary Art? offered by MoMA, click on the link below;

Coursera also have a free course called The Science of Wellbeing offered by Yale which looks interesting, clijc on the link below;

We hope you found our Lockdown Resources useful. Please use the comments below to share any free resources that you have come across. Thanks Paul & Steve

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Gotta get theroux this book review

Gotta Get Theroux This – Louis Theroux – Book review

I have recently enjoyed reading Louis Theroux’s autobiography. The book was a kind gift from my friend Susan and it is a wonderful autobiography. I have always enjoyed reading autobiographies. Consequently, it is probably the genre from which I have read most. I hope you enjoy reading my Gotta Get Theroux This book review.

Who is Louis Theroux?

Most people know who he is! However, for those who do not know, Louis is a journalist and documentary film maker. He initially had a cult following. I think that saying he has a cult following does him a disservice. He is a stalwart of the BBC and has a very wide appeal. As such his status from cult to mainstream appeal transitioned quickly.

The documentaries he has made, seeking out weird, wonderful and often rather nasty subjects has created an unrivalled body of work. As a result his work will stand the test of time as an important body of anthropological study.

I am a big fan of Jack Kerouac and I wonder if Louis has read any of his books. The following Kerouac quote from On the Road could easily have been the criteria for the selection of subjects / guests featured in Louis’ documentaries;

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Gotta Get Theroux This Book review
Gotta Get Theroux This – Louis Theroux

Documentary maker and journalist

Louis’ journey into journalism and documentary film making is interesting. He did not set out with a burning desire to enter that world. Louis worked on a free alternative newspaper in Silicon Valley after graduating from university. Entry into the world of documentary making came through a one-off segment on the TV Nation show. This started a journey which continues today and has seen Louis win prestigious industry awards for his documentaries and work.

The journalistic and documentary film making profession comes with pressures. There is the need to keep creating interesting content and coming up with original ideas. Louis is open about his self doubt through his career and his feelings of being an imposter! An added layer of pressure which Louis acutely felt was from his father. Paul Theroux is a famous American Travel writer and novelist. The pressure stemmed from living in the shadow of an already established and successful parent. 

Louis adopts an interesting approach to his documentaries. He is very involved in coming up with the ideas and topics. The research team then go to work and undertake recce trips and arrange subjects. Louis has limited involvement in this side of production. His approach is to be fresh to the subjects so that the first meeting as filmed is the real deal. This is an approach that he picked up and developed from his time working with Michael Moore on TV Nation.

The subjects and topics covered by Louis are vast. Follow the link at the end of this review to check them out. 

Common humanity

Louis’ approach to documentary making and his interactions with people is always to try and see the rounded person. He never takes the approach of having preconceived ideas about people. In essence he approaches his subject with what, in Buddhism, is called beginners mind. It is this openness and blank page approach that clearly endears Louis to most of his subjects. Interestingly though, Louis does not give them an easy ride. He is ready to challenge his subjects with ease and ask those awkward questions at pertinent times.

Even with some of his most repugnant subjects he is able to show, even if only a glimpse, another side to people. Sometimes that may be a kind softer side or it can be a glimpse into the twisted justification for a particular view point or stance. Louis has an ability to draw out these deeper and more complex aspects to his subjects. Consequently his subjects develop as complex individuals rather than one dimensional. 

Louis reflects in the book on the complexity of human character. In his documentaries he shows that people are not 100% good or 100% bad. Louis reflects that is it not even a scale but something much more complex that creates individuals. 

Jimmy Savile

Louis addresses the issue of Jimmy Savile in this book. After his death, Savile was discovered to have been one of the most prolific sex offenders and abusers ever known.

Louis approached the initial documentary with the idea of finding out about Savile. The colourful, eccentric, quirky and downright odd ageing retired DJ and celebrity. The When Louis Met Jimmy documentary did reveal a slightly darker side to Savile but no hint of what subsequently came to light. As a result, Louis went through a period of self reflection, questioning how he was not able to unmask Savile.

Interestingly, Louis reflects that he at times liked Savile despite finding him quite annoying. They intermittently stayed in contact.

Louis revisited Savile in a subsequent documentary to both professionally and personally address the discovery of his crimes. In his book, Louis reflects that the qualities of Savile that made him likeable and charismatic were the qualities he used to hide his evil side. Qualities he used to evade discovery and capture during his lifetime. Louis reflects that we ignore these aspects of his character at our peril. We need to understand how Savile evaded capture. Retrospectively portraying him as a one dimensional character with a sole intent of pure evil could lead to us failing to understand the complexities of character that allowed him to go undetected. As such we risk failing to identify future such offenders.

It is clear that involvement with Savile had a profound effect on Louis. Sleepless nights, self reflection and self doubt ensued.

Scientology

It would be remiss not to mention Louis’ ‘My Scientology Movie’ in my Gotta Get Theroux this book review. Making this movie proved an interesting challenge for Louis. He was tailed by Private Investigators and there was clearly a feeling of threat.

The movie also marked a breakthrough into documentary film making. The film became very popular and received awards.

Concluding chapter

Gotta Get Theroux This finishes with a reflection on the human condition and just how weird it is to experience life! There is a strangely moving part where Louis revisits an old neighbourhood where he lived in Brooklyn. The passage of time having rendered the place unfamiliar and unrecognisable. In contrast, Louis is transported back to familiarity when he smells the unique aroma of the New York Subway.

Gotta Get Theroux This book review

I would highly recommend this book. It provides interesting background and insights into the documentaries that Louis made. As a result you get a window into how Louis felt towards his subjects and the ongoing relationship that a journalist has with their subjects. Sometimes that relationship will be enjoyable and friendly and other times it can be quite the opposite. The weight and pressure that difficult subjects heap upon the journalists involved is not to be underestimated.

I am left with the feeling that the Louis we see on screen is the Louis that you would meet should you bump into him in the street. An endearing, quintessentially British in character, nice guy. Keep up the great work Louis!

Links

If you enjoyed our Gotta Get Theroux this book review you can purchase a copy below. As a member of Amazon associates, we will earn a commission if you purchase the following items on Amazon from the links below;

Louis has started a BBC Podcast to help people during the Coronavirus lockdown, the first episode will be available very soon. You can access it through this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p089sjcd

Here is a link to all the documentaries that Louis Theroux has made, many of which are discussed in Gotta Get Theroux This: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Louis_Theroux_documentaries

You can check out our previous book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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