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://pauls93.sg-host.com/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.

Worlds oldest Yoga teacher passes away at 101

Tao Porchon-Lynch, the worlds oldest Yoga teacher passed away peacefully on 21st February 2020 aged 101

Tao Porchon-Lynch was a living legend. She was born in August 1918 towards the end of the First World War and lived through some amazing historic times and events. Tai was recognised by the Guinness book of world records as being the Oldest Yoga Teacher in 2012 and was still going strong at age 101. We went to a Yoga retreat with her in Massachusetts which she led at age 100!

Dancing Light by Tao Porchon-Lynch

Tao’s auto-biography is a fascinating historical record of a life fully lived! She was born in the middle of the English Channel two month premature as her mother made her journey from Pondicherry in India to be with her husband who was stationed in England. Tao’s mother died in child birth and she returned to Indian to be brought up by her Uncle in Pondicherry. Tao’s journey from these beginnings to her final home in New York state is truly inspirational.

Tao Porchon Lynch autobiography Dancing Light
Tao’s autobiography Dancing Light

During her life Tao marched with Gandhi, helped the French Resistance in World War 2, preformed cabaret during bombing raids and was a French Couture model. She also marched with Martin Luther King Jr. She moved to America as a model and got some acting work in Hollywood movies. After marrying for the second time, she published a wine appreciation magazine and in her later life took up ball room dancing.

Tao first became aware of Yoga aged 8 in India. She saw some boys practicing on the beach and was told by her Aunt that she could not participate as it was for men only. This was like a red rag to a bull and Tao was determined to join in and did! Her professional journey into yoga came a little later in her life after she was married for the second time. She began teaching after having studied under Sri Aurobindo, Indra Devi, B K S Iyengar, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tao went on to receive many awards and accolades in the field of yoga.

On a Yoga retreat with Tao

Tao Porchon-Lynch with Yogasmiths at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Paul, Steve and Lisa with Tao Porchon-Lynch

We met Tao on a yoga retreat in Massachusetts at Kripalu retreat centre (https://kripalu.org/). The retreat was called The Eternal Energy of Yoga. Tao exuded warmth and friendliness. Her yoga practice at the age of 101 was graceful and effortless. We were lucky enough to have a nice chat with her and she spontaneously began to massage my foot, which was very pleasant by the way! In between yoga sessions Tao could be seen walking around wearing her trademark high heels!

Tao Porchon-Lynch with Yogasmiths at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Tao Porchon-Lynch giving Paul a foot massage!

When we spoke to her she said that she never drink water only tea and wine and that this was her secret to longevity! Along side Yoga and dancing! Tao told us that every morning she would awake and tell herself that today is going to be the best day of her life. She lived and breathed mindfulness and living in the present moment.

Spending time with Tao on the retreat was truly inspirational. She taught us a lovely flowing sequence of movements that we teach to our students in our weekly classes (https://yogasmiths.org/classes/) After we had finished chatting to her, she popped up into a shoulder stand!

Tao Porchon-Lynch in shoulder stand at Kripalu Retreat Centre
Tao Porchon-Lynch age 100 in Shoulder Stand. This is what 100 years old can look like!

Tao loved animals and had a dog called Maharani Roodle Doodle Lovebug Lynch! What a wonderful name!

Tao was a wonderful inspirational teacher who exuded inclusivity and warmth. She lived a wonderful life, the people she met reads like a whose who of the golden era of Hollywood and history in general! She lived her mantra that there is nothing you cannot do!

Thank you Tao for your inspiration and teachings.

You can purchase Tao’s autobiography here http://thetaoexperience.com/ and visit her official website here https://www.taoporchonlynch.net/

You can also follow her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/taoporchonlynch100/

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff – Book review

Summary

A very interesting book looking at self compassion and how to foster and approach it. A book that I have filled with page markers and annotations for referring back to.

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff
A heavily tabbed Self Compassion book!

Review

Ahimsa / Compassion or non-violence is the first of the Yama (restraints) in the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali. When we talk of compassion we tend to think of this as an outwards thing towards other people. We often find it more difficult directing compassion towards ourselves. It is important that we practice compassion towards ourselves in order that we can be compassionate to others.

The full title of this book is Self Compassion – stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. So, consequently the book sets out the three core components to self compassion; Self Kindness, Common Humanity and Mindfulness. Most importantly this book sets out how to limit self-criticism and its harmful effects.

The Self Critic

One of the most insightful aspects of this book for me personally was understanding the patterns of your inner self critic and where they come from. As a result of this, one can then begin to see that it is not your fault that you have a self critic. In fact, Neff wonderfully points out, we are all just human. We are not perfect and make mistakes, after all we are only human! It is this element of seeing the bigger picture that was also a moment where I sat and reflected. Neff describes this as the greater human experience, being part of the greater humanity. This has parallels to the concept of Ishvara pranidhana in Yoga, surrender to the divine. I often describe this concept as feeling a part of something greater than your individual self. We are all part of the common human experience.

The book nicely explains how the self-critic that we all have is a survival instinct. It originates from the fight or flight response and the associated negativity basis that we have. Our species survived because we were always on the look out for danger. We were able to pre-empt danger. We were able to criticise ourselves for doing things wrongly or for making mistakes. However, this is where the problem now lies. We are not in any immediate survival related danger in our western societies. So the self critic does not serve us well. Consequently the self critic is a source of stress and depression.

The Illusion of Perfection

A further part of this book that was quite insightful was the discussion around the illusion of perfection. The idea that we need to be “perfect.”

All too often , however, our minds fool us into thinking that we can, and in fact should, be other than we are.

Neff, Self Compassion p70

The above quote summarises a common theme in our self critic. It relates to any aspect of life. The book puts this in to context by stating that it is not possible for everyone to be “perfect.” If that was the case there would be no reference point from which to measure. One element of practicing self compassion is allowing yourself to realise that you are only human. Humans make mistakes and in all likelihood many people have made very similar mistakes to you time and time again. Rather than beat yourself up, allow yourself to acknowledge that making mistakes is part of being human.

This approach is therefore absolutely mindfulness. It is about seeing things for how they really are rather than through the skewed view of the self critic. It is about learning to respond to mistakes and challenges with self compassion. This is in contrast to reacting with the same old internal self critical voice.

The book concludes nicely with a chapter on self appreciation. Actually allowing yourself to appreciate yourself! Trying to adopt this as a habit.

In Summary

Self Compassion by Kristen Neff sets out an approach to allow you to be aware of your self critic and to approach it with self compassion. An approach that encourages you to console yourself and acknowledge your feelings and responses to any given stimuli. And to then move forward with self compassion, letting go of the self critic and the associated insecurities.

Further resources

You can purchase the book on Amazon here:

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

Here is a previous blog relating to tips for dealing with stress; https://pauls93.sg-host.com/2018/05/19/mental-health-awareness-week-helpful-tips-to-deal-with-stress/

Brightening our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga by Norman Blair – Book Review

Brightening our Inner Skies – Yin and Yoga by Normal Blair is a wonderful personal reflection on a journey through yoga. It is also a guide to Yin Yoga and a commentary on how Yoga and social responsibility are more relevant than ever.

What’s it all about?

I bought this book at the beginning of 2018 after we had booked to attend some training with Norman. Therefore, I wanted to get a feel for what Norman was about before the course. What I find most refreshing and appealing about this book is that Norman is very real. He writes openly and honestly about his journey through yoga and the shifting and changing challenges that life throws at us. As a result this book resonated with me and made it feel reassuring and life affirming.

The book is presented with lots of inspiring quotes and references. It pulls together lots of information from an array of sources. Those who have been taught by Norman will know of his ability to quote and recite interesting and thought provoking pieces, weaving them through his sessions. This book takes the pressure off you having to remember them! Norman has kindly compiled them here for us!

Norman passionately relates and reflects on the relevance of Yin Yoga as an antidote to modern society and life. My own personal experience of Yin helped me through a challenging transitionary period of my life.

What Yin Yoga has meant to me

After 15 1/2 years working at a desk, I took redundancy to become a Yoga Teacher. As a result I left a busy middle management job in the Civil Service which had required me to travel all over the country pretty much on a weekly basis. Consequently transitioning to being at home and taking time to adjust was a challenge. As a result I was drawn instinctively to a Yin Yoga practice, a calming nurturing practice that I had been introduced to via a workshop. This had been with the wonderful British Wheel of Yoga teacher Paul Wooding in Liverpool. Paul has a very real and nurturing approach. I travelled to his Wednesday morning Yin classes as often as I could and they helped with my transition from such a busy “doing” office lifestyle to a new chapter in my life.

You can read a bio for both of us and details of the training we have undertaken here: https://pauls93.sg-host.com/about/

Training with Norman

We were lucky enough to undertake Yin Yoga teacher training with Norman Blair at Yoga Campus in Manchester back in June 2018. We As a result of spending time with Norman it really brought to life the content of his book and it was great to meet him and train with him.

At the Yoga Campus training in Yin Yoga with Norman Blair

As a Yoga teacher, Brightening our Inner Skies is a great resource and reference guide. Hence, it happily sits alongside my Bernie Clark Yin Yoga book. For me, a great yoga book is one that I read with a pencil, a highlighter and some sticky page markers. This is one of those books, a book that you want to make sure you can easily find a quote or a phrase in, a book that you want to dip in and out of for some time to come.

Brightening Our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga – with plenty of tabs to refer back to!

In Summary

Brightening our Inner Skies Yin and Yoga is both a guide to Yin, teaching Yin and also a way finder for the modern world. Thank you to Norman for realising this book, I highly recommend it.

You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon through the link below:

We are members of the Amazon Affiliates scheme.

You can find out more about Norman Blair here;

https://www.yogawithnorman.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/Yoga-with-Norman-183652105002257/
https://www.instagram.com/yogawithnorman/
https://twitter.com/yogawithnorman