How Ashtanga Yoga found its way to the West
It was just a small photo in one of many yoga books. And yet this picture set a revolution in motion. It brought Europeans and Americans to Pattabhi Jois in India, and Ashtanga Yoga to the West.
In 1964, André van Lysebeth, a Belgian, found his way into Pattabhi Jois’s tiny Yogashala in Mysore. With his profound knowledge of Yoga and Sanskrit, André became intrigued by this old yogic system. He spent two months with Pattabhi Jois who taught him the first and second series. Among the many books André van Lysebeth wrote in the ensuing years, one carried the title "pranayama". André wrote this book directly after he spent time with Jois. A photograph of the guru including his name and address was published in "pranayama”. Through this book, Pattabhi Jois’s name started to spread slowly in the Western world, mainly in Europe. So it came as no surprise that quite a few Europeans were among the first Westerners who travelled to India with the goal of meeting Pattabhi Jois.
In 1973, Norman Allen was the first American to be taught by Pattabhi Jois. Norman attended a yoga demonstration at the Swami Gitananda Ashram in Pondicherry; the yoga was performed by Manju Jois, the son of Pattabhi Jois. Impressed by what he witnessed, he decided to study this system of yoga.
A little later, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff joined the tiny Yogashala in Mysore. They were the first to invite Pattabhi Jois to California, USA, to teach a workshop, in 1975. Only ten to fifteen students participated in the first workshop. This was a very modest start, compared to the amount of people who attend Pattabhi’s classes today.
Manju Jois accompanied his father on this legendary trip. He decided to stay in America to spread the traditional technique of Ashtanga Yoga there.
As time went by, Ashtanga Yoga became more and more known in the Western world. Pattabhi Jois was invited to teach many workshops not only in the U.S. but also in Brazil, the UK and many other countries. Today, the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is one of the most famous yoga traditions in the world. One can find Ashtanga yoga classes held almost everywhere. Stars such as Madonna and Sting commit themselves to this ancient practice, a fact which has undoubtedly increased the popularity of Ashtanga yoga even more.