Category: Yoga

The Importance of Lineage

The practices of Yoga and meditation have been passed down from generation to generation for many thousands of years, and like many of the things we use in our lives, such as telephones, cars, stoves and bicycles, their form has changed over the centuries. Yoga 1,000 years ago, in all likelihood, looked a little different than it does today. However, the essential, underlying purpose of Yoga has not changed—similar to how the essential purpose of a car has not changed, which is to move us from one place to another. The purpose of Yoga and meditation have been, from the earliest times, and continue to be, a way that we seek to know who we truly are.

Pattabhi Jois often stressed the importance of having a teacher, or a Guru, and how important lineage was. When I travel and teach, I often get asked what should you do if you don’t live near a teacher, or why lineage in Ashtanga Yoga is considered to be so important, since a lot of people do not have access to teachers on a regular basis, but learn Yoga from videos, YouTube, or apps. It’s a good question, and I’d like to preface this question with some of my thoughts on how the recent yoga academics discuss lineage in regards to yoga, in contrast to how the Guru tradition in India sees it. Hopefully by the end of this two-part post we’ll see that the importance of lineage today is the same as it was one thousand years ago, and that it’s not important just in regards to Ashtanga Yoga, but in regards to all Yogas, and all systems of knowledge.

First, a definition: the words lineage and parampara basically mean the same thing. Parampara, like most Sanskrit words, has many meanings. Among some of the dictionary meanings are, “proceeding from one to another”, “uninterrupted series”, “generation”, “tradition”, “continuation” and “one following the other”. All of them point to a continuous flow of something, whether it is a family line or a philosophical tradition, from one person, or generation, to the next. It also indicates a process of knowledge being passed down from a guru to a shishya, or a teacher to a student.

The knowledge in the guru-shishya tradition that is being passed on is knowledge that has been tested, similar to (but not exactly like) a science experiment that has been proven to be replicable, and then its results accepted in the larger, scientific field. Yoga and meditative practices that are passed down contain knowledge based on experience. It’s not that it’s because these practices are older that we say they are better —like the saying, “Old is gold,” for example—we don’t say that the telegraph, invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830’s, was better than a mobile phone because it came first. The telegraph was the most absolute modern invention of its time; there was nothing more cutting edge than the ability to communicate via radio waves, which are invisible to the human eye. Many people did not accept the new technology. Many people did not even accept the telephone when it was invented, bringing unwieldy and labor-intensive technology into the home.

My wife’s parents, for example, did not even own a phone until the late 1980’s. She bought them one so she could speak with them because she lived outside of France and travelled a lot. But they otherwise saw no need to have one, and they didn’t even want one—everyone they needed to speak to lived in their village, or was a short car or bike ride away. Her father, who is 85, only uses a mobile phone now. If Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone in 1876, could see the iPhone today, he would no doubt be thrilled by it, and probably already knew such a thing was possible. He wouldn’t remark (I am assuming), “Oh, the telegraph was so much better. It was great to be able to communicate in such a simpler time.” We have to remember that every new age or generation is the most modern age that has ever been. 5,000 years ago was the most modern time that ever existed then, and today, this very day, whatever day it is that you are reading this line, is the most modern time it is of the age you live in. So when we say ‘modern’, we have to remember that every single age, time and generation is modern at the time it exists. Therefore, to say things like “modern postural yoga” is not only ridiculous, but also imprecise: what will those same academics call yoga one hundred years from now, when the yoga that they called modern is no longer modern?

To give into these types of categorizations from an anthropological mind set is to give into the illusion of time and space, and that all the things that exist within time and space have appeared in a chronological order. For a Western mind, that might ring true because a sense of order makes us feel like we have figured something out—or worse yet, like we have figured it all out. But in India, time is not a chronology of events, time is a circle, which expands and contracts, and allows for everything to exist simultaneously, past, present and future. The experience of the simultaneous existence of everything is the best remedy for feeling separate from the world.

I want to stay with the telephone analogy for a moment longer just because it lines up well with the idea in parampara of being, originally, and still, largely an oral tradition. Communication is one of the most developed functions that we possess as a species. It is postulated by scientists such as Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson and others that the largest part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, has developed primarily as our social interaction processing network. A large part of our existence depends upon communication and interaction. The telephone was an extension of this. So, when we look at such an object, we have to remember that the important facet here is not that the first telephone invented was the best telephone ever, and only that phone was the real true telephone; we have to be clear on the fact that the telephone exists for us to talk to each other with greater facility, to communicate. Communication then becomes the thread from generation to generation of telephones. And communication is a circle; it is not a straight line, from point A to point B. When we speak to someone, they should be listening, in order for communication to occur, and also, we need to feel that we have been heard. If we haven’t been heard, then there is no communication. So it’s not just that someone speaks, it’s that there is also a listener, a comprehension, and perhaps a response. It’s a circle.

This is how knowledge was passed down within the Yoga traditions. The guru gives the instruction, the shishya listens, and puts it into practice, and the guru gives feedback that continually refines the shishya’s ability to practice, and thus draws out a direct experience in the shishya that they will then pass on to their students when they teach. The instruction leads towards experience. The instruction is not to make the student a fundamentalist about a particular practice or message, but to know themselves on a deep level, perhaps as pure consciousness, beyond time and space, beyond personal narrative.

The important message in parampara is not that there is one, ultimate practice that is the real, true practice that must be preserved and passed down from generation to generation; the purpose of Yoga is self-knowledge. This is the thread of Yoga that is passed down from generation to generation. It is only normal that there will be upgrades and variations as time passes.

In the Taittiriyra Upanishad, there are several beautiful mantras that give an analogy based on how words are joined together, and that there are five great conjunctions that link together to form the full expression of the universe. One of those conjunctions is the meeting of the Guru and shishya; it says:

The Guru is the first letter, the shishya is the second letter, learning is the meeting place, and the instruction is the link.

Parampara is indeed the link in this chain, and it ties the teacher and student together into wholeness, completeness, and the experience of knowledge.

In the next post, I’ll discuss more about the Ashtanga Yoga parampara and the Hindu Guru tradition. Thanks for reading!


Is There Such a Thing As Pure Ashtanga Yoga?

This past month I did a short interview for Amrita Magazine in London. They asked me a question that I felt was an important one, because it hit upon a lot of the problems that all groups in the world – whether political, religious, spiritual, or ancestral – have to grapple with, and that is the notion of purity. The question was, “Do you teach “pure” Ashtanga Yoga, and what do you think of all the variations and offshoots based on the original system?” My answer, which is below, didn’t address their question fully. I answered only the first part, but not the second part, because I am not familiar with the offshoots and what they are doing. I am, however, familiar with the splits that have occurred in our own community, and that is what I spoke about in my answer.

Let’s start off with the idea about “pure” Ashtanga Yoga. Though I understand your question and where you are coming from, I like to be careful about “pure” anything when it comes to spirituality, religious practices, or anything to do with religion. Thinking we are adhering to the most pure version of something is how our minds begin to take on a fundamentalist, extremist, or self-righteous mindset – usually without us being aware of it – and it leads to the most un-yogic type of behavior.

I do my best to teach what I learned from Sri K Pattabhi Jois, or at least what I remember learning. What I remember learning is the key here – because all of our memories are subject to alteration over time. Also, he taught everyone a little bit differently. There are some basic things that have held up over the years, and that I stick to: the basic order of the sequences, the technique of breathing and moving, and the gaze. But the rate at which he taught each person a posture, or the small changes in the way he taught different people postures, varied.

Over the years there have been small changes to the sequences, a change in a posture here or there, a different count to a vinyasa here or there, but essentially things have stayed the same for the past 90 years since Pattabhi Jois started learning from Krishnamacharya in South India. Pattabhi Jois’s grandson, Sharath Jois, who now is the head of the Ashtanga Yoga parampara, has also introduced some new additions, which are welcome changes. But you imagine this system of practice is like a river whose course has not changed direction over many years, but along the banks of the river, some small changes occur.

We have to be flexible enough in body and mind to roll with the changes when they come; if they work, there is no reason to not keep them. If they don’t work for you, stick with what does – but don’t criticize the changes as being less than what you learned earlier, because they may actually work quite well for a lot of people. “Old is gold” is what we say when we get old! My thinking is, if Pattabhi Jois, or Sharath, introduced something new into the sequence, perhaps there is a good reason for it. After all, they had/have a lot of experience.

So, which Ashtanga Yoga is “pure”? The version that Pattabhi Jois taught in 1937 at the Sanskrit College? How he taught in 1948 when he opened his first institute? The version the first Americans learned in 1972? What I learned in 1991 when I started with him? Or today, as Sharath teaches it? My thinking is that they are all pure, if your mind is pure.

We need to keep in mind that the sequences, though effective, are not so much special in and of themselves. The important thing is the experience that is being passed along through the vehicle of a practice. The practice is just that: a vehicle. We have to remember who is behind the wheel. If they are a good driver, then who knows, perhaps they will reach their destination safely. But if they are a reckless driver, then they might cause damage to innocent bystanders. If someone thinks they are pure, but they hurt people, or misguide people, then all the adherence to rules and regulations are useless. Someone else, with less experience, less adherence to rules, but more adherence to kindness, listening and compassion, may actually go a lot further in passing on the message of yoga.

In the Vaishnav tradition, there are three things that a spiritual practitioner is supposed to have:

1. Respect for your elders
2. Friendliness towards your colleagues
3. Equanimity of mind towards those with poor behavior

When we have those things, then notions of purity, of being better than someone else who we deem as less ‘pure’, and all the problems associated with that, fall away. It’s hard not to judge people based on their actions. However, sometimes actions are deceptive. it is better to look at the effects of their actions, and see whether or not our judgement is called for. If the effect is good, we should be happy, even if we don’t agree completely with the action, the instruction, or whether or not they changed something in a sequence, if it is helpful to another human being. Or animal. Or the planet.

When Guruji told me I could start teaching yoga, he gave me two instructions. The first was don’t advertise. The second was, “Teach how I taught you, don’t change it.” How did he teach me? By teaching me, not by teaching someone else. So, I try to teach each person as they are, not as if they were someone else. In doing that, there is no pure or not pure, there’s just a person, and yoga, and where they meet. Sometimes it works, sometimes is doesn’t, but nevertheless, I try.

Happy Halloween. Om.


November Updates

Please find below some updates for the next month:

1. The Breathing App has had 12,000 downloads in our first ten days, thank you all for your support! Check it out here if you haven’t downloaded already.

2. Rio (Oct. 20-23) will be my last workshop for the year; after Monday I’ll be in NY till Moscow, January 10th-14th. Yay!

3. Starting Friday, November 10th, I’ll be teaching on Fridays again.

4. Thursday, Oct.19th, is the moon day. Friday, October 20th, we will be closed for temple construction and repairs. We will add on a day to everyone’s month for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience, and please accept my apologies for the closure. We are trying to get everything finished ASAP!

5. Jocelyne will teach a Thursday night meditation class towards the middle of November – stay tuned!

That’s all for now! Thank you!


The Breathing App

The Breathing App

Hello, Folks!

I am very excited to announce that my first app, called The Breathing App, will be available on the iTunes App Store starting Thursday, October 5th.

The app is based on resonance breathing, which is a specific frequency of breathing that brings about a balance of our physiological and emotional baselines, including our heart rate, blood pressure, and brainwave frequencies. It has many benefits, and leads to an alert, mental calm.

It is a two year collaboration between myself, Deepak Chopra (who helped to guide the science behind the app), and Sergey Varichev (who did all of the coding and co-designed). The music on the app is by Moby.

You can find out more information on the app and coherence here.

Please go to the App Store on Thursday and try it out – it’s free! Leave comments and lots of five star ratings 🙂

The launch will be this weekend at the Inner Peace Conference in Amsterdam, which will be live-streamed on their FB page on Saturday. Deepak and I also did a FB live post about the app which you can see here.

Thanks all very much! I hope that you like it!

With love,


Helping Houston

Hi, Folks,

By now everyone has seen the extensive damage that Hurricane Harvey has brought to Texas and Louisiana. Let’s also not forget the massive rains in South East Asia.

If you would like to support humanitarian and rescue work in Houston, please consider supporting Alison Thompson, who I worked with during Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway. You can learn about her in this short video, and within the first two minutes you’ll want to support her. She goes into crisis zones in every corner of the world, and brings her SWAT rescue paramedic skills and considerable experience with her. In Houston, she’ll be bringing all of that, plus a couple of boats and canoes.

Alison looks for both long and short term interventions in crisis zones. One of the massive problems from Hurricane Sandy was there was no power for up to five months in many areas. That includes street lights, and everything. In advance of this, one of the things she will be bringing with her are 500 solar powered lights to distribute, that you can see demo’ed in the video. More lights will be coming as well.

Denise Horvilleur, who I work with in the public schools in El Paso, and previously in Houston, and Rachel Nystrom, who runs Ashtanga Yoga Houston, are opening their houses to Alison for supply shipments, headquarters, and as a place for a group of medics who are en route from NYC to stay in. Michelle Manning (who was also in Far Rockaway) will be driving in from Tennessee with a truck filled with requested supplies from some very hard hit local parishes. Pastor Tillman and I will do what we can from here with our connections in Houston.

The big organizations are great to support, but the smaller groups are also valuable because they can provide quick and surgical responses in many cases. That is what Alison, the medics, and Michelle will be doing.

If you are looking for a way to help, here are some good options:

#1 Help Alison Thompson/Third WaveVolunteers here
#2 The NYT has a good list of groups to donate to here

Please, please think twice before giving to the Red Cross. The Red Cross is one of the most corrupt charitable organizations that we have in the US. Millions upon millions of dollars donated to specific causes, like Haiti, or Hurricane Sandy, never reached those locations, and the Red Cross has been sued multiple times over this.

Thanks very much for reading this. If you have tips or need help, please let me know, and I’ll pass it along.

With love,
Eddie and Jocelyne


Nectar, Nadis, & The Nervous System


Maha Lakshmi, Patanjali and Helsinki


This year (I think it’s my fifth time in Helsinki), we have decided to add a dedicated chanting class to our program. Chanting is one of my favorite practices. Within Ashtanga Yoga, it falls under the category of svadhyaya, and has a wide range of benefits that are emotional, psychological, and physical, all while directing our awareness inward. In this class we will be chanting the Lakshmi Ashtakam, the Eight Verses to Lakshmi, who is the Goddess of Prosperity, both material and spiritual. It is melodic and meaningful, and is a devotional practice that you can add to your daily sadhana.

Adyanta rahite Devi adyashakti Maheshvari | Yogaje yogasambhute Mahalakshmi Namostu’te

“Salutations to the great Goddess, who is without beginning or end; the primordial energy behind all creation; salutations to Devi Mahalakshmi, who is born out of Yoga, and who is always united with Yoga.”

Vibhuti Pada

Over the past few years in Helsinki we have spoken quite a lot about Samkhya and Yoga, specifically chapter two of the Yoga Sutras. This year we are going to dive a little into chapter three, called the Vibhuti Pada, or the chapter on accomplishments, or perfection. The Vibhuti Pada discusses the final three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga: concentration, meditation, and samadhi. One of the controversial aspects of this chapter are the many powers that Patanjali speaks about that the Yogi can attain by concentrating on particular objects. He states, towards that end of the chapter, that the powers are an obstacle to enlightenment, so the yogi should be wary of them, and this is one of the reasons why this chapter is not dwelled on at length in most of the Yogic literature.

However, while the powers may be an obstacle to enlightenment, they are not an obstacle to experiencing the world, and Patanjali indeed also says, earlier in the Sutras, that the world exists for two purposes: experience, and liberation. In these lectures we will look into the process that gives these attainments, and some of the attainments that are very useful for having a positive experience of the world we live in. For example:

maitryadishu balani

“Through deep meditation on friendliness and other similar virtues, one obtains great strength (of virtues)”.

In the Vibhuti Pada, Patanjali takes us on a journey from the exploration of time, to an understanding of the present moment, and all of the phenomena that takes place in between.


@GOOP & The Vagus Nerve

It is always great fun (and great honor!) to work with GOOP and try to answer the yoga and science questions they throw at me. This installation: the multifaceted vagus nerve. I hope it’s basically correct!

What’s important to know about the vagus nerve, and how it affects our overall health?

Emotion, stress, inflammation, heart rate, blood pressure, vocal expression, digestion, brain-heart communication, adaptivity, epilepsy. What do these things all have in common? The vagus nerve. It allows for communication between the brain, inner body, emotions, and world. The vagus nerve takes its name from Latin—it means wandering, like vagabond. It is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves. Most of the cranial nerves (there are twelve), stimulate or direct only one or two particular functions; for example, the first cranial nerve controls our sense of smell, the second our sense of sight. The vagus, however, which is the tenth cranial nerve, extends from the brain stem down into the trachea, larynx, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, and intestines. Among its many, many functions, the vagus stimulates the voluntary muscles that effect speech and expression (which is why Darwin called it the nerve of emotion); it’s associated with digestion and relaxation of the GI tract; it slows the heart rate and reduces inflammation. It is the oldest branch of our parasympathetic nervous system, and carries within it imprints of hundreds of thousands of years of the evolutionary imperative that we all have within us to feel safe, connected, and loved.

Read the full article here!

An earlier GOOP article on Yoga and aging (an excerpt from the book GOOP Clean Beauty) can be found here


Yoga & Science

Please join us for an exciting one-day pop-up Yoga + Science conference that will bring together the brightest minds doing scientific research on yoga and meditation’s effects on cellular regeneration, longevity, consciousness and health. Internationally recognized speakers will describe their own groundbreaking research, demonstrate models integrating eastern and western perspectives, and provide practical guidance for ways in which research evidence supports specific yoga practices. What can the yogis learn from science, and what can science learn from the yogis? Find out during this one day event!

Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts @ LIU Brooklyn, One University Plaza 11201

Register Now!