Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Yoga pioneer Pattabhi Jois dies

One of the leading figures in the world yoga community, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, has died at the age of 93.

Jois, from India, was widely considered to be the modern founder of the ashtanga branch of yoga and credited with popularising it in the West.

His many thousands of students include the pop musicians Sting and Madonna, and the actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ashtanga yoga is based on synchronising the breath through a progressive series of postures.

It is the most rigorous form of yoga, and its practitioners claim it can produce positive effects on mind and body.

The theory is that it produces intense internal heat, which purifies the muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins as well as releasing beneficial hormones and minerals which can nourish the body when the sweat is absorbed back into the skin.

However, many in the medical establishment remain yet to be convinced by its supposedly therapeutic qualities.

Research institute

Introduced to yoga at a demonstration in 1927 at the age of 12, Jois immersed himself in the discipline, studying under the guru Krishnamacharya who had revived the ancient practice of yoga in the early years of the 20th century.

Jois developed and refined ashtanga yoga after translating ancient texts on the technique, eventually establishing the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Lakshmipuram, Mysore.

In 1964 a Belgian named Andre Van Lysebeth spent two months studying under Jois, and wrote a book which mentioned him and included his address.

This marked the beginning of Westerners travelling to India to study under Jois.

In 1975 he visited California, triggering a huge surge in popularity among Americans for ashtanga yoga.

He continued to travel the world into his nineties, developing a loyal band of followers.

Jois considered yoga to be a form of mind medicine.

"Ashtanga yoga is helping many people throughout the world to balance the mental, physical and spiritual pressures and stresses posed by the modern world we live in today," he said.

Pierre Bibby, chief executive officer of the British Wheel of Yoga, said: "He was a massive influence on the development of yoga, and greatly respected.

"He did a great deal to broaden the appeal of yoga, and make it more accessible to a Western constituency."