You may or may not know that I’m a student of Gary Kraftsow. Good guy. To be honest, despite studying his work for over a year now, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to call him my teacher until the last two weeks. I read his books, signed up for his 2-year training, spent two weeks with him in April and now, after another two weeks breathing the redwood air with him and his faculty in the Santa Cruz mountains, I’m ready. Atha yoganusasanam. Now’s the time to do some yoga.
So what happened?
Gary’s a kooky guy. Like most of my faves in this life, he’s mildly neurotic and intensely bright. Also, earnest. And flawed, but occasionally apologetic for his quirks. The combination intimidated me at first; because he doesn’t rest on pretense, interactions with him are notably sincere—with all the challenges this brings. He’s pretty funny too, which means he’ll offer up Vedic philosophy, biomechanics and mild esoterica with analogies to Tastykakes and, without awkward prurience, allusions to sex. (We’re adults. Partaking is our privilege, you know.)
But at the get-go, and fully acknowledging that I’m making a telling confession here, I was skeptical. Gary is the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, an organization dedicated to sharing a safe and healing approach to yoga based on the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya and his son, T.K.V. Desikachar. Gary makes no bones about honoring the ancient teachings passed along a long family line to Krishnamacharya while recognizing that our modern lives (and dysfunctions) require reconsidered practical application. I told you: he’s smart. And thoughtful.
But I wasn’t quite ready for him. Not at first. It took some dismantling of defenses for me to get there. And Viniyoga helped. As my body gained integrity, so did my interest in improving my relationships. Especially with myself. The best teacher is patient with a student’s reluctance. Gary told me to think, practice and wait. It was very good advice.
So while it’s the case that he teaches yet another brand of yoga, his brand deliberately explores zones other brands won’t dare approach. His brand is, actually, yoga. It’s a holistic approach to realizing the great potential of our lives. It isn’t limited to asana practice; it resolves to care more about the bodies and minds it engages than the poses and procedures it promotes. To watch bodies doing their Viniyoga may mean watching someone completing an asana practice in five poses, taking a seat in a chair and sitting still to breathe. Or, as is my current practice, it may mean I match my occasionally limitless energy with an initially strong asana practice that tapers into soothing pranayama.
It’s a foundational approach to yoga therapy: honor the body and mind by respecting the unique relationship they’ve forged. In the process, understand that this relationship will change both. The body will become stronger; the mind will catch glimpses of clarity more often. Everyone around will wonder what happened.
So why am I writing this post? Because I encourage my students to be skeptical of yoga brands. And because Viniyoga, as taught by Gary and his faculty, rises to the pinnacle of my long experience in this wacky yoga world. In other words, I’ve found a path and I hope I can share it with as much authenticity and passion as it deserves.
I write it also as a love letter, I suppose. And an invitation. Because this process is transformative—body and mind, and, dare I say, heart—and I’d like to serve anyone seeking a path toward change. At the very least, we’ll strengthen the spine and relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.
Viniyoga means that the appropriate techniques for me may not be appropriate for you. That what pains us both may have two different causes. That what works for me may require modification for you. It’s a path that gives us options depending on our abilities, conditions, perceptions, interests and limitations. We’re all looking for happiness and we’re all responsible for finding our way toward it. We should wander together, open to mutual support, but we’ll wander uniquely. We should practice together, but we may never practice the same thing.
If you care to dip your toes into a Viniyoga-style practice with me, please come along to PB Yoga & Healing Arts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 8:45, or on Wednesdays at 6pm. Or, contact me directly to schedule a private session. I look forward to working together!