Monday, March 07, 2011

Like Dharma Says - Fancy Postures Are Not a Requirement for Enlightenment

The clip above is from the 2007 documentary Enlighten Up! Maybelline recently told me about the Norman Allen outtakes, and loaned me her copy. They're amazing.

Allen was the first American to study ashtanga with Pattabhi Jois - although SKPJ initially didn't want him there. It was his wife, Amma, who convinced him to give Allen a chance. He ended up staying with Pattabhi Jois and his family for years, living in his house, running errands for the family, going to concerts with them and generally being part of the family. He used to do the demonstrations when Pattabhi Jois went on tour, and even taught at his shala.

Now, he lives in relative seclusion in Hawaii and teaches the way he was taught - each student individually. He also teaches for free (actually, if you come to class four times a week it's free; if you come once a week it's $75; twice a week it's $50, etc; students are fined $25 for each of the four weekly classes they miss).

To me, he's the most intriguing of SKPJ's early students - probably because he embodies his teachings the most. (He also learned Sanskrit and Pattabhi Jois's language, Kannada, plus he knows (as in, has internalized) yoga philosophy inside in out).

My favorite moment in the movie is when he tells the young seeker to "Go f--- yourself."

In the outtakes, he's told about other teachers who make piles of money, and seems surprised. Then he asks, laughing, "What are they gonna do what all that money? What do they want to buy?" (beat) "Let me know - if it's something good, I'll go do it, too."

When asked if he's a Hindu or Buddhist or something else, he says, "Farmer."

You can read Guy Donahaye's 2007 amazing interview with him here.

In it, Allen explains that the asanas, when performed in a vacuum, can inflate the ego.

"Without the right intentions, without the right diet, without Yama/Niyama it ain’t happenin.' It's just not happening...You gotta make sure that you dissolve the ego, get rid of the ego. If practice becomes sensational and competitive it is completely anterior, it becomes tamasic. You gotta’ become sattvic in potential, in means and in intent, or you don’t have a chance."

He says that the west took the gems or asanas from the jewelry box of yoga and ignored the rest. What's needed is the whole nine yards - gunas, sutras, understanding of prana, discipline, etc. etc. etc.

And not just the postures, practiced in a void.


  1. THIS IS GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I will watch the whole thing and add more commentary.

    Ralph from DeKalb

  2. I just finished watching all 8 part of Enlighten Up! Some part were very serious (part 6), but most items were done well and were interesting. I learned a few 'words' like 'Kundaluna(tic)', 'T&A', etc.

    I see there are some other trailers, so later today...

    Ralph from DeKalb

  3. I love this guy, at least I think I do. I'd love to meet him. It's so true that asana can and often does inflate the ego. I'd say more often than not.

    It's been interesting working with Greg through my ongoing (though better than it was at the worst) knee issues. We were talking about the ego & said sooner or later asana will crush the ego, because you either get smart and work around it, transcend it enough not to maim yourself (basically), or you lose your practice.

    And in that sense you're only crushing your asana ego and missing the point entirely, which is sad, but then again, you don't need asana to figure out the difference between thought based ego and the pure awareness of identity.

  4. I thought that's what Advanced ABCD are for - to destroy the ego. Just when you think you've mastered something.... a harder pose is given.

    In my case, there have been numerous injuries along the way. The ego is still there, though. Being around Dharma whittles it down like nothing else. And watching my own failings, and being - against all odds - forgiven for them.

    I'd love to take a trip to Kona to seek out Norman Allen.

  5. Yes... I think the increased difficulty level forces us to keep paying attention. And I'm having my own thing with this pose I thought wasn't worth my attention. Freaking Buddhasana!

    Maybe we should team up & fly off in search of Norman.

  6. We could make the world's first iPhone documentary - and call it Stalking Norman Allen!

  7. Ralph - If you can, rent the video so you can see the outtakes. It's on Netflix, and can be watched online using the "Play Now" button.

  8. That'd be awesome! We need super hero yogi outfits for this.

    I called him "Normal Allen" in a blog post once. Did you see that? It was a typo but funny so I left it.

  9. C.K. don't have (get?)Netflix, but I know someone who does. I'll check on this -- I get to go with you when you track down Normal Allen. He's my HERO!!

    Ralph from DeKalb

  10. BTW Boodiba -- 'Normal' Allen was VERY funny. I used it too.

    Ralph from DeKalb

  11. :) Sometimes slips are appropriate.

  12. I think it we should do it on pay-per-view.

    It would be cool, because you (Boodi) could do the Advanced stuff the way he learned it - in the old sequence.

    He does seem to be one of the most "normal" of the early Mysore visitors.