Kausthub Desikachar: A 2004 Interview
I previously highlighted Kausthub Desikachar’s limited edition book of photographs “… that commemorates the five great masters of yoga – T Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi, Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar.” While I did link to this 2004 interview he conducted with LA Yoga magazine, the interview has enough gems to warrant a separate post. Here then are excerpts from that interview:
Julie: As simply as you can explain it, what is your definition of yoga?
Kausthub: Relationship. How we relate to our society, to our job, with our friends, with our bodies, with our minds. Yoga is essentially about nurturing good and committed relationship to each of these things. If doing yoga does not make my life better, why do yoga?
Julie: Do we need to study yoga with a teacher in order to learn how to have healthy relationships?
Kausthub: If we can do things without a teacher, we don’t need a teacher. The teacher’s job is to give us enough skills so that we start seeing and become more independent. Ancient teachers would never bind the students to themselves, saying you have to be my student for the rest of my life. They would say after some time, we have given you enough tools, now you go away. But until the tools sink in, we need the help of a teacher. A blind man needs a stick or probably a dog as long as he is blind. The moment we do an operation and give him eyes, he doesn’t need the stick or the dog anymore. So the teacher’s job is to make us open our eyes from this darkness to light.
Julie: Then we are no longer students?
Kausthub: No, my grandfather, when he was 100, would still say he was a yoga student, and he would always place the sandals of his teacher on his forehead every morning as a gesture of gratitude towards his teacher.
… Julie: Please describe how yoga in the US is perceived from your view, coming from India?
Kausthub: One of the things which people do is generalization and generalization is not always accurate. However one thing that I have noticed, is the amount of branding in the American yoga world; it is not there in the other parts of the world. Now it is coming because of American teachers. Yoga came to Europe long before it came to America, but this idea of segregation into different styles never happened. People always say ‘Yoga’. I have gone to Iyengar centers in Europe and they are always called ‘Yoga’ center. I am going to Ashtanga centers; they always call themselves ‘Yoga’ centers.
Julie: But some of the major styles in America are from Indian teachers: Bikram, Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, for example.
Kausthub: Exactly, but the branding probably came from the United States. Only when yoga became popular in the US in the late 80’s did the branding come into play.
Julie: But we have more people practicing yoga in the US than anywhere besides India, don’t we?
Kausthub: Yes, but I met an Indian lady on the plane from San Francisco to Madras, who has been living in America for about 40 years. She asked me what I was doing and I said, “I am a yoga teacher.” She said, “Oh, you came to study in California?” I replied, “Why do you ask that?” And she said, “Isn’t California the Mecca of yoga for the world?” That is the perception.
Julie: Why do you think so?
Kausthub: Americans are much more open-minded and they like to try new things. That is a great plus in the United States. That is why everything in this world has a market here, because people are open to try nearly everything.
Julie: Should we at some point go to India to study?
Kausthub: If you would like to learn French, probably going to France would make a big difference. If you would like to learn Spanish, going to Spain would make a difference. Similarly yoga is part of our culture. You will find yoga on the streets where people may not know that they are practicing yoga, but it is there because yoga concepts have been integrated into our culture.