|Like this old cover best, link to David's website|
Here's another excellent interview from Wild Yogi, this time with David Swenson, below is a snippet but do check out the full interview in the magazine which also has some wonderful old photos.
(Talks with students in Moscow, July 2010)
"Ilya Zhuravlev: There is information that in due time Pattabhi Jois has changed several asanas in the first series. Probably, he as a keeper of the tradition had right for that. But there is a tendency that some teachers think they can change some asanas as well. Does David think that it is not absolutely correct and creativity in yoga should begin a little bit later?
David: Those teachers are not Pattabhi Jois. Here is what I think concerning this matter. I knew Pattabhi Jois for a long time, and the changes that he has brought I can count on fingers of one hand. It never happened that in thirty years the system looked absolutely different. The sequence had the same very asanas and changes were very insignificant. Pattabhi Jois was practicing according to this system for sixty years. It seems to me if in a couple of years of practice a person starts to change something it means that he has insufficient depth of understanding of the system.
Certainly, a person can do with yoga whatever he wants: to join the first and second levels, to do everything vice versa - really, what he wants. Do what you want but name your system differently, otherwise you confuse people. When Ashtanga Yoga tradition is being kept then coming for class in Moscow, in America or in Australia you will get the same very yoga. There may be some insignificant differences but there would not be a big difference. And if you say that you are teaching Ashtanga yoga in tradition of Pattabhi Jois you need to respect this tradition. If you wish to change something in yoga call it by a different name: “Vinyasa Yoga”, “Flow Yoga” or somehow else. Look at all systems of yoga which have come from Ashtanga. Everything that is called “Power Yoga” has come from Ashtanga. Do you know who used the term “Power Yoga” for the first time? Where does this name come from?
Two persons in the USA, one in New York and another in Los Angeles used this name simultaneously. The first is Bryan Kest from California. He was practicing Ashtanga yoga. Bryan has got Ashtanga yoga from two people: first he was taught by his father, and then he was taught by Pattabhi Jois. Bryan took the main principles of Ashtanga yoga and slightly changed the sequence and fixing time and named it “Power Yoga”. Beryl Bender Birch from New York was studying Ashtanga yoga with Norman Allen and then with Pattabhi Jois. This woman wrote a book, but the publisher told her that the name “Ashtanga Yoga” does not suit, it is not clear and she had to change the name, so it turned into “Power Yoga”. But they can be respected already for naming the system in another way.
The list can be continued: there is a well known teacher in America, her name is Shiva Rea, she was doing Ashtanga yoga. She has altered the system and named it “Vinyasa Flow”. You, of course, heard about Jivamukti yoga. David Life and Sheron Gannon are well known experts of Ashtanga yoga in the past. You have heard about Anna Forest, it in all photos she does handstands. Initially she practiced Ashtanga yoga, then she has created own system and named it Forest Yoga.
It seems to me that all systems of yoga mentioned above do not have anything bad. People who have created them change something in yoga and together with it they change the name and it is normal. I think that teachers of yoga should not spend their energy and time for saying badly about other systems of yoga. You should be simply devoted to the system, to what you teach and if someone's system is worse, just say nothing about it. What seems bad to you may seem good for someone else. Do you know what the most popular system of yoga in the world is? Bikram Yoga. In China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, America and in Europe. It is even more popular than Iyengar Yoga. You may agree with it or not, but many people benefit from it. Many people use Bikram yoga as fitness because it does not have any difficult asanas, it has no lotuses. People sweat, and loose excess weight. And Bikram himself is a very outstanding person.
In general, sometimes it is easy to judge other people. Take a detached look at yourself, and probably you will see that you have the same problems. It is very difficult to get rid of weeds in your own garden. It is very easy to notice problems in others, but not to solve your own same problems.
I have already mentioned that there are various generations of Ashtanga. Now we can speak about three various generations of Ashtanga, probably the fourth generation is already coming. Also there is an old school of teachers. And you will feel that teachers of old school have the same philosophy, the same life outlook, as I have. There is a question: if you wish to be involved in it till the end of the days then why should you complicate it? Simplify! Concentrate on breath, on locks; well, you cannot make a difficult asana – it is not so terrible.
There are young teachers who say that if you practice Ashtanga, you should do everything accurately. And in some sense I can understand them; people want the practice to be correct, supervised. But even Pattabhi Jois has slightly changed some things during these years. Pattabhi Jois was a very understanding and loving person. Though I knew him for a very long time, there are many people who spent more time in Mysore, than I did. But every time when I saw him, he started to shine and smile: “O! David Swenson! Veeery old student!”
I will tell to you about the most touching thing that he did in my regards. On his 90th birthday he invited me to his home, called me in his room and took out a beautiful silk shirt out of a wall case. He wanted me to put on this shirt for his birthday. Has looked in my eyes and said: “I want you never forget me. Do not forget me”. I said: “Guruji, how can I forget you”.
"Do not forget me" David and Jois
And it seems to me that concerning yoga each of us has a certain purpose. It was always clear that Sharat should become a successor of Pattabhi Jois. But Sharat knows that he cannot become Pattabhi Jois, he is his successor. After all Pattabhi Jois was the only one. As well as B.К.S Iyengar is the only one. When he leaves who will take his place? Pattabhi Jois was precisely the same person for Ashtanga. One thousand of teachers are required to take his place. To understand Pattabhi Jois you need to look at my generation of teachers, because we are parts of Pattabhi Jois.
Actually all this is very interesting, because there are different generations of students, teachers, people in general. When I was teaching Ashtanga yoga, I was always putting a lot of efforts to be something like Switzerland. In all wars Switzerland remained neutral. It was always interesting to be with Pattabhi Jois but when I was visiting Mysore, I was going to classes of Saraswati as well. Sometimes I could call Manju and go for his class. I was practicing with Sharat in Mysore and on his retreats in Goa. I am in friendly relations with everyone, I love all the family. And it seems to me normal that various teachers have different ideas, own opinions. It seems to be correct, it is natural. I think the system becomes more complete when students can think independently. But what the other teachers teach is not my business. My duty is to teach with my heart, to respect my teachers and to try to live keeping the integrity. And to say things I believe in. What other people do is a part of their way. And I try to respect everyone I meet on the way. It is an unusual time now because Pattabhi Jois is not here anymore and there are students of Sharat appear. It looks like a real family, in real family children not always are able to find the common language. Sometimes there are quarrels between them. But in the end of the day you understand, that this is your family and you love all of them. In a life it is very important to understand each other and yoga teaches that.
Ashtanga Yoga is more than a person, is more than a city. Ashtanga Yoga lives, when people are practicing it, instead of speaking about it. And it seems to me that the teacher has one main objective, one basic role is to inspire his students, to inspire them to practice. It is not necessary to influence people’s lives, it is important to show them how to use the certain tool and how it is possible to change their life by means of this tool."