Kristina Karitinou is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, and has been teaching through the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois since 1991
Earlier this year I attended a Manju Jois' Teacher Training course in Rethymno, Crete hosted by Certified Ashtanga teacher Kristina Karitinou. Since that training Kristina and I have exchanged some emails discussing her late husband Derek Ireland and the early days of Ashtanga in Europe as well as it's development. I recently asked Kristina if she would be interested in contributing to a post along the lines of an interview as I wanted to share and explore further those discussions and she kindly agreed. I sent her an absurd amount of questions, I think she's answered nearly all of them. Although there is much about the past here, there is more about the future, about how the past informs the present, the encounter of cultures and traditions, the embracing of heritage....
See also this post which includes accompanying photos,
Interview/discussion with Kristina Karitinou
Anthony: How did you come to practice Yoga? Who were your first teachers and how did you come to practice Ashtanga?
Kristina: I was first introduced to yoga by a friend when I was about 14 years old. It was Akis Triantafyllou who gave me my first class in hatha yoga. Then a few years later at the age of 19 Linda Kapetaniou was recommended by a friend and thus I started attending her classes in Ashtanga yoga.
Kristina: Derek was a truly charismatic teacher setting the foundations of teaching and spreading the knowledge of Ashtanga in Europe, by training teachers and evolving the methodology of the practice. He provided us with the right tools to make the practice understandable to our western mentality. He was an extremely generous, knowledgeable and compassionate teacher, who had great respect towards his students and greatly contributed to the formation of the contemporary yoga teacher image. He was a devoted practitioner himself and would always pay his respects to his guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois as he would always stress the importance of lineage. At the same time he was an exemplary father and unique husband always caring about his family, not to mention that he was absolutely gorgeous attracting admiration wherever he would appear.
Anthony: How did you first meet him and what were your first impressions?
Derek Ireland in his Yoga Room, The practice place , Crete
Kristina: After practicing for two years with Linda till about Navasana she advised me to visit either sri K.Pattabhi Jois in India to advance my practice or go to Crete and practice with Derek Ireland. As Pattabhi was on a summer tour at the time I chose to go to Crete. There I met Derek and started practicing with him. I was overwhelmed so much by his deep and thorough knowledge as well as by his presence as a whole.
Anthony: What was it like to be taught by Derek, how was he as a teacher?
Kristina: When I first entered his shala I immediately realized the truth and the power of his teaching and it became apparent to me that he had the ability to understand your potential and bring it all up on the surface. He was always keen on making you see the power and strength that lied within you and worked towards making you experience the true possibilities and nature that you might not have been aware of. Myself as a teacher have been shaped by these characteristics of him, and I want to believe that my work also involves some of his teaching style.
Anthony: Why was he important to the growth of Ashtanga in Europe?
Kristina: Derek's students were actually the ones who made Ashtanga so popular in Europe. It was with his help that they spread this method and popularized the practice mainly in the Uk. Now, retrospectively, it's hard to imagine how things would have been without his presence.
Anthony: Who were some of his students that we may of heard about.
Kristina: The list is long: John Scott, Gingi Lee, Alexander Medin, Lis Lark, Brian Cooper, Mathew Vollmer, Michaela Clarke ,Annie Pace, Jocelyn Stern, Petri Raisanen, Joseph Dunham, Ginny Dean, Hemish Hendry and many many more.
Anthony: Tell me about ‘The Practice Place’, the Ashtanga community in Greece at that time?
Kristina: The Practice Place, was the first Ashtanga community in Europe. Set up in the UK it had its shala in the South of Crete. This was the place where teachers and students had the possibility to study with Derek and Radha. Derek was the one working mainly with the Mysore advanced practitioners and helped them evolve their practice. The place combined three important features, good practice, good food and accommodation in great surroundings. Most of us had to work our way through our studies there in an effort to learn to offer to this community as this was part of a Karma yoga training. Derek made this possible for us in order to deepen our knowledge and shape a correct attitude towards a dedicated practice.
Anthony: You taught for some time in Brighton, one of the first Ashtanga classes in the UK I believe, can you tell me a little about your experience of teaching Ashtanga in the UK at that time?
Kristina: In 1998 I was the first to teach Ashtanga in Brighton at Evolution Center. In 1999 the first Ashtanga community was established in the Natural Health Center in Brighton where I kept teaching up until 2003. At the time there were only a few teachers in the UK and that was when Ashtanga actually started taking off. This was an extremely important period for me, as it set the foundation for my professional career as an independent Ashtanga teacher. It was the first time that I had to work by myself as Derek had only recently departed.
Anthony: Do you feel that there is a distinctive character to European Ashtanga, to Greek yoga in particular…., visiting your shala it felt like an extended family not just the shala itself but teachers, students of yours from other parts of Greece, returning for Manju’s workshop and even further afield, there seemed to be former students of yours from as far as Finland.
Kristina: The teaching we received from Derek had always been a way to accept the spiritual differentiation and mentality of each and every practitioner, making thus each member of the community unique and respectable. Our common goal had always been a beneficial and correct technique on the practice while leaving space for personal growth. This must have also influenced the way I teach Ashtanga, giving the feeling that the teacher is an equal part of the community and not just some leader. The feeling you probably got of a big family must have to do with this acceptance and respect for each member while working on a mutual goal of personal development and improvement.
Anthony: How was it to visit Mysore, tell me about your experience practicing with Pattabhi Jois?
Kristina: Sri K Pattabhi Jois was a truly wise man. He was a very generous teacher, as when you practiced in his yoga shala you could feel the intensity of his deep knowledge as well as the connection to the teachers of the past. He had the ability to transfer your practice to a deeper level of understanding the asana and all this would come through his own experience of life and all the hardships and strains he had gone through which offered him a completely different awareness of the practice and the asana itself. He would always work through a deeper part of himself which had been shaped through the good and the bad times of life and had offered him a unique perspective of simplicity and substantiality. At the same time he was a very sincere man and truly industrious while all his students were made to feel part of his greater family and were always offered this knowledge generously. Through all his hard work he managed to contribute to the shaping of a universal consciousness towards a better world.
Anthony: Do you feel that the practice of Ashtanga has changed, not so much the details of practice but rather the experience of the practice.
Kristina: The experience of the practice seems like a completely subjective issue, as each of us has his own experience while practicing with few common points. However it has become really popular within the last 20 years, with the help of all the senior teachers around the world. More knowledge has been involved with adding more teacher training courses and information in the method such as alignment, philosophy, reference to the past or even anatomy. The practice is getting enriched as more and more is added through further examination and deeper knowledge. As it spreads through cultures and civilizations it is getting richer in cultural elements since this technique has the ability to adopt to various contemporary elements without getting altered or influenced by globalization. It has the unique characteristic of becoming part of all societies, growing stronger and still keeping its core intact.
Anthony: Tell me about Manju.
Kristina: Manju is a truly strong Master having kept the technique of traditional Ashtanga yoga in him alive, knowing the preciousness of this jewel. His point of view and karmic position have not been affected from all these years living in the West, on the contrary he has shown a remarkable strength of character and faith to the method. He has also gone through many difficulties which have made him really strong and given him the unique characteristic of fearlessness. At the same time he is extremely optimistic, and this faith and love towards his ethics and virtues offer great bonding power to the community. He functions as a true spiritual father forging personal relationships with his students, standing close to them and inspiring them to further development.
Anthony: ...and Sharath?
Kristina: Sharath is a man who has also worked really hard and was well prepared by his grandfather. He has taken up a huge responsibility and manages to deal with things in the best possible way, bearing in mind how young he is. He is offering an immediate and true approach to the method while trying to maintain and spread the true essence of this practice, which is certainly not an easy task, and demands great amount of concentration, since our generation is constantly bombarded by huge multinational enterprises and commercialism. He has deep knowledge of both the practice and the way to teach it and I honestly believe that he has both the wisdom and the strength to maintain and convey the legacy of this truly big family.
Anthony: Recently you had Hyon Gak Sunim, a Korean Zen Monk, teaching Zen at your shala, an extended workshop. Can you tell talk about your current thinking regarding Ashtanga and Zen
Kristina: Three years ago, I had the honor to meet Hyon Gak Sunim and come in contact with Zen meditation. Sunim managed to awaken a deeper level of internal understanding as he has the unique gift to tune and transform the dynamics of the surrounding environment and the people within it. He reminded me the importance of sitting in meditation and use the potential of my existence through chanting with his charismatic presence and his powerful perspective. There is a bond between meditation techniques and Asana practice. The beauty of Ashtanga practice includes a freedom to choose your own spiritual path when practicing the Asana. You can experience more benefits of this technique when you first try to do your meditation and then do your practice. It is true that both the Asana itself as well as mediation on its own involve certain limitations, so much of the body as well as of the mind, therefore a combination of the two can supplement each other and offer a more complete result. They both function through breathing and they both need the mind to focus on it in order for them to be successful and experienced to the highest possible level. Our body is made in such a way that it can be activated so much through motion kineasthetically, as well as when in absolute stillness, statically, When we practice a Zen or any other kind of meditation there is a need to be aware of the moment, free of sentimental charges. Through this state of self awareness the body gets well prepared to be able to decode to a higher level the information that each Asana and every single breath carries. Meditation and Asthanga practice are two intertwined elements and can offer a more complete result and a broader and deeper knowledge of reality, allowing the practitioner to get the most possible information at the time.
Anthony: I noticed on your alter a small bust of Socrates do you have any thoughts regarding Ashtanga as a philosophy, yoga sutras etc and Greek philosophy?
Kristina: It is of paramount importance for the practitioners to develop awareness of the cultural heritage of the place they are in. Being in Greece we bear great responsibility towards our ancestors and our roots, so having a small bust of Socrates triggers the energy that surrounds us and constantly reminds us why we actually practice. "Knowing thyself" is the epitome of knowledge, and it should always be there in our practice, in our breathing in our everyday life. "Practice and all is coming" incorporates the true meaning of knowing oneself as this is the only way given to us to actually manage and have some results. Greek and Indian civilizations appear to be connected on a spiritual level throughout the centuries, and they have both set the foundations for the development of philosophical thinking so much in the East as well as in the West respectively. Socratic inquisitive way of approaching discourse and the mental freedom he offers to human existence match uniquely the legacy of practice Patanjali has bequeathed us. Both of them have offered a means to free the mind from the conventionality of life as they give you alternatives and they both require freedom of thought so that man can reach the higher level of existence and the ultimate point of liberation and self - fulfillment. Freedom works as a prerequisite while it is the final destination of each of these two methods. Therefore the presence of both philosophies on my alter seemed like a natural thing to do.
Anthony: Tell me about your own practice how it has developed, changed over the years?
Kristina: The part of my practice that has remained completely unchanged through time is the sense of satisfaction and belongingness I get. It;s this point of reference either on or off the mat I daily have and it;s the place where I always return to meet myself. I used to approach practice with a sense of achievement but I have come to realize that these three sequences I have been given are enough for me to work for the rest of my life. The reasons I want to practice is the necessity for harmony, knowledge of my own being, wisdom, health and beauty. Through the practice I get all these elements and points of reference so much in my body as well as in my mind which actually help me do what I do in the best possible way. Practice is a lifelong partnership and friendship developing and adopting in the same way life is developing. I still feel excited and get fascinated by this method and it feels that there is so much to learn that it's too good to be true.
Anthony: Where do you feel you are now as a teacher and a practitioner?
Kristina: I feel grateful for all these things that have happened to me while at the same time I feel excited about what is about to come in the future.
Anthony: What are your hopes for your own shala?
Kristina: The hope is that the shala becomes one more home for the Ashtanga community not just for my students and Derek's but as well for the students that love and respect the work of Jois family.I want it to be a place which will continue to function based on the same principles, transmitting knowledge the same way we received it. The shala environment works as a place for practice incorporating the ancient notion of Gymnasium where the practitioners working on a physical level focused on purification and balancing both body and mind.
Anthony: What are your feelings about the future of Ashtanga in Greece, in Europe and in general?
Kristina: There is still great potential for evolution and expansion. We need to have more teachers around the world and not only in big cities; teachers who will be well prepared and have acquired a great amount of practice. There is need for more trained Ashtangis with respect to the lineage and who have adapted the traditional methods of transmitting this knowledge. A strong universal community setting the physical and mental awakening as their priority will keep commercialization at least in balance, allowing the development of freedom through this practice ,
Anthony: What would you most like to communicate regarding your experience of teaching/practicing Ashtanga or life in general…what would you most like to say/communicate to anyone reading my blog.
Kristina: Each one of us bears a personal responsibility to discover the different parts of ourselves and experience life through entelechy so that we can progress to mentally and physically healthy cells of this planet and offer useful elements to our environment through our existence. Our status both as teachers but as practitioners as well reminds us of the necessity for purification and evolution, not just for our own sake but also in an effort to prepare our world for the next generations. In this method our teachers worked under Bodhisattva mind keeping all the human qualities active in order to remind us that the strength of our existence lies in this life as it is.
Kristina is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher, and has been teaching through the tradition of Sri K Pattabhi Jois since 1991.
She was qualified as an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher by Derek Ireland and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2002 and became Certified by Manju Pattabhi Jois in 2012. She has practiced intensively with R.Sharath Jois.
She teaches the Primary, Intermediate and Third Sequence and she offers classes, workshops, retreats and teacher trainings all year round in Greece, Europe and Asia. Kristina is happy to host workshops and teacher trainings with Manju Pattabhi Jois in Crete.
Kristina’s work is a continuation of Derek Ireland’s teaching principles. Her work is dedicated to him.
Kristina Karitinou - Ashtanga yoga Greece (affiliated with Yoga Practice London)
Thank you also to Nikos Michos for his assistance with this post
pdf of the interview, text only, available found here