Splitting up Ashtanga? Jois Foundation isn’t making friends in Encinitas
At the amazing Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this weekend, I had dinner with a fellow Ashtangi, who studies with Tim Miller, who said this: “The elephant in the room is what’s going on with the Jois Foundation.” This was news to me. “What’s going on?” I asked.
He told me, although not in such salacious detail as a piece just published in Vanity Fair, Yoga-for-Trophy-Wives Fitness Fad That’s Alienating Discipline Devotees..
Trophy wives? Ashtanga? What’s that all about? Well …. the trophy wife in question is one Sonia Jones, who’s married to a multi-billionaire hedge manager. Jones, a devoted follower of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, has started spending millions to create the Jois Foundation, which has opened four shalas, launched a yoga clothing line and is working with nonprofits to bring Ashtanga yoga to the world.
All great stuff, except the Foundation opened its first shala in Encinitas, California, home town to Tim Miller, one of Guruji’s very first Western students, and treated him pretty dismissively as well. And more than that, it feels to some that the Jois family and the foundation are moving aggressively to market Ashtanga.
Jois Yoga, which from the outside can seem like one part Lululemon (the hugely successful line of high-end yoga clothing) and one part Yogaworks (the California-based chain of yoga studios), is a challenge to all of that. It feels like a commercial enterprise—or worse. “I believe it’s about power, and I don’t want to be part of it,” says Lino Miele, a senior teacher, about Jois.
The article reports the outrage over the Jois Foundation’s opening in Encinitas, “down the street from Tim.”
“It blew my doors off,” says the owner of another yoga studio. “Tim was one of Guruji’s primary guys in America and was totally devoted to him. He sponsored Guruji every time he came to America. I was aghast.” One teacher says it seemed like a “fuck you” to Tim.
It wasn’t just the opening but the fact that the foundation apparently didn’t give Miller a heads-up, tried and succeeded at stealing some of his teachers, and then, when he considered working with the Jois facility, was offered a fitness-teacher-style contract.
Longterm Ashtangis are upset with Sharath and with the Jois Foundation. People have stopped going to Mysore. Lino Miele asked to have his name removed as an approved teacher.
Right now, it looks like a salient moment in the post-Guruji development of Ashtanga yoga. Will a new generation consider Sharath a worthy transmitter of the practice? Or will they find a deeper transmission from the Western teachers who were studying with Guruji when Sharath was in diapers?
Ultimately, that’s how it will be decided, by whom the students choose to sit before. “The future of yoga is decided by the students, and whoever will bear the torch of Ashtanga yoga will be decided by the students. I don’t think we need to try to control it. We just need to sit with the uncertainty of it,” Miami-based Kino MacGregor says.
To a very large degree, though, Ashtangis don’t like uncertainty. The method provides the certainty of series in which you always know what pose comes next, where the drshti is, and so on. It may have taken a few years, but losing Guruji may mean Ashtanga faces a full-blown identity crisis.