A Brief History of Ashtanga and Our Practice

Larry Schultz, with Pattabhi Jois

Larry Schultz, with Pattabhi Jois

At AstaYoga, our practice is inspired by our teacher, Larry Schultz. Larry was a student of K. Pattabhi Jois, the main proponent of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was created in the early 20th century at the Mysore palace by T. Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga and teacher of not only Jois, but also BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, Srivatsa Ramaswami, AG Mohan and Indra Devi- students who brought their unique and diverse styles of yoga to the West, making yoga what it is today. 

Krishnamacharya's teachings were largely influenced by his studies of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text which outlines the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga. The Ashtanga of Patanjali (asta = eight / anga = limb) is a philosophical system that makes no specific reference to any particular posture or method of asana practice. The Ashtanga Vinyasa method of Jois is a strictly prescribed set of sequences, six in total, through which a student is permitted to progress by an "authorized" teacher. Ashtanga Vinyasa is often claimed to be the "yoga of Patanjali," but there exists no proof of this claim. 

Jois, who began teaching at the age of 18, was instructed by Krishnamacharya to teach the Ashtanga Vinyasa method. Originally developed to instruct young children, the method did not rely on a teacher's penetrating knowledge and understanding of a particular student, but was a helpful tool for a novice teacher to deliver the benefits of yoga- health, discipline and mental clarity. Krishnamacharya, as an experienced teacher, treated each student uniquely, and believed each should be “taught according to his or her individual capacity at any given time.” The proof of this belief is demonstrated by the wide variety of methods which his students propagated. 

Tiramulai Krishnamacharya

Tiramulai Krishnamacharya

Larry practiced the Ashtanga Vinyasa method with Jois over a period of seven years, after which he began to teach others. Tim Miller, one of Larry's friends and a fellow student at the time under Jois, was the first to ask for authorization to teach, giving rise to the language of authority in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system (and an early precursor to the Yoga Alliance certification). Larry, by nature rebellious, did not believe he needed any authority to teach beyond his own experience and practice. After all, yoga is all about the inward journey, and needing approval from someone outside to do what you love just wasn't his style. 

He created a studio called It's Yoga which was the third yoga studio in San Francisco and the first to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa. Establishing himself as the only Ashtanga teacher in town landed him a gig with the Grateful Dead- three years on tour teaching yoga to a group of aging rockers (minus Jerry Garcia who was by all accounts too far gone for yoga at that time). They weren't falling in love with Ashtanga and they asked Larry for something else, but he didn't know anything else. He had to create it, and in the true spirit of Krishnamacharya, he taught the Dead according to their individual capacities with a system of yoga he called, "The R*cket." When Larry asked Bob Weir what they were going to call the practice they had created, Bob thought for a second and said, "The R*cket!". Larry asked why, and Bob said, "Because it gets you there faster!" (Incidentally, Bob's clever name and catchphrase both became trademarked years after Larry's passing by someone who was in junior high when he first uttered those words.)

The R*cket is a modern interpretation of Ashtanga vinyasa, distinguished from "Traditional Ashtanga," the method of Jois, in a number of ways. Most importantly, it drops the hierarchy between student and teacher, eliminating what Larry called "the madness of co-dependency" which he found no use for in yoga. In Larry's view, dedication to the practice would reveal the "Inner Teacher," the phenomenon of learning to trust your own feelings and intuition rather than seeking outside for authority, permission, guidance and approval. He didn't want to be anyone's guru; he wanted to be your cheerleader. He wanted you to love the practice, and ultimately to share it with others. 

Larry and Steve in Nauliland

Larry and Steve in Nauliland

Larry's disregard for the traditional methods and sequences earned him the nickname, "The Original Bad Man of Ashtanga." The R*cket, named by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, was not a fixed set of postures, but the spirit of the practice itself. Many students who came through It's Yoga continued to change the practice, and what people were practicing in 2009 when It's Yoga on Folsom Street closed its doors was nothing like what Larry was teaching the Dead on tour, but the feeling of the practice was unchanged- no matter how you showed up, you always left "less miserable to be around."

At AstaYoga, we teach Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Larry Schultz. More than a name or a sequence, it is simply the way that we create community and deliver the benefits of Ashtanga Yoga to anyone who wants to feel better, live healthier and radiate the light that already exists within. We are grateful to have learned from a master teacher who embodied his own philosophy of, "Relax, breathe and go with the flow."