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Ashtanga yoga guru Manju P. Jois returns to Whistler

How the son of Ashtanga yoga's founder is bringing yoga back to its ancient healing roots

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These days, there seems to be an endless stream of options when it comes to yoga classes. There's power yoga, hot yoga, meditative yoga, partner yoga, aerial silks yoga, even stand-up paddleboard yoga.

For some on this side of the world, the perception of yoga is that it's a form of physical exercise revolving around particular postures.

That's one perception that Ashtanga yoga guru Manju Pattabhi Jois is striving to change.

"When we teach yoga, we teach them all the other aspects to yoga, which is very important," said Jois, sitting on a sunny patio outside Nita Lake Lodge in between classes. The 73-year-old returned to Whistler to teach an Ashtanga Intensive at Loka Yoga, from May 13 to 17.

An in-demand authority on the practice, Jois has been teaching yoga for the past 50 years, since he began training under his father while growing up in India. Manju's father, K. Pattabhi Jois, is responsible for developing and popularizing Ashtanga yoga.

'Ashtanga' is a Sanskrit term meaning eight-limbed, which refers to the eight branches of the practice. 'Asana,' or the physical postures, is only one branch of the practice, while breath control, or 'pranayama,' is another. Ashtanga students aim to synchronize their breathing with their movements as they flow through the series of poses, while acknowledging and incorporating the other branches.

"What (my father) did was just put (those aspects) all together, which makes sense, a lot. Then, he introduced it to the universe and people liked it, then what they (took it) and then they misuse it. That's what happening now," Jois said.

As Western society embraced the ancient practice of yoga, the traditional practice began to form its place in the fitness industry, Jois explained. "What happened is that they make the yoga exercise. It's a physical exercise, but it's (not) just a physical exercise, it's a spiritual exercise, a mental exercise; it does exercise everything. That's why we talk about philosophy, we teach them chanting, we explain to them what this chanting is all about, how you practice to succeed in your yoga practice."

Said Tina Pashumati James, owner of Loka Yoga and a longtime friend and student: "It's wonderful to bring Manju to Whistler, so people can see freedom yoga in a beautiful way, with a beautiful man. It's the best."

Although Jois is based in California, where he lives with his wife and 15-year-old daughter, he spends more than half the year travelling the globe to host workshops, teacher training sessions and intensives, like the one recently hosted in Whistler.

He visits about 20 countries each year, where, through his teaching, he aims to bring back those "ancient components," like chants, meditation, and focused breathing.

"Nobody asks me in Europe about the physical side of yoga," Jois explains. "They're more like intellectuals, they want to know the benefit, the philosophy. I enjoy that. I sit there and I talk to them, because I learned it from my father. I like to share with the people who are interested in it. People are getting more and more interested in that part of yoga."

Despite the hectic travel schedule, "I don't feel like I'm going to work or anything, I feel like I'm going to family ... It's a nice feeling, and that's what I like to create," Jois said.

To that end, Jois also stresses the importance for teachers to listen to students and their unique needs—something he said isn't always the case in modern yoga studios. "All kinds of people want to do the yoga class. You don't know them, so you don't just immediately go and try to adjust them because you want to understand their body. You have to give them time and see, talk to them what's going on," he explained.

With his calming presence and easy-going nature, much of Jois' work is also focused on yoga therapy. From back issues to knee and hip problems to scoliosis, each student has a personalized set of issues that can be addressed through their practice.

For late Whistler Coun. Andree Janyk, that was her battle with brain cancer. Janyk was a frequent student of Jois' Whistler workshops. The "last year she came, she had brain cancer," James recalled. "She said Manju helped her ..."

As Jois explained, yoga as a whole is inherently a form of therapy. "That's how the ancient yogis used to take care of themselves, by practicing different postures. If they had a problem, they'd heal themselves through yoga."

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