Pattabhi Jois: The Story Of Ashtanga Founder And Serial Abuser

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*Disclaimer* Please note this article mentions Pattabhi Jois who has faced numerous allegations of sexual assault. We stand with the victims and hope that our articles can shed light on the truth.

K. Pattabhi Jois AKA Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is best known for establishing the globally popular Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. 

This dynamic and demanding style of yoga has inspired many subsequent forms of yoga and continues to be popular despite Pattabhi Jois’ death and the shadows around the teacher. 

Pattabhi Jois died at the age of 93 in 2009, and since then there has been much controversy regarding his actions and the sexual abuse of certain students.

Ashtanga Vinyasa remains one of the most well-known and practiced styles of yoga and its founder has heavily influenced the popular yoga market.

If you’re interested in the origins of Vinyasa Flow and many other flow-based practices then learning about Ashtanga Vinyasa and Pattabhi Jois is worthwhile.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

Practice and all is coming

K. Pattabhi Jois
K. Pattabhi Jois
Pattabhi Jois in front of KPJAYI in Mysore, India 2006”, by Magnolia Zuniga , licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pattabhi Jois Early Life

Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) was born in Kowshika, Karnataka in South India. Pattabhi Jois was the fifth of nine children. At the age of five, he began learning rituals and Sanskrit which was common practice for Brahmin males.

His father was a Kannada Brahmin priest and an astronomer.

At the age of just twelve, K Pattabhi Jois met T. Krishnamacharya who would become his teacher almost immediately. Jois threw himself into spiritual practice with his Guru.

After a brief period apart, they reunited in Mysore where Krishnamacharya is said to have healed the Maharaja of Mysore through his yoga instruction.

Following this, the Maharaja established a yoga shala and became his patron. Jois would often accompany Krishnamacharya to his teachings and demonstrations and would teach when Krishnamacharya was unavailable.

Meeting His Teacher Krishnamacharya

Pattabhi Jois studied with Yogi Krishnamacharya until 1953.

Krishnamacharya was not only a key figure in K. Pattabhi Jois’ life as a yoga teacher but also in the vast and broad history of modern yoga. His teaching can be found in almost all modern-day styles as he directly influenced not only Pattabhi Jois but also B.K.S. Iyengar and T.K.V Desikachar. 

Between them they have influenced most of present day yoga through his students and their styles of practice; Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga.

Krishnamacharya’s influence on the teaching of yoga has arguably been one of the most profound in history. Despite the fact that he did not travel or reach vast amounts of students his legacy lives on through the legacies of his students.

yogi doing chaturanga

The origins of Krishnamacharya’s teaching

In 1924 it was reported that Krishnamacharya researched a specific text called the Yoga Korunta which he said he learned about from his teacher Rama Mohan Brahmachari. 

Jois is said to have learned the Yoga Korunta method under Krishnamacharya which included a whole system of yoga including asanas, bandhas and pranayamas. Jois went on to teach this method despite never having seen the text.

The authenticity of this story is hard to validate as scholars have not discovered a text called the Yoga Korunta. There is some speculation that the text referred to is the hathabyhasapaddhati collated by Kapala Kurantaka.

Patthabi Jois Teachings

Jois was offered a paid position by the Maharaja to teach Sanskrit at the Sanskrit College in Mysore. 

He held this position from 1937-1973. He became a professor in 1956 and became an Honorary Professor of Yoga between 1976 and 1978 at the Government College of Indian Medicine.

K Pattabhi Jois founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute at his personal home in Lakshmipuram in 1948. The yoga hall was built in 1964 in order to house more students.

Andre Van Lysebeth visited Pattabhi Jois for two months and spent the time learning both the primary and intermediate series. Andre Van Lysebeth wrote a book J’apprends le Yoga in 1967 which was most likely inspired by Jois as it included his name.

class being taught by Pattabhi Jois

This, in part was, responsible for Western students visiting Mysore to study in his yoga classes.

In response to the increasing number of students Pattabhi Jois opened another school in Gokulam, in 2002.

K. Patthabi Jois first travelled to the West in 1974 where he delivered a Sanskrit lecture at an international yoga conference. The foundations of Ashtanga Vinyasa in America can be attributed to his four-month trip to California. Jois continued to the USA for decades after.

Teachers of Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa method can only become certified by undertaking extended trips to Mysore and engaging in the daily practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa.  Only then can they become “authorized lineage holders.”

The Ashtanga Yoga style

Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory

K. Pattabhi Jois

What made Ashtanga different was the use of vinyasa which creates a flowing movement between postures.  It inspired many dynamic forms of yoga such as Power Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Jivamukti and Rocket Yoga.

Ashtanga Vinyasa became one of the most well-known forms of yoga worldwide and attracted a celebrity student base, including Madonna, Sting, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Meditation and pranayama were only taught by Pattabhi Jois to the most advanced students. Preliminary practices were predominantly focused on the body.

yogi doing wide leg headstand

There are six series within the ashtanga method, and they are to be worked through systematically. 

Students learn new poses from their teacher when they are deemed ready.  It is said that only his grandson Sharath Jois completed all six series under Pattabhi Jois’ tutorage. Although his eldest son, Manju Pattahbi Jois continued his father’s legacy.

A key feature of Ashtanga is how physically demanding it is. The flowing postures linked with breath have become increasingly popular especially by those drawn to challenging and invigorating practices.

Unlike B.K.S. Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar Pattabhi Jois’ method was not therapeutic and certainly not accessible for all.

Pattabhi Jois Family

Pattabhi Jois married Savitramma in 1933 at the age of 18 and they had three children. Jois’ son Ramesh lost his life to suicide.

Pattabhi Jois Publications

His book Yoga Mala was published in 1962 and was translated into English in 1999. This book provides a comprehensive guide to practicing yoga.

It covers all aspects of yoga within it. Divided into four parts the book covers the philosophy and history of yoga, asanas (postures), the emotional and mental benefits of yoga and finally the spiritual benefits of yoga.

It is considered a “handbook” for any keen student looking to learn more about the holistic practice of yoga.

Accusations and Sexual Abuse

two people practicing ashtanga

In 2009, the year after his death, it became public knowledge that K. Pattabhi Jois had sexually assaulted a number of his students. 

This took place both in Mysore and while he was traveling.  It is documented that many students knew about the abuse taking place but it wasn’t until after his death that it became common knowledge. It is not known how many victims there were.

There is video and photographic evidence of his behavior. Nine years after his death, his grandson R. Sharath Jois apologized for the behavior of his grandfather.

Sharath Jois was criticised for not coming forward to talk about the allegations sooner than he did. He did make this statement via the New Yorker:

“It brings me immense pain that I also witness him giving improper adjustments. I am sorry it caused pain for any of his students. After all these years I still feel pain from my grandfather’s actions.”

The legacy of K. Pattabhi Jois and to some degree, the Ashtanga Vinyasa method has been tarnished by the inappropriate behavior of its founder.

It is said that some students were aware of his behavior for decades before his death. But it was in 2018 that many women started coming forward with stories and reports of his sexual misconduct.

Karen Rain, one of K. Pattabhi Jois’ students told the story of her abuse at the hand of “Guruji,” as he was known to his students. In addition to her story, she provided photographic evidence of Jois’s inappropriate adjustments. 

One of the photographs shows his crotch pressing against hers. She says that there was never consent for this and thus she was assaulted by him.

As a result of the #MeToo movement further attention has been brought in to the public eye regarding abusers, and this has resulted in many accusers coming forward to share their stories of assault and harassment.

Unfortunately, this has had a far-reaching impact on the yoga community. Not only have students reported assault under the hand of K. Pattabhi Jois but allegations against other well-known teachers have also come to light, such as Bikram.

This has forced many organizations, studios, and teachers to re-evaluate sexual harassment policies and procedures.

woman practicing ashtanga in butterfly pose

Ashtanga Yoga after K. Pattabhi Jois

R. Sharath Jois, Pattabhi Jois’ grandson stepped in to lead the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Community in the early part of the 21st century, and he continues to lead the method in the present day.

What remains is a committed Ashtanga community trying to sustain (or rebuild) the method without the man.

“If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields both here and hereafter –

if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental, and spiritual happiness, and out minds will flood towards the Self.”

K. Pattabhi Jois

If you’re interested in finding out more about Pattabhi Jois’ teacher Krishnamacharya then check out Tirumalai Krishnamacharya | Biography and Teachings

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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