In December of 2014 the United Nations passed a resolution declaring June 21st to be International Yoga Day. Today marked the second annual observation of International Yoga Day with celebrations of yoga observed in 177 countries throughout the world. Yoga has become quite the ubiquitous and mainstream activity all over the globe and has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry selling yoga attire, yoga mats and props, yoga books and DVD’s, etc. Currently I have forty students from throughout the world here to participate in a two week intensive that will earn me more money than I used to make in five years a few decades ago. This morning I had fifty-two people in my 7am first series class—thirty-five years ago I wouldn’t see that many students in a week. For the past ten years I’ve had the privilege to teach in a state of the art studio—hardwood floors, an efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation system, aesthetically appealing colors, cool light figures, interesting Indian devotional art, a small retail space to sell a variety of yoga paraphernalia, and a front desk person to swipe your credit card or offer you the auto-pay option.
Nearly four decades ago, when I first started practicing yoga, things were a little different. In January of 1978, when I took my first class, there were only a handful of Ashtanga Yoga studios in the world. The Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam on La Veta Ave. in Encinitas was at the former home of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. It was a cool old building with lots of floor space and high ceilings, but definitely no frills—no electricity, no heat, and a port-a-potty. The classes were two dollars each and there was a wooden box for people to deposit their payment in, with no questions asked. This was before yoga mats and yoga attire, so we used to practice on carpet remnants in our underwear—a special brand of Jockey briefs called “Pocos”. When I inherited the Encinitas Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in 1981 one of the first things I did was to get electricity in the building so we wouldn’t have to do evening classes by candlelight. After many years of having a port-a-potty, one of the neighbors complained so I bought a small utility shed and put an RV toilet in it. The building was not well insulated so it was always about the same temperature inside it as it was outside. When Pattabhi Jois came to teach there in November of 1985 I was concerned that it would be too cold for him since he was coming from the tropical climate of South India. One of my students at the time manufactured hot air balloons and suggested I use one of his balloon heaters to raise the temperature of the yoga shala. He brought one in and demonstrated its capacity for me. It was a huge propane tank that could shoot out a flame ten feet high and raise the temperature of the room about 50 degrees in five minutes. I decided to go for it even though it seemed extremely dangerous, and on the first day as I was firing it up someone burst in through the front door saying he was driving by and saw flames through the window. I assured him that I had everything under control and managed to not burn down the building during the month Guruji was there. Ah, yes, those were the good old days, when there was still an element of danger in the air and we were practicing something rare and unique that very few people knew about. Of course I was also dirt poor, but that just seemed like a minor inconvenience at the time.