“In Lahaina the sugar cane grow,
in Lahaina the livin’ is slow,
in Lahaina the mangoes are sweet
but the centipede crawls all over your feet.”
--Loggins and Messina
After Guruji left Encinitas at the end of November, 1978, Brad began teaching me the first advanced series, called sthira bhaga—“divine stability”. Rather than starting from the beginning, Brad skipped the first seven poses and had me practicing a sequence of ten different arm balances—“To build strength,” he said,. I would do this after completing all of the intermediate series. None of these arm balances was particularly challenging on its own, but to do them all in succession like this was quite daunting. About half way through the sequence my arms would begin to quiver. I had always thought I was a pretty strong guy, but this was ridiculous—was Brad just trying to humiliate me? As it turned out, there was a method to his madness. Within a month I was able to do the series of arm balances without my arms shaking.
Over the next few months Brad taught me the rest of the series. In addition to all of the arm balances there were many variations of foot behind the head poses, splits, standing balances, and backbends. It was quite challenging, requiring strength, flexibility, and balance all at the same time. Brad explained that sthira (steadiness) was a quality of the body, but, even more importantly, of the mind. In order to do asanas requiring strength, flexibility, and balance all at the same time, you really had to pay attention—otherwise, the results could be disastrous.
The first advanced series, called the A section, was quite long-- 45 poses—and took about two and a half hours to complete. My body was in a chronic state of soreness. I asked Brad if that was normal. He assured me that it was and suggested that I try rubbing a mixture of comfrey leg gel mixed with a few drops of cayenne oil on the sore spots. Brad procured some comfrey leg gel for me and I found some cayenne oil at the local health food store. The comfrey leg gel container plainly stated, “For animal use only.” Apparently it was something slathered on the legs of racehorses to reduce inflammation. Humans are animals, I thought, as I mixed in the cayenne oil.
The first time I tried this I used way too much cayenne oil and every place I applied it was on fire. I also made the mistake of rubbing my eyes and touching my genitals when I peed. It was a memorable and extremely painful experience!
Two young women, Sheila and Cathy, had recently moved into the house next door and both of them started coming to yoga class. One day Cathy, a blue eyed, olive skinned, half Armenian beauty, showed up at my front door with a tub of comfrey leg gel and some cayenne oil. She said that she was really sore and asked if I’d be willing to rub some of Brad’s special remedy into her aching muscles. One thing led to another, and soon Cathy and I were spending most of our free time together.
Meanwhile, Brad and Gary were planning a trip to India to see Gurugi for three months. They would be leaving in September and returning around Christmas. I asked Brad what would become of the church and he nonchalantly informed me that it would be closing. The thought of the church closing was very upsetting to me. “You can’t do this,” I pleaded, “I love this place. I need this place. Someone has to teach.”
“Okay, you teach,” was Brad’s response. I had been practicing for less than two years and felt ill prepared to teach. In terms of my progression in the asana practice, I was their most advanced student, along with my friend Bruce, but I was very young and inexperienced. Still, the alternative of closing the church was too heartbreaking, so I told Brad I would do it. For a couple of weeks prior to their departure for India, I assisted Brad and Gary in the classes. Once they left I asked Bruce if he would help me teach—he said he would.
A friend of mine who teaches yoga once said to me, “For the first couple of years you should pay your students to come to class.” Certainly I felt that way. Most of the students were brave enough to keep coming, to serve as Guinea pigs for my on the job training. It was a learning experience—more for me than for them.
When Brad and Gary returned from India at the end of the year, Gary decided he didn’t want to teach any more and Brad asked me to become his apprentice. This promised to be a much more educational experience than just being thrown to the wolves, so I eagerly accepted. While in India Brad had asked Guruji for more specific information regarding the structure of the yoga practice and Guruji had taught Brad a much more specific method of linking the asanas together with vinyasa. Our approach to vinyasa had been a little haphazard to this point, but know Brad was armed with the knowledge of what Guruji called the “full vinyasa “method. With this methodology all of the sitting poses began and ended in Samasthitih (standing at attention). It required a lot more time and energy and endurance to practice this way, but Brad was convinced that this was the “correct method”, so we all began to practice this way.
Over the next few months Brad taught me the second advanced series of asanas, called the “B section”. This series seemed much less logical in its progression than the previous asana sequences I had learned. It began with viparita chakrasana—dropping out of a handstand into a backbend and then flipping back over again—and continued with abrupt shifts between backbending and forward bending, and extreme hip openers (like putting the feet in the armpits). It never made much sense to me, but I dutifully practiced it nonetheless.
In June I heard that Guruji was planning another trip to the States. He would arrive in Encinitas in early September , spend just a couple of days, then teach for six weeks in Northern California (Fairfax), and two months in Maui. This was exciting news and I began to try to figure out how to spend some time with him.
Guruji taught just one class while he was in Encinitas—a guided first series class with full vinyasa. This was the first time he taught a guided class in America. The students were well prepared because Brad had been teaching us this method. Guruji seemed to recognize me and greeted me warmly. “You coming Fairfax?” he asked. I told him that I was planning to come to Maui. “Very good,” he said.
I had been saving money for several months so I could take an extended leave of absence from work at the psychiatric hospital and go to Maui for six weeks. Cathy would be going with me along with half a dozen other students from Encinitas, including Bruce and his girl friend Amy.
We arrived in Maui right around sunset on Halloween. Never having been in Hawaii before, I was amazed by the lushness of the place—the deep greens of the sugar cane and pineapple fields. As I looked at the map of Maui on the plane I was struck by how closely the shape of the island resembled the bust of a woman. Lahaina was clearly at the third eye, the Kahalui airport at the throat, Haleakala Crater at the solar plexus, and Hana at the yoni. The moment I stepped off the plane and took my first delicious breath of tropical, plumeria scented air, I was in love with Maui. There was definitely magic in the air.
An old friend from Encinitas, Terry Jenkins, picked us up at he airport. We climbed into the back of his pickup truck and he handed us an enormous joint. “A little Maui Wowie,” he said. I had just been reading an article on the airplane in the Yoga Journal about marijuana, written by Elizabeth Claire Prophet—a spiritual teacher and trance medium. She claimed that marijuana had been invented by black magicians in Atlantis for the purpose of making the general populace more amenable to mind control. Being an impressionable sort of person I was somewhat swayed by her argument, yet, “when in Rome,” I thought as I took the offered joint.
We were staying with some folks we hadn’t met, Bobby and Tracy, from Nashville, who lived in a place called Maui Meadows, just up the hill from Kihei. Bobby was an up and coming musician and Tracy was an aspiring yogini (who would later marry Ganga White and become co-director of the White Lotus Foundation). They informed us that they were having a Halloween party that might get a little loud and go late. Terry had told us that a group of yoga students was taking Guruji and Amma up to Haleakala Crater the next morning for sunrise, and invited us to come. We accepted eagerly and Terry informed us that he would pick us up at 4:30am. It was 9pm (11pm California time) and we were exhausted from the long trip so we decided to go to bed. People had just started to arrive for the party and soon music was blasting and people were dancing and laughing into the wee hours of the night.
When Terry arrived at 4:30 the next morning we were not in very good shape—jet lagged and sleep deprived—but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience sunrise on Haleakala (the House of the Sun) with Guruji. We jumped in the back of Terry’s truck for the hour long ride up to the top of the crater. It was a Saturday, the day of rest in the ashtanga week, so there were no classes scheduled.
We met up with Guruji and Amma and several yoga students on the rim of the crater just as the eastern sky began to show some signs of color. It was 10,00 feet and quite cold. Guruji and Amma were wrapped in woolen shawls and wearing borrowed socks. They were both smiling broadly and shivering slightly as they greeted us. “This is like Himalaya,” said Guruji as we watched the sky begin to grow pink and orange. A fringe of clouds resting on the rim of the crater began to glow with an explosion of color. It was extraordinarily beautiful and we all stood in awe of the spectacle. When the sun peaked over the rim of the crater Guruji said, “Surya is come. “ This was our signal that the show was over and it was time to head back to warmer elevations.
The next morning Cathy, Bruce and Amy, and I were picked up by Roger Lewis for the 40 minute journey to Paia, where the yoga classes were held. Guruji, who Roger referred to as “the Boss”, was staying at his guest house in Maui Meadows. Roger and Guruji greeted us warmly and we roared off down the highway to Paia. Maui was still pretty undeveloped at the time, so it was mostly sugar cane fields in route to Paia.
An old, abandoned warehouse served as the yoga shala—very basic, but functional. There were about 20 people in the advanced class, half a dozen from Encinitas and the rest mostly locals. David Williams had been teaching in Maui for a few years and had developed a good following. He was there along with his most advanced students. It was a pretty motley crew—a bunch of hippies in tie-dyed and airbrushed clothing.
Guruji led us through the entire advanced A section at rather break neck speed, doing the full vinyasas and finishing in two hours. I had never done the advanced practice in a guided class before. Guruji pushed us relentlessly through the practice, with frequent shouts of “bad man” and “bad lady” when one of us fell out of a pose or deviated from his rhythm. It was all done with a sense of humor. Guruji would yell at us and then chuckle. He was obviously in his element and enjoying himself and we were all eager to submit to his somewhat harsh but healing methods. At the end of the class we were all completely exhausted, but happy.
Guruji taught a primary series class immediately after the advanced class that we all stayed to watch. There were about 30 students of widely varying abilities and ages. They were all swept up in the whirlwind of Guruji’s energy. Many of he students had never done all the primary series and some were doing the practice for the first time. Nonetheless, Guruji was determined to get all of the students into all the poses. His energy and enthusiasm were amazing . In some of the asanas he would assist nearly all the students. Because of his prodigious assistance this class lasted two hours as well. At the end, when all of the students were in savasana, Guruji said, “Thank you very much.”
Roger said to Guruji, “Ready, Boss?” Guruji nodded and we all climbed into Roger’s truck for the drive back to Kihei. It had been an impressive display of energy. “Tired, Guruji?” I asked him. “No, not tired!” He seemed almost insulted by the question. He continued, “I go home, take bath, do puja, some clothes washing--after, taking food and then taking rest.” I asked him how he liked Maui. “Maui is good place—good banana and mango—like India. Also, many yoga students!”
When dropped Guruji off at the guest house and then Roger invited us in to his house. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of champagne, then rolled a rather enormous joint. It was just before noon. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “these Maui yogis really like to party.” I declined the refreshments, still feeling quite high from the morning’s practice, and used to the more ascetic lifestyle of the Encinitas yogis.
We quickly fell into a routine of practice with Guruji. The classes were all incredibly challenging, but, at the same time, fun. I noticed that the Encinitas yogis were a particularly strong group, and realized what a blessing it had been to have Brad and Gary as my teachers.
Guruji began to teach a beginners class in the afternoon in Kihei at the old elementary school. I asked Guruji if I could assist in that class, thinking it would be a rare learning experience. He grunted his somewhat reluctant approval and I began what would become a long and educational apprenticeship with him. The students in this class were mostly old hippies, some of whom lived in remote parts of the island They were all pretty new to the practice and very stiff. Guruji was determined to loosen them up and I marveled at his ability to get them into the poses.
On Saturdays and moon days Roger would take Guruji and Amma on outings to see some of the more spectacular sights on the island—The Venus Pool, Red Sand Beach, The Iao Valley, the Seven Sacred Pools, Etc. I always tagged along when I could and was consistently awed by the beauty and magic of Maui. We were all having the time of our lives—it was like one continuous and glorious party for the six weeks I was there.
This was Guruji’s third visit to the states. One thing he noticed was that couples whom had been together on previous trips were no longer together and there had been a lot of switching of partners as well. Guruji could only shake his head at what he called the “American System.” “In India,” he explained, “you take one wife, life long, not changing. In America, very fickle minds!”
Guruji decided to try to cure us of our fickle mindedness by making us do very long headstands. We started out at twenty minutes and by the end were nearly double that. A real yogi, Guruji explained could stand on his head for three hours, no problem.
On the final day of class, Guruji combined all the classes into one. In that memorable class he led close to a hundred of us through the primary series. It was, by far, the biggest class he had taught in the West. Guruji loved Maui and was convinced that there was a big future for Ashtanga Yoga there. Brad had decided to move there. I wanted to move there as well, but it wasn’t realistic at the time.
Guruji gathered us together for one final meeting. At this gathering he told us which westerners he felt were qualified to teach. It was a fairly short list—David, Brad, Nancy, Gary, and a few others. Since Brad had decided to move to Maui, he wanted me to take over his school in Encinitas. He asked Guruji, “What about Tim?” Guruji looked perplexed and said, “Who?” “Tim,” Brad repeated, and pointed at me. “Oh, that man,” Guruji replied, and studied me for a moment. “Yes, that man is some better, okay.”
And so, on the magical island of Maui in December of 1980, Guruji reluctantly granted me permission to teach. One stipulation was that I was to send him Guru Dakshina (one tenth of my earnings as a yoga teacher) every month. It seemed a small price to pay for his blessing.