Guy Donahaye - photo:  Tom Rosenthal

Guy Donahaye - photo: Tom Rosenthal

 
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Guy has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga since 1991 and has been teaching traditional Mysore Style yoga since 1993. He received an advanced teaching certificate from the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore and returns annually to South India to continue studies with his teacher Dr KL Shankaranarayana Jois.

Guy is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga Shala in New York City and travels internationally to teach workshops and seminars on yoga philosophy, pranayama, meditation and yoga therapy.

He is assisted at Ashtanga Yoga Shala by Misun Dokko and Jeffrey Villanueva - visit Jeffrey’s website here.

Guy is the author of the book: “Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois through the Eyes of His Students” - a book of 30 interviews with KP Jois’ senior students published in 2010. You can read Guy’s comments on KP Jois’ sexual assaults here.

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Excerpt from an Interview:

“How did you become interested in practicing Yoga?”

Guy:

“I can trace my interest in yoga to a time in my childhood. When I was six years old, my family moved from the grey suburbs of London to the Sussex countryside. Our back garden opened onto fields, forests, lakes and rivers - and this became my playground. Over the next few years I would spend hours every day climbing trees, playing in the river or sit fishing by the lake. Being out in nature, I remember having no clear feeling of a boundary between myself and my environment - it was as if my mind merged with nature. I often experienced a profound sense of peace, happiness, heightened awareness and vitality.

Around the age of ten, as my critical thinking began to mature and I started to read my father’s newspaper, I became aware of man’s potential for evil. Up until this point I had been innocent, but now I began to read about human atrocities, murder, famine, etc. and this came as an enormous shock to my system. As if overnight, my wonderful experiences in nature vanished. I had woken up out of my dream but the reality which now began to dawn on me seemed so much less real, so much less vital - and so miserable! It was if I had experienced the fall of Adam from the garden of Eden and I had woken up to the nature of suffering.

Looking back, I believe at times I had been experiencing a kind of samadhi. The sense of peace, union, non-ego and bliss all seem to be pointing towards this. Losing this experience was a heavy blow and caused me a great deal of suffering and this was the beginning of my search for yoga - I wanted to re-connect with the happiness and vitality I had felt. I started to ask questions, but no one could give me satisfying answers and this started my quest for knowledge about the nature of reality, though I did not find yoga practice for another eighteen years.

Since around the age of ten or eleven I have been driven by the desire to understand the nature of this universe and man’s place in it. Initially my search went through all avenues of scientific enquiry - physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, biology etc.. The layman’s view of science, and the one which is initially presented in our educational system still languishes in the 19th century. This is the Newtonian universe of simple tangible and visible cause and effect - a universe governed by discrete and predictable laws of nature. But since the beginning of the 20th century, in spite of the enormous advances in science, instead of new laws, we only have theorems - the quantum age introduced enormous uncertainty into the perfectly discrete newtonian universe.

Two fundamental problems are revealed by quantum mechanics - the first is that matter can behave either in the form of particles or in the form of waves. Initially, this discovery was restricted to the way light behaved, but later, electrons, protons and all other subatomic particles were also observed to behave in the same way. Recently, even atoms and molecules have been observed to display this same behavior.

Displaying the quality of a wave as opposed to a particle means that matter is constantly on the move, vibrating. Only the exact location or movement (not both) of a particle can be determined at the point of observation but cannot be predicted exactly until this moment. So the first problem is that we can no longer say anything with absolute certainty - we have entered the age of probability.

The second problem takes the uncertainty of scientific observations to an even deeper level: this is the problem of entanglement. At the quantum level, systems which interact are entangled - that is, they affect each other. A scientific observer, an experimental piece of equipment and an experiment are entangled - the very act of observing and conducting an experiment has an impact on what is observed. In other words, observing nature changes her - true objectivity is impossible.

This gave me pause for thought. I began to feel that my existential questions could not be resolved by the certainty of science. In fact, I now began to see that the scientific paradigm is just another kind of religion for most people. I began to think - if the observer always influences the outcome of an observation - then, if one wants to know the truth about this universe, the only option is to transform the observer into a refined and precise instrument.

As a young teenager, I was all too aware of violent mood swings which could so easily overwhelm objectivity and reason. I began to turn my interest towards philosophy and then psychology and eventually to occult or spiritual science which eventually led me to yoga practice eighteen years later at the age of 28. Although I have dedicated an enormous amount of time to the study of yoga, it is one strand of interest which has become integrated into this fundamental search for knowledge.

Psychology is a field that has always interested me - after all, yoga is first and foremost a psychological method - a way to train and understand the mind. The legacy of logical positivism, Freud and behaviorism has left us with a universally accepted model that consciousness is a function of brain activity. Yoga disproves this. The state of pure consciousness - samadhi - is one in which all metal activity has ceased. The yogi becomes almost death like - heart beat, pulse and mental activity cease but inner awareness is at its maximum. Yoga shows that consciousness is primary and sensation or mentation are secondary functions.

Anyone who thinks deeply about a subject or a problem can become so absorbed that the outside world ceases to impede on him. This is itself a yogic process, a lower stage of samadhi. Deep enquiry leads to absorption and through absorption a full understanding of the object eventually arises. Any subject can be or should be the object of this yogic process - music, physics, astronomy, literature etc.. Yoga is also the heart of the artistic process - it starts to pervade everything and becomes an integral part of one’s life and awareness.

Although Pattabhi Jois gave me the foundation in practice, the understanding of the true meaning and purpose of practice came to me through another teacher - Dr KLS Jois - also known as Acharya. Acharya has helped me to understand that yoga is not something to strive for but is something innate to our experience. Our busy urban lives mostly obscure the opportunity to have the peace of mind and tranquility to observe these states - but through Acharya’s guidance, gradually I am finding deeper access to the internal practice.

Understanding that yoga is natural, or a return to the natural state has brought me full circle. It has returned me to seeking and experiencing yoga through an immersion in nature via nature photography.

Yoga practice is therapy: it returns us to the natural state in which the innate peace and happiness that is our birthright can be experienced.”