Yoga Scholars

By Richard Rosen, August, 2014

My old buddy Rod Yee will often tell people that I’m a yoga “scholar,” which is akin to calling the heavily tattooed, long-haired dude who works over at our neighborhood pizza joint a “gourmet chef.” Rodney, bless his heart, knows a ton about yoga, but to paraphrase a famous line from an old VP debate, I know scholars, and, sir, I am not a scholar. I’ve had the good luck over the years to be friendly with several of our most noted yoga scholars, among them the late Georg Feuerstein, for whom I served as the assistant director of his now defunct Yoga Research and Education Center, and Mark Singleton, author of what is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important yoga histories of modern times, Yoga Body.

So yes, I know yoga scholars. What set these two gentlemen apart from an earlier generation, which, for the most part, was made up of eggheads only, is that both were extraordinary practitioners—they not only talked the talk, they also walked the walk.

A few years ago I began running across the yoga essays of a man by the name of James Mallinson. I’m not, I repeat, a scholar, but I like to think that after 34 years of study, I know a little bit about hatha yoga. It became crystal clear, however, after two or three encounters with Mr. Mallinson’s work, that I would have to downsize that “little bit” of knowledge to a “teensy little bit.”

Then it came to pass that the aforementioned Messers Singleton and Mallinson teamed up for a Kickstarter project, and asked me—me!—to endorse it. To get some idea of how honored I felt, as a lifelong Yankee fan, it was akin to being asked to give my seal of approval to the Commerce Comet and the Chairman of the Board—Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford to you, Mets fans.

Then one thing led to another, and I soon had an occasional email correspondence going with Mr. Mallinson. I was a bit intimidated when I first wrote to “Dear Mr. Mallinson,” wondering if he’d even bother to reply, but the very next day there was “Jim” in my inbox. He turned out to be a regular guy, incredibly generous with his time (he’s a master Sanskritist who helped me immeasurably with a translation I was struggling with), humorous in that dry British way, and most of all, incredibly dismissive about all his amazing accomplishments.

Like Georg and Mark, James is not only a scholar but a most dedicated practitioner of the venerable discipline of yoga. Many of my yoga friends take great pride in their three or four trips to India over the years to study, but Jim has been every year for the last twenty-five years. Have you ever been to India? I have, and to paraphrase an old Army promo, it’s not just a trip, it’s an adventure. Twenty-five years running counts in my book as remarkable. His time there has been spent studying yoga in the traditional way—the way it was done for a thousand years in India—face-to-face with an acknowledged guru.

Yoga Shanti, the best yoga school in the country east of Piedmont Yoga in Oakland, will be hosting James in Sag Harbor on Saturday, August 23, and on Wednesday, August 27, at Shanti’s Big Apple venue. If you fancy yourself a serious yoga practitioner, there’s absolutely no excuse I can think of for not being in attendance. I’ve been to a couple of his talks out here on the Left Coast, and had the great good fortune to sit down to a dinner with him. I promise, guarantee, and assure you, that you will come away from the talk if not enlightened, then a heck of a lot smarter about yoga than when you arrived. I’m coming—to paraphrase another famous Brit, wild horses couldn’t keep me away—so see you there, or be square.

Richard Rosen

Richard Rosen began his practice of hatha yoga in 1980, and from 1982 to 1985 trained at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco. In 1987, along with his good friends Rodney Yee and Clare Finn, he opened Piedmont Yoga where he’s taught ever since. Richard is the author of five books, including The Yoga of Breath. He is on the faculty of the Yoga Shanti Teacher Training Program.

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