Shop With Ganga White
Yoga Journal Interview, Source 2001
Ganga White, founder of the White Lotus Foundation
in Santa Barbara, California, is one of America's yoga
pioneers. After years of practice and teaching and leading
teacher trainings, he remains dedicated to the freedom
of inquiry that is yoga's core.
Yoga Journal: You began practicing yoga in
1966. How did you start?
Ganga White: I got into yoga for spiritual,
mystical reasons. I had no idea there was a physical
practice. Some of my first teachers were hatha yogis.
They told me if I wanted to see the world from a different
point of view I should try standing on my head.
Y J: Were you a natural-born hatha yogi?
GW: I would see people sitting with
straight backs for an hour. I couldn't do it for two
seconds, couldn't touch my toes. I was athletic and
had won metals swimming, but I was fairly stiff.
YJ: Has your relationship to certain poses
changed over the years?
GW: In many ways it should change
each day! In the past, I couldn't do Handstand for 10
years because of a high school wrist injury; and now
it's one of my favorite postures. I used to do really
deep backbends, and I don't find them as necessary anymore.
YJ: What is your practice now?
GW: Yoga is the context my life is
held in. My asana practice varies. Sometimes it is what
I call "inner-directed" yoga, where I follow
my own internal guidance and flow. Sometimes I practice
a fixed form, like our Flow Series. I don't believe
in being regimented. The off days are as important as
the on days. Asana practice is one of the most important
things I know-it's whole, so complete-but sometimes
a hike in the forest or a swim can be more important.
Y J: How would you describe your teaching style?
GW: I try to approach yoga non-dogmatically-in
a non-authoritarian manner. I try to balance inner feedback
with the outer practice and information. We [at White
Lotus] emphasize a flowing, vinyasa style, but see yoga
as a tool to work on your own well-being. We aim to
teacher our students to learn to develop the yoga practice
that's right for them. It will vary from day to day
and year to year but also have some common threads.
Our practice has humorously been called "ashganga
yoga." We're also known for challenging traditional
GW: There's a lot of emphasis now
on trying to get people to go back to "pure Patanjali",
for example, but it's very controversial as to what
he actually said, who he was, even whether or not he
advocated hatha yoga! So what you're going back to is
one person's interpretation of what someone from the
past may have said. We question authoritarian formulas
from the past, present, and even within ourselves.
YJ: What teachers have been important to you?
GW: The oceans, the rivers, fire,
and my injuries. But also Krishnamurti, Venkatesa, Iyengar,
Tracey [Rich], and many others not so well known.
Y J: How does yoga come into play in your partnership
with Tracey Rich?
GW: We're together quite a bit. We
teach and practice both together and alone. We're very
aligned philosophically. Relationship is one of the
highest yogas. We treat our relationship as a meditation
and ongoing evolution.
YJ: What do you think is the greatest challenge
in teaching yoga?
GW: Getting people to let go of fixed
ideas that have been poured into them and internalized.
We ant to lead people into freedom and openness.
YJ: Have you always been adversarial to tradition?
GW: Evolutionary, not adversarial.
I started out very traditional, even got a Sanskrit
name. Now I'm interested in standing on the shoulders
of the past and looking farther. We expect to see farther
than our great grandfathers in most ways, and I think
we can learn to see farther spiritually too. The enlightenment
of the past can become the limitation of today. My advice
is to avoid terminal enlightenment at all costs.
- Colleen Morton