Yoga Beyond Poses

Stretching the mind


| July-August 2009



Radical Yoga

image by Tom McKeith

Gary Kraftsow noticed something strange as he walked to the podium to deliver the keynote address at the Northwest Yoga Festival in 2004. He wasn’t walking in a straight line. He was drifting like a car overdue for a wheel alignment.

The next morning, he packed his bags and flew home to Maui and his 10-year-old son. He felt weak and his heart beat irregularly. Over the next few days, he began to experience double vision, dizziness, and loss of balance. A CT scan revealed a tumor wedged between his cerebellum and brain stem, a condition medical professionals refer to as “sudden death.”

“What should I do?” he asked his doctor.

“You need to have surgery,” she told him.

“When?”

She’d already arranged a same-day flight to Honolulu.

annie ory
10/25/2009 9:21:14 AM

Interesting comment, "what yoga is good for". I understand the question. We in western cultures long for activities that produce results. If I practice yoga I will have a good marriage, I will have well behaved children, I will not get cancer, and so on. Otherwise, why would I do it? Well, if you are reading the essay, he explains why he did it. It made him feel connected to his physical self even when he couldn't practice physical postures. It gave him a sense of his own aliveness even when he was possibly dying. The type of yoga he practices is not for me. My mind and body have always been kinetic, filled with movement. Trying to sit still and meditate is an exercise in frustration and futility and boredom. Not every person CAN meditate in this way and THAT is the purpose of asana. Asana is a physical meditation. A posture that, to be done correctly, requires that you focus your mind on every muscle, every joint, every breath, every eye movement, is a meditation, but it is one that is particularly well suited to those of us whose minds don't settle easily. As a yoga teacher it is my job to remind students that asana is just a "work out" but to ignore the proven health benefits and to dismiss them in terms that make them seem a useless or frivolous pursuit is not useful. Humans tend to think only in one way. It's the curse of many yogis, humans. The practice of yoga, one would hope, would help to open the mind, as well as the body...


chad henry
7/2/2009 3:15:02 PM

It makes you wonder what yoga IS good for? And here was this teacher who had studied for decades with Desikachar yet divorced his wife, had a child with developmental and emotional problems, and got a huge brain tumor? I wish he would share what if anything Desikachar said on the subject--maybe they'll talk about it in Colorado this summer.