Encinitas holds the distinction of being the American birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga. David Williams began teaching here in the early seventies and sponsored Pattabhi Jois and his son Manju to come here for the first time in 1975. Brad Ramsey and Gary Lopedota, two of David’s students, opened their own yoga shala, called the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam, after David moved to Maui.
This is when I first entered the picture, in January of 1978. The Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam was right down the street from my house on La Veta Avenue in what was once St. Andrews Episcopal Church. There was no electricity, heat or plumbing. Evening classes were done by candlelight and bodily functions were performed outdoors in a portable toilet. Brad and Gary were very serious students and maintained an air of both austerity and authenticity.
Pattabhi Jois visited Encinitas again in the summer of 1978. I had been reading “The Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East” and half expected Guruji to materialize in the center of the room in a ball of light. Instead he entered through the door, a smallish man in black loafers and a lungi. He was 63 years old then, still thin, very strong and ferocious. All the classes were Mysore style and we were all terrified of being adjusted by Guruji. The only thing worse was to be ignored.
I was learning the second series at the time and was allowed to participate in the pranayama class that followed asana practice. Guruji would hold his breath for a very long time and we would all be sweating and trembling. “Nervous system cleaning!”, Guruji would say.
Guruji was also teaching yoga theory classes at Manju’s house three nights a week. He would go off on a lengthy Sanskrit chant of some scripture, complete with laughter and tears, then look to Manju for a translation, who would provide only the briefest explanation. Guruji was trying to teach us the Guru Ashtakam, a sloka emphasizing the importance of the blessing of the Guru. All I remember is the refrain “Tatekim, Tatekim, Tatekim,” (without the guru’s blessing “no use”).
Pattabhi Jois has blessed us by returning to Encinitas in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1993, and 2000 and refers to it as “my American home”.
I took over the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in 1981 when Brad and Gary moved to Hawaii and it has survived several changes of location. The Ashtanga Yoga center is currently located in South Carlsbad on the border of Encinitas.