Ganga White & Tracey Rich - A Short Biography

About the Author ~ A Short Biography

by Evelyn de Buhr, © 2006
from Ganga White’s Book,
Yoga Beyond Belief - Insights to Awaken and Deepen your Practice

Yoga Beyond BeliefGanga White is a lifelong adventurer, explorer, and student of yoga. His odyssey began when he was eleven years old and saw the word “yogi” chalked on a school sidewalk. It being the late fifties, no doubt it was some baseball fan’s favorite-player graffiti, but for Ganga, it seemed something foreign and the strangeness in it needed deciphering. He asked a kid on the playground, “What’s a yogi?” and was told that yogis were “these guys in the Himalayas who could wave their hands and make a flower appear.” In that instant he resolved to go there someday.

This vignette illustrates the offbeat leanings of Ganga’s mind and the strength of his curiosity, even from an early age. The image of a yogi making flowers appear never left him. Always fascinated by nature, science, and electronics, he earned his amateur radio operator’s license at age fourteen and spoke with people around the world on ham radio. He raced hot rods and earned his California State University tuition by fixing TVs and managing an electronics store. In 1966 he and a friend read Black Like Me and Errol Flynn’s autobiography and decided to drop out and explore life, the civil rights movement, and the turbulent sixties. They traveled the country hitchhiking and hopping freight trains, eventually landing back on Sunset Strip in the heyday of the counterculture and participating in and conducting vision quests using the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Yoga retreat directorGanga began his study in 1966 of yoga and comparative religion with the scholar Dr. Framroze Bode, a Zoroastrian high priest and Doctor of Religion in Los Angeles. Within a year he was living at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Canada, fixing their electronics and sound systems and meeting yogis and swamis from around the world. After a couple of years he mastered the most advanced asanas and practices. In 1967 he founded the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles and served as principle teacher for twenty-five years. He was credited with helping spearhead the new wave of yoga in America and hosted a continuous stream of yogis and masters, many on their first visits to Los Angeles, making their way to the U.S. and Canada. The list of luminaries includes Vishnudevananda, Venkatesa, Chidananda, Muktananda, Satchidananda, Pir Vilayat Khan, Ram Dass, Kalu Rimpoche, Allen Ginsberg, BKS Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois. Along the way Ganga founded yoga centers in major U.S. cities and served for five years as vice-president of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers. He was designated the successor to Swami Vishnu, but left in 1973 due to philosophical differences so he could pursue and begin developing a non-dogmatic, contemporary vision of yoga.

Throughout the late sixties and seventies, he traveled around the U.S. and the world, teaching and lecturing at universities and institutes and appearing on numerous television programs. Ganga has taught yoga to stars and celebrities, consulted on movie sets and television specials, and traveled with yogis and swamis in the U.S., Europe, and India. He organized and led yoga tours and pilgrimages to India, assisted in and conducted the first yoga teacher trainings in North America, and organized the first American fire walk with sacred firewalkers from South India, walking on hot coals himself in 1970. He participated in peace gatherings and flew in the Peter Max-painted peace plane dropping leaflets over the San Francisco war moratorium gathering in Golden Gate Park. He has been called one of the “architects of American yoga” and a “pioneer of yoga” by the Yoga Journal.

Always characterized by an inquiring mind, Ganga worked with polygraph expert Cleve Backster on plant responses in New York and with the Findhorn Community in Scotland in 1974, and in the mid seventies to early eighties he studied with J. Krishnamurti in California, Switzerland, England, and India. In the early eighties he trained in homeopathy at Sivananda Homeo Clinic in the Himalayas and studied with BKS Iyengar in India and Ashtanga yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois.

In 1991, Ganga participated in the first international conference on Ayahuasca and medicinal plants in Brazil. He invited the leaders and shamans back to the U.S. to continue exploring these healing traditions and comparing them to the practices and teachings of yoga. Ganga was an invited delegate to the Wisdom Keepers Gathering at the Earth Summit in Brazil, journeyed in the Amazon region, and hosted a series of meetings with elders and scientists researching entheogens.

While Ganga has had extensive classical training in several prominent lineages of yoga, in Sanskrit, and yoga philosophy—he received the teaching title Yoga Acharya three times from the Sivananda Ashram, the Yoga Vedanta Forest University, Rishikesh, Himalayas, and the Yoga Niketan in India—he has always been an innovating and startlingly original yogi. He created partner yoga, and in 1981 Viking Penguin published his beautifully illustrated Double Yoga, still the definitive volume on this unique system for partner practice. Also during the seventies, Ganga was one of the early developers of Flow Yoga and introduced it at centers all over the country. Flow is now one of the most popular systems of yoga practice.

The first-ever yoga workout video, The Flow Series, was released in 1990 in collaboration with Tracey Rich, Ganga’s wife and fellow teacher of more than twenty-four years. Their second video, Total Yoga, published by Gaiam-Living Arts in 1994, has sold more than 1.4 million copies and has set records as the number one yoga video in the U.S. and worldwide, and fourth best selling exercise video. In 2002 Time-Warner published a three-volume video series, Total Yoga, The Flow Series.

In 1983 Ganga and Tracey founded the White Lotus Retreat in the hills of Santa Barbara, which the couple has directed ever since. To these forty acres in the coastal mountains, thousands of students from around the world have come for yoga workshops, continuing education, and advanced studies. Highly respected in yoga circles, the White Lotus Foundation and its beautifully rustic hillside retreat is a premier institute for yoga and teacher training in the U.S.

Students and colleagues have long appreciated Ganga as an inspiring and insightful instructor. He’s able to communicate yoga’s complex teachings and intricate dynamics, relating to others through his use of anecdotal experience, his down-to-earth way with language, and a wonderful sense of humor. Though Ganga has been bestowed—from Swami Venkatesananda—with the rare, honorific title Yogiraj and has a Sanskrit name, he is an iconoclast in the truest sense, a critical and free thinker who always questions traditional and ritualized beliefs, dogmatic systems, and authority of all kinds. His revolutionary teaching empowers the individual while retaining the essential truths of yoga.

A chalked sidewalk epiphany is a rare beginning for a world renowned career, but within that young boy’s need to know was a pattern of intellectual and experiential curiosity that has formed Ganga White and his unique perspective on life and the physical and spiritual discipline that is yoga. 

-More info or to order Yoga Beyond Belief
-View the Chronological Biography of Ganga White
-View the Yoga Journal Profile of Ganga White
-More on Ganga White