Joel Kramer came to yoga in a roundabout way. An intellectual in his 20s, he experienced a rude (but fortuitous) awakening when he discovered Jnana Yoga. As a result, he began to look at the human mind in a totally different way than did his psychology texts. This revised examination eventually led him to the practice of Hatha Yoga, which he undertook with his characteristic dedication and focus. He read, collected information, studied photographs and drawings, asked questions of friends but only went to one or two formal yoga classes. From the beginning, Kramer has preferred to practice asanas alone, making him one of an exceedingly rare breed the self-taught yogi (an epithet he denies, citing the countless tidbits he's picked up from fellow students and teachers).
His unique approach to yoga centers around the mutual influence of body and mind, and he takes exception to more than a few of the classical teachings. Kramer is interested in how our mind is affected by and affects our environment and our experience. He maintains that non-evaluative awareness of such mental activity is crucial to deep understanding of the asanas. In the process, he de-emphasizes several standard forms of meditation and theories of Hatha practice. No wonder he has raised a few eyebrows ("treaded on some traditional toes," as he puts it), but that doesn't disturb him. Joel is too busy continuing his joyous exploration into the body-mind interrelationship.
Although Kramer boasts none of the typical achievements by which yoga teachers and students normally rate their successes, his credentials are impressive. He served as yogi-in-residence at Esalen Institute from 1968 to 1970 and still conducts regular workshops there, as well as throughout the United States and in Europe. In addition to numerous articles, he has written two books, The Passionate Mind and The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power with his partner, Diana Alstad (he also leads weekend seminars on the yoga of relationships with her). Above all, Kramer is a quintessentially American yogi. His manner of teaching is straight forward, relaxed, and California-style friendly. Although he's obviously steeped in yogic terminology, his crisp speech contains few Sanskrit words, and he prefers to refer to the postures by their Western names. Kramer presents the whole practice of yoga openly and matter-of-factly, without drama or mysticism, and he is always eager to demonstrate how it penetrates into the darkest corners of our minds and the most mundane moments of our lives.
- J. Cameron (Yoga Journal 1986)
“There are many approaches to doing yoga. Teachers and classes present a variety of useful techniques and processes. However, the essence of yoga involves getting in touch with one's own feedback systems, edges, breath, and rhythms, which can only occur through developing an independent practice.” “Making progress initially comes quickly and is exciting. It's common for a beginner to be posture-oriented, using only the body to achieve postures. I recommend a different attitude that uses postures as tools to explore and expand one's limits. Here the process of doing yoga is primary, while accomplishment is secondary. ”
“Yoga plays between intention, what the mind wants, and execution, the limits of the body. Utilizing breathing both to open postures and relax into them is the key that coordinates mind and body, which generates the unique psychophysical energy that yoga offers.”
“Yoga involves an interplay between focus and attention. Focus is the ability to energy into different parts of the body, while attention is essential to read feedback. The quality of mind that one brings to yoga is far more important than what the body can do on any given day.”
- Joel Kramer (Yoga Journal 1995)