Talking 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 sacred cows.

YJ: Like?

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