Nancy Gilgoff responds

After reading my recent post, Why I practice full intermediate, Nancy Gilgoff wanted to answer a question raised in the comments – about why her teaching style has stayed the same over the years. This is how she responded: 

Nancy Gilgoff“I read the post and the comments below and of course have much I would like to add to the conversation. I don’t usually respond to the blogosphere, however, I would like to answer one of Jose’s questions on why, since I so respect Guruji’s teachings, didn’t I “change” with the updates.

It’s a good question and a good starting point. Actually I have made some adjustments. For instance, I teach the extra arm movements in between the prasaritas and some different dristis.  These are not a change of the “method” of learning but rather seem more “structural”.

Questions to Guruji

Over the years I asked Guruji MANY times “How should I teach?” His reply was always the same: “You teach the way I taught you.” In February of the year he died I asked him again. I knew he was dying soon and I might not see him again. I was in tears and almost pleadingly said to him: “Guruji… everything is changing… what will I do… how should I teach?”

His final answer

Without hesitation he said “You teach the way I taught YOU!” He really stressed the YOU. It was the same wording, only with a different emphasis. He had never done that before. Then he smiled and we laughed at my fears. So Jose, this is WHY I teach the way I do. Out of the deepest love, gratitude and respect, I teach the way he told me to. The way he taught ME.

It is really the only way I (or anyone) can, in truth, teach this practice as it is my experience of it. From the sound of it this is also how you are teaching. I would say this is correct. We each can only teach what we know to have worked for us, from inside out. There will always be different people who need different approaches depending on their physical, mental and spiritual condition.

Primary one day, intermediate the next

Another thing to make mention of… While we were shown the primary and intermediate one after the other, Guruji told us that in our daily practice we should take primary one day and intermediate the next. We were not to continue practising both series in one go. The folks I see today are not following this method. They are doing all of both series almost daily and then they even add some third on to that too. So I’m not surprised they experience “burnout”.

In Mysore that is fine to do, but at home when we have “life” happening (jobs, families, school, etc.), we should take one series at a time or split them in the prescribed method. This comes directly from Guruji.

On accepting each other 

Pranayama-Circle-Encinitas-75-1I think that perhaps Guruji’s greatest teaching was of acceptance and incredible patience. We were/are a “wild” bunch of folks. And yet he accepted us all into his life and that of his family. He knew us perhaps more deeply than we knew ourselves. Everyone was taught in a manner that was meant just for them. He taught me differently than he taught others who were healthy and strong. Today, these folks teach differently from me. And so they should.

As he accepted us, we were able to accept ourselves and each other. This is yoga. The key here is that we accepted each other as well as ourselves… and we still do. Even though we have different “methods” of teaching the respect is there. The current attitude coming from the later generations of ashtangis does not often reflect this. There seems to be a “my way is better than your way” attitude. I do find this somewhat disturbing.

On the perfect practice and the perfect pose

The perfect practice is the one that is done 6 days a week (no full or new moon, of course, or during ladies’ holidays). The “perfect” pose is the one YOU are doing that moment, not the way you see David Swenson or Kino doing it. I think we all would love to be able to do the poses like they can. But the reality is, in the moment, for most of us, that isn’t happening. And that has to be okay for yoga to happen.

The perfect pose is without bad pain and without stress… only breath. The correct method is finding that in our own practice, and our role as “teacher” is to help others to find it. Once one finds it then how quickly or slowly we learn primary and intermediate will have little relevance. Keep practising, always coming back to the breath… and enjoy. This is Guruji’s system of yoga, I think.”

– Nancy Gilgoff

43 Responses to Nancy Gilgoff responds

  1. francesca 29th March 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Simply amazing l love you nancy

    • gigi 2nd April 2015 at 9:54 pm #

      So wonderfully written…
      Thank you for sharing…with love and gratitude..
      See you very soon!!! 🙂

  2. Gerry 29th March 2015 at 9:51 am #

    Beautifully written and I couldn’t agree more. A candle lit from the original flame

  3. Sonja Smederevac 29th March 2015 at 9:59 am #

    Thank you Nancy, great truth that is good to be reminded of.

  4. Emma O'Neill 29th March 2015 at 10:16 am #

    and this is why I adore you Nancy. Always standing in your truth. Thank you for being my first teacher xoxo

  5. Lorna 29th March 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    I trust one day I will meet Nancy <3

  6. Lu 29th March 2015 at 12:16 pm #


  7. devi 29th March 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification about practicing both primary and intermediate together by alternating them. Even though i was no where close to completion of primary, I have met teachers who pushed me to add intermediate poses to my practice. It never felt right. They always tried to tell me it’s okay because it’s the way you teach.

  8. norma kidson 29th March 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Indeed “a candle lit from the original flame” as Gerry put it!
    And I couldn’t agree more.
    Thank you Nancy. So well said/written.

  9. Terri 29th March 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    Perfectly and beautifully stated Nancy! I was with Manju last week and he had similar words. I also asked about primary and 2nd and he told me to alternate the practice every other day like Nancy states. Make the practice feel good in your body and breathe… 🙂

  10. Tony Ilett 29th March 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Love Yoga, love others, your environment and yourself. Love.

  11. Georgiann 29th March 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Beautifully said, and the reason Nancy is one of my beloved teachers. I’m almost 60 years old, still with a daily practice, because this is how I was taught. Thank you, Nancy, for always being a beacon of light, love, and reason.

  12. Michaela Clarke 29th March 2015 at 4:43 pm #

    Lovely and intelligent response Nancy. Much appreciate your voice of reason. Love and light, Michaela X

  13. Janine W 29th March 2015 at 4:44 pm #


    Thank you! Your words just always MAKE SENSE! You just take the confusion away and that is a blessing to me! Thank you again and again!

  14. Cherie Lathey 29th March 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Beautifully put Nancy. You are an inspiration and a wonderful role model to many people practicing Ashtanga yoga (especially women.) . Thank you for showing me a way that works for me! ❤️

  15. Michelle 29th March 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Beautifully and lovingly written. So happy I have been able to study with you, your wisdom and clarity continue to inspire me! Thank you.

  16. Greg C 29th March 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    “Out of the deepest love, gratitude and respect, I teach the way he told me to. The way he taught ME.” – Nancy Gilgoff

    One of the most touching quote I have read in recent memory. Nancy Sensei – As our teacher, you also have our deepest love, gratitude and respect. Namaste.

  17. Betsy heilman 29th March 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    I am what you might consider a very difficult student. I can take up all the teachers attention or take over the class. I am ‘fat’ by yoga standards and was even told by one teacher that I am not cut out for Astanga. At one time I could not even be still. I also suffered chronic migraines and survived terminal Ovarian Cancer. Nanciji never gave up on me. I honestly think she is the only teacher who could have done it. Her work is truly for the well being if others and grounded in love. It’s been 16 years now! Bless you Nanciji! No Ka Oi!!!!! FOREVEA!

  18. caroline holt-casey 29th March 2015 at 6:35 pm #

    Nancy, thank you so much for your words of wisdom. We are so blessed, as a community, to have such teachers as you who have gone before all of us…you have paved the path for women in this practice, and I am incredibly grateful that you continue to practice and teach!!

  19. Bobbi Misiti 29th March 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    Thank you Nancy for taking the time and confidence to make this response! Aloha 🙂

  20. Laura Isola 29th March 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    Thank you Nancy for your Light Wisdom and Devotion! You are Yoga 🙂 I’m grateful to have had you as my very first Ashtanga teacher for I and II series workshops in 2006! Your Peaceful and well balanced perspective means a lot to me! Sending you Love and Gratitude

  21. Longhornval 29th March 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    this is a wonderful perspective. It also makes me present to making sure I as a student also find the right teacher. Thank you!

  22. Anna Winkler 29th March 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    Beautifully put. Thank you Nancy! I must confess that I don’t have a perfect practice, but at least I have a perfect pose! 🙂

  23. Tania Jo Ingrahm 29th March 2015 at 10:13 pm #

    Nancy, it’s a joy to read your comments. Because of your influence on my Ashtanga practice from the early stages I really resonate with your words and your teaching. I know your teaching continues to influence me positively in my practice and my teaching. Thank you for giving me the gift of finding my own way.

  24. Marilyn 29th March 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    Nancy. Love your wisdom and I loved practicing with you at the Confkuence a couple years ago. Your story of how sick you were when you came to Guruji and what practicing meant for you was inspiring.

  25. Emilia 30th March 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Nacy is amazing teacher, unique and simple.
    She is real and Truth.
    I will say for me she teaches it real yoga.

  26. Deb Williams 30th March 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    I am always so happy to hear your words and that you stand by what you have been taught. It is so true that we can only teach the way we learned and we keep learning. I see many getting caught up in the how and why when the most important thing is the breath and what the mind is doing. I heard Kino echoed in the rooms today when a student came up and said that they had to remember the “equanimous” mind. Sharath says this . . . it’s all about controlling your mind.

  27. Rena 31st March 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Beautifully stated Nancy. I fully agree that we can only teach and practice from our own experiences. We shouldn’t feel the need to keep up with trends because trends by definition are in flux. If we truly believe that we are all here for a purpose then our internal compass should be our guide. Gurji had faith in your gifts as should you! Much love

  28. Baird Hersey 6th April 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    Love it! and love you Nancy!

  29. James White 6th April 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    I agree with the sentiment here of Nancy Gilgoff’s words. Her style does not work for everyone, but I could see a situation where once a student has reached a certain point that it may make sense for that student to try something different. I am pretty new to the practice. I’ve only been practicing for about 8 months. I am working through half primary. A few times a month I will do a vinyasa flow class to change it up, because sometimes Primary Series just freakin’ hurts and sometimes my body needs a change up. I still do at least a shortened primary practice but sometimes a few more back bends in a vinyasa flow helps me come back and have deeper primary series practices. While I don’t feel I’m ready for Nancy’s method now, I could certainly see myself in a year or two giving it a try if I am having some of the same challenges I have now with Primary.

    Lastly, I don’t really like the righteous indignation that comes from some of the newer generation of Ashtanga teachers in the my way or the highway approach to Ashtanga. Not everyone is a bendy 20-something with no kids, no significant other, a job they can leave tomorrow and not miss it, and a ton of time to practice 3-4 hours a day. If Nancy’s method works for some people, then God Bless her and them. This whole perfect posture thing is a little scary to me and seems like an awesome way to lose students.

  30. Christiane 28th April 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Nancy, first of all, thanks so much and i really cannot wait to meet you and attend one of your workshops.

    But i do wonder, if Guruji taught the series in that order (I’m referring to your articled “Ashtanga Yoga As It Was (The Long and Short of It)”, why aren’t they being taught like that still? Why has it changed? and why is it still changing?

  31. Alana 24th June 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    I have had the privilege of practising an a number of occasions with Nancy and through her teaching understood the path is one of freedom and joy not ambition.

    If we practise with true intention a joyous heart, stability and breath,.. all will be coming.

  32. Asherah 28th February 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    Beautiful. Finding this a year after it was published and it resonates deeply. Having studied Ashtanga with Nancy (a long time ago…as Jessica)… and later Forrest yoga, and then now embracing BOTH systems on my mat– I can say this. Yes- we teach as we were taught. Because that was the alchemy or magic for our personal journey, and really our own deepest truth, and where we stand with most strength. And for every teacher there will be perfect students- e.g. I came to Nancy when I was younger with a lot of physical and emotional trauma, and her approach to ashtanga was perfect for me. (I had tried the “tougher/newer” teachers and all that approach did was re-imprint the shock in my body! ) For each teacher, perfect students. Lots of love, and respect, always!

  33. Katerina 14th September 2016 at 10:41 am #

    what a simple and full of love and tenderness approach…actually this is yoga! thank you!

  34. Michaelle Edwards 1st December 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Practice the way your body is designed to move is my mantra now. My name is Michaelle Edwards and I was injured in the ashtanga system and adjusted by Jois in a very inappropriate manner. Many of these poses are not comfortable at all and it is impossible to take a deep breath with your feet behind your head. There are so many injuries from doing asana in such an intense way and it is definitely not suitable for everyone. I work with injuries from yoga and the first series is full of straight knee forward bends which put torque on the Sacral/lumbar joint and compress the hip joint. Many yogis who do forward bends are creating laxity in the the spine and hip ligaments and causing a breakdown in the natural suspensory structures in the body. Hip replacements for ashtanga practitioners are not uncommon. Beryl Bender is one of them and Kino has already had a major hip injury. Please question all of it and use discernment as the yoga sutras instructs us to do.

  35. Juls 15th August 2017 at 12:14 am #

    Dear Louise and Nancy, I found this response and the original post today and I truly touched by your words. The part about the perfect pose, in particular, really hit me. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope to meet you some day.

  36. Ruah 30th January 2018 at 11:15 pm #

    Thank you Nancy. Beautifully expressed. So true. Thank you for making space for us to unfold from knots of negativity and judgment, and practice yoga.


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