Guruji in China: An interview with Manouso Manos

An Interview with Manouso Manos

By Robin Mishell

This may be the best yoga teaching I’ve ever heard—even from him. I’ve been at this nearly 40 years and I’m thinking, how is it that he continues to teach me and these raw beginners and I’m getting so much wealth out of

this mountain of yoga information?


B.K.S. Iyengar conducted a historic three-day Yoga convention in Guangzhou, China in June, 2011. 

The convention commemorated 600 years of friendship and diplomatic exchange between the Indian and Chinese governments. As Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, a long time student of Guruji, notes, “Yoga is booming in China. There are more than 400 yoga centers in Beijing alone, and there are 5 to 6 million yoga practitioners in China today” (“The Great Mountain meets the Great Wall,” Rahasya Vol 19, No. 3, 2011).

Gurujii invited two Senior Iyengar Yoga teachers from the United States to assist him: Manouso Manos of
San Francisco, and Patricia Walden of Boston. Patricia said of the experience, “The Chinese community welcomed us from their hearts and showered us with love. Guruji was indefatigable, dynamic, and passionate. His teachings were simple yet profound. He talked about the heart continuously and the divinity that lives within it.” Patricia relayed that Guruji said, “Don’t practice for cosmetic beauty, practice
for cosmic beauty. Practice for inner beauty and inner light. Go from the cosmetic state to the cosmic state.” 

Manouso Manos also shared some of his insights and experience with Guruji in China. 

Q: Tell us about Guruji in China and how he began the convention. 

A: Imagine a man taking his life’s work—more than 75 years of uninterrupted practice—and standing before people and describing what that subject is. It has been distilled and filtered so many times that you know that you’re going to get the essence—the cream of where we all should be going.

He started by holding up this leaf. Guruji explained, “Just as the veins of the leaf spread outwards, so too the skin and muscles of the legs. The entire body should not only vertically extend but also horizontally expand if one is to have a rhythmic stretch in the asana. Just as a leaf dries from its outer edges towards the inner core. Similarly, the human body generally ages from the outer musculo-skeletal body to the inner core of the being.” 

Imagine a man taking his life’s work—more than 75 years of uninterrupted practice—and standing before people and describing what that subject is.

He starts from there and literally went through all the sutras as the days went on, changing what he said daily. He began by talking about what it’s like to be conscious. He talked about the states of mind and the five elements. He weaved it all into this remarkable tapestry so it would make sense and become a living tradition. Instead of reading the sutras like a novel, we open it up and ask, “Does this have any meaning to me? Does this have anything to do with my humanity as I understand it? Does this have anything to do with the transition that might be possible in my life?”

I left the Saturday morning class and told more than one person, “This may be the best yoga teaching I’ve ever heard—even from him. I’ve been at this nearly 40 years and I’m thinking, how is it that he continues to teach me and these raw beginners and I’m getting so much wealth out of this mountain of yoga information?”

Q: Can you describe Guruji’s teaching?

A: He’s got an ability to control a room unlike any yoga teacher I’ve ever seen. He brings them in towards him. On Friday, he taught Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Prasarita Padotanasana, Parvotanasana and Tadasana. Guruji said those are the most important poses to give to beginners, describing them as building blocks. To take three and a half hours to teach those poses and give the fullness of what the subject is—that’s hard for most people to comprehend, but that’s exactly what he did. You’ll see that if the DVD’s come out. They did a 6-camera shoot. I really hope it comes out as eloquently, or gives some understanding of how well he taught these classes.

He has this ability to let everyone in the room feel like he’s talking directly to them, to have them feel like there’s a direct communication coming out of the guru to every one of the 1300 people in the room. This is not my imagination. You could tell by the way they were clapping, the way tears were coming to their eyes when we were ending. They were really quite moved.

Q: Did Guruji incorporate God or the chants into his teaching?

A: He was warned not to. He did not start with the chant or the om’s that we’re so used to doing in the Iyengar tradition, but after a day or so he said, “You’ll have to excuse me a moment. I want to do my prayers to my Lord Patanjali.” Those of us who knew it joined in with him. He was warned by the government that he was not allowed to have any religious connotation or they would literally shut him down. But he had it his own way. He didn’t begin that way, but he made sure that the chant got in there at some point. This is Mr. Iyengar’s way. He realizes he’s got his own way of seeing things and he’s going to bring that crowd to him rather than just follow that hard party line. 

Being able to be at the Great Wall and be with my teacher and spend those few private moments was really quite astonishing.

Q: Tell us about a personal moment you had with Guruji in China.

A: They wanted him to come out and see The Great Wall. It’s one of the most remarkable things constructed by man. We went out there and he was beat up by the trip. He had already done so much. His 2-hour classes stretched to nearly 3-1/2 hours. They told him to sit down and he never sat down during class. He just kept firing off this is what yoga is, this is what you’re going to do, and this is how you’re going to work with it. 

When we got out to the wall they asked him to take a small walk and he said, “No. Let me look at this beautiful site and breathe in the fresh air. All of you go.” And, of course, nobody would move. Guruji said for everyone to go and that he would do Savasana. I said, “Let me guard him. I’ll leave him alone. All of you go ahead.” I gave Guruji the excuse of my hips being what they are and still having to teach in Russia. I said to him, “Just let me sit here with you. I don’t need to go anywhere. Let’s just sit for a moment and enjoy each other’s company until they go and then you can take Savasana. You know, I won’t bother you.” 

Faeq Biria, Guruji, and I sat and had coffee together and talked about old times and appreciated where we were. It really was a magical moment for me. Being able to be at the Great Wall and be with my teacher and spend those few private moments was really quite astonishing.

Q: Can you describe Guruji’s intensity during the trip?

A: They took us to this very beautiful Indian restaurant in Beijing. I sat near Guruji and we started talking about nothing—politics, the weather, whatever. His voice was very low. I’m leaning way in to hear him and I’m thinking he’s got to be so tired. Someone comes from the embassy and whispers in his ear, asking him if he would talk to a reporter. They put on the recorder and ask him about yoga. His voice starts to turn up and he starts to bang away because he’s on his subject. All of a sudden, instead of the mundane things we were talking about he’s right back on target, describing to people this most remarkable subject that he’s revolutionized. I’m watching him go from this aged man who is speaking softly to one who is explaining and shouting out to the world that this subject is important. It was a rather remarkable and profound transition.