In 1995 I first travelled to Mysore, India to study Ashtanga Yoga with Sri K Pattabhi Jois in his small yoga school at the back of his modest home. 12 students fit in the classroom at a time, with mats overlapping one onto the next. The room was heated by the efforts of 12 students breathing with sound and moving briskly in a traditional vinyasa flow that gathered a steady condensation at the ceiling that pooled and ran down the walls. As he taught, Pattabhi Jois closely observed each student, calling out terse verbal direction as he actively climbed over and around us in precise and capable adjustments. His instructions guided us to correct breathing, gazing, asana, and a myriad of details for these. He also directed us to a small window ledge where, in those pre-internet years, he placed our letters from home. He called out our names, sent us to our practice areas and laughed with us and shared support regarding our lives and days as he came to know us.
His teaching continued each afternoon when we gathered in his front room. He sat in a rattan chair, read the newspaper, opened his mail, shared mail, and discussed events from daily news to local stories as well as stories of the yoga and Indian systems and lessons in yoga scripture, technique, and wellness systems.
Guruji, as many of us called him, directed us in prescriptions for particular recipes, and foods to address individual health concerns or imbalances. He also instructed in herbal applications, teas, poultices and uses of oils for pain, swelling and wellbeing. He shared insights into the local seasons and how to adapt our kitchen to address changes in nature that were sure to affect our own nature and could be adjusted in our meals and schedules.
Regarding pain, he usually addressed it through practice – the quality or precision of a practitioner’s breath as well as their mental quality. But when these were not factors he spoke of types of pain – with or without swelling and then specific oils and massage techniques.
Pattabhi Jois recommended weekly south Indian castor oil bath more than any other remedy. This was part of his weekly wellness rituals and that for his whole family. And there was evidence of it’s weekly popularity in early Mysore, when on Fridays, the day women traditionally take this technique, housewives left their morning chores and sat out on front stoops chatting to one another as they worked oil through their hair and relished the time-out for self care.
Many years ago Pattabhi Jois instructed me in oil bath and from that day forward, sent many of his students to learn the details from me. I eventually asked his permission to write an overview and post it online, saying I would credit these instructions to him.
Now oil bath is one of many health rituals as well as oil based self-care and beauty pillars that I share. For that I am again as always indebted to my teacher, his family and to the extraordinary global community of yoga practitioners he has fostered.
Watch the videos on Oil Bath here.