The Early Teachers of Ashtanga Yoga In America

The Early Teachers of Ashtanga Yoga In America


According to a biography on his website Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, born in July 1915 is credited with introducing the art of Ashtanga Yoga to America. The first western to be trained with Krishna Pattabhi Jois was Andre Van Lysbeth whose country of origin was Belgium. Before long the first Americans started to come to Jois to learn the practice of Ashtanga at Swami Gitananda’s ashram in Pondicherri. The Ashtanga took its root in California and spread throughout USA. Norman Allen and David Williams were the early American students of Jois. David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff are credited with inviting the master practitioner to San Diego County to impart the training.

nancy gilgoff ashtanga yoga


Ashtanga might still have been a dark art for Americans if Norman Allen did not persistently plead Jois to teach the practice.

Norman found it extremely hard as the master did not accept western students. He had to camp outside his entrance for days before Jois was persuaded by his sincerity and took him on as a student. After a grueling period of study Norman returned to USA and brought Ashtanga practice with him. Norman returned to New York City in the early 1980’s as Yoga was starting to gain prominence. He practiced Ashtanga initially but was not interested in the commercialism of the art. He left New York City for Hawaii and is settled there to this day. He still tutors Ashtanga to his disciples.


David Williams, an Ashtanga practitioner since the early 70’s, has imparted training to many senior instructors of the craft in America.

He started his love of Yoga during his student days at the University of North Carolina. He went to India in 1971 to learn yoga. He had to go through many obstacles before finding Manju Jois (Jois son). After seeing the demonstration of Ashtanga, David asked Manju to train him. When he refused, David asked him if his father would teach him. Though Jois only taught Brahman men, he decided to be his tutor. David learned the first, second and half of the third series of Yoga in his stay with the master. Jois did not speak English in those days and David had to study by watching the other students practicing it. He continued his education with Pattabhi Jois till he gained knowledge of the complete Ashtanga series.

David relocated to Hana after the completion of his training in order to concentrate on building strength and polishing his skills. The focus was to develop his style and leave the imitation. He taught exclusively private lectures for almost 20 years before he started traveling and delivering group lessons of Ashtanga as delivered to him by the master Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois.


Nancy Gilgoff is one of the first western females to arrive in India and seek training of Ashtanga from Jois.

Nancy is also credited for bringing Ashtanga to America and she has been teaching it for more than 30 years now. Nancy was met with an accident in her early life. Due to her love of horse riding she was left with a chronic back pain. After learning the practice she has been able to live an improved life. Her approach is slow and easy and she still enjoys seeing the results in her students. Nancy Gilgoff is able to teach with the same approach and stroke that was passed on to her by the great Jois. Hence, for those who are seeking for ashtanga yoga instructor training, do remember to choose the course wisely.

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