Conversation with Eric Shaw ~ The Sacred Thread of Yoga Philosophy

Ever wonder if there is more to yoga than yoga postures? Join my guest Eric Shaw for a discussion around his new book called Sacred Thread: A Comprehensive Yoga Timeline: 2000 Events that Shaped Yoga History.  Eric’s teachings and passions have been influenced significantly by his teachers, in particular Shandor Remete and Rod Stryker. You can visit Eric on his website at and you can purchase a copy of Eric’s new book on Amazon here.

During this conversation we discussed:

  • the history and philosophy of yoga
  • the timeline associated with modern yoga
  • the origins of yoga in relation to the archeological findings at Mohenjo-daro
  • Eric’s experience with Iyengar yoga
  • What yoga was like on the West Coast of USA during its peak
  • Yoga as a global realization vs. a cultural specific identity

and quite a few more topics.

You can listen to the full podcast episode with Eric Shaw on our podcast site here.

Todd McLaughlin

I am so excited to have the opportunity to join in conversation with Eric Shaw today. Please find him on his website, You can click the link in the description to easily access his work. He is the author of a book called BKS Iyengar and the Making of Modern Yoga. And he has also just released a new book called Sacred Thread: A Comprehensive Yoga Timeline: 2000 Events That Shaped Yoga History. 

Eric Shaw

Yeah, yes. 


Thank you, Eric. And I’m so happy to have this chance to speak with you. I love yoga philosophy. And you’ve done a lot study. And on that note, can you fill me and the listener in….have you gotten your doctorate degree yoga studies?


No, I’ve done a lot of a lot of academic work. I started a doctoral program in 2004, finished my studies in 2011 and pretty much got the knowledge base that I desired at that time. I was able to parlay that into practical purposes. It’s kind of like I feel like it’s something I want to do that is like climbing Mount Everest. 

But yeah, I didn’t get it done at that point in my life. I could talk all day about why it didn’t happen. Yet I did get a master’s degree out of it and I got a knowledge base. It was quite useful for me for writing work and lecturing work in the yoga world.


Nice. Well, when you had to write a thesis for your masters, what did you base your thesis on?


I based it on the life of BKS Iyengar. I did a very deep study of him. Partly because his followers were so prominent in the Bay Area where I was working in San Francisco. And because that system, according to my training was so alien to me. I was so confronted by it. Iyengar’s system, as everyone knows who studied it, it’s arguably the most comprehensive yoga system out there. You know, unless you went to some ancient system, perhaps as far as the modern systems go, it’s complexity, it’s philosophy, it’s understanding the body and the way that it’s set up structurally to function. The Iyengar view of function in yoga is very clear and vastly articulated. So the people who teach it, have a pedagogy, a pedagogical style, a teaching style, which is strangely aggressive. That’s to say, all those things were quite confronting to me when I arrived in the Bay Area in 2004. After training in Kripalu Yoga and other forms of yoga, which were much more meditative, and much more I thought holistic based. Pranayama based in spiritual aims. Here I was faced with this very physical culturalist yoga, which some people from that tradition might argue with me as characterizing it that way. But to me, it was so body centric and so awesomeness centric. That I think it’s kind of strange to say in the year 2022, because yoga has become more and more and more body centric. I mean, it’s been a processes happening for hundreds of years. But it seems like it’s only been accelerated. It’s come into the American context. But for me, that was difficult. And part of my working that out, to write this mono focal paper on my anger.


Wow! Let me back up so I can get a timeline of your history of practice. When did you start practicing yoga? What was your first introduction to the yoga world?


It’s kind of an interesting, funny story, given my history. My parents were ministers. And they were very open minded liberal ministers. They come from the west coast. So it’s very much different from the south where I’m living now. Yeah, yeah. Me talking about Christianity in this part of the world. But where I came from, they were liberals, they were, you know, anti war protesters. They were raging leftist. So I did get a political orientation in my Christian experience, but it wasn’t a right wing one, it was a radical left wing. So that was my background. And so there was a certain openness there to intellectuality at all levels. So when I told my parents I was an atheist, they didn’t bat an eye. When I told my parents that I was into Eastern traditions and studying Buddhism and meditation, they didn’t bat an eye, you know. So that became my practice very early on in my early 20s, and very much a life saving practice, because my mind was kind of out of control. And it may still sound that way. But meditation helped me control my life. And I dove right into meditation and have maintained that practice to this very day. 


Got it. 


So like, I did some early investigation in Buddhist traditions. And it wasn’t till the early 90s that I joined Siddha Yoga, which is the Hindu tradition, I actually did that in the midst of a time I was studying Christianity and a Religious Studies degree in many Minneapolis, Minnesota. But that kind of opened the Hindu world to me a little bit. And then when I started practicing Hatha Yoga in 2000, then I started to investigate Hinduism more properly and understand how different it was from the Buddhist tradition. How much richer, how much more embracing of the human experience and all of its aspects and even culture in all of its aspects. And so it was incredibly compelling to me, given my background and it pretty much became a gestalt experience for me, I just dove right into it.


Wow. You made mention of the appreciation for Iyengar tradition and Iyengar’s guru being Krishnamacharya. Did you investigate other practices with any other teachers under that lineage?


Yeah, actually with quite a few. I mean, the Bay Area, as I said, was a hotbed of strong Iyengar teachers. So it was easy to study with strong teachers who not only came to town to teach, but who were residents there. So my chief preceptor was Tony Briggs and he had a relationship to Shandor Remete, who was my primary teacher. A teacher I’d met actually was still in Portland, Oregon and before 2004 started studying with Matt Hewish at the time, who was a primary follower of Shandor. Strange to talk about Shandor in the Iyengar context, because few people even know that he studied with Iyengar. He actually stayed with him for 20 years, extremely long time and he was actually the president of the Iyengar Federation in Australia. But he made a jump to  embrace of martial arts and Bharatanatyam yoga, or rather Indian dance and he integrated into practices that he claimed to have learned at the Chidambaram temple in India into a new form that he called Shadow yoga. He’s continued to evolve his forms and change the names of them, but I learned from him and his teaching was profound and very vinyasa based, very movement based. But he was an Iyengar teacher. And then Tony. Tony had worked with Shandor, or so that was my connection with Tony. But Tony was a classic Iyengar teacher. I mean, he was gonna put you in a pose and hold you there and break it down into all its constituent parts in which muscles are engaged, and released and yada, yada, yada. So that training and another with Ramadan Patel and other big names in the Bay Area helped me understand asana and the alignment perspective, which I feel is, is very, very important. I mean, it’s at so many levels. But then I also worked with Paul Grilley, who was into kind of destroying the whole alignment concept. So I got a lot of a lot of input around yogic philosophy and yoga practice in those years that are invaluable.


Amazing, just to touch upon what you just mentioned, I’ve enjoyed watching Paul Grilley’s work around anatomy and yin yoga, can you explain how Paul’s philosophy shatter that existing idea of alignment that you were studying? Can you tell me what that means? Or what that sounds like?


Yeah, yeah. And it’s a good story. I think for anybody who wants to be a serious practitioner of yoga, I think it’s important to understand alignment principles, particularly from the Iyengar perspective, but it’s also very important to understand their limits. And Paul has done the spade work, he’s done the deep work in defining those limits. And I’m just shocked that so few people know his work, because it’s utterly revolutionary. Even if you don’t have Iyengar as a conversation partner for it. So Paul Grilley, you know, he’s ostensibly known for his work in yin yoga. And that’s how I first understood him and met him in yoga was my actually my teaching practice early on, because he was one of the first major teachers I met in Portland, Oregon. I wrote a small profile for him for a local yoga magazine, and we got to be friends. Then he was in an early video company making videos on yoga, you know, and when DVD still existed. A group of people there in San Francisco, who I met and hung out with, and then Paul was a part of that group, and he came down to do yoga videos there. And so he wrote, when I was there in San Francisco, and he recorded his Yoga Anatomy DVD, in which he distills all of his knowledge around bony limits in the body. So it’s the skeletal structure of the body, which determines which poses you can get and in which you can’t. And that’s, I know, that’s a very black and white statement. But it’s actually quite true that the soft tissue, of course, creates limits that we can push through in the attempt to attain any given Asana. And that’s what Iyengar practices are based on. That there is a limitless potential to achieve anything in yoga. Paul Grilley’s work debunked that theory in a way showing that bone structure does create limitation as to how far we can push into a posture. What he really determined and demonstrated directly in that DVD by comparing different human bodies, that the length of your bones, the orientation of the bones, in a given joint, the way it spirals out of that joint, the way it engages with the next joint in the chain determines whether or not any given poses even available. And that’s for a yoga teacher, who is attempting to guide students of different shapes and sizes into positions, proposes knowledge that is absolutely critical. Particularly if you’ve been trained in Iyengar yoga, because it does not integrate that knowledge. In fact, it’s kind of philosophically opposed to it.

Listen to the full episode with Eric Shaw for free on our podcast site here.

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