Teacher Profile: Dominic Corigliano
When Sri. Pattabhi Jois first visited Encinitas, California in the mid 1970s, he taught a few dozen pioneering Westerners his flowing, breath-linked Ashtanga yoga system in a former Episcopalian church. Among those first American students were friends of local resident and computer engineer Dominic Corigliano. Within a few years, Corigliano had joined the group of practitioners, beginning to follow the thread of breath upon which the asana practice is based, to become one of its more highly regarded—and nomadic—teachers. Now, Corigliano is one of only a dozen instructors in the United States who have received Jois's certification to teach. For the past several years, he has taken on a teaching schedule more akin to a working musician. When not continuing his study with Jois in Mysore, Corigliano can be found touring the globe to transmit the practice of Ashtanga yoga. A typical year for Corigliano includes teaching stops from three days to several months in California, Louisiana, Paris and Malaysia. In 2002 Corigliano joined Jois on his worldwide teaching tour—10 cities in 10 weeks—documenting the trip on photographic film and videotape. He is also producing a primary series video featuring Sharath Rangaswamy.
"I stayed in one spot for 14 years, getting experience with teaching and raising a family. I was able to take my first trip to India in 1996. When my daughter left the house, I asked myself, 'What am I doing here? What's vital for me?'" The answer was devotion to Pattabhi Jois and, he says, "practicing at all costs." " I let go of my home and my students … I took that step and I continue to take that step."
Now if Corigliano isn't getting to a teaching gig via airplane, he's likely traveling there on his red Honda ST1100 motorcycle, such as last year when he drove from San Francisco to New Orleans and back. He hasn't had a car since 1996: he keeps his Honda in California and CBZ in India. Arriving at studios with little more than a yoga mat in tow, he fills in for other teachers at their schools when they travel to India, house-sitting and taking over their teaching schedule for a month or two before moving on.
"When I was young, I hitch-hiked a lot. I was very influenced by Jack Kerouac and the Beats. I hitched six or seven times across the country between the ages of 17 and 23. Now I'm back to that," he says. "I'm revisiting places I was 30 years earlier. But it's a different me. [As a teenager] there was excitement but also fear and uncertainty. Now there's yoga in my life and I'm anchored in that."
Having practiced the third series of Ashtanga since 1989, Corigliano's mastery of the physically demanding form belies his own health history. "I didn't come to yoga from being well. I wasn't well. As an asthmatic the breath fascinated me. I've had a lot of health issues, [including] a heart murmur. Yoga is the therapy that works. I can speak to and empathize with those who are working with physical limitations."
Detached from any set studio though he is, Corigliano hardly takes his temporary teaching gigs lightly. Continually studying with Jois to keep his own practice vital, he counts the work of hypnosis pioneer Milton Erickson as a large influence in his approach to communication. "Erickson was a master of suggestion who understood the different states of human consciousness. His work came out of his own illness—he had polio twice in his life. Pattabhi Jois is also a master of suggestion," Corigliano says. "He's THE ultimate coach. A teacher should be completely devoted to their student. The relationship is an intimate and powerful one."
He has found the same can be said about how Ashtanga translates across language barriers. While he's noticed that students' bodies and attitudes toward their practice are reflective of their culture, the inherent qualities of practice are universal. "Americans and Europeans seem to be more serious about it all. I found people in Malaysia more relaxed about themselves," he says. "But everywhere we get to that same trance of rhythm and movement." "Ashtanga practice reveals the 8-fold path. Practice leads to understanding beyond rational understanding. It's a cellular understanding. You are and your understanding is, ever deeper. It's scary.... And exuberant."
[To learn more about Dominic and his workshops, visit www.aumboy.com.]
© 2004 Deborah Crooks