When Ganga White sits with his legs crossed, his spine perfectly straight, and his green eyes steady, he looks like someone who has practiced the mind-body discipline of yoga his entire life. Indeed, White has been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 40 years, and all that experience is distilled in his recently released book, Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice.
While the new book means White’s insights are now readily available for bedside reading, the popularity of yoga in Southern California, and throughout the U.S., already owes much to White. The musician Sting, who wrote the foreword, is only one of a long list of celebrity yogis who have spent time on the mat with the American yoga pioneer and master yoga teacher, whose namesake is the sacred river that runs through India.
Like the River Ganges itself, White’s journey has been wide-ranging. He has walked on hot coals in India, demonstrated poses for Mohammed Ali, traveled with Peter Sellers, flown over San Francisco in a Peter Max-painted plane dropping anti-war leaflets, and, in 1967, opened the largest yoga center in Los Angeles, Center for Yoga. In 1983, along with his wife and fellow yoga teacher, Tracy Rich, he opened the 40-acre White Lotus Foundation retreat center in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
For someone who is such a luminary in his field, White is quiet and unassuming in person, yet quick with a quip. Four decades of teaching have solidified his belief not in dogma, but questioning. “Doubt is your friend,” he said, an idea he expounded upon in the book. “Questioning does not imply a lack of faith or devotion,” he wrote. “Questioning and doubt are important allies that guide us and push and lead us to many discoveries and insights.”
While White’s teaching includes the traditional physical postures, breathing practices, and meditation techniques of Hatha yoga, his is a contemporary approach, informed by his background in science and engineering. In his teaching and his writing, White makes use of modern insights into physiology and nutrition as well as incorporating ancient yogic wisdom.
After all, as White explains in Yoga Beyond Belief, yoga is part of everyday life, not something separate or distinct. “Your entire life is your meditation,” he wrote. The essays in the book provide suggestions for how a yoga practitioner can accomplish this kind of integration. White dispenses his wisdom and advice not by providing diagrams of the mechanics of how to do physical postures, but through discussion of the practical application of yogic philosophy. An engaging read that demystifies the yoga tradition, Yoga Beyond Belief convinces readers that yoga is, indeed, for everybody.
For more information about Yoga Beyond Belief and the White Lotus Foundation, visit whitelotus.org or call 964-1944.