Love both of these pics of Joseph.

Two pictures to show the different seasons. One for the summer and fall, and one for the new year. Both radiate his spirit and soul.

I was shocked and sad to recently hear that Joseph Dunham passed away suddenly in Cambodia. For those who have no idea who Joseph was he might be best described as the “right-hand man" to Pattabhi Jois (the Master of Ashtanga-yoga) and how Joseph described himself.

Joseph, like those of us interested in yoga, headed directly to the source by travelling to India to take a few classes. As the story goes he had no intention of making it his life. This was back in the 70's. Without a master plan he had originally decided to stay in Mysore (the home of Pattabhi Jois) for 4 weeks. He ended up staying, however, for over 20 years and making Mysore his permanent home. According to Joseph he never actually "moved" to Mysore but gradually admitted that he lived there.

I personally found Joseph not only a gentle soul but a bit of a "mystery". First, I understood he had not chosen to lead a conventional life-style. He had not settled down, gotten married or taken a full-time mainstream job. Second, he had decided to offer his life as a service to Guruji, Pattabhi Jois.

When I first met Joseph I was unaware of his deep connection to the Jois family. I knew he was someone with 'experience', a seasoned yogi, lived in Mysore and appeared to have a clear idea of what he was doing. What I understood about him first was he was kind and helpful, and stood tall without an "attitude". In 2003, during a crowded gathering for Pattabhi Jois’s birthday, I was standing at the side. Joseph (without not even knowing me) made a point of trying to find me a chair. This was even after offering me his own (to which I refused) and locating a spare one.

For each of the years that I returned to Mysore, it became a part of the landscape to "bump" into Joseph. This was usually at the Southern Star (a popular hotel) where he had his daily swim at the pool and dropped off his linens. (In India, it's hard to wash your own stuff...and you're better off dropping it off at a washer.) Everyone was familiar with Joseph and knew he was around because of his famous motorcycle parked outside of the hotel. Each year we had breakfast or lunch together and spent time talking about yoga, life, work, teaching, the new shala and whatever else that came up. I can still see Joseph talking about the new shala (school) being built in place of the old one in Lakshmipuram.

“Oh even when the first shovel hit the ground people were crying.”

Joseph was an important figure in Mysore, both as a well seasoned teacher and student of yoga and his generous spirit. Better known as "Mr. Joseph", he was the local guide that many new-comers went to for advice or housing. He also had his own home, which was wonderfully decorated and extremely comfortable. To those who stayed there and friends, he was the king of the famous fruit salad. He called his housing “Chez Joseph” and rented it out to many Ashtanga students. For some reason, I always recall the “very young” picture of Joseph with Guruji in his living room. In that picture he was wearing a very pale yellow t-shirt...Funny, what you remember.

I don’t believe, however, that most local people in Mysore looked at him quite the same way as the yogi crowd (and not that it matters at all). A taxi driver once remarked on how he knew Joseph and talked about him as “alone”, "not married" and "alone". In a culture where family and marriage are predominant, his loner status was probably not well understood.

Yet what I always felt was special about Joseph was the way he seemed to mingle with the Ashtanga crowd and still remain somehow aloof, untouched.

When a person's life ends, and this becomes especially true if you knew them personally, there are many images that run sporadically through your mind.

As I remember Joseph I see him:

-walking away from the pool at the hotel;
-laughing his big hearty laugh;
-offering me a chocolate truffle;
-sitting on his bike talking about tax in the US and housing in Mysore, and;
-demanding cloth napkins at the hotel rather than the cheap paper ones.

So here’s to Joseph! To living life on his own terms, to his light and for his love of Guruji. Joseph told me a few years ago that he was not just a student but a friend...And he added, “Guruji would never say that about anyone unless it is true...”

Strangely, last year I did not see Joseph. Our last talk was in 2008. At that time, Guruji was becoming very unwell. Joseph talked about how the family was in denial and no one was really prepared for Guruji to pass away. I recall Joseph also telling me that once Guruji passes, his work will be done...he will also leave Mysore....

If we are indeed remembered by our deeds when we die and not by our status and jobs, Joseph will undeniably be remembered for all those he personally helped, for his kindness and for this devotion to his Guru.

Good-bye dear Joseph. Much love is there.

PS: Joseph was the one who corrected me on the fact that Ashtanga-yoga "is" Hatha-yoga...not Hatha-yoga and Ashtanga-yoga as being 2 separate yogas as they are known today. Each time I remind my students of this, I think of Joseph.


The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


My Photo
Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
View my complete profile



Must Reads

  • Eleven Minutes
  • Illusions: Handbook for Advanced Souls
  • Le Petit Prince
  • Letters to a Young Poet
  • The Philsopher and the Wolf
  • The Witch of Portobello