Rolf Naujokat


Rolf Naujokat and His Teaching

It is very hard to put your finger on exactly why Rolf Naujokat was such a great teacher. His teaching style was never technique-based (although, Marci, his partner over these last 20 years did bring this element to his teaching). Indeed, he spoke little and taught in the ‘traditional way Ashtanga is generally taught.

Of which, let me say, I am generally, not a fan. But, with Rolf, it was different. And, in fact, if we don’t try to complicate things, we can say exactly why Rolf was such a great teacher and inspiration to so many. Because, he was, truly and simply and utterly, Rolf

In other words, no one else could be Rolf and I never saw him in any way trying to be anything other than Rolf.  He was uniquely unattached to any kind of presentation of himself as a teacher – or, for that matter, as any kind of personality at all.

Yet, despite this, with his sadhu-esque looks and non-material vibe, he really was a personality and a very definite character. Yet, to say Rolf lived and conducted himself simply was, indeed, an understatement. On the other hand, when you met him you wouldn’t say he was a dry, ascetic type either.

Everyone had respect for Rolf. He always seemed, although few of us wish (or, have the courage), to aspire to it in real life, the archetype of a real yogi. Someone who had utterly let themselves go to the current of life and whatever it brings.  And, in this, he didn’t mess around with trivialities – he needed little, spoke little and taught a lot – the simplicity of his presence was quite startling. Even frightening at times.

So, on reflection, it was this level of beingness that had an effect on so many (including me) struggling in being something. And this came through dramatically in his presence and the space he held as a teacher.

You won’t find much on the internet about the details of his life. Of course, he grew up in Germany – that much was clear from his accent (his voice and the way he spoke were so specific to Rolf). But, as for the other details; his parents, siblings, early years, I don’t know anyone who knows these things.

All I know is that he was living frugally as a yogi in India in the 1980’s where he started teaching hatha yoga and then Iyengar yoga – he had studied with Iyengar in Pune. At a certain point, someone (I can’t remember who?) turned him on to Ashtanga, and he started visiting Mysore from Goa (first trip ’91) whenever he could afford it to learn from Pattabhi Jois. He would then come back to Goa and teach.

However, his learning he told me, spread over so many years as he was so poor living in India he could afford to go to Mysore so infrequently. It’s only when he moved to Thailand in the late 90’s that he started attracting larger numbers of students. Yet, everyone who knew Rolf knew his heart was always in India. He returned with his partner Marci to teach in Goa around the time when Theresa and I were running Purple Valley Goa.

This was probably around 2006. I practiced personally with him and Marci over the end of the monsoon season in September and October of 2007 when I had time off running the retreat and practicing with the other teachers we were hosting.

Rolf also stepped in to cover a session in Purple Valley when another teacher cancelled, although the setting was not his thing, he was willing to help out.

To be honest, he mainly left me to it regarding practice instruction. We were friends due to proximity and having worked with them at Purple Valley, so he was, I think, too polite to interfere with my tangential and frenetic practice in those years.

However, I do remember him looking at me quizzically one day as I was still practicing after everyone else had left. I don’t know whether he said it now – or whether I just thought it at the time – but, in my mind he said; indeed, you can do all the postures, but what you’re doing is really not right.

I share that with you as it was really a memory that has stuck up to this day in that moment. He was really very kind though; so I imagine this is what he was thinking to himself, I don’t think he said it to me verbally. But, it made a big difference.

Then there was the time Theresa and I took some woven bamboo mats for them to use for the floor of their shala. We arrived around dinner with the mats, almost at Rolf’s bedtime as he used to get up and practice before all his students arrived – which, as they arrived at 5.30am, must have meant 2am or so (he was always committed to intense asana practice).

But, he insisted we stay for dinner and personally went into the kitchen and made us a fantastic Indian meal with whatever he had lying around.

And, as a cook myself, I can say that he really cooked well. I remember to this day being surprised. I also remember he loved Buffalo cream and butter – to which he attributed I think, in part, the secret to his full power lifestyle. After dinner he tried to give us way too much of his personal supply to take home for ourselves extolling the benefits of the natural fats therein.

But, of course, Rolf rarely ate dinner. He simply did it for us and was surprisingly happy to let go of his legendary discipline and routine as his natural human warmth seemed to guide him. And, this was, indeed, not meant to be a hagiography, but, as I type this it is hardly possible not to become slightly overcome with emotion for such an inspiring human being.

As everyone who met him will agree, he was the very archetype of a yogi that we all like to imagine exists; selfless, humble to a T, kind, utterly non-material and ardently committed to (full power) practice. And, in this, I can’t think of anyone else in the yoga world whom I know, who I might mention along with him, to be quite honest.

From all of us Rolf, wherever you are, just know how many of our lives you touched for the better. It also must be mentioned that he leaves behind his partner Marci, who needs our support (even if only in thought) at this time.