If you saw Manouso on the street you would never guess in a million years that he is a gifted yoga teacher. He’s almost always dressed in a white polo, dad sweater, blue slacks, and non-descript black shoes that tie not slip on. These days he looks more and more like a grandpa because he is one. He is a husband, father, and grandfather, and frequently his grandchildren run into class seeking a hug from their grandfather which he doles out generously. Often his wife Rita is in the front of class and Manouso will show his affection for her in sweet and surprising ways considering he takes yoga teaching seriously. Manouso wears the exact same thing every time he teaches: white polo and blue bloomers. He wears the same thing so students pay attention to his teaching not his yoga outfit. He grew up in Akron, Ohio and he sounds like it. His dad was a hard-working Greek immigrant and a raging alchoholic. His mom was died when he was 13 and was ill for years before her death. His childhood sucked. From a young age he worked with his dad at his dad’s corner store and helped deliver donuts. He often spoke for his dad because of his dad’s accent and limited use of the English language. Manouso had a gift for remembering all the donut orders and where they were to be delivered and so his dad depended on him. He is Greek and was surrounded by a Greek community in Akron. He has two older brothers and a younger sister who died of cancer several years ago. He has revealed in class that he was sexually molested when he was young.
He graduated from Ohio State on an academic scholarship. He says he reinvented himself in college once he was away from his dad, but he inherited his dad’s work ethic. He is a self-proclaimed terrible sleeper and often describes himself as “Aspbergery”.
After graduating university, Manouso and his Greek buddies moved to California to open a Philly Steak restaurant. His girlfriend Rita, who later became his wife, went with him to California. He and Rita ran in the same circles at Ohio State. Once they got to California, Manouso realized there were too many cooks in the kitchen so he walked away from the venture and took on a series of jobs to make ends meet. He struggled with back pain since he was a teen, and eventually found his way to a copy of Light on Yoga. He started reading the book and practicing the poses and found some relief from the back pain he had struggled with for years. He practiced out of the book for a couple of years and learned that the guy who wrote the book- BKS Iyengar- who he presumed was dead because of the old looking pictures in the book, was coming to the Bay Area. The year was 1976. If you know Manouso, you would not be surprised to learn that he found a way into that sold-out workshop and he found his way to speak with BKS Iyengar. He asked Iyengar about his back pain and Iyengar told him to come to India. A few months later, Manouso and Rita put all their stuff in storage and traveled to India to find Iyengar. Who knows what makes a great teacher but in Manouso’s case I think it is a combination of his elephant like memory and ability to make connections, his work ethic, his tenaciousness, his lack of self-consciousness, and the pain and loss he suffered as a child. He took to Iyengar yoga with burning zeal and it did not take BKS Iyengar very long to recognize that Manouso was a devoted and quick student. The two formed a very close bond and Manouso saw Iyengar as the father figure he never had. And, Iyengar trusted Manouso like his own son, if not more.
Manouso’s classes inspire.
If you are wondering what it was like to study with BKS Iyengar, Manouso is about as close as you will get now that Geeta is gone. Birjoo Mehta is also very capable. Manouso’s classes are challenging on a level I have never experienced with any other teacher, and I have studied with many. It is not uncommon for many in the class to think the class was specifically tailored for them. He’s that in control of his gift. He leads by example and he is consistent in his messaging of taking care of each other and the environment. I have seem him countless times quietly go behind someone who has forgotten to turn out the light and do it for them. He doesn’t make a big deal about it he just does it. I have witnessed him over and over again put himself in great physical pain in order to alleviate the pain of a student. He just does it because it is the right thing to do. He doesn’t try to impress with his knowledge of chanting the yoga sutras rather he teaches yoga from his own experience and what he learned from BKS Iyengar. Every class is a tribute to BKS Iyengar.
He is charasmatic with a strong personality. I’ve often heard him say, “I’m Greek! I’m loud!” His voice is loud, his instructions clear and concise. He speaks clearly and truthfully. This can soothe, surprise, frighten or offend people, but, with out exception, Manouso will speak truthfully. He is compassionate and patient. He can exhibit anger, but those moments come only occasionally, typically when as student has to be asked several times to do something or to pay attention. He has no tolerance for students who put themselves or others in danger or are incondsiderate to others. On many occasions, I have seen him defuse an uncomfortable situation calling out people for behaving inconsiderately. It’s a relief to all when he calls someone on their shit, especially the person who he calls out, if they are lucky enough to realize it. In today’s world, most people just get offended instead of thinking that they might actually be doing something that warrants reflection. When you are in a class with Manouso every thing else recedes and it’s just you and that voice- that abrasive-midwestern-Greek- scratchy-loud voice. It gets into your bones.