Martyn Jackson

Martyn Jackson in LA 1981- photo, courtesy Shelley Piser

 Martyn Jackson (1929 – 1991)

He was amongst the early group of westerners to study with Mr B.K.S Iyengar in Pune, he started the first Iyengar yoga school in Australia in Bondi Junction in the mid 1970s. His great enthusiasm and personal warmth inspired many to practice yoga, including most of the contemporary senior Iyengar yoga teachers in Australia. He sits atop of the Yoga branches of Australia.

Eve Grzybowski wrote of her teacher Martyn Jackson in her book The Art of Adjustment.

Martyn Jackson was one of the first westerners to be taught directly by

B.K.S. Iyengar. He is credited with introducing and popularising the

Iyengar method in Australia in the 70’s and 80’s.

He was a gifted, dynamic teacher, originally from England. He had a big

booming voice, full of enthusiasm, with a Yorkshire accent, and would

exhort his students to do their best. His personal warmth inspired many

commit to the practice of yoga.

He trained many yoga notables in his intense teacher training courses

over the years: Anna Prior, Shandor Remete, Trevor Tangye, Jan

Poddebsky, Kay Parry, Lee Farrant, John Leebold, Dianne Currie and

myself. Many of these students went on to establish their own schools.

Martyn Jackson traveled widely in Australia and internationally. In 1981

he was invited to the Centre for Yoga – Los Angeles’ first yoga studio -

founded in 1967 by Ganga White. Anna Prior and I accompanied Martyn

on this trip and assisted him teach a three-month training.

In 1990 Martyn died, after a lengthy illness.

Some of the teachers Martyn trained still conduct classes at his school,

The Australian School of Yoga in Bondi Junction, in eastern Sydney. Source:


For arguably the most comprehensive story of Martyn Jackson’s life, read the  transcripts of the 8 interviews hosted by Shelley Piser with Martyn Jackson in 1988  read more here

Martyn Jackson on Pranayama – Writings on Yoga with Shelley Piser Shelley Piser: You say often that Pranayama, is the most important part of your practice.

Martyn Jackson:  I feel so. If I can get you practicing pranayama, you’re taking sufficient oxygen throughout the body so that’s giving you much more clarity in the brain so you can become much more truthful so that when you look at a person, you don’t look at the outside of the person, but you are penetrating inside. You are looking at the inside. The inside is where the truth is. Not the outside. The outside is the unknown, the outside is just where you just put a little bit of powder, put on a nice dress and that’s the outside. And that’s the unknown, but the inside is the truth. If the inside is beautiful then you know that that is the person that you want. So this is important to, that’s what I feel, to be a leader.

SP: Talk about pranayama a bit

MJ: Pranayama is something again that we in the west really don’t understand it. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term. I don’t like using Sanskrit terms. If you are in the country where it is used, that’s wonderful, but here, again it is like an ego trip, it’s like showing people that you are more knowledgeable then they are.So I like to work as my friends, you know have an open collar neck and just like a slave, and when I say slave, I don’t mean somebody who is beaten, but I mean an ordinary person, an ordinary worker. I like to be like that. To start talking in Sanskrit terms is lifting yourself up and putting yourself as something more special then what they are. You talk to them at their level. Talk to them about pranayama is how you breathe. But they’ll say, ‘but I breathe ok,’ but then you can talk to them and show them that they are not breathing at all. All they are doing is just taking in sufficient to keep them at the level they are at the moment. You start encouraging this breath, which is the life force. You can go without food indefinitely, you can go without water or drink for three or four days, but with the breath you breathe about three minutes for the average person before you do any brain damage. So that’s the totality of breath.

We have a brain, which we use like 2 1/2 percent and if you oxygenate it, you can then build up that strength to stimulate more of that brain. If you stimulate more of that brain you have better insight of things we do for better understanding so that’s when you lift to different levels of life. So that’s the reason you do pranayama.

There are many, many methods of pranayama. You shouldn’t delve into too many. So I teach the Nadi Sodhana pranayama, which is again balancing the polarity of breathing through individual nostrils so you are getting one nostril the left nostril, the same balance as your right and visa-versa. And then the kumbhaka breath.

The Kumbhaka breath is the breath retention. Whether the lungs fill up and then you retain it or when the lungs are empty, you retain them empty. But you must watch the rhythm of the heart also. The oxygen we breathe, you don’t just breathe through your nose, you breathe through the pores of your skin, as well.And that’s vitally important. And also, it makes you a different person; you feel if you had normal, natural control of your breath, Then you would breathe normal natural, because breathing is tidal and if you learn to utilize all of the lungs, and if you learn to stabilize your breath and that is going to stabilize you as a person, because if you breathe haphazardly you are thinking haphazardly. So that is the importance of a little bit of breath control understanding. I mean don’t go into it too drastically, otherwise you are going to drive yourself crazy and you are libel to damage the central nervous system. But gradually allow yourself to become aware of the breathing and you can see then, yourself personally just how untidal that you are breathing. So you say to yourself, “I am going to attempt, I am not going to try, (trying is negative) I am going to attempt to balance five cycles of breath and you’ll find that by the time you get to the fifth, as a beginner, you will find that you are puffing.So that is the importance of pranayama is the stability, stabilizing. When you start that and you feel that you are getting a benefit and that’s when the functions are beginning to happen and you are beginning to reap the benefits and then you will pursue it more. But don’t change. You can build up your ratio but don’t go on to another pranayama. Unless there is something drastically wrong, and then just experiment quietly.

©shelley piser 2009    

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8 comments to Martyn Jackson

  • [...] first learned about corpse pose (savasana) from one of my yoga teachers, Martyn Jackson. As Martyn explained it, corpse pose isn’t meant to be in any way considered a morbid [...]

  • Kahla Gerard

    I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have undergone the Inyengar Teacher’s Training Course with him in 1989; the last course he conducted before he passed away. I still hear his voice while I practice.

    • Benjamin Jackson

      Hi Kahla, I am Martyns grandson, would love to hear some stories about him as he passed away when i was just 5 :)

      • Wesley Knapp

        Hi Benjamin,
        I am Wesley Knapp. I studied with your grand-father in Christchurch, New Zealand, ’75/’76 before I returned to the Yukon, in Canada. I really liked him and today, as I was inspired to surf to see if there was any way to find out how his life went from then, I bumped into your comment. He had a great influence on my life, in a very positive way and so I feel the least I could do is mention a few anecdotes to you.

        I recall Martyn telling us that he was in the British paratroops corps as a phys-ed instructor and an Olympic Gymnast. Being an ex Royal Marine Commando and gymnast I found it very easy to work with him.

        I thought he was British but I met him in New Zealand. When I met him he had ‘de-certified’ himself as a Physiotherapist because he found the professional association requirements ‘too restrictive’. He had a table he built in the teaching hall and if someone experienced a problem he would treat them immediately on the table – fabulous – and unique in my experience. He also used Iyengar’s method of ‘many props’, such as ropes and blocks of various sizes etc so there was lots of tackle strewn around the ‘gym’.

        In New Zealand Dunedin is thought to be the best medical training university, somewhat like Harley Street in London. From time to time the medical specialists from Dunedin would send Martyn their ‘incurables’, once they had given up on them. He was that well known – and he helped many to heal themselves – so they kept being sent to him.

        He told me a story about a wealthy student of his in Australia who took him water-skiing and towed him across the boat’s wake, damaging both his knees, and he explained how he healed that – by ‘standing on his head’ for many hours and for many days. In Christchurch he used to give 3 classes a day, with a break of an hour or so as I recall between classes. He would spend much of that ‘break-time’ standing on his head – and that’s how I would find him when I arrived early for class.

        I don’t recall his age then but he was getting on – maybe 60 – and he told me that he intended to be able to levitate by the time he was 65. Do you know if he did that? He also would teach vegetarian diet and food preparation, specific yoga diets etc.

        He used to get around on a motorbike, wearing what looked like his paratrooper helmet. Riding on the back was his very young, very beautiful, blonde ‘demonstrator’. She would demonstrate the positions whilst he was talking, teaching or treating folks on the table. I think they might have had a personal relationship also but I never inquired.

        He told me that he was Iyengar’s demonstrator when there might be 200 in a class. Iyengar would line them up so that he could walk around and look at the practitioners through the diagonal lines they made in their rows and adjust them when he thought he should. Meanwhile, Martyn was holding the position for all to see the perfection they were attempting to emulate.

        He was a very hard worker himself – and a very fierce, demanding Teacher – but still, very gentle with all that. Strict on attention to detail but patient, kind, humble and very humane. It was always quite clear that his ‘toughness’ was manifesting on our behalf. I missed him a lot when I left New Zealand and still cherish out times together.

        I was very much involved with the Tibetans – [since 1968 in fact and continue to this day] – when I met Martyn. It was just the right time for me to go deep into Hatha Yoga. I had exited a six-month meditation retreat with ‘my personal’ spiritual mentor – Namgyal Rinpoche – at Rotorua in the North Island of New Zealand. [I believe Martyn served other beings in that fashion also.] Then I met and married an Australian girl and we moved to Christchurch.

        Shortly thereafter I met Martyn and was with him for about six months or so, attending two or three classes a day – on the alternating days when I wasn’t working as a masseur at a health studio. I was also doing a couple of hours of yoga in the morning and evening – so I was doing 10 to 12 hours of yoga on the odd days and 10 to 12 hours of massage on the even days.

        It was a wonderful time for me, working on my body 4 days a week with Martyn and other guys’ bodies for three days a week and it produced a lot of insights for me and development – thanks to your grandfather in many ways. I was also drawing the deity for the Tibetan visualisations we were doing every Saturday morning in our own meditation practices. So it was a time of ‘outer, inner & secret’ practices for me, very powerful!

        We were ‘instant friends’ – friends without having to socialise – no doubt a ‘previous lifetime connection’. I have experienced this with a number of high lamas from Tibet but not many Westerners – and Martyn was definitely one of the foremost amongst them.

        I know nothing of his family and am pleasantly surprised to discover he had at least one grand-child. Are you practicing yoga yourself and what was his legacy for your parent[s] and you? I never met Iyengar but feel thoroughly steeped in his teachings because of Martyn.

        I just now encountered some criticisms of Iyengar’s personality and some of his methods on the net. It was the same with Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Carl Jung for example – great beings but still ‘human’ beings. I neither saw nor heard anything like that about Martyn, but then I heard nothing at all about him from then till now.

        Ours was a very direct, personal and ‘in-the-moment’ relationship. I liked him and he liked me. I think the similarly rigorous military training we both experienced created that original affinity, which was enhanced by his generosity of spirit and compassion. He was a really great being in my experience, a true Bodhisattva. If you have any details you are willing to share about his life and death I would really appreciate it – thank you.

        Wesley Knapp…

        [I am on Facebook if you prefer]

  • I met Martyn at Mr Iyengar’s institute in Pune in 1977. He was my teacher as he visited Perth, Western Australia several times a year for approx. 8 years. I hated and loved him over those years. However, I am who I am and teach how I teach because of his dedication and persistence. He came down south to do workshops for my students. As I carry on often using his words, I teach at my own studio in eastern Iowa and speak of him often.

  • So nice to find this little site.
    YES! Martyn is still my teacher. Taking 2 teachers courses with him I also have the luck of having some recordings that I still use after all these years and after many teachers since. Martyn still rings true to me. Perhaps his teaching would have changed if he were to have lived longer, but for me his voice and teaching approach is pure magic.
    He was a joy and an inspiration. Please read my interview with him on my website
    It rings true today more then ever. I consider myself so blessed to have had the experience of Martyn’s
    teaching. He was unique and sincere. I miss him.
    Shelley Piser Saltzman

  • So nice to find this little site.
    YES! Martyn is still my teacher. Taking 2 teachers courses with him I also have the luck of having some recordings that I still use after all these years and after many teachers since. Martyn still rings true to me. Perhaps his teaching would have changed if he were to have lived longer, but for me his voice and teaching approach is pure magic.
    He was a joy and an inspiration. Please read my interview with him on my website
    It rings true today more then ever. I consider myself so blessed to have had the experience of Martyn’s
    teaching. He was unique and sincere. I miss him.
    Shelley Piser Saltzman

  • Ramani

    This man sexually assaulted people and then talks about seeing the “truth” in others and “Ego tripping”? This is Iyengar yoga for you completely oblivious to anything actually spiritual. For more info see:

    Note that Manuso Manos is in the same camp as this guy too, “Advanced” practitioner and former sexual abuser who Iyengar would not bring to bear on publicly. Nice bunch of folk they got over there.

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