Friday, August 26, 2005

Ashtanga-cize?: a new poll

In light of this week's discussions on body image, I've been thinking about something Vivage wrote in a comment, to the effect that body image issues are just another form of citta vritti - a fluctuation of the mind.

Thinking in those terms, it seems to me that whenever somone goes in for plastic surgery or cosmetic dentistry, whenever someone takes part in any sort of fad dieting...perhaps whenever someone goes into the pharmacy to purchase Oil of Olay, Clearacil or any one of those new anti-sagging/collagen-boosting creams that promise to reduce the appearance of cellulite...perhaps even when someone gets tattooed or pierced....there is an attempt to quiet those fluctuations through an external source (call it an "external makeover), rather than through the eight limbs of yoga (which would hopefully produce more of an "internal makeover" by eliminating the NEED for any sort of makeover, altogether).

So let's assume for the moment that you've shunned such "external makeover" tools, opting instead to celebrate your body exactly as it is, in all of its aging and changing glory. And let's assume also that you also practice yoga (safe assumption here). Many people do, in fact, discover yoga initially because of yoga's reputation for helping to sculpt a beautiful physique; however, those who stick with it over the long haul usually do so because of the way yoga helps to cleanse, purify, relax and calm the mind, paving the way for "union" with the true self (the self that is often obscured by the chatter of the mind). Of course, asana practice enhances our practice of the remaining seven limbs of yoga, as well as vice versa: A clear mind helps us to get to the mat; getting to the mat helps us to clear our minds. And round and round we go. Even the Yoga Sutras acknowledge this in their discussions of the obstacles to yoga, which include illness, laziness, even the failure to acheive and maintain Samadhi (connection with the true self).

But aside from the way that asana practice is inextricably intertwined with the the other seven limbs on the path to stilling the fluctuations of the mind (i.e. yoga), I wonder, how many of us are practicing yoga with at least a hope of improving or maintaining our physical appearance simply for its own sake? Thus, my latest poll asks the question: if there WERE no physical (external appearance) benefit to practicing your yoga, would you still practice as much as you do?



Susan said...

Maintaining the body is an integral part of the 8 limbs.
The body is you instrument through which you reach samadhi. It must be in good physical shape for you to be able to rise above the chitta vritti, because if it is not sound and well it takes away from you journey. It's hard to be still and in the moment when you are unwell, and thinking of the pain or suffering you have. So, I think that it is important to do the physical asana for the fact of being in shape, it's the extent to which we as yogis take it is the question. The sculpted body can be a lovely side effect, one which we should enjoy, but the freedom and union that the practice creates within us is the true gift.
BUT, I know there are plenty of yogi's out there who are really only there for the hot bod. They are not the long term yogis. They are on the yoga honeymoon, and when the practice becomes more internal and more mentally challenging I think a lot of them drop out. Judith Lasater said at a workshop, it doesn't matter why you come to yoga, it starts working no matter what.

yoga chickie said...

I so agree...

Lots of people make fun of Bikram yoga because, among other things, it doesn't in any way teach the "dharma", it sort of "pretends" at pranayama (for example using open-mouthed breathing in ujayi and in kappalabhati) and it requires an external focus - on one's image in the mirror. But the thing is - when you practice Bikram enough (on a near-daily or daily basis, just like Ashtanga), it starts "working" no matter what. You start to want to eat more healthily - not to be skinny in the mirror, but to honor your body. You start to want to treat people around you better - not because you were taught Ahimsa, but because to do otherwise just starts to feel weird and wrong. You find yourself taking the lessons you learn in the ridiculously hot room - lessons in managing anxiety and staying true to your body and figuring out what is your body talking versus what is your mind - and you begin to apply them outside the room.

I don't teach Bikram, and I don't even practice it anymore. But it was how I came to "feel" yoga. As John Scott says, you can be practicing yoga on a golf course - you don't need the dharma spoon fed to you, and you don't need someone to tell you how to breathe. And you certainly don't need someone to tell you how to still the vrittis. When you practice yoga - it just starts working...


Susan said...

I could never stand Bikram.
Between staring at myself and the heat....
It brings out the worst in me. Pitta anger from the heat, and harsh criticism from staring in the mirror.
No stilling of the mind happening there for me.
Ashtanga was the first practice that I had any
Chitta Vritti.

yoga chickie said...

you mean...relief from the chitta vrittis, i assume!!

I still have plenty of chitta vrittis during Ashtanga, and even more right now, since I can't practice!!! I am in no-yoga hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Susan said...

Yes, yes. Relief from them.
It was late!
I am sure you'll be back in fine form sooner than later,
judging by your spunk and gusto.
I was really amazed how far you went in your practice the other day. I was thinking, what an amazing recovery time!
I am glad your taking it easy...

yoga chickie said...

lol...down with citta vrittis!

i did some vinyasa-less ashtanga my fingers together in Mari C!!!!!!!!!

more later...


vivage said...

Good poll.
I very much agree that yoga works, although as we see by the poll - the end result can define "what works" by realizing the different goals by different people.

In the past I've examined my own intent in terms of yoga: Is my intent to make it to the next pose, to the next series, to a stable seat for meditation?

Over the years it's changed from one thing to another and the evolving journey has worked for me. :-)

Sammy said...

My 2 cents on the topic, Lauren, is that if it didn't improve my body, but just my mind and attitude, I would mostly meditate and do sitting pranayama.

I love the fact that this practice works in all aspects: Mind, body and spirit.


Anonymous said...

YC, your characterization of elective cosmetic surgery and other non-yoga forms of appearance enhancement as "an attempt to quiet those fluctuations through an external source" is thought-provoking.

It may be worthwhile to consider other external preventions of citta vrittis to help us to see if we don't have an unfair prejudice against those external fixes that have to do with one's appearance. Also, how does quieting citta vritti during asana practice relate to doing so during the rest of one's life? Is one's asana practice a microcosm which is useful for gauging the amount of citta vritti present overall? Are external fixes such as the ones YC mentioned primarily intended to eliminate citta vritti during asana practice (on the assumption that doing so will necessarily decrease citta vritti off the mat as well)?

Which of the following external fixes are prevention of citta vritti by cheating--or perhaps not even preventing citta vritti at all but increasing it:

1. Remembering during practice that you left your keys in the locker room (potentially enabling someone to open your locker containing valuables). External fix: stopping practice to find keys, then coming back and continuing where you left off.

Is it a realistic goal to not remember such things during yoga? Is the fact that you thought about it in the first place indicative of weak yoga concentration skills? And if the memory does arise, does trying to ignore the distracting thought that one's keys are sitting unguarded in another room--rather than getting the keys to end the distraction--help condition the mind to not even have such unauthorized thoughts in future practices? And, for those who think the yogi should stay on the mat in this case, what form should the effort to eliminate the distraction take? A) Simply putting it out of one's mind, or B) reminding (or trying to convince) oneself that the "valuables" in the locker are not really vital, merely inconvenient to have to replace (a form of aparigraha)

If the answer is (A), could the ability to block out distractions to that extent, if attainable, lead to an undesirable failure to remember important things? Or, to ask this another way, is some minimal amount of citta vritti acceptable?

2. (for a yogini) Wearing a yoga top that has bad habit of sliding down and revealing part of one's areola or the entire nipple (in practicing with a teacher, not privately). If one becomes aware of this during one's practice, is it a sign of excessive citta vritti to make efforts to adjust the garment to prevent this? Or would it be inconsiderate to the teacher and others in the room to resist the desire to do so and try to put it out of one's mind (and to wear it again in the future)?

3. Getting pedicures to prevent being distracted by imperfections in the appearance of one's feet during asana practice.

I could probably easily think of more examples, but I think this is long enough for my first comment ever on YC's BLOG. Love your BLOG, YC! Thanks for sharing!


yoga chickie said...

Hi all...such thought provoking comments. Reading them, I can see that we all come into the yoga practice with some ideas of what it can do for us - whether our body or our mind or both - and we realize over time that our progress isn't linear. We have our more mindful moments, and we have our less mindful moments. Sometimes we fidget seemingly uncontrollably in class. And sometimes it takes the entire practice for us to realize that our ponytail had come undone.

To address something Kim wrote, specifically, I would hope that no teacher would allow a student's fidgetiness to bother him or her. A yoga teacher should know better than to judge something like that. We all have our moments. A yoga teacher does as well.

But I have to say that where I did my teacher training (Om Yoga Center), it seemed that not only were we being trained to teach, we were also being trained to be less obtrusive students in the classes at Om. We were called out for fidgeting, for struggling in poses, basically for any activity that revealed our citta vrittis. And this was something that I really did not like about Om's teacher training program. Where was the compassion in that?

I think it is really important is that we not judge ourselves when we get caught in thought - but to acknowledge it and then just let it go and move onto another moment.


Anonymous said...


Would you recommend another teacher training prgram--yogaworks perhaps--for someone who wanted to just learn more --about yoga?

Donna K (Ashtangi but wanting to learn learn learn)

Love this blog!

yoga chickie said...

Believe it or not, I would still recommend Om as one of the most comprehensive learning programs for yoga-obsessives. Notwithstanding what I sometimes referred to as the "Omway" yoga pyramid scheme vibe going on there, the teachings are very thorough, covering Buddhism, Sanskrit, anatomy, meditation, pranayama, restorative yoga, along with your general "how to teach a vinyasa class".

Jivamukti is also very thorough, but it requires a one-month residency while it's going on. That wasn't an option for me.

I can't really say whether Yoga Works is a good program - I don't know enough about it. It really just recently arrived in NYC. The Yoga Works teachers I know are incredible teachers. But they were all trained in California, and most worked with Chuck and Maty who are no longer part of Yoga Works.

Best to you!


Horacio Sidelinger said...


Copyright 2005-2007 Lauren Cahn, all rights reserved. Photos appearing on this blog may be subject to third party copyright ownership. You are free to link to this blog and portions hereof, but the use of any direct content requires the prior written consent of the author.

About Me

My photo
Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


Ashtanga Blogs

Thanks for reading Yoga Chickie!