Wednesday, July 12, 2006

12 year old boys, my ass

I need to make a statement here about this notion that the Ashtanga system was developed to discipline and curb the "energies" of 12 year old boys in India and therefore may not be appropriate for X-year olds from Western culture. As another blogger who may not want to be identified here said to me recently when we were discussing this notion, "That is such a cop out." I couldn't agree more (with all due respect to Richard-from-Pittsburgh who made the statement about Ashtanga and 12 year old boys in the comment to Ashtangethics).

Ashtanga is for everyone. If taught in the Mysore style, one pose at a time, no new poses until the previous poses have been mastered without modification, then it provides the opportunity for "yoga" to happen. Period. It does not matter how many postures are learned or how long the practice takes. The "yoga", which is to say, the calming and corralling of the fluctuations of the chatterbox mind, simply happens in the context of the poses being practiced, with the entire system and its accompanying desires, fears and other responses as a backdrop.

Yoga Mala makes clear that there is no age at which Ashtanga cannot be practiced (although there may be some advanced age at which there Guruji sees no point in beginning the practice at all). I have heard it said that there is no student who is too weak, too inflexible, too stupid, too annoying, too monkey-minded to practice Ashtanga. The only impediment to the practice of Ashtanga is laziness. And by laziness, I mean, failure to practice, practice, practice.

Now, one who is not as pretzely-bendy as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be ego-bruising and frustrating. However, that may mean that Ashtanga is EXACTLY what this student needs. One who is not as energetic as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be exhausting and draining. Should he throw up his hands and say, "Heavens to Guruji, I'm just not a 12-year old boy anymore...I give up! Back to Level I Vinyasa for me..."? No! By all means, that student should get more rest and see about changes in his diet that might make his body feel more fit. The act of working through the difficulties in the practice and the transformation into a more mindful eater is exactly what he needs. What if someone is recovering from an illness? Chikitsa, the other word for the Primary Series, means "therapy". This practice is intended to rejigger the body, stretch the fascia, retrain the muscles and joints to embrace life in an open way. I am speaking from experience when I say that Ashtanga is exactly what this person needs.

Some dogs were intended to herd sheep or to pull sleds. That doesn't mean that they don't make great pets.



Richard said...

Whew...when you said "richard" I thought, "when did I say that?" Am I getting that forgetful in my old age? So I read the post and discovered that you weren't referring to me. so it isn't all about me. darn.

samasthiti said...

I think that a lot of peoples first foray into ashtanga is usually a led class. Full primary. I think that this either lights a fire under their ass(like mine and yours), or crushes their egos and kills their spirt. I have seen it in my own studio. You can tell who is coming back and who isn't. And you know, it's not always the person who can do all the poses. It's the people for who this practice resonates some kind of authenticity, truth if you will. They aren't usually 12 years old, or particularly bendy for that matter.

"Only lazy people, lazy people cannot do ashtanga."

And there are a lot of different kinds of laziness......

Sergio said...

Great post. Even if you didn't expect it, you've put into words what's been going on in my mind lately. It's been thoughts like these that have made me start practising again after the break. I've remembered that nobody said it would be easy and, if it's never been easy so far, why give it up now? Challenge is exciting, interesting. The opposite isn't. And practice remains challenging even if there are no breakthroughs. I've been a little coward but I'm glad I'm slowly getting back again the faith that I had lost.

yoga chickie said...

Yes, Richard from Colorado, I am sorry for the confusion!!! It was Richard from Pittsburgh...many mea culpas for freaking you out!!!


_Richard_ said...

Yoga Chickie,

Wow, I almost feel sorry for posting a comment. I wasn't saying the Ashtanga system is horrible or anything. I try the primary series a few times per month myself, and I LOVE it.

Here's what I was trying to say: you're absolutely right about the Mysore practice being very individualized. I was referring to many Ashtanga Level I classes where they go through the entire primary series. THAT's not for everyone - I hope you agree.

I also want to raise this question: If the ashtanga system is for everyone, why wasn't Iyengar taught it? Or Desikachar? Many "margas" or paths, that's why.

I hope I didn't offend you, but it was a rather brash comeback to what I'm assuming you want to be an open forum.

Also, to set another record straight, the yoga sutras actually list 13 impediments to yoga:

Living under illusion
Unsettled state
Unsteady body
Irregular breath

Many everyone find their own path.

Peace Yoga Chickie,


yoga chickie said...


I did not mean to dis you in any way. I was addressing the statement, and not the person!! I hope you realize that.

I have heard this statement about 12 year old boys many times from many different people, and always in the context of telling me why Ashtanga should not be practiced by me. I am one of those people that does not like to be told what I can't do. So, you can imagine that the 12-year old boy argument is not going to go over well with me.

I believe that the led Primary Series can make people go screaming for the door - or inspire people to take it one step at a time, as it did for me. One of my first yoga experiences was a led Primary class. It kicked my marathon-runner ass, and it made me decide that I needed to go back to the beginning, read some books, take some classes that were more at my level and build up my stamina. Eventually, I came back to Ashtanga. But if I had known about the Mysore style back then, I might have nevere left!

As for the three branches from the Krishnamacharya lineage, I do not know whether K taught I, PJ and D differently. I believe, actually, that he taught all of them the same thing in the same way and that only as teachers did they go their separate ways. I am quite certain that Iyengar was taught a vinyasa style, just as PJ was.

As for the obstacles to yoga, they are merely "obstacles" to yoga - the entire practice of yoga, all eight limbs of it. They are NOT identified in the Yoga Sutras as reasons not to practice asana. Instead, they are seen as the difficulties that we ALL face in our practices, difficulties that are part of the journey for all of us and that we overcome on our journey toward stilling the chatter.

I welcome further dialogue!

Best to you,


_Richard_ said...


That's a great point to make about the obstacles and how we are to work with them to rid them. I suppose they wouldn't be called obstacles if we weren't trying to get over them!

You also bring up a question I always thought I knew the answer to. From what I gathered by reading Richard Freeman articles, Richard traces his practice back to Krishamacharya through Krish's major students. But now I don't know whether Krish taught everyone the same thing, or he worked with the students to develop their own yoga. Maybe someone else in this forum could offer some info?

As for people telling you what you can't do...try this line of conversation:

"Lauren, you can't do that"
"If you can do it, I can do it"
"But I can't do it either!"
"Yes, you can do it too!"

I was teaching this morning at a gym with a few ladies in their 50's. I was working with Bakasana preps and was showing them the core energies needed for Eka Pada Bakasana (one leg extended back). I was saying things like "So you need this mula bandha lift in the butt for whenever you get to Eka Pada." They were really inspired by me not saying "this is hard" or "you won't do it today". Just showing them what energies they have was enough to get some in Bakasana for the first time!

So I half-retract the statement about 12-year olds :) I give that as an caveat of sorts to let people know they have to dig deep and find something that works for them, and to not let any "prescription" of sorts be an obstacle to realizing their true nature.

Peace all!


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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.


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