Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The prodigal ashtangini

I guess you could call me that, except for the fact that I haven't really returned to the fold as yet, if ever.

I'm finding myself feeling increasingly alienated from Ashtanga culture and its quirks. To wit:

  • I no longer understand how I could have ever put up with having a teacher dictate to me what poses I can practice, and what poses I cannot. Would I put up with a professor telling me what books I can read? What papers I can write? Would I put up with a teacher telling my kids that they can't work out the statistics on their baseball cards because they haven't yet been "taught" algebra in school?
  • I no longer understand how there can be any such thing as "criminal" behavior in yoga. How can what is supposed to be a peaceful practice even have room for such a notion? How can any yoga be "wrong"?
  • I no longer understand how a teacher can tell a student that running or biking for fun and fitness is "not recommended". Yoga may or may not be enough for an individual in terms of fitness, and let's face it: fitness is important, and time is limited. And besides, sometimes learning is enhanced by breaks from learning.
  • I no longer understand how it could be that pranayama is taught only to students who reach a certain proficiency in asana. What does one have to do with the other? Why should any of the eight limbs of yoga be withheld from anyone? Does anyone HONESTLY believe that pranayama can cause DEATH? I mean, seriously?
  • I no longer understand how it is that so many yoga teachers have treated their friends and significant others in ways that I consider to be morally/ethically questionable. If teachers are supposed to lead by example, what are we supposed to learn from teachers who cheat on their significant others? I suppose that this goes beyond the Ashtanga world, so my yoga-alienation goes beyond the Ashtanga world, obviously.
  • I no longer understand how it is that yoga can be taught in a linear manner which, by its very nature, engenders competitiveness amongs its practitioners.
  • I no longer understand how it is that proficiency in practice is what separates one class of teachers from another or how it could be that in order to teach, one has to have been taught by one particular family in one particular corner of the world? And how can it be that those who break from that fold are held in such contempt?
I no longer understand how it is that I no longer understand how I could have ever believed such crap. As I distance myself from Ashtanga, I find myself recoiling at the very notions to which I clung in the past.

It feels as if I have left a cult. And I am deprogramming.

I want to believe what I used to believe. I want to feel that "my" yoga is superior to all others, like I used to feel. I want to believe that if I am practicing a pose, it is because I "earned" it. But I know better now. And I kind of wish I didn't.



Kate T-C said...

The ego manifests itself in insidious ways, doesn't it? Even to the most seemingly enlightened.

I was talking to a visiting grad student last week about yoga options in our small Colorado town. She, coming from a bigger city, was set on Iyengar, which we don't have much of around here. I was trying to talk to her about the benefits of hatha, vinyassa and hot yoga, all of which we do have, but she wouldn't hear it. In her mind, Iyengar is the best (and only practicable school) because it is the most precise form of yoga, and all others are sloppy.

I think we spend a lot of time and energy on our practices. We feel the need to justify ourselves and our dedication, and end up getting all kinds of awful superiority complexes.

Glad you're deprogramming. Take a deep breath!

C.K. said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

Great post !

Isn't yoga about self enquiry, ie constant questioning of what you do in life ? Yoga is not ashtanga. Ashtanga is just a tool. If it doesn't work for you, find another one !

ebeans said...

Amazing! So, which post was it that got you removed from I haven't seen your updates there...

Yoga Chickie said...

Am I no longer on

AC said...

I love to mix and match the yoga I practice, one just has to keep an open mind with regards to what's being offered. A 'good' yoga teacher is good no matter what style is taught.

It is very funny to hear how some people are besotted by a particular style and it is the ONLY ONE. In itself there's nothing wrong with that; but when we close our minds to different forms of yoga and become rigid in our thinking it leads to closure of our minds and bodies to 'new' possibilities.

Maybe at different stages in our lives different styles suits us. As is sometimes said, what we love the most we can come to dislike and vice versa. That's ok, it's life!

At the end of the day it does not matter what style of yoga we do. As long as we do our yoga - asanas, pranayama, meditation or whatever and it gives us joy, isn't that what it's all about?

Do what gives you joy. Simple.

ebeans said...

haven't seen you there in awhile. thought you stopped posting!

ebeans said...

haven't seen you there in awhile. thought you stopped posting!

ebeans said...

i was wrong. it just popped up at ashnet. false alarm :D

Yoga Chickie said...

E-B, I am still there on A-net! Phew. I knew that writing this post I was taking a chance on offending a LOT of people, but one person I wouldn't want to offend is Julie!

ebeans said...

yeah, I saw it too. my bad!

AC said...

Hey, so what if you offend? Those who don't like what you write can either stop reading or offer their opinions. Let the self-appointed Ashtangi Police dictate to whomever wishes to obey them, :-)

I am fortunate that I practice different styles of yoga. A good yoga teacher is good no matter what style is taught or whatever lineage they may be from.

It brings a huge a smile on my face when a person is of the belief their style is the 'one and only'. This is of no harm in itself if only it did not close off their minds to other styles which may provide avenues to opening their minds, hearts and bodies. There is nothing wrong is exploring, one can only learn and be enriched.

Could it be possible that at different times in our lives we may be drawn to a particular style of yoga? Nothing wrong with that. As is often said, what we love the most we can come to dislike and vice versa. That's ok, it's life.

I have 'issues' that makes me question a trip to Mysore. I'd love to study at the 'main' Shala but telling me I can't practise elsewhere (as long as I show up when needed in class, no-one dictates what I do in my free time)......... I would not accept such a condition from my shala in the West so why would I suddenly want to comply in India?

At the end of the day, whatever style of yoga we practice - asanas, prayanama, meditation or whatever, ultimately it must give us joy and good health.

Do what brings you joy. Simple.

Anonymous said...

Completely well said!! I have been feeling pretty much just like you've described with the added part of knowing that I may never get to do some of the poses that fall in between those that I can do really well. So if it means that I can't do Bhekasana but can do Pinchamayurasana, then why would I want to be so rigidly following Ashtanga?? I love the freedom of body loves knees however are defective and can't do Bhekasana.
So thank you for your post!

Ursula said...

Dear Lauren,

Your post is great. Thank you for writing it.


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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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