I got 99 Problems, but Ashtanga ain’t one !
Ashtanga Yoga is experiencing some fairly intense turbulence at the moment – I don’t want to get into a discussion about reasons as to why in this blog – I don’t think I’m either qualified or well informed enough to make any valid comment. At the moment I’m guessing I’m similar to quite a few Ashtanga teachers in that we are still trying to process and make sense of information we are coming into contact with- holding the tension between this ‘information’ and the love & respect we have in our hearts for the practice and its teachers.From a personal perspective I can tell you it’s a real head fuck (apologies for the f bomb there but in the circumstances I felt it necessary).
What is interesting to read recently is folk’s opinions on the actual practice of Ashtanga Yoga (well I say opinion but most of what I’m reading is judgement very thinly disguised as opinion),and some of these folks have never been to Mysore or even practiced Ashtanga with any regularity to have anything relevant to say.
A few things that I would like to comment on are:
1.Ashtanga Yoga is a heavily Asana based discipline and personally I’m very happy with that.When I’ve done the practice I feel good physically and mentally , and I’m a much, much better person to people I come into contact with post practice (including myself). I’m happy with its structure in the way that it’s taught and that postures are added to ones practice once competence and understanding is achieved in the postures previous to the ones that are subsequently added. I’m pretty sure some people don’t like this system – I’m also pretty sure that usually most if not all of these people go off and find a different yoga system thats better suited to them.For me it’s a little like the cliche of digging a hole for water , if you don’t dig deep enough you’ll just end up with lots of shallow holes and no water.I’ve been practicing 20 years now and the (Ashtanga) water tastes sweet ! As a caveat to this I’m pretty sure that the peace and sense of well-being that one gets from Ashtanga is the same for whatever level of physical practice you are at ie you don’t need to be able to stick yer legs behind your head to feel super dooper post practice. Also it’s absolute none sense to think that a postural hierarchy (the more postures you can do the more ace you are) exists for all Ashtangis -as someone who has been immersed in the practice for 20 years (ie C’est Moi) I can tell you categorically it’s a very tiny group of folk who get caught up in the ‘ I can do this posture , ain’t I just fabulous’ mentality.
2 I don’t need to read the Yoga Sutras /BhagavadGita to tell me how to live my life – but I know students who swear by both books I’m just not one of them and that’s OK-we’re all different after all. I have this thing that I think every human being on the planet has a responsibility to themselves to find the right set of practices that suit them – that are able to guide them to lead a more fulfilling life. I’ve found the practice of Ashtanga and Zen meditation to be the winning combo for me ! The appropriate phrase above being ‘responsibility to themselves’ ie take some responsibility for yourself in how you live your life. In the Zen tradition if you try and give the teacher / master your responsibility (the responsibility that says please tell me how to live my life) s/he’ll tell you to piss off ( in a Zen way of course). My very own Zen teacher Brad Warner has told me to piss off loads of times – not in a I don’t care about you type way, but in a manner which made me think through things a little more , accept myself and who I am – warts and all. To quote Brad quoting Bill & Ted ‘I can’t tell you how to live your life other than be excellent to each other’
3 No one on the planet has the ability to see into the heart and mind of another person – we are unable to know just what another person feels. Just because one person doesn’t fall in line with what you think they should do/say doesn’t make them wrong and you right.Have a think about that before you start throwing your judgements around.
4 I’ve had some terrible experiences when I’ve been in Mysore ( including a 3 day toilet ‘meditation’ intensive-also having to wait over 2 hours to get on the mat at the old shala every day for 2 months wasn’t that fabulous either.One time I had to sit on those bloody stairs in the old shala and listen to a couple of students prattle on about their chakras needing a resetting – I’m from Manchester we don’t do chakras our kid!). I’ve also had some quite extraordinary amazing experiences there – I got married Hindu Style ( see video below) on Chamundi Hill which was very magical. Practicing Ashtanga in the very place it comes from felt special too. On reflection the place holds some very magical memories for me that’s for sure.
5 I love social media / I hate social media – no that isn’t a Zen koan but the push pull in my mind about Facebook twitter Instagram etc etc. As much damage as these online platforms can create I do think they are of some use. They can and do act as a mega phone for plenty of mega idiots sounding off as if the whole digital world need to hear what they’ve got to say -but I think they could help draw folks attention to (yoga)things that need drawing attention to! For example I’m an Ashtanga teacher a large percentage of what I teach is called Mysore Style (Google if you have no idea what this is , I’m trying to keep my blogs under a 5 minute read and we are up to 4.38 at this point so I’ll need to finish up soon and if I start blathering on about what Mysore style is, the blog will be nearer a 7 minute read and the stats show that’s just way too long for people to concentrate on mediocre writing by a 2nd rate Ashtanga teacher). Anyway so if I give a bad adjustment and continue doing so to different students well it’ll only be a matter of time before I’m outed on the inter webs as incompetent – that I’m a crap teacher will be shared around the yogaweb and then it’ll only be a matter of time before I’ll have to hang up shorts and look for a new career. With that in mind that’s gonna keep me on my yoga toes to make sure I’m keeping it real in the shala – I’m sure in time there will be a yelp star system for quality of adjustments in Ashtanga studios .Hey Ashtanga naysayers whilst you’re trying to dismantle the house of Ashtanga for your own advancement maybe add that to your list of things to do- good luck 😉.