Now THERE is a title to live up to.
I've registered for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, organized through Tim's place and featuring Tim, Nancy, Eddie, David and Richard. I think the chitchat and storytelling will exceed the coolness of the Mysore classes (in my experience, the more time you have with a teacher, the better the Mysore situation, so senior teachers I've never studied with, isn't really turning me on for Mysore classes, but maybe I'll be happily mistaken). March 1-4, San Diego, registration currently open.
seems to have been making the rounds of late, although I only saw it posted by a friend on our humble Ashtanga Yoga Indiana group on Facebook (you all are welcome to join over there if you want, we take everyone).
Written fairly well without polemic, it's a respectable piece, but it asks, as I see it, some of the SAME OLD QUESTIONS. Can one achieve enlightenment by bending the body, without being caught in attractiveness/personal power/fame and glory/etc etc etc? Or this oldie goldie: Doesn't ashtanga hurt people? Or this one: Aren't ashtanga teachers all dogmatic proto-fascists?
Yes, it doesn't ask any of that as polemically as I just did, and it does offer some mediation (ashtanga helping to heal), but it doesn't really answer these questions in what I see as the easy way to do so.
Why not talk about the other 7 limbs of the 8-limb path? Sure, they get a mention, but most of this is complaints about asana, dogmatic students/teachers, and overenthusiastic adjustments ("one size fits all").
Still, I can't get myself to hate on the piece too much because it is written with a spirit of true inquisitiveness and I'm almost sad for its author, that he's apparently surrounded with such goal-seeking and physicality-for-physicality's sake.
A comment left on the original post in our Facebook group gave me a bit more ire, the essence of it being "yes, my problem with ashtanga is that it IS dogmatic and I wish you had written less passively, because since I am opposed to all dogma, I've chosen the freer vinyasa practice instead."
That comment, itself, is total and utter nonsense topped off with a bit of self-congratulatory arrogance and mediated only by what I hope is the misfortune to have run into a truly ignorant and militant teacher, because such people do us all a disservice.
In any case.
Let me offer my recent practices (and my recent life) in total and overwhelming counterpoint to that commenter's (and that article's) sense of ashtanga as dogmatic and injury-producing.
Today's practice was up to the first side of Virabhadrasana B. Yes, Warrior 2. Now I know what you're thinkin': hey Patrick, um weren't you doing like 2/3 of Intermediate three weeks ago? What gives? The answer, my friends, is that I'm tied up in the right glutes with grief and tension, and when it breaks out, I can't hold the breath and there are tears and catharsis. I don't practice beyond the point when that happens.
But I do continue my pranayama practice (first retention only, so far, until I feel that it becomes easy) and part of what I realize about that, is that now "the yoga" isn't just poses, because my "practice" is more than just doing poses and sweating and then taking rest. By doing a pranayama practice AND an asana practice, "yoga" no longer means just "poses." And this expansion turns to life too, since my life has so profoundly invaded my pose practice. Nothing is private, isolated, kept away. Such broadening helps me never to injure myself because I would have to injure my whole life; there is no line between an asana and everything else that I do. Anger at my kid or my partner shows up in my glutes and my asana practice; am I seriously going to overcrank a knee or a shoulder, then? I think not.
I haven't been able to figure out "what my practice is" since 2007, when I was already doing hunks of Intermediate, but not in the Mysore room. Even when I could stand up from a backbend two years later, I couldn't Kapo to heels and some teachers (MS) said it mattered and some teachers (DS) said it didn't. What to do, what to do, what to do. I sure didn't become dogmatic, because even when I tried that, it just made everything cloudier. Sure, my Kapo improved when I stopped at Kapo for a while, but that retained when I moved up to finishing at Dwi Pada or even doing more of the series than that, but then when I was overtaken by my life (which happens, and you give way to it or else), I kept practicing but couldn't get as far as I'd gotten. What to do? Become dogmatic? How? By not feeding my kid, by not going on vacation, by not spending time with the partner hoping to resurrect the relationship? What level of sacrifice for asana would have been APPROPRIATE? Life is, itself, anti-dogmatic.
People who find ashtanga yoga to be dogmatic aren't busy enough with living. Same with people who find ashtanga yoga to be boring.
I don't even call myself an ashtangi anymore unless I'm having shallow yoga conversation with someone and even then I'll say I practice ashtanga (hey now, going up to Vira B is ashtanga, you don't need to be doing half of 3rd series to say you practice, you dig?).
All of my past identities are past identities. I feel like waving off the whole statement "I am." One thing people say about parenting when they are old parents is, "They grow up so fast." Not-yet parents or new parents go on and on and endlessly on about how much love there is and such and how it's a big identity achievement and how it "completes them" but old parents know the truth: "it goes by so fast." Impermanence. It doesn't matter "who it makes you into" or anything like that. It matters that you do it because then you'll someday have done it, have done everything that you've done, and it'll be gone.
I give up identities left and right now, even as my ego more and more desperately grasps for anything, but life itself denies this. Denies dogmatism and grasping. You can grasp, but those glutes will deny you. No, no second for you today. No, no backbends for you today. Too much life. Better to just let go and do the pranayama and look within as you try to pull up the moola bandha. Let go, because you can't keep anything you catch anyway. Life is catch and release. And life releases you and tosses you back in the pond, too.
It is real and truly difficult to live with impermanence, because so much of "I" is based in denying that fact. I can tell there's a happiness and a liberation (not moksha itself, but A liberation) to be had in living in this, but I can't quite "get it" can't grok it, yet.
So I'm going to listen to some Coltrane and make a chocolate Guinness cake instead. Hah!