Thursday, 10 February 2011

The problem with Ashtanga...(3 posts in one)

Been so lax with the blog this week and sooo tired tonight, so all I'm prepared to write is a summary of my last 4 days' practices. 4 Days! I feel bad! Well, now I cannot feel bad about not practicing 5 days a week I need something else to feel guilty about right?! So there it is.. I feel guilty about the blog! Aaargh!! *angst*.

What I've been thinking about a lot lately is when did Ashtanga begin to feel like a competition? Who am I competing with? Is it time I'm competing with? Is it my fellow ashtangis? Is it the people I see in DVDs and on youtube? Who the hell am I trying to impress here?! I think I'm having a losing 'the power of now' episode at the moment. Maybe it is because I've been attending quite a bit of hot yoga which has a completely different vibe to ashtanga.

In the hot yoga class I attend the teachers are there to guide you through the practice. Their little talk throughs are soooo sweet, soooo heartfelt and soo believable that I cannot help but love them for it. D and I joke about them because they love to 'thank us for our energy' at the end of class and reel off other predictable yoga type sayings, but it's cool, whether or not they actually mean it, I believe it, I feel their love and it's cool. :o) So what I'm saying is that the hot yoga is different, not just because it's in a stupidly hot room, but because it's conducted differently. There's no emphasis in this class on how you look, how good your jump back is, whether you can jump through to sit with your legs straight or whether you can hold handstand before 'flying' through the air to break your toes in chaturanga.. (joke)

I guess what I'm saying is that this yoga class does not feel like a competition. There are so many standards of practitioners that it is nice to go whether or not you feel you have the energy for the class in hand. You can lie down if you feel like you're about to faint; I would never dream of just lying down in savasana mid-flow in any of my ashtanga classes, because I had a sudden rush of blood to the head or such like... That sun-power yoga class I go to from time to time is similar, a broad range of practitioners but all able to attempt the asanas given to them. Maybe it's the fact that Ashtanga has a 'series'? or 5 or 6? And that its practitioners want to be seen to finish the first series and move on to the next and if you don't then well... you're a failure... I mean, at the moment I'd love to feel as if I had the capacity to be 'given' some intermediate postures, but the 'rules' say you're not allowed until you can do the entire primary series with drop backs, jump through, LBH etc etc. I'm ranting. Apologies. 'They' say it's set out like that for a reason, but hey, as much as I love the series, the practice, that's bollocks. Some's back may never be open enough to drop back. But who are 'they' to say that they are not 'allowed' to attempt ustansana for example?!

You don't get so much of a competative air if you don't know the sequence ahead of you. I feel equal to everyone else in the room as I look up and try to work out which posture is being described. It gives me more of a sense of being at one with everyone else in the room, rather than just concentrating on myself, my own being, which in ashtanga and especially Mysore style ashtanga focuses on.

Hot yoga is more of a battle too which unites us all, its like everyone in the room is after the same come out without fainting :o)


  1. You're raising some interesting points here. I think that it's important to not get too hung up on the 1st series/ 2nd series business.

    "Some's back may never be open enough to drop back."

    This is very true and I think that reading the mark Singleton book really opened my mind to how the Ashtanga sequences as created by Krishnamacharya and Patthabi Jois are designed to suit the physical needs of young, athletic young men. for example, i think that handstands, and even jump-throughs are much easier for men than they are for women (generally!) because men have more weight in the shoulders and less weight in the hips compared to women.

    Personally, I feel that the 1st series is an excellent foundation for creating a supple and strong body- it introduces us to important elements of understanding how our bodies work, but it can definitely be complimented by other activities, yoga or non-yoga.


  2. I never really got that competitive sense, perhaps because I practice at home. I guess I do push myself or challenge myself quite a bit, less now than before perhaps. I went to a shala twice and everyone just seemed to be getting on with their practice and didn't seem concerned about anyone else.
    I heard 3rd was supposed to be just for demonstration purposes, but now it seems a natural part of the progression not sure that's helpful. I still don't like 3rd as a daily practice, don't see the point of all those arm balances, not so challenging for a guy really and bad for the wrists I'm sure. I do like some of the 'advanced poses' but more as extensions of those that have gone before so I might add some occasionally to my primary or intermediate which is more how it is in vinyasa krama less of a big deal oh and VK takes extra savasanas where and when you feel like it too.
    As for no Intermediate till you can come up, didn't use to be that way it seems though now there seem to be all sorts or profound justifications for that but most likely it's just a result of having more students practicing. Reading the blogs there does seem to be a lot of flexibility around, some shalas letting you progress after dropping back rather than coming up, or lowering your karandavasana but not being able to take it back up unassisted etc, probably just depends on the teacher.

    I write in my current post something like, despite all the irritations and frustrations it's still a beautiful practice.