I have taught Ashtanga for years now and have trained in it extensively. I know the practice beyond the postures just because of the practice itself. That is what I’m teaching.
I know some “Ashtanga” teachers who do not practice it and therefore do not know the practice as a practice. They do not know the intricacies of it.
These teachers bow to the pressures of students’ to add postures which do not belong in the series, make it harder or easier by changing the posture rather than the intensity of the original posture itself, and let go of the rhythm of the class to appease those who just want to give up or make it easier so the ego can feel better. This is to the detriment of the practice, Ashtanga.
I have had great difficulty teaching Ashtanga after these teachers because students are not being educated in it.
It is the nature of the ego to make things easier – to stay in the status quo, to not push boundaries or get out of our comfort zone. But what is practice if it is not doing that – it is just exercise. It isn’t yoga if it isn’t challenging you to observe your need for: comfort, perfection, placating.
Yoga doesn’t placate – the teacher decides to do that and then it is just exercise. And don’t be fooled, just because you’re in a class that kicks your ass because it’s fast and you do every difficult posture in the yoga spectrum, doesn’t mean that it is challenging your ego – in fact that feeds your ego as well. The minute you say – oh look at that shiny thing – that’s when the ego is engaged.
I challenge you to get really bored in your practice – to strive for something else besides a good ego fix. Yoga is about personal, spiritual growth. It is to stretch you in a different way. The way that is most beneficial. Flexibility in every aspect does not necessarily manifest only in the body. Just because someone can bend over backwards, doesn’t mean that they have cracked the code of yoga. If it comes easily to you, I challenge you to find a place where you have to work for it.
I used to try to be perfect in my practice. I’d look to others to see what I was doing wrong and try to mimic them…well, that’s ok. When you first begin your practice there is definitely a form of emulation. It can be very instructive…shows you the how and the what.
As I got deeper in my practice, I learned that if I continued to do this, I was not listening to my own body…I have very subtle twists and turns in my body that tells me we are not all created equal. These subtle variations didn’t allow me to easily fall into a back bend (even after years of sincere practice), for instance, without tweaking my back or shoulder, or not be able to do it at all… It took a concerted development of my inner eye, of body/mind awareness to tell me if I was misaligned or moving unevenly…even then when I have the body consciousness, I have to recognize my own body’s limits and be all right with that! It was a difficult road; one I still traverse every time I get on my mat… It has changed the way I practice… I no longer want to be perfect. Just Authentic…in my own body, my own organism, and my heart and soul. It has certainly deepened my Yoga practice, on and off the mat, and now there’s a Peaceful feeling of Equanimity which is the flavor of my practice these days… most of the time. 🙂
A lot of people applaud perfection – or what looks like it. It’s easy to look at a person doing a perfect looking posture and admire the person and their ability thinking that’s where the Divine lies. I’m sure this comes from thinking that we need to be perfect (at least look like it) in order to know the Divine; to be able to touch enlightenment or god. In this perfect posture then maybe the person’s perfect and they must be closer to god then any of us imperfect beings?
But this isn’t so. The more work there is, the more unraveling we do. As Suzuki Roshi said, “Everyone wants to be the best horse, but it’s better to be the worst horse than the best horse.” The work is essential, and it’s good to work with sincerity. First for some of us the work is physical, that’s why we do yoga. Together with the work on the mind, psyche, and the emotions, we’ll be finally deep in the heart. Open and honest! In the moment . . . There we will find god!
I have been reading and hearing a lot about the good and bad of practicing yoga asana…the physical aspect of yoga, Hatha yoga, let’s make this clear. I been hearing a lot about what it’s good for, health-wise. what it’s bad for, health-wise… What it can do for you in the way of making you feel better…about yourself?…about the human race?…about your body? Yoga postures can do a lot of things for you – more than you’ll ever know probably, and the pursuit of this knowledge is alive and well in all of us – students and teachers alike. I see it in the faces of my students, and other students in other classes. Eager to learn. But…some of them, somehow are less eager to work for this knowledge. Some think they already know and I sense a kind of deadness in these people. One girl in a class at a gym…she’s doing trikonasana (triangle)…one hand in the air…limp…falling almost. The attitude of her body, arched and a bit contorted. Her head heavy. Her eyebrow cocked and mouth slightly open. I can’t tell if she’s breathing. Maybe this one’s jaded…has been doing yoga asana for-e-ver, but somehow, now, is just going through the motions. No one stops to adjust her…Encourage her to go deeper. It is not considered good yoga etiquette to be directive…any more. Used to be that yoga was about deepening your experience and accepting instruction. Maybe she doesn’t like adjustments for just that reason. It’s insulting, she thinks. She’s been practicing in the corner of the room. Without realizing, she has isolated herself and has become passive aggressive and withdrawn in her own practice. So this is it. This is what yoga can teach you. Today when I start my own class, I begin by saying, “…if you do any yoga posture – any at all, it will do something for you. You will get that stretch you’re looking for. You will achieve that posture (in your body) with practice. You will get something out of doing it. But…that is only the beginning of your yoga practice. Now it’s time to change things around…to give something back. Change your notion of always getting and taking something from yoga: what it’s good for, what it’s bad for… Turn your mind from expectations. Rather, Bring something to Yoga. Your yoga practice. Ask yourself what can you give to your practice on your mat right now? During the ninety minutes we’re here. What do you bring?”