The Supreme Ashtanga Yoga
I’m not a big fan of cliches and spiritual cliches are less welcome then a cup of cold sick in my house. But the one about a thirsty person digging a metaphorical shallow hole looking for water and never digging deep enough to find it ,analogous to a spiritual seeker trying all kinds of practices and never sticking to one (and thus never getting any benefit from any of them) is one of the better ones so I’m going to use it.
So you get my drift and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Variety might be the spice of life but once you start mixing and matching your yoga practices I think you’ll struggle to quench your thirst (break out the sick bags!).
I believe somewhere in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a classical text describing Hatha Yoga) it says that after 12 years of continued practice , one can consider oneself a ‘beginner’ (obvs not in that plummy English tone of voice) The Ashtanga teacher David Williams reinvented that phrase for a modern audience to
“Just try it out for ten years and see if you like it. If you haven’t decided, try another ten more.”
Just a quick google search will lead you to all kinds of blogs, stories, and Facebook entries about how their authors have had enough of Ashtanga and gone off in search of something else usually a less intensive practice, and usually entitled ‘Dear Ashtanga’. Let’s get this straight, and I’ve said similar things before Ashtanga Yoga is not too intense or too hard, those are self-created impositions i.e. you’ve made it too intense yourself , buddy! I totally agree that there are Ashtanga teachers who teach the practice likes it’s a military style workout and bark the out the postures like a sergeant major. If this is happening to you don’t be disheartened, don’t give up and certainly don’t be tempted to go over to the dark side of hot yoga. Just find another teacher and begin again. One of the many great things about Ashtanga Yoga is that it’s a sequence you can learn, so eventually you can do it at home on your Jack Jones. You start off at a beginner’s class then after a while you feel confident enough for the intermediate sessions and eventually you are ready for the rocket fuel of Ashtanga Yoga – the Mysore Practice. The Mysore self-practice method will transform your mind and body BUT ONLY IF YOU STICK AT IT. Yes it’s hard work getting up in the morning but get a load of this ..
And then some.
I’d also like to let you into a secret … when you practice on your own you can miss out a jump back* or two. Don’t believe everything you hear about how Ashtanga Yoga is a dogmatic practice and you have to religiously follow all its codes and practices. These so called codes and practices are not static – they are quite fluid and change from teacher to teacher. One of the first western students in Mysore Nancy Gilgoff has said that Guruji had her doing the jump backs every three or four postures. In fact you will find that lots of the ‘old-school’ Ashtangis like Richard Freeman, David Williams and David Swenson will all have a story about how they’ve been taught the same Ashtanga practice by Guruji differently. As Guruji famously once said
“There are many variations of Trikonasana.”
There is only one Ashtanga Yoga, but this will take on many forms depending on the student. Stay with it.
* A jump back is sometimes referred to as a ‘vinyasa’ and is the sequence of up dog down dog postures that link the seated postures of Ashtanga Yoga.