Ashtanga Yoga is Nothing Special (and neither are YOU) by Matt Ryan.
Ok so a few blogs back I’ve written a piece called The Supreme Ashtanga Yoga , now I’m hitting you with Ashtanga is nothing special , so I guess you are a little like W.T.F.?
As most folks know I’ve been ‘complementing’ my Ashtanga Yoga practice for a good few years now with this Zen thing which basically entails looking at a wall for an hour or so a day, almost the complete opposite of jumping around on a rectangle shaped piece of fabric getting hot n sweaty. But the more I do of both the more they morph into the same practice. The quotes from all the Zen masters about Zazen (the Zen form of meditation) that I read could also apply to the Ashtanga practice I do.
This is my latest favourite Zen bombshell…
“No matter how many years you sit doing zazen,
you will never become anything special.”
— Kodo Sawaki
Kodo Sawaki was my Zen teacher Brad Warner’s teacher’s teacher. He pulled no punches and told it how it was. Imagine rocking up to an Ashtanga class and the teaching saying something similar..
‘Hello there I just wanted to let you know that no matter how many years you practice Ashtanga Yoga , you will never become anything special –that’ll be £7.50* please’
Would you ever go back?
But what exactly does Kodo mean when he says YOU will never become anything special? And should we believe him? I explained in my last blog exactly why I got into yoga in the first place and it was a case of needs must rather than any urge to become anything special. I guess we all like to think of ourselves as being special in some way and perhaps being told that you are not special is a bit like an elbow in the solar plexus – ooouff. I could get a little cosmic here and turn the whole thing on it’s head by saying actually you are special, special in that you are completely unique -like everyone in the world is unique.
My interpretation of what Kodo is saying is that the practice – be it yoga or be it Zazen is not something to turn you into anyone special or important. You can try and make this happen – but you won’t succeed.
If your practice becomes all about trying to ‘find something’ – ‘seeking mind’ as Kodo would call it , you will create an in-balance ( which is gonna be extra tricky when you’re doing the standing leg lifts boom boom!). If you start a practice wanting that practice to make you happy like perhaps you think buying that new pair of shoes or new car will ‘make you happy’ then you have materialised the practice , turned it into a commodity. Practice for me is about just doing practice. Yes sometimes doing your practice makes you happy but what are you going to do when it doesn’t? Turn to Hot Yoga? Surely not (jus kiddin hot yoga fans ).
There is another Kodo quote about Zazen practice, he says Zazen is the self ‘selfing’ the self – er what? The self selfing the self ? I had to reread that a few times before I started to understand what it meant. When we practice Ashtanga Yoga we are just being who we really are, not seeking or expecting anything – practice for practice sake. Can you do that? You might not have a choice. If you practice for fame and fortune you will soon realise that it aint coming – it’s a bit like pushing pushing pushing to get your leg behind your head then when it happens it’s massive anti climax. After a couple of anti-climaxes the penny drops – or maybe it’s the ego that gets dropped and eventually you will get to a place where the practice is doing YOU.
I’ll leave you with a quote from one of world’s happiest people. Read it through and see if you can apply it to your Ashtanga Yoga practice be it a posture that you can’t do or perhaps a wrist injury that won’t heal.
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck
— Dalai Lama XIV
* this is presuming you live in the North-West of the UK. If you’re reading this ‘darn sarf’ please change this to £18.50 or however much a single yoga class is these days south of the border.