There’s no saying ‘No’ in Ashtanga — or is there?
The spring Vanity Fair article on Ashtanga seems to have come and go — as things like that usually do. They feel so incredibly important, or damaging, or altering in the moment, but then as they recede … they recede, they fade. (This is, of course, most true in politics.)
Perhaps just because I’m somewhat sensitive to it, one of the memes from the piece that’s had some legs is a quote from Tim Miller. (If you already know which one I’m talking about, that proves my point.)
It’s when he described Ashtanga as “the yoga of no.”
From my knowledge of Tim, I am pretty sure he said this with a healthy dose of irony, which may not have come through in print. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think of it as the yoga of no, but he just means — I think — that Ashtanga’s path to whatever goal it is we each seek takes us in a direction that shows us our limitations, clues us into what we can’t do, what’s beyond the possible… even as we eventually redefine the meaning of what’s possible.
It’s not your touchy-feeley, open yourself to the Goddess, big circle of hugs type yoga.
It’s the yoga of no.
Part of the irony of Tim’s statement is that Ashtanga demands such a great amount of surrender and trust needed in one’s teacher — and for me, that translates to not saying “no” when the teacher pushes you beyond your (cliche alert!) comfort zone.
I was painfully reminded of this during Sunday’s practice. In Prasarita C, after telling one of the assistants that I need “more torture,”Jörgen Christiansson adjusted me so strongly — saying, more than once, “relax your shoulders” — that I thought I was going to have to cry uncle, tell him no mas.
I thought I finally was going to have to tell him that was enough.
This is a bit of a big deal for me because I endeavor never to say “No.” Part of the practice for me — the inner practice part — is practicing surrender, practicing letting someone else have control. (We’ve talked about surrender before.)
And so I try to let those moments at the edge happen, try to breath, knowing it isn’t going to last too long. (Jörgen did suggest I stay in Supta Kurmasana for two hours during this same practice, so sometimes the moments last longer than others.)
Probably the more truthful way of putting this is: I pride myself on never saying “No”; while my stiffness seems such a limitation to the practice, at least I can feel like I’m willing to get pushed further than most. Perhaps it’s punishment for being so stiff.
This pain I felt, and the realization of the pride I take in toughing through it, has left me wondering this: Is it really best that we never reach the moment of having to say, “Stop.” Or do we need to get pushed into a position that forces us to give up? Are we no longer surrendering if we have to say, “No more,” or does that signal that we may only be scratching the surface of surrender?
The only answer I have to these questions awaits on the mat, at the next practice, and the one after that, and onward.
Posted by Steve