Is there such a thing as too much asana?
A theme has been bubbling underneath several of our recent posts and the comments on them. I’d call it this:
Can you do too much asana?
There was the comment from TG in this post on whether to say “No” in Asthanga; the point was that during a forced hiatus (thanks to injury) other limbs of Ashtanga came into greater focus. There was the description of Mysore style practice, straight from Jois Yoga, that suggested why one needs to start off slowly and not take on too many poses too quickly. In the past, I’ve talked about how doing a shorter practice allows me to focus more intently on the fewer poses I’m doing. It becomes a quality over quantity thing.
And, perhaps, Guy Donahaye answered it in this post from this week on the 99% practice idea, in which he explained a bit more precisely what “practice” means — it’s self-study, it’s reading, it’s off the mat, too.
If you look around most shalas (in my experience), you certainly will see people doing lots of asana and, more to the point, lots of them focused pretty plainly on getting more.
More, more and more. Isn’t that one of the charges directed against Western society, that we are programmed to want more than we need? Is it true on the mat? I’m wondering if it is possible that in some subtle ways, we often let our asanas lead our practice to an unhealthy degree. After all, we’re supposed to be learning to let go of desire; but wanting the next pose would seem the exact opposite of that.
Perhaps this is — as Donahaye quotes Brad Ramsey from the Guruji book — because “asanas are kindergarten.” These are the easiest limb, the first one we undertake. And I think we’d all agree that, while “easy” (I wish! I can’t believe I’m even writing that), they also are deeply affecting and very obvious in their impact. They cause and make change; and so it is natural for us to what to get us some more of that goodness.
But what do we miss by throwing ourselves too much, perhaps, into asana? (Or perhaps this isn’t a question for most of us as we need to first wring ourselves out before we really can tackle the other limbs.) Is our focus too narrow? Does advancing and getting more poses feed too much into the ego? Do the other limbs suffer as a result? Does other study — what Donahaye includes in “practice” — suffer?
Or, to turn the question onto myself: Am I thinking this way just out of jealously, as someone stuck for who knows how long on Primary? What do I know of too much asana? I’m just the guy who rolls into the shala early, bangs out the practice, and is among the first to leave — a fairly short and sweet practice. And I as I walk out, I see folks working on Pincha Mayurasana or the headstands of Second and think, “$#!+.”
Posted by Steve