Apparently, it’s lonely being an Ashtangi

During my lunch break today, I trolled through some Ashtanga blogs and one word kept leaping out at me: “lonely.”

There was the Ashtangi who lost her job at a yoga studio and seemed to feel, as a result, more cut off and isolated. There’s an Ashtangi in Mysore who avoided some of the “Mysore Circus” socialization. And there were about a handful more.

It really didn’t take very long at any of the sites to find something about being lonely.

Why is that?

I realize, of course, that Ashtanga is a fairly small slice of the yoga pie. (What flavor is that pie, anyway? Coconut? Mango? Maybe chocolate, in honor of Guruji?) Big, corporate-type studios will have dozens of flow classes but maybe one regular Ashtanga class, if that. On Los Angeles’ Westside, there is a crazy concentration of yoga studios but, as far as I know, Omkar 108 is the only one that’s primarily Ashtanga focused.

I think we all know why this is: Ashtanga is hard, and if you follow its early-morning practice schedule, it’s doubly difficult.

So, by default, if you have a room of 100 yogis, you might only have a handful of Ashtangis.

That’s lonely.

But it’s more than just that, right?

Is there something to the explicit focus on all eight limbs that enforces an inward turning that leads to the loneliness?

Perhaps it is just the type of people whom Ashtanga attracts. Slightly lonerish Type As?

Of course there is the ultimate “lonely” part of Ashtanga: the home practice. I assume other yogis practice at home, but I don’t feel like there is quite the same  emphasis on such a practice. (It could just be I don’t know any at-home practicing yogis. But how can your stereotypical yogi practice “chatter-ranga” at home?)

Even Mysore practice is “lonely.” Sure, you are in a room with a bunch of people, but you are all doing your own thing. You might be on Dandasana while the person to your right is just setting up and chanting the opening prayer and the person on your left is already in Sirsasana. Led classes are the one break from this.

And even then, if you’ve got your dristi focus, you won’t know the crowd is there.

Is the loneliness part of the draw?

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

12 thoughts on “Apparently, it’s lonely being an Ashtangi”

  1. Hi! I’m an Ashtanga practitioner (for a while now) and I don’t relate to this “lonely” feeling you are talking about. Anyways, I hope this feeling (if it’s yours or perhaps common to others) will vanish. On the other hand, I can relate when you say that there are not many Ashtangis out there. So…we have to keep spreading the word of our Ashtanga Yoga phil. & science.
    Btw, I’m pretty sure It’s Yoga is another studio that is fully Ashtanga.
    Peace & Light, Claudia

  2. I was a bit surprised when I ran across this same theme… but then I thought about it, and — not to restate the post — it kind of makes sense. Rarely are classes “collective” like the normal flow classes. (Although we all are doing the same sets of poses, so that’s shared.) The focus on dristi is isolating.

    But that loneliness also might be what helps lead people closer to samadhi — and ultimately union with everything. (The very opposite of lonely.)

    Maybe. 🙂

    Steve

  3. “I realize, of course, that Ashtanga is a fairly small slice of the yoga pie.”

    May I extend this a little further, and suggest that Ashtangis who blog are a fairly small slice of the Ashtanga slice of the yoga pie? Which means that the blogs that you read represent only a small proportion of what is already a small population: Hardly a good sample size, wouldn’t you say? 🙂

    I get the sense that the “typical” Ashtangi who practices at a shala simply shows up, does the practice, and then leaves and carries on with the rest of his or her day (work, kids, family, whatever). I don’t get the sense that he or she has the luxury of geeking out about the practice (or maybe he or she simply doesn’t want to do that; people have lives outside the practice, you know :-)). It’s only geeks like you and me who would want to spend more time talking about the practice in addition to doing it, and run the risk of maxing out the 1% theory limit. 🙂

    But seriously, perhaps what the Ashtanga bloggers you have been reading are experiencing is not loneliness, but solitude. There is a subtle but important difference between the two. Loneliness suggests being cut-off and isolated from things; solitude, on the other hand, suggests choosing to be alone with… [insert whatever it is that one chooses to be alone with].

    Sorry to go manifesto here.

    1. Lol! Fair enough. Can we at least agree that blogging Ashtangis are the cream of the crop? 🙂

      Perhaps the bloggers I came across were meaning solitude, but I definitely read the word “lonely” or felt that that was more the point they were making — a sense of being cut-off, as you say.

      And it seems — I think — that there are a lot of inherent traits to the practice that highlight that. Not that it’s bad. I certainly don’t mind solitude — and there’s a long line of tradition of that among yogis and rishis.

      It may, in fact, be another reason to argue that Ashtanga’s the right path!

      Steve

      1. I agree with everything you say, except this:

        “Can we at least agree that blogging Ashtangis are the cream of the crop?”

        I really dread to think what the state of Ashtanga must be today if some chitta-vrtti-filled bugger like me can be considered the “cream of the crop”…

  4. The practice definitely fosters an inwardness and introspection – – it invites and requires one to practice self-inquiry – the 99%. Certainly, the emphasis on the eight limbs, and the tristana of asana practice – breath/bandhas/drishti – helps create and develop this “Self”-absorption.

    Especially drishti – I find that in a led Primary class, or even in Mysore practice, I know that I have been deeply absorbed and focused when I go into Marichasana C and have the sudden, pleasant shock of “seeing” other folks in the studio with me. (Surprise!)

    There’s no teacher shouting affirmations over pop music, nothing drawing you out of yourself, so the traditional Ashtanga environment fosters introspection, too – which is why it’s such a hard sell for most folks, I believe.

    No music, no teacher telling you what to do (at least in Mysore class), and what are you left to focus on? The asanas…the breath/tristana…your thoughts…ultimately your Self. That intense self scrutiny can be scary for some folks. (Yes, you are right: that’s the path, one path, to samadhi, and you can only walk it alone.)

    Still, while folks in an Ashtanga class may not all bee-bopping to Maroon 5 together, everyone is breathing ujayi together and following the same path, so there can be a sweetness and sense of community that’s very profound.

    (But, yes, home practice – I can attest – it’s very lonely.)

    1. Michelle — you’ve hit on one important thing I missed: the collective breath. That is definitely a “bringing together.” Wonderful reminder.

      How many times, after all, is a description of a room sounding like its breathing the way people start to talk about Ashtanga?

      Steve

      1. Absolutely. It’s what first drew me in to Ashtanga…the great “Sooooo….Hummmm” of collective ujayi!

  5. Ashtanga is a practice designed for “householders”, ie. folks who have a life and responsibilites outside shala. In two hours, one can gain the benefits of the practice, with respect to all eight limbs.
    That’s a good thing!
    In our led practice with the group, we do, at least in theory, begin with the same breath and finish on the same breath. What a great common effort!
    Perhaps the lonliest part of ashtanga is being one of the few who roll out the mat each day, but, of course, being exceptional is no bad thing.

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