Why I don’t trust anyone who ‘loves’ yoga

My Monday practice, I’ll admit, was a 70%er.

Sunday night was a rough one; I didn’t sleep well. I think it will be a busy week at work, so I’m being mindful of that. And on Tuesdays, to honor and remember Hanuman, I try to go at 108% and really push things.

So Monday seemed a decent day to dial things back; I remember Annie Pace’s saying that you should have enough left to do your practice a second time, if need be.

So I don’t think there’s too much shame in this.

I was humming along pretty well; pushing some of the stretches — always with my hamstrings — but holding most of them for six breaths instead of eight. I received a nice, deep Janu A adjustment (more hamstrings) along the way.

When I got to Kurmasana, I thought I’d rigged the system. Jörgen Christiansson seemed to be out of the room for the moment. I settled into a decent, deep — but not too deep — pose. And then I moved on to a similarly intense Supta Kurmasana.

So I wouldn’t feel like I was trying to escape early, I figured a 10-breath count would be proper.

Eight would have been the right call.

Some time between seven and eight, Jörgen appeared. Farther around went my arms. Straighter went my legs. Up went my feet. And down, down, went my upper body.

Somewhere, someplace in my body was a nice focus of pain, for lack of a better word. But it wasn’t a scary, I’m about to die in Supta Kurmasana pain. It was maybe discomfort; it definitely said: “You are being stretched deeply.”

The thing is, I can’t tell precisely where the pain was. I knew it in the moment, as Jörgen sat on me, that I wasn’t sure where the sensation was coming from. Maybe my hip? Maybe my psoas? Maybe my lower back? All squished together, I couldn’t place it.

Such sensations are hallmarks of my 108% practices. They are those moments when the world does drop away, dissipate, in the sudden utterness of the “now.”

They are the moments I seek, but hate. And they are so intense, made of such complete agni, that I could never, ever claim that I love my yoga/Ashtanga practice.

Need it? Sure. Desire it? Ma- maybe. But love it? No.

And it is why I can’t quite trust anyone who says they “love” yoga. If they do, I can only assume they either aren’t experiencing such moments or they have a very disturbing relationship with their bodies, one that freaks me out. (It may not be a “bad” relationship, it’s just one that freaks me out. The onus of that judgement is on me.)

In the former case, I figure they just aren’t pushing themselves enough. This makes zero sense to me. I find the practice so difficult — I can make any pose sweat-inducingly intense — that is remains inconceivable that a Prasarita or a Marichyasana pose could be done with ease. I know that a certain Sukham is the goal, but I guess I think it is ease in the face of obstacle. Not ease in the face of easiness. Comfort, maybe is the word I’m searching for. It’s never comfortable.

I was at ease in that Supta Kurmasana, with Jörgen on my back, but I wasn’t languid or comfortable. It is an ease that also contains Sthira, which I take to mean the opposite of “hanging out in this pose, no problem, I’m comfortable here.”

If I’m comfortable, and at ease, and steady, I’m only going 70%. That’s good on occasion, but not all the time.

In the latter case, well, I don’t know what to make of that self-body relationship, anymore than I know what to make of feeling “love” for yoga. They are two concepts that I cannot place alongside each other. Love/yoga. Yoga/love.  They are, for me, mutually exclusive — a dualism that no yoga can bridge.

And so I can’t help but look on it with skepticism, and maybe some wonder.

(Same goes for people who are practicing Bhakti or Jhana or some other type of yoga, because I’m obviously biased that you start with asana.)

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

18 thoughts on “Why I don’t trust anyone who ‘loves’ yoga”

  1. it doesn’t need to be be comfortable for there to be love – i’m an ashtangi who loves her practice – how can you be devoted to something without love for it…

  2. I agree with j. Yoga, like any relationship is at times intense, challenging, and painful. It tests our strength and it tests our patience. But it also has the potential to unlock a whole lot of joy. As richard freeman often says, all yoga is bakhti yoga. there is no yoga without love. there is also no yoga without placing all those ‘other’ people who are doing the yoga you don’t like, in your heart. you can have the deepest and most comfortable supta k, and if you’re not loving them all (the festival goers, the finger spreaders, the flowy yogis, etc.), it ain’t yoga.

    1. I could hardly have more respect for Richard Freeman, but my sense of his approach is it is a marriage of Buddhism and yoga. (A very powerful, thoughtful and incredible marriage, no doubt.)

      I think Buddhism may encourage love, but I haven’t found anything in yoga that does — detachment, yes, but neither attraction nor aversion.

      Maybe acceptance, but not love. And I certainly accept everyone. I just don’t trust ’em. 🙂

  3. I should add a “thanks” to you both. Pondering your comments helped me crystalize what I was thinking — and what might be at the heart of the string of posts that EAY noted. Perhaps I will walk through Tadasana’s eco-market, but I won’t buy anything (i.e. be detached).

    And I do mean it — thanks. This really did pull some threads together.


  4. Steve, as much as freeman is influenced by buddhism, I believe his reasoning goes back to Patanjali (who was, also, influenced by buddhism; we may want to categorize and differentiate, but you start pulling at one thread and you begin to see how everything is interconnected). Patanjali’s Ahimsa can be translated as kindness or love. meaning love for everybody and everything, including the very process of yoga.

    I think the latest string of posts touched a nerve for me, because they reinforce the stereotype of ashtangis as exclusive and cliquey. Sure, there are a myriad of gimmicky, bs practices out there masquerading as yoga, but do we really need the constant pat on our own backs because we don’t do those practices? this duality making is not yoga, is all I’m saying. there’s no love when we are caught in this us and them game; it’s ego.

    1. I’m in the midst of trying to pull my thoughts on this together… your citing Richard is patently unfair, of course. 🙂 I may as well be arguing against nonviolence with Gandhi or MLK. But… we’ll see where this goes.

      On a separate topic, Ashtangis are exclusive and cliquey, aren’t they/we? I honestly don’t think I fall in that category (all those posts as amply evidence to the contrary aside), but I sure find plenty of egos in most Ashtanga shalas.

    1. What isn’t “other making,” though?

      I’m pretty comfortable in saying that a lot of Ashtangis get a pretty major ego thrill out of their practice. It seems to be a generally accepted “hazard” of the practice. I don’t think I’m advanced enough to be in danger, is more my point.

  5. but the ego trap doesn’t come just from having an ‘advanced’ practice, I’m afraid, it also comes from thinking the practice that you’re doing, the one that you’ve chosen is better than everyone else’s. That your approach to it is the correct one, or the superior one (implied by if they’re not struggling like I am, then they’re doing it wrong comments, and also the recent posts that invariably end with: we’re glad ashtanga is our practice). it’s simply fundamentalism, and it doesn’t require a flawless third series practice; being human is pre-requisite enough 🙂

    I should also note that yes, I love ashtanga, and have been practicing it for many years now. and everything I’m nitpicking on here, are things that secretly or openly, I have felt and said in the past, and am in no way above it now. But sometimes it’s easier to notice these things when others are mirroring you.

    1. Despite tongue in cheek posts here, I don’t think my practice is better than anyone’s. Quite the opposite. Of course, it is impossible to argue that and not sound quite the opposite.

      That said, I’m often surprised how judgmental Ashtangis are. And, yes, I tend to judge those who seem to be judging others (perhaps with the same intention you have in your “nitpicking”). Or it’s just human nature. I’m working on it, though. (I think.)

      I also have a healthy sense of irony and humor about it all that probably hasn’t been coming through. The “fingers closed, always” post, for instance, was meant as an allusion to Eddie Stern’s “Right Leg in Padmasana” blog post from a while back. (In a sense, I might argue the mirror you’re holding up is a Funhouse one. Whatever my blogging is isn’t near who I am. I do hope, though, it’s one of those mirrors that makes you skinnier!)

      More seriously, I doubt either I or Bobbie would back off the “we’re glad Ashtanga is our practice.” We’ve been through lots of experiences — yoga-related, “health” related, etc. — that has convinced us Ashtanga is right for us.

      Might not be right for anyone else, no doubt about it.

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