The two reasons I don’t try other yoga (or festivals) anymore

I was just chatting with a woman who works in my office and who also does yoga.

How’s that for a boring lead? Stick with me for a second, though.

She had heard that last weekend’s Los Angeles-based yoga festival, Tadasana, was pretty good. One of her teachers was singing its praises and said that she (the teacher) had gone out of her way to try different types of yoga during the festival.

Via Tadasanafestival.com

“I’m sure it was great,” I responded, or something to that effect. “And normally I’m all for trying out different things.

“But,” I went on, “there are two things that keep me away from festivals like that.

“One is the earnest, love everything and everything will be OK-vibe. I just can’t handle it. It’s too serious.”

It was the second reason, though, that was for me the shocker. I’m not entirely sure where it came from or why it came out in that moment.

“But the other reasons is that with my body as stiff and limited as it is, it helps to know what’s coming, what’s in the sequence,” I said. “Even if I can’t do the full pose, I know which modification I can do.”

“Yeah,” my office mate agreed. “No surprises. OK, do this pose now.”

I’m sitting here now trying to ponder what this means, especially given my (apparently cult-Ashtanga perspective) notion of yoga as tapasya, as something that should hurt. It certainly is something that should push you to and beyond limits — that’s how I find, at least, an avenue to breaking down our samskaras. (It’s also why I don’t find other forms of yoga to be as useful; I understand and appreciate that they work for other people, but for me “opening my heart” or “opening to grace” does not get rid of the Halahala.)

But if I’m looking to wring myself  out like a dirty dish rag, shouldn’t I be putting myself into more uncomfortable situations? Or would that lose the necessary sukha of the practice? Am I right that Ashtanga, with its known limits — when and where I can get right to the edge and perhaps briefly over it — is “sthira sukham asanam.”

Or is it just the stiff coward’s way out?

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

18 thoughts on “The two reasons I don’t try other yoga (or festivals) anymore”

  1. The Reluctant Ashtangi once quit ashtanga for a month and went to Bikram classes: what she learned and how it helped her ashtanga practice makes for interesting reading. Check it out!

      1. I try to do a hot yoga class each week, and an Iyengar class. The hot yoga resembles Ashtanga at least in having a defined sequence, and it helps stretch out my old body. The Iyengar part was inspired by attending Richard Freeman’s workshop at the Confluence. I’ve found it to be a revelation — really helps me understand what the Ashtanga poses are supposed to do energetically. But I agree: no kula jamming for me!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. This past weekend an old college friend (we are now in our 50s) knew I practiced yoga and encouraged me to come to the next “kula jam”… I mean, its two blocks from my house…it would be fun… we do couples stuff… we really need guys to show up. I couldn’t tell her no at that time without sounding rude. Saturday is the day we Ashtangis take off from doing yoga. I don’t want to “jam” at 2 in the afternoon. My practice is done by 7:30. I don’t want to look at the front of the studio to see what pose I’m to attempt next… something that makes me feel like a bird or tall tree or something like that. I like my mysore practice —- it is challenging– I am reminded of every stiff muscle and creaky bone — only to know that after practice, I will be looser and focused. Its hard enough just to focus on breath, bhandas and dristi…. now I gotta “jam”? I smiled as she invited me and gave a very “noncommital” – “we’ll see” … but I don’t know how to answer without sitting down with her and giving her the “why I do ashtang and not something else” bit. I know I could do both.. but I don’t wanna.

    1. HI Chris.

      You clearly are far more patient than I … I would have run at the words “kula jam!” (I kid… some folks miss the sarcasm here.)

      You bring up another point, a slightly more serious one: Looking to see the pose. I’m bad enough with my dristi anyway, and it feels like a fundamental aspect to yoga (as I understand it for myself). So the actual watching and following along is another issue.

      S

  3. I feel exactly the same way! I also enjoy the lack of choice to a certain degree–I get too overwhelmed & confused by the array of asanas/theories in other types of yoga. Too much jumping around & it’s like I can never “drop into” the practice and just *stay*…and the phrase “Kula jam” makes me break into hives.

  4. Rene, I agree with you about the iyengar system, I find that it really informs my ashtanga practice both physically and energetically. It certainly pushes me to my edge and deals my ego a good hard blow,very humbling! Like you, I have been inspired by Richard Freeman. Steve , what are your thoughts on this?

  5. My initial thoughts are that I’m glad I’ve had lots of good teachers. Proper alignment has been drilled into me, beginning with Tim Miller but continuing with others. Even when I can’t get fully into a pose, I at least know what I’m supposed to be doing.

    That said, I do think there’s benefit to be had from the more methodical (seem fair?) nature of Iyengar. But for me it would be to get the proper postures / positions down, and then quick back to Ashtanga. I found Iyengar not enough of a “work out.” But it has been a long time (years) and I’m better at pushing myself toward the edge of my flexibility than I was then, so I’m sure the experience would be different and improved.

    Perhaps the next logical question is: Is Iyengar as far as we’d be comfortable going? What about Vinyasa systems based on Ashtanga — the Bryan Kest Power Yogas of the world. Are they useful, or is there something to the twin branches of Ashtanga and Iyengar that seem especially appropriate?

    S

    1. Steve, I had the same reaction to Iyengar when I started doing yoga. It’s what drove me to Ashtanga. My reaction now is quite different, maybe because the more advanced Iyengar classes are a whole different ball-game. They’re not so focused on alignment at all, but more on the subtle, energetic aspect of the practice — more so than Ashtanga. (I also agree with Min’s comment about getting a surprising ego-check. Those ten-minute Iyengar headstands and looooong back bends kick Ashtangi butt.) In response to your question, I do sense a unique and tangible “family resemblance” between these two practices, different though they obviously are: starting with their opening chants (which are half the same), a lot of the sequencing, and their general austereness. No objection to other kinds of yoga for other folks, but there’s something about sticking with the Krishnamacharya lineage that does it for me.

      1. I’d also note that when I was taking Iyengar classes I was just starting — and I was very much at the “want a good body” phase. My own stiff limitations didn’t make Iyengar seem like a good fit.

        I still am pretty stiff, but I also have a bit more sense of the subtle body.

        In other words, your lessening my firm resolve not to do anything else. 🙂

        Agreed on the Krishnamacharya lineage — and the closer the better.

      2. Hi Rene, Steve,
        Thank you both for your responses

        Like the 2of you, I was drawn to the Ashtanga method because it was more of a fluid workout and I found the stop start approach of iyengar method disconcerting

        I am very grateful to my Ashtanga teacher who is certified both by Guruji and Iyengar

        I have maintained a 6 day a week Ashtanga practice for a couple of years now and as I delve deeper into the Ashtanga method, I find myself having more and more respect for the iyengar tradition as well. I see my occ attendance in an iyengar class (given by dedicated iyengar teacher )as a bit of a workshop on alignment and subtleties.
        I agree with Rene that there are many similarities between the styles and I appreciate the no frills approach.

        Speaking only for myself, I feel comfortable extending my foray out of the Ashtanga system to the iyengar clan.
        There is much to be said by sticking to the Krishnamacharya lineage

        My 2cents worth

  6. Different yoga styles flow for your temperament, and that may vary by the minute.

    For me non-attachment to yoga styles fosters non-attachment to other things in life. Living in New York, I am blessed to have excellent teachers pass through our great city. Dharma Mittra says even the worst teacher has something you can learn if you are receptive. As such, great teachers can and do teach amazing stuff.

    I have also read multiple places that having multiple teachers will make you crazy. I am not too sure about that. I am you you are me. I am that. They flow together.

    Not knowing what’s next pose-wise is a mirror on life. Do we know what tomorrow will hold. How we hold ourselves into new poses or unknown poses mirrors exactly how we deal with new experiences. Maybe. For me, this holds true.

    Another side note is that many senior teachers in other lineages have had many years of Ashtanga practice so there is an understanding.

    Finally, there is the unseen, untouched, indescribable that occurs between teacher and student. Not particularly shakti shopping but shakti interchange. It may not be like Tim Miller having 30 years experience with his teacher but who has that?

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