In most discussions (especially online) of yoga origins, there usually seems to be some implicit position taken that can be boiled down to: My yoga is best or my teacher is best.
Arguments about Ashtanga’s origins, for instance, invariably turn on how much Pattabhi Jois altered what he’d learned from Krishnamacharya. Is something else — Vinyasa Krama or what Iyengar developed — somehow “purer?” Somehow “better?”
As I read through the latest of these debates, it occurred to me that perhaps where one would fall on the question of “most pure” depends on which comes first: the practice or the teacher.
If your connection is with the (or a particular) practice, which I might call a more “abstract” relationship, chances are you want to be practicing a pure, as-much-as-possibly-unchanged yoga practice. (As usual, here I’m talking yoga as asana practice, more or less.)
If your relationship is more “concrete,” i.e. with a particular teacher, then I suspect what is of most value is how that particular teacher imparts his or her wisdom — and what that wisdom is.
In our house, this isn’t an entirely hypothetical question.
In Bobbie’s case, to write for her, it is clear that the Ashtanga practice is what resonates. I think she’s described her first Ashtanga class as going down like this (I tried to find it elsewhere here and can’t): She was going to her usual yoga class, probably Iyengar-based, but it was full. The other class at the same time was an Ashtanga class. She tried it.
Boom. She was hooked.
Now, she since has practiced with a number of great teachers, and Tim Miller — I think it safe to say — is the guru. But, more than that, I think the practice is what’s central.
Then there’s me.
I bumped around a few different forms of asana. I dipped my toes into some Ashtanga classes, including with a couple of the teachers who Bobbie was practicing with at the time.
And then there was finally the class. A workshop benefiting the Sean O’Shea Foundation, coincidentally enough. With Tim Miller.
The studio was packed. And I forced Bobbie to go pretty far to the back, to help me hide. And we began.
A Sun Salute. A second. And then there were the slow, steady footsteps.
They grew louder as they grew nearer, but they stayed slow, steady.
Suddenly, warm, strong hands were pressing on mine, flattening my palms to the mat. My hips, next, were pushed back and up. There was an attempt, I believe, to straighten my legs and get my heels closer to the ground.
How in a room packed with students had he found me first? (There was a secondary thought: Bobbie didn’t say I’d be such a victim!)
I’ve since told Tim about this, and my feeling dumbfounded that in his full shala he picked me out first, that he went after my down dog first, and right away. (It was his first sight of me, after all.)
His answer was something along the lines of: “I’m not sure what animal I was seing.”
Boom. I’m hooked. But, I think, I’m hooked on the teacher. If Tim announced tomorrow he was going to start leading Trance Dance Yoga, I’d probably go along. (Well, maybe not that far.) But my practice is Tim-based. (In the way, I suspect, so many people’s practices were Guruji-based.)
I think — to again put words in her virtual mouth — that Bobbie might give it a whirl, but she’d return to her Ashtanga practice. And for good reason.
I’m sure I’m over-simplifying here and not giving her relationship to Tim enough credit. But I do think there is something fundamentally different about our the root of our practices. It might be this: I’m sure she’ll still be practicing Ashtanga when she’s 90. I am more likely going to be maybe doing some pranayama. Or Senior Trance Dance. Or nothing.
On a daily basis, I wonder how this difference affects our ongoing practices. Perhaps more importantly (for us, anyway): I wonder how it will affect them in the future.
(I also realize this may come across as very Cult of Personality-esque. It isn’t. I wouldn’t jump off a bridge at Tim’s urging. But I am doing a lot of other “crazy” things. I think, tough, with proper discrimination.)
Posted by Steve