Are we ready to quit obsessing about asana yet?

I want to talk asana.

What I really want to talk is: Why do we talk about asana so much? And, is it time to stop?

So, already, I’m contributing to the problem: too much asana obsession.

I know this has been on my mind because of our trip next week to New York for Robert Moses and Eddie Stern’s workshop. Like our Namarupa trip to India last year and our next one this summer, asana is so far from central to our reasons for going that it may as well be Jupiter in our universe of reasons.

The Wheel of Life, via

By contrast, before the first Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, I was a fiend for making sure my asana practice was as ready as it could be.

Now… you know, the practice will be what it is at Eddie’s, especially with the time difference. (Hi, effectively 4 a.m. practice!)

Don’t go thinking, of course, that this attitude means I won’t be bringing my all to the mat next weekend. There’s a matter of respect — for Tim Miller, as my teacher, and for Eddie, as a guest in his space — that will drive my intention. Go big or go home, as they say.

I realize there are some complicated, and conflicted, reasons for our asana obsession. It’s the initial limb of Ashtanga that we in the West are encouraged to embark upon; the first and second tend to be sucked up in its wake. Then we go from there.

Perhaps more difficult: There’s the whole health/beauty/fit/thin societal construct. Dissertations have been written on this. To avoid 250 pages on the topic, let’s call it the “work out vs. work in” phenomena.

Also, asana is a lot easier to talk about than all the internal stuff, the emotional stuff, the mind stuff. Plus: Selfies.

Nonetheless, my observation is that our obsession is getting worse, not improving. In my entirely unscientific sampling lately (meaning a combination of my yogi-heavy Facebook and Twitter feeds), there seems to have been more asana talk than usual. (I’ll admit our culpability. I thought up this post topic while doing our latest asana aid.)

Perhaps this is a blip. It’s the start of the new year, after all, a time when resolutions focus pretty intently on that societal construct I mentioned earlier. Maybe people are trying to shake off their holiday indulgences. Or maybe there’s been asana to warm the heck up and fight the Polar Vortex.

At the same time, though, it also feels like maybe we’re all caught in a bit of an echo chamber — both real and virtual. In the virtual one, we upload yoga pictures and share post about asana this or that. In the real one, we talk about our practices, which pose is giving us trouble (or always gives us trouble) and seek ways to address those problems.

Could it be, I wonder, that we’re stuck on the third limb of Ashtanga, and rather than pulling each other out — or just lifting ourselves out — we are repeatedly sticking ourselves to it? Is it somehow a lower form of the Wheel of Life, which we’re equally stuck within?

Or, perhaps, it is another form of the “asana as metaphor for life” lesson. We all know that the practice teaches us how to handle those tough moments in life, the ones when we need to be able to breath calmly in the face of hardship. Tough poses are just tough moments. Perhaps asana practice as a whole (and our attachment to it) equally is a training ground for us to learn how to release ourselves from the karma wheel. You’re trapped, you’re trapped, you talk about it, you obsess about it until you finally find your way free.


Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

5 thoughts on “Are we ready to quit obsessing about asana yet?”

  1. Really enjoyed this post! It’s tough piercing through the asana veil to see what’s beyond. We’re getting caught up because this is “what we know” (we’ve all worked out at one point in our life, right?), so it’s less scary. We also don’t want to sound too new-age-like I guess…. 🙂

    Maybe it also depends on the yoga style. Sivananda yoga for example right from the first class makes it very clear that you won’t get around the pranayama, chanting, praying and weekly satsang. A different, less physical, approach – works for some people.

  2. Thanks Steve. This blog seems to be advancing through the limbs just as much as you are (e.g. earliest post topics vs more recent ones). Namaste

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