Battling a hairy Ashtanga problem

The subject is never discussed openly in Ashtanga circles. You never hear it mentioned in workshops. Teachers never discuss it in the Mysore room, much less in led classes. . .Well, with one exception: Tim Miller. To quote the guru:

Hairstyle is important.

I’ve heard Tim utter these dry words of wisdom in his teacher trainings when a student has come up to help him demonstrate a pose or an adjustment. Before the student goes into the pose, Tim sometimes has to hang out while hair gets repositioned. Sometimes this is an elaborate operation while the entire class looks on. Thus the pithy commentary.

But, dang it, hairstyle is important. And spoiler alert: There’s a practical as well as a pious reason why Krishnamacharya has a shaved head in all those photos. Hair is a total pain in the ass.

I know what you bald guys are thinking: “Oh yeah? Come on over to my world, sister.” Steve, no doubt, will be looking at me askance all evening.

But I’m in my world right now, and, dammit, my hair is driving me crazy.

Hair is part of a collection of logistical issues that come along with the practice, the small details that help things run smoothly, like flat-seam pants that are just the right length and that you don’t have to constantly pull up. Like keeping straps out of the way of your leg, your bind, your shoulder stand. These are fairly serious matters, people. I know yogis who’ve been injured by bad pants or slipping tops. And every time I have to stop the practice to fix something, I lose everything: breath, bandhas, dristhti.

Hair’s a different matter, though. Hair is a test of the spirit. When I stop to fix my hair, I don’t just lose my focus, I lose my mind. It’s a nasty cycle: My hair starts slipping out of the baroque arrangement I’ve got going of barrettes, clips, and headbands. I stop to fix it. Then I get angry at my hair for making me stop the practice. Then I realize I’m angry at my hair, which is ludicrous, and I feel like an ass, and then I realize I’ve totally stopped practicing just to be angry at my hair, which then spirals into remorse and the monkey in my brain is in the driver’s seat (to mix metaphors).

I’m sad to say that right now, with my current style arrangement, I have to stop and reposition my hair a lot.

Let me give you a brief tutorial of arrangements that are automatically ruled out, if your goal is to not stop at all to fix your hairstyle.

Bun on top? Any number of problems there (hello, headstands!) but it’s clear by prasarita padottanasana A why that won’t work.

Bun on the back? No. Supta konasana and etc.–all those poses when you’re flat on your back. Also, you are seriously endangering your cervical vertebrae here, especially in shoulder stand. Those loose strands are already enough of a pain in the neck.

Buns on the side? Of course, this is the logical answer. But am I the only one that thinks this just feels weird? Not to mention the Princess Leia factor. I just can’t do it.

A similar set of reasons goes with the other possibilities, like pony tail placement. Braids make me feel like I’m wearing a hair scarf, and when I get sweaty it’s like I’m wearing a wet hair scarf. Also, they just take too long to do. I could be through the opening sequence by the time I get them in place and tied up.

The problems are ridiculous, really. I regularly break barrettes getting up into backbends and headstands. When I transition out of the foot-behind-the-head poses my headband sometimes shoots across the room.

I’ve also gone au natural, which in a humid room probably looks a little like Robert Plant circa 1978 has taken up Ashtanga. I remember Tim reaching over as he walked by when I was in trikonasana, tucking a hair curtain out of the way for me so I could see my thumb. “Thank you,” I said. But I can’t really expect Tim Miller to hang around and hold my hair back for me in every pose, can I?

Yeah, yeah, I know. I could cut it. And no doubt I will—The day will come when I just can’t take it anymore, and I’ll just whack it off. But for right now, it’s operating as my most effective test of focus and patience, and a really good distraction from the real thing: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

16 thoughts on “Battling a hairy Ashtanga problem”

  1. Namaste @Bobbie . We have this conversation every other day in the women’s change room at Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto !
    Most of us agree just sticking our hair into our mulabandha is the way to go ;p

  2. Bah! I totally get this. I go high ponytail through Kurmasana and then switch to high bun to get my legs behind my head without pulling my hair out. I stick with high (and super loose with crazy fly aways) falling out bun through full primary. Then I switch to low bun to start second series. Then, for closing series I take the whole thing out, then go back to low bun for headstand and last three closing postures. Ridiculous.

  3. I call it “The Heidi”: Two side braids. Braided just far enough to hold. It takes a few seconds. It WORKS! But you’ve just made me laugh. Thanks!

  4. I’ve had the same problem in the past. Hair dresser suggested pig tails placed low on head behind ears with long bobbie on side to hold back strays. Works beautifully for me.

  5. I just cut it all off and am so relieved. It’s heavenly not to have to fuss with it any more. Of course, I may have to dye it platinum, just to look more badass. 😉

  6. I love this. I’ve got hair down to the middle of my back and have resorted to a French braid. It’s how I wore my hair to elementary school, but it stays up and out of the way for every asana. I can braid it in less than a minute and then not touch it again until after Savasana.

  7. David Swenson recommend braids in a training and I originally felt it would take up too much time, but all that readjusting on the mat certainly not only takes up time, but is a distraction of flow…extra pauses and breaths, giving a pseudo rest or avoidance in going at a better and smoother pace. All the ponytails and buns I’ve done in the past led to neck pain from being off center in chakrasana. In any case I switched to braids, and have become pretty efficient in time!

  8. I wear a pony tail but totally agree about how distracting hair can be to a practice. In addition, the left side of my head and right side are asymmetric in terms of where various pins are placed to keep hair out of my face. I try not to let the hair issue bother me so that I can keep my focus, but when I get to the “foot behind the head” poses I have little choice. I stop practicing and make my pony tail into a low hair bun so that my hair does not get in the way as I am working on getting my leg behind my neck and shoulders. I need all of the help I can get!

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