K.I.S.S. Ashtanga

Lately, for whatever reason — an actual increase or my coincidental checking of Instagram, Facebook etc. — I’ve seen a lot of posts, from teachers and others, breaking down this asana and that one.

Maybe you have, too. It typically is a picture followed by a huge block of text going into specifics about the pose, and maybe some more esoteric thoughts associated with the asana.

In the interest of balance (or of yoga), I’m going to push back on this a bit. (And I know this runs counter to the spirit of our Friday asana aid not to mention a website/blog in general. I also know I’ve dug into the K.I.S.S. well before. Not that one.)

I know it’s helpful — often imperative — to have a pose broken down in detail to understand what you’re trying to do. My push back is this: Keep it in perspective. (Maybe this should be K.I.I.P. Ashtanga.) Or, as I know I’ve heard Tim Miller say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I say this not as a teacher, and with at least a fair amount of deference to them. But at times all these descriptions and detailed explanations — for me, as a student and practitioner — just become chatter that gets in the way of doing or experiencing the practice. Of letting my body, with all its flailing and recalcitrant parts, lead the way. And of getting the mind calm and still and out of the way.

Having only experienced Pattabhi Jois via stories and video, I still say one of his greatest attributes as a teacher was his ability to get his point and purpose across to his Western students despite his limited English. Or, more to the point: That attribute was getting his point across because of his limited English. Things had to remain simple; the students then went and dove deeply into all the details, all the “small stuff.” But they knew where to start — with what he had said and shown them (via his adjustments).

Led classes often manage to capture this simplicity; mostly Mysore rooms do, too. The practice space (let’s say that’s equal to the 99% from our famous quote) does. It’s beyond its doors — online, over coffee, perhaps at night when sleep alludes — that things get all messy. (And let’s equate that to the 1%.)

So, are we 99% simple, not sweating the small stuff, and just 1% churning our minds over where hands should be in this pose and how far apart our feet should be in that one? If not, perhaps it is worth trying to tilt the balance a bit. Let the practice just happen occasionally, get into the pose as best you can without a bunch of prodding and pulling, and see what surfaces.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

5 thoughts on “K.I.S.S. Ashtanga”

  1. Steve, this is right the hell on. We do an asana practice, hence we love asana. But thinking listening to instructions for poses that rival a geotech engineer’s in complexity…may not be the best thing for this practitioner.

  2. I agree. One of the beauties and difficulties of Ashtanga is self practice.i’ve experienced some amazing teachers – Nancy Gilgoff, Kathy Louise Broda, Chuck Miller, and David Swenson. But basically my best teacher has been my mat. Just get on it and all is coming.

  3. Start simple. As years Progress, refine, refine, refine, refine and refine some more. It is an iterative process. Don’t directly start with the advanced nitty-gritty manual.

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