I’m sure you’ve all heard some variation on this story.
Guruji had a pretty notorious sweet tooth, especially for chocolate as I hear the tale told. But that was OK, because “sugar makes you flexible,” he would say.
After a very short experiment — two days nearly — I’m about ready to say that Guruji meant to say: “Wheat makes you flexible.”
Because, man, my hips and psoas and lower back feel stiff. I mean, stiffer than normal.
This has been true for the last couple of practices, and I only really note it because in the few practices before that, I thought I felt a little more flexible. Forward folks seemed a hair deeper, Purvattanasana a bit higher.
And now, ouch. Those are some creaky-sounding joints.
Could it be the blood-sugar rush I’m trying to avoid by not eating wheat?
Bear with me here. This post may appear to wander, but be patient and I promise to connect the dots.
Flashback to January of this year. I was at my new shala, with my new teacher, Jörgen Christiansson. The shining day came, after three years of being “stuck” (as I perceived it), that I had an excellent kapotasana. And my supta vajrasana was righteous. Jörgen approached me after class, and said, “Very good. Next time I’ll teach you the next few poses in second. You do second now.” This was the day I blew out my knee.
The setback has given me time to think. I’ve come to the unpleasant conclusion that second was a big ego party for me. And by “ego party,” I mean in my head, while I was practicing, there was a little ten-year-old girl going, “Nana nana, I’m doing second!” like, the whole time.
As I mentioned, blowing out my knee has given me a lot of time to think about this.
I remember being at one of David Swenson’s workshops when someone asked, “In dwi pada sirsasana, I can’t get both feet behind my head. How do I do that?” Swenson replied, “Will getting both feet behind your head make you happier?” Just this past summer, Tim Miller said the exact same thing to me when I asked about getting myself into supta kurmasana. Will getting both feet behind my head make me happier?
No. Yes. And No. Mostly no. See? This is what I’m worried about with the practice. I’m worried that I
can’t shake off the deep desire to “advance.” I’m worried if I can only see a thing I’m trying to “do” with the practice, I will once again find my inner ten-year-old.
My good friend Suzy tells me avoiding second is not the answer. “Maybe your practice now is doing second without ego,” she wisely says. I tell Jörgen I’m not sure I want to begin second again. He tells me, “You are not doing the practice. Guruji is,” and he points out, “Practice without attachment to results.” Jörgen is paraphrasing Krishna, I realize.
Which sets a new ego trap. I’m like Arjuna on the battlefield. Look at me bravely practicing second without attachment. Hooray for me! Ego, again. It’s inescapable. I wage a little war every time I step on the mat.
Here’s where I try to bring it all back home. I remember when I first started, years ago now, and I felt like I understood the relationship among breath, bandhas and dristi for the first time. I was doing my second suryanamaskara B. I reached up on an inhale, urdva drishti, and there was yoga.
It’s very hard to remember that nothing else matters but that–every asana, every breath, every day.
Guruji famously described Ashtanga as follows: “Ashtanga yoga is Patanjali yoga.”
I saw the following floating around the Internet (Facebook, to be precise). I don’t know the origin or anything behind the intent.
I am writing this to anyone who is involved with Ashtanga Yoga which was created by Mr. P. Jois. I am a yoga instructor and myself and others feel that this name confuses students of yoga.
This message is for anyone involved in the system of Mr. P. Jois, this is not proper.
This name should be given up. It serves to confuse yoga aspirants. Well, if you do not understand just pass this on to other practitioners of the systems set up my Mr. P. Jois. Choose another name! This confuses students of yoga.
Astanga Yoga was given by The Supreme Lord to Maharishi Patanjali and all yoga systems taught in the world today are based on this 8 stepped system. When Mr. P. Jois chose this name he took a name which belonged to the Great Sage Patanjali. This is not correct it lacks integrity, so I am requesting that this name be renounced. All yoga is based on this system. Mr. P. Jois should have chosen another name! + Why don’t you call it the Jois System of Yoga
This would make more sense. It is not proper to take the Great Sage Patanjali’s System. This is not proper.
My initial reaction was: How silly. No one is going to be confused by this, and I don’t think Patanjali is going to make a claim at this point (even taking reincarnation into consideration).
Plus, I’ve always liked the Guruji didn’t put his name to the yoga, ala Iyengar or Bikram. (You can probably make the leap that I’m not a big fan of the name “Jois Yoga” on the studios that are popping up.) And there’s the notion — however much you want to give it credence — that Guruji didn’t “create” Ashtanga but found it in the Yoga Korunta.
But I do sort of get the idea behind it: If you look at it narrowly, Ashtanga is just asana — just one of the eight limbs. (I think we all know it’s more, unlike a flow class or similar, right?)
My own sense, though, is that Guruji saw this asana practice as fitting into the “yoga” as taught by Patanjali — and we all know that Patanjali barely mentions asanas.
But I swear, it wasn’t my fault. Life — well, work, really — conspired against my finishing 108 sun salutes today.
I did get in 54, though. Which I needed, since life, again, has been conspiring to keep my away from the mat since Monday.
(Work went 30 to 45 minutes later than I expected, through no fault of my own. I was having to wait on others to finish things up; it was that type of waiting that frustrating me beyond belief as an editor in my dark days as a journalist.)
After I was finished, I realized when the last time I’d done the Yoga Mala — 108 sun salutes — was.
Right after Guruji passed away.
Diana Christinson, of Pacific Ashtanga, held a memorial for Guruji that consisted of the Yoga Mala. Only with a twist. Between each sun salute, each person is succession dedicated the Suryanamaskara.
It was very moving. As was the memorial gathering at Tim Miller’s.
And keep in mind, this was all before the whole Ashtanga thing had really sunk in with me.
Today, despite only having time for 54 “rounds,” I am happy to say that those 54 drained me less than they would have two-plus years ago. So, to that end, the Ashtanga is working.
But, on reflection, I noticed a few other things that I am taking away as “good signs” of progress. (I recognize the irony or wrongness of seeking progress in this.)
My focus, my dristi, was … focused. I realize I didn’t have as many points to look at, which I think can be distracting, but on I found myself very much “looking up” in up-dog, looking softly past your nose, etc.
My breaths are longer and more controlled. Maybe not Guruji’s 10-second long ones, but… coming.
More flexibility. I still have a long way to go, but my hamstrings and quads both were looser and more supple.
So, despite not having the time to get to 108, the practice was fruitful today. The trick, of course, will be carrying those reflections onto the mat on Sunday.