What’s the big deal about quitting Ashtanga?

During the past few months, I’ve seen — but, I’ll admit, not read — a couple handful of posts, from something as big and mainstreamish as Huffington Post to individual blogs, all about quitting Ashtanga.

Judging by the titles and the first line or so (which is about what I see in a Google alert of via Facebook), they are anguished, soul-wrenching accounts of giving up Ashtanga or having Ashtanga, seemingly, give up on the writer.

What’s the deal, I ask.

I know the easiest answer here is: Read them for yourself, dude. And a fair point. But I like to spend my time reading things I think will be productive, and for me these aching accounts aren’t that. I think my discrimination about such things is pretty consistent here.

Perhaps some of you have read them and find something… I don’t know, is it uplifting or affirming? Is it a certain schadenfreude? Do we all really agonize so much about our Ashtanga practices?

And if so, why exactly?

Posted by Steve

‘What should you expect when you come to the mat for an Ashtanga practice?’

With the big news in the blogging world right now being the Friday end of one of the original blogs — Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish — I thought I’d go a bit old-school and link over to a couple of other blogs, like they did in the old days.

The old days being 2006 or so.

(If you want, you can search for “blogging is dead” to get the latest take on what is arguably the only new medium created by the Internet.)

As our updated Mission statement says, focusing on what other blogs are saying is something we let others (in many cases via social media) handle. We’re more interested in trying to unearth something you won’t find otherwise — or won’t have pushed into your social media feed.

These two pieces, perhaps, fall somewhere in between. Up first is an overview look at Ashtanga from The Yoga House, which gives you a from-the-outside view (or, at least, a view geared toward those on the outside):

There isn’t quite a more disciplined yoga practice than that of Ashtanga Yoga. There is very often a cloud of mystery around the meditative practice that might make some uneasy at the site of its listing on a studio’s schedule. To most it seems more physically demanding and rigid than other yoga practices. And the truth is, well, it can be, but in reality Ashtanga yoga is the very foundation for all styles of hatha yoga. Based on a systematic series of asanas, or postures, the Ashtanga format and postures are the building blocks for the different yoga practices that each of us know and love.


To help keep our focus on our inner development and not the external, there is the deliberate incorporation of what student of Pattabhi Jois, David Swenson, calls “The Internal World,” which consists of breath, locks, flow and gaze, or prana, bandha, vinyasa and drishti, to guide us through this moving meditation. The sound of the breath is your mantra, the rhythm that keeps a single pointed focus for the mind. The locks and bandhas assimilate the prana or life force and help feed the subtle body and balance the gross nervous system.

It strikes me as a pretty fair representation.

The second treads on territory I’ve heard Tim Miller discuss a lot: merging karma and Ashtanga yoga, with a root for the discussion in the Gita. It’s via It’s Yoga Nicaragua:

Ashtanga yoga asana practice is unique in its daily return to a set, familiar sequence of postures. The sequence is prescribed rather than chosen, a series of actions the devoted practitioner performs as a daily discipline. There is an implicit surrender in the adherence to this practice, an unspoken contract between the tradition and the practitioner in which the practitioner agrees to give up their right to choose. The very nature of this practice, then, lends itself to the cultivation of karma yoga.

Mindset, however, remains key. While the practice can be used to learn surrender, it can also be used to invite the opposite effect. To move through the postures every day with an attitude of achievement or performance is to take a step backward, away from the yoga of action. It’s not easy, however, for a daily practitioner to last long without stumbling upon the necessity of detachment. In a lifelong practice, the body is bound to experience changes. The physical practice will fluctuate. Postures will come and go, difficulties will arise where there was once ease, and contentment will replace discomfort. Every day on the mat is different. To remain attached to one result is an exercise in futility.

The physical practice, then, becomes one of acceptance.

From there it goes off the mat, as you might expect.

And I’ll finish up a tristana of sorts by pointing you toward Christianity Today’s fairly lengthy thought piece on the whole notion of not wearing yoga pants. It at least doesn’t treat the whole thing as a farce. Or maybe I should say: Why doesn’t it treat the whole thing as a farce?

Posted by Steve


Another Ashtanga resource for you

If you have checked out our “About” page (it’s over there to the right, near the top of the page), then you know our mission can be summed up as this:

Be a one-stop shop for all things related, however loosely, to the March 2012 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

We’re honing to that, I think, thanks to the qualifier “however loosely.” And we’ll keep at it. Today, we offer up a second-hand one-stop shop for you:

Ashtanga friend YogaRosie has unveiled some tweaks to her site as well as “Ashtanga Yoga Social Media Grid.” You can travel on over to it here. (Yes, we’re on it, and thanks Rose!)

It has a few of the folks we link to, but done much more thoroughly. Twitter accounts, blogs, Facebook, etc. She asks a few interesting questions:

Has use of social media enhanced your practice? Has it helped you connect with like-minded ashtangis? Have you discovered something you might not otherwise have come across?

You should check it out; you might find an avenue into a facet of Ashtanga you hadn’t known about before.

Posted by Steve

The wireless Ashtangi — Nancy Gilgoff

Nancy Gilgoff teaching, from her Picasa site.

Unlike the other quartet of teacher/students at the Confluence, Nancy Gilgoff doesn’t seem to have a regular blog or anything of the like.

A wireless yogini, indeed, in this day of constant Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and, yes, blogs like this.

I’ll admit I know less about her than I do the other four — perhaps as a result of her not being quite so present online. Yes, her site exists, but the “about” page is pretty short. Perhaps on purpose?

That leads, then, to other searches. I know, from a one-day session with David Williams, that he introduced her to Guruji and that she had a serious of ailments. But I was shocked to find out what they were.

This old Yoga Journal piece lays it out in pretty stark detail. (Note to Yoga Journal: It might be good to date these articles; I have zero idea when it is from.)

Here are some key moments:

The earliest of Gilgoff’s injuries began when she was a child. She loved horseback riding, but it put such a constant pounding on her lower spine that she was left with chronic back problems. “By the time I was a teenager,” she says, “it had manifested in my neck, where a vertebra was jammed forward.” Along with this, childhood dental work had been performed with her mouth left open so uncomfortably, she would literally scream in pain, a torture she believes compounded the neck injury. Later, as a junior in college, she began getting severe migraines she believes were triggered by the then-new birth control pills. This experience left her with jaw pain so intense, she couldn’t open her mouth for days at a time.


Her pain was so acute, doctors suggested surgery to deaden places in her brain, in effect to numb the pain. But Gilgoff had other ideas. She had watched a close friend go through hospital treatments for cancer, and the idea of surgery appalled her. “I knew I didn’t want to end up in that situation,” she says, “so I started looking around, taking the first steps to another way of being.”

When Gilgoff left college at age 24, she’d already become a vegetarian, and it wasn’t long after she took up yoga under Williams’ tutelage that the couple traveled to India, where they ended up at Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. The challenge of Ashtanga would change her life.

I’ll be very intrigued to see how that beginning manifests itself in her teaching and what she has to say about the practice; and it makes me a bit disappointed that I didn’t sign up for her Led class.

Her story also reminds me of something else, something that seems strangely common to Ashtangis: A lot of them have had some injury at some point, whether before finding the practice or some time during it. Shoulder and knee injuries are common; I’ve heard stories about recovering from car accidents; there are those who were athletes who got hurt and then found Ashtanga.

Is it, I wonder, because at its heart it really is a healing practice — or is there something about it that attracts folks whose dharma passes through injury?