I had a student ask me in class if Ashtanga was what I mainly practiced. She said that she has some friends that practice Ashtanga and seemed to have a really difficult, intense, and disciplined practice. It was alluding to how it has turned her off of what she thinks is an Ashtanga practice. Although, I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s certainly not easy. But I did get to share with her that Ashtanga can either perpetuate and thereby aggravate our natural tendencies that may not be so good for us or it can show us where we need to change so that we can live in balance. The Ashtanga practice can easily be very masculine, aggressive, goal oriented, and egoistic. But depending on your teacher/your guru (which is key!), he/she can show you and guide you in the way the system was meant to be practiced and individualized. A “guru” is someone who leads you out of darkness and into the light. Isn’t that what this is all about anyway?
So I go on sharing with this student that I’ve found the joy in Ashtanga and I’ve softened into my practice. I shared with her how it allows me to go deep within myself and just when I thought I’ve gone deep within, I find I can go deeper. Like my teachers says, we are each made of space…we’re all like universes within ourselves. The deeper you go, you just find that you can go deeper and it’s infinite. That’s what’s so cool about this practice! I cannot get bored. I keep finding, discovering, and uncovering things about myself. It’s becomes more subtle yet new.
To go back to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga being easily turned into a masculine and goal-oriented practice…these are things our culture rewards! We can never be content with what we have now. Now doesn’t seem to exist. We’re chasing after the future and when we get there, we’re not happy. So we always need ‘more’. I’ve seen this happen in others’ Ashtanga practice where teachers treat poses (asanas) as a reward. It turns into a weird “I-must-please-my-teacher” type of relationship between student and teacher, but it also reinforces the “more is better” concept in our culture. More does not mean better! The more the student gets, the bigger the ego gets for the student and for the teacher…as the teacher now thinks he has “power” over the student. It’s a vicious and unhealthy relationship that’s get played out in families, in jobs, and yes…also in the yoga world, unfortunately.
The idea of “more is not better” really sunk in for me within the last year. I was practicing up to Ustrasana in 2nd series but backed off to focus on Primary Series. I thought to myself, “What’s the hurry? This is a LIFE LONG practice. I’ve got my whole life to practice and learn 2nd series. I need to get my foundation strong with Primary Series before moving on.” And this was my own Inner Guru speaking…my teachers were fine with me practicing 2nd series. In the past, I would have interpreted this as a setback…even as a defeat! But that would be my Ego speaking.
So I now have a morning daily practice of Primary Series and am completely content. It feels SO good.