Ever since I discovered Ashtanga yoga, I have been in awe of how much effort and energy some people put into expressing their aversion for this style of yoga.
Why is it that Vinyasa and Bikram yoga classes are bursting at the seams all the while Ashtanga yoga sits in the shadows like a loner nobody wants to play with? It has been around for thousands of years and still, only few seem to really like it.
After thinking about the resonance I get from practicing this style of yoga, I realized that Ashtanga yoga does make it easy for us to hate it.
Here’s what I found:
1. Ashtanga yoga is not even a physical practice
Say whaat? Well, yeah, this might be the biggest misconception about this style of yoga.
It is first and foremost a moving meditation and a breathing practice. Which means that your first yoga class might only consist of learning Ujayi breath and repeating sun salutations. No fancy arm balances or even a lot of sweat involved.
What this lineage of yoga really is geared towards is not forcing you through the six sequences of postures that it consists of, but to break you open, so that you can find spiritual awakening.
Sounds like pain? Right on, Ashtanga yoga has a knack for finding your sore spots and punching them hard, so that you are even more aware of how far away from enlightenment you really are.
Speaking of discomfort:
2. It is hard. Very, very hard
But, you might say, other styles of yoga are very hard, too. Meaning, physically demanding.
Well, the thing with Ashtanga yoga is that it is not only physically demanding, but it also screws with your mind. There is a set sequence every Ashtangi has to follow, which results in years and years of the same sequence of postures every day. Let me tell you, it is both maddening as well as completely infuriating to be doing the exact same thing over and over and over again without seemingly advancing one little bit.
This, however is the exact purpose behind the repetitiveness of Ashtanga yoga. You are supposed to lose yourself in wherever you are in the sequence. Practice non-attachment to the outcome and quality of your practice.
Since this is a place of complete honesty, I have to confess that sometimes my inner Viking gets the best of me and I could punch my teachers in the face when they tell me that it’s all about steadiness and ease while there’s gallons of sweat pouring across my face, and my deepest and darkest emotions are being released in the never ending sequence of hip openers.
While in other styles of yoga I could just violently yank my body into the next pose and go on with my practice, Ashtanga yoga forces me to marinate in my current challenge until I find sweetness and mental clarity.
Which means that I will always spend a decent amount of time in my least favorite pose, waiting there for hours, days, months until I’m used to the discomfort—only then do I get to move on.
My conclusion is that people have to be bat sh*t crazy to allow this kind of torture to be done to their minds. It’s like deliberately flossing your brain.
3. No yoga binging
This is the worst part about Ashtanga yoga for me. I am a binger: I binge on chocolate, I binge on my favorite series Scandal and I would also like to very, very much binge on yoga.
This is a biiig no-no for Ashtangis.
You are supposed to practice six days a week, take moon days and the first days of your period off and practice considering the needs of your body.
For those of us who live life according to our temper and current obsessions, the commitment that this style of yoga demands goes against the grain of our being. Trying to train my chaotic brain to meet the rhythm of my yoga practice is like teaching an elephant to jump rope. It is genius and awesome when it happens, but getting there is nothing but excruciating pain and disorientation.
But as strange and torturous as Ashtanga Mysore might be, somehow it has me hooked. I haven’t found any other spiritual practice that calls me out on my shortcomings in such a relentless and rude way. I might think that I should be so much farther along in my practice by now, but when I really think about it, I realize that I am in the process of uncovering my deepest shadows and opening the tightest and most rigid parts of myself.
Ashtanga yoga doesn’t screw around and yes, you might have to be a little masochistic to commit to it, but I can promise you that it will work wonders if you are willing to choose discomfort over resentment and face what needs facing.
I have been scratched so deeply that at times I felt like the devil itself stares me in the eye, but the release that follows is something no other spiritual practice has been able to give me.
It hurts, and it hurts good.
So maybe hating Ashtanga Yoga is the best way to let it stir you. Things kind of get interesting when you start liking the pain.