I have been reading and hearing some stuff that I just want to speak to. You may not care but it will be cathartic for me. If you agree or not, comment. I may or may not answer but it will be cathartic for you as well, lol.
The myth of Ashtanga and extreme dogmatism. I don’t know. Maybe I am special. Maybe I am insane. You guys, whenever I read an article about how Ashtanga is dogmatic and the sequence can’t be changed for people’s unique bodies and circumstances, I am always a little taken aback. I have never had this experience and I have never seen it in any shala or Ashtanga program. Not even with Sharath in Mysore.
I have been practicing Ashtanga for about 17 years. I have traveled and visited other programs. I have had teachers from other programs come to my town. Every Mysore room I have ever visited has people doing different variations of poses. I even saw this in Mysore. Yes, I have seen teachers challenge what a student feels is the limit for their body. Sometimes, inaccurately. I have also seen students challenge what they feel is the limit for their body. Sometimes, inaccurately. However, I have never seen any teacher that tries to fit all students within the boundaries of the “full version” of Ashtanga poses. Never. Ever. Like. Ever.
I am not saying these types of teachers don’t exist. There are always people in any group, job, church, family, and school that are doing the most. For sure. If you have been unfortunate enough to practice with one of these people, God bless you.
Faulty logic. Yall. This one drives me crazy. Like, jumping to conclusions and not logically thinking things through. For instance, someone made a statement about repetitive movements being bad. Okay, seriously though, our whole entire lives consist of repetitive movements. Walking, talking, cooking, typing, sitting, driving, breathing…all repetitive movements.
In an article entitled, Are Some Movements Inherently Bad, anatomy teacher Jenni Rawlings states,
“The second main issue with the “bad movement” approach is that it is based on a model that views the body as similar to a car, or a machine. In this model, if we move or align our body in sub-optimal ways over time, certain body parts will wear out before others due to the accumulation of microdamage. Just like a car’s tires might wear out unevenly and need premature replacing if they aren’t aligned properly, our body’s joints (think knees, hips, spinal joints) can wear out if we move or align them poorly.
This idea makes great intuitive sense, but there is an important distinction between cars and human bodies that is missing from this perspective. Unlike a car or a machine, whose parts do mechanically wear out with time, our body consists of living, biological tissues which are constantly turning over and remodeling according to the demands they experience. For example, we all know that if we load our muscles and connective tissues with a weight-training program at the gym, they will respond by becoming stronger in order to handle these loads. Another way of saying this is that the tissues of our body adapt to the stresses placed on them (also known as Davis’ Law).”-
Yes, our bodies don’t last forever and will break down. Aging is inevitable. You can’t stop it. Even if you move your body differently every day, or try to because, again, repetitive movement is a part of human existence, your body is going to slow down and change, as it ages. Also, yes, there are some movements that are bad for some people. For sure. However, that is all highly individual.
That is just one of the instances of faulty logic. Like it is totally rampant. People making up stories about teachers and yoga based on a few conclusions that can be blown apart with a few hours of research. Like, not even expensive research. I am talking about Google, a few phone calls and possibly an e-mail. And what kills me is that this faulty information, when said by someone popular, spreads like wildfire. Like, people don’t question it. I do, but like I have seen it passed around as if God wrote it on the wall himself.
People asking total strangers for advice on their injuries and ailments. I used to be really active in Ashtanga groups on FB but I just can’t anymore. Like, seriously, it seems like 80% of the posts are people asking for help about their injuries and ailments and accepting advice from any random person who answers. Like, I have seen Ashtanga teachers with decades of experience get ignored in favor of advice from some random dude who watches YouTube videos and has never had a teacher. Yes, random dude can be correct but like, really? It has just gotten out of hand.
Trying stuff on and selling it like it is gospel. I was talking to a friend recently and she just nailed this on the head. She said that she has seen so many traveling teachers teaching stuff they have been messing around with and that sounds cool without really having tested it over time and with many different bodies. I recently went to a workshop where a teacher saw a picture of Krishnamacharya doing a particular pose and decided that all poses should be done that way. It took me 15 minutes of doing research to find pictures of Krishnamacharya doing the pose another way and also writings, from Krishnamacharya, that talked about multiple ways to do a pose.
I have been teaching yoga for 10 years and the anatomy rules have changed more times then I can count. Ashtanga is not known for its huge focus on anatomy. When I first started practicing Ashtanga, my teacher taught that we should approximate the poses and that, through approximation, we would figure out how to do the pose for our bodies. I had no injuries during that period. Zero. Zilch. You just figured it out. I had my first injury when I practiced with an anatomy expert who told me that I was doing a pose wrong. That is the first time I ever felt pain in Ashtanga.
I digress. There are so many people out there who have been experimenting with something for a short period of time and teaching it like it is gospel. People making up rules based on their injuries and selling it like it is gospel. People making up rules based on their own unique abilities and selling it like it is gospel.
Ashtanga as a cult. I was in a cult. Ashtanga ain’t one. No one is being forced to do anything. No one is isolated. Food is not being rationed out and limited. You can leave when you want. You don’t all have to dress the same. The leader doesn’t control who you have sex with. Your kids are not separated from you. Communication is not limited. TV’s are not snatched. Resources are not being allotted to the chosen ones. Food is not being hoarded in a secret location. Young women are not being chosen as wives. Like, trust me, not a cult.
Yoga is not bullshit. America is full of prisons and bad people. Every day, there is a program called, “the news” that talks about all the horrible people that live in our hometowns. Do we say “America is bullshit!” No, because, there are plenty of people in America who are totally fricking awesome. We know that the prisons and the news is only a small percentage of the people that live here. If you live in America, you know that most of the people you come across are completely chill and have no desire to maim or hurt someone. For that same reason, “Yoga is not bullshit”. Yep, there are a few people in the yoga community, some super popular and famous, doing crazy things. That, however, does not prove that all yoga is bullshit.
The science of yoga is also not bullshit. It is sound and has been changing lives for the better for thousands of years.
Saying teachers should not be chosen for how they look and their popularity but yet choosing teachers by how they look and their popularity. When everybody got all mad about Sharath taking people off the KPJAYI list, everybody and their mama was saying how the list meant nothing and how teachers should be chosen based on their knowledge. People talked about gurus and how they should not be put on a pedestal. People talk about instayogis and how they should not be worshipped. However, those same people continue to put those same few teachers on a pedestal. Like, the same people are being interviewed. The same people are being asked to teach at people’s studios and to do workshops and to speak on yoga panels.
Like, good for them. I am not knocking these people’s popularity. They can’t help they are popular and they should take advantage of every minute of it. Many of them worked their asses off. I am not even saying they don’t deserve it. I am just saying like literally like the same handful of teachers are still being talked about and shopped around the world…by the same people who said that they were opposed to it. Like, the same pretty people with rock star physical practices. Like seriously. Just be okay with it. Stop acting like you don’t support what is going on when you are totally supporting what is going on. Stop acting like you are not impressed by handstands and abs when you will drop $300 on a workshop with these people when they get anywhere close to your state. Like just be honest with yourself.
Like, I have seen people dog out the Jois family this year and then turn around and go to Mysore or apply for it. Like, just get real with yourself. I have seen people, who swore against Gurus, get googly eyed and tongue-tied in the presence of or while interviewing a pretty person who does videos on the internet. Be real with yourself.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.