ahimsa,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Uncategorized

Deconstructing Ashtanga, Reconstructing Me

Aude is pictured above. Photo by @marinlachouette
I received this e-mail from Aude and I had to share it. The e-mail refers to an Instagram post I did on asana as a trap.

Here are the words from that post:

Asana is a trap. All yogic techniques are a trap. The Yoga Sutras constantly talks about this idea of our soul, and the objects of this world, shining alone without the need to draw meaning from the outside world.

Yogic techniques help you to build new positive patterns that override the negative. The next step is to get rid of the positive patterns too!!!!

Why? What is even seen as positive in this world is a result of conditioning and our environment. “Positive” can even be another form of bondage. For the yogi, “positive” is not just another set of rules and personality traits. It is a direct result of being permanently in tune with existence. 

For many, asana and techniques are not for the sake of the soul but for the acceptance, validation and solidification of our relationship with the outside world. They aid us in getting attached to the positive patterns that also have to go so that we can shine in our full glory outside of “samsara hala hala” the poison of conditioned existence.

I wrote the post as an invitation for folks to take a look at why they practice asana and to question whether or not their asana practice is locking in thought processes and habits that don’t serve. When negative habits become blended in with asana, the habits become concretized.  They become trapped amongst the positive framework of the practice. It is like sprinkling a little bit of poison in your salad.  Yes, you get the benefit of the greens, however the poison builds up in the body and your health starts to suffer.

 The ego is an expert in sprinkling poison on salad. The practice is meant to take away a special category of ignorance that the ego loves to hide behind. That ignorance has the following characteristics:

  • Regarding the impermanent as permanent
  • The impure as pure
  • The painful as pleasant 
  • The non-self as the Self

These show up in practice as:

  • Pose chasing ( poses are impermanent)
  • The idea of having a 
    “good” or “bad” practice (impermanence)
  • Obsession with the body (impure as pure, impermanent as permanent)
  • Pushing our body beyond what is beneficial(regarding the painful as pleasant)
  • Patting ourselves on the back when we achieve a hard pose (mistaking the Self as the non Self)
  • Never or barely taking the practice beyond asana (mistaking the non-self for the Self).
  • Using the practice for sensual pleasure and not as a vehicle of awakening (mistaking the non- self as the Self).

I already know the argument that people like to use when I present this information, “you have to start somewhere”.  The key word is “start”. I have been practicing yoga for 20 years and the same people are still saying that same sentence. the same people are sprinkling the same poisons on their salad and operating at the same levels of ignorance. 

I definitely have not transcended my own ignorance. The first step is recognizing and and then loosening the hold that ignorance has in our asana practice by taking a look at why we practice and slowly dismantling it in the things we do most often, which for many of us, includes taking a look at our practice.

Aude’s post is an example of what that process can reveal.

I have also been talking about recovery on Instagram. I have a nonprofit, Yoga For Recovery Foundation,  that helps people in recovery from addiction and systemic race based oppression. 

 

I really enjoyed your last post on recovery and for myself recovery is very linked to the very last thing you put up on instagram which is the trap of asanas.

 I need to confess something.  Since our quarantine is over in France my asana practice has fluctuated so much that I don’t even think I can still say I practice the series of Patthabi Jois. 

  The weird thing being that this process of deconstructing the very precise sequences I started with, went along with my own recovery from eating disorders.

 So right now, I am stuck between the guilt of the conditioned little yogi who got taught to practice asana everyday and all is coming and the woman recovering from a condition that has followed her for the past 7 to 8 years who can finally see and feel established in her improvement.     

For the past 3 years I had the same very intense summer job of teaching circus in the mountains and this season, despite the extra covid pandemic angst, is the first season I spend without relapsing into my old eating patterns. This summer of 2020 I stopped getting up at 6 AM to do my 2 hours after a month and decided that a half hour was enough. The last two weeks, most mornings were only conscious breathing for 15 minutes because I felt sleep was more important at this point (and the last three day were just sluggish because parties). 

 And not even once have I collapsed into those dreadful bulimia crises. 

Being so hard on myself with asana and spiritual practices in general was my own trap of feeling satisfied (I’ve been so good practicing everyday the last week), and numbing myself with tons of food until feeling sick was the reward (which reminds me of that meme trend on ashtangi accounts about filling themselves up with so much food before Moon days…).

Me rebalancing my asana practice slowed this circle of effort/reward and allowed more space for friendship, creativity (and love even hehe) and the satisfaction of being here now and listening.

Maty Ezraty said in one of her videos “a sophisticated yogi knows what she/he needs “.

One of the big reasons I got so attached is because when I started practicing, the woman I started with told me she managed to cure herself from bulimia and I wanted to feel the same magic. Me not healing made me feel worse, like I wasn’t practicing enough or well enough and for a good while I became obsessed. Later after writing to her a few times she told me she would still have moments of overeating and this made me look at the practice differently… 

One of the dangers of asana traps I think is how much people expect from it. How it is sold like magic from India, food for the soul, and all that.  People forget about critical thinking, viveka, or the very basic theory of the elements.  It sells a comfortable controlled living for people who are afraid of experiencing life and taking the risk of getting hurt. But controlling emotions and our own body is different than mastering it. I think…. ? 

 I mean that’s my own view on this but there is something to deepen, at least on my side lol because what I see in my own experience is so different from what I used to believe about strong asana practices and discipline that I am very lost myself. I can’t wait to see how that unfolds though. 🙂 

 

Aude

 

About Aude:  25 year old French nomad going nowhere in particular, desperately curious, lover of all arts and of all mountains.

Circus teacher and fruit picker to make ends meet, I also draw and write.

Creative, queer, feminist, body positive, I like to think I’m also funny.

Find me on instagram : auderuby.m

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 shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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