There is a saying, “knowledge is power”. It is usually seen as a positive statement. However, is all power good? Are all people who have power doing good things for the world and for themselves? Are all people who have knowledge doing good things for the world and for themselves? Yoga is extremely powerful. Even without a full understanding of the practice, people see amazing results. If the yoga is not tempered by discernment and the other 7 limbs of yoga, this powerful practice can be dangerous.
I recently wrote an article about learning yoga from the internet. The internet is great. The internet is not the problem. Yoga books and videos are not the problem. The problem is discernment. The full practice of yoga, as laid out by Patanjali and the yogis that came before us, teaches discernment. During this current information age, it is even more critical to practice the full spectrum of yoga,unfortunately, the other 7 limbs are actually being taught less.
“Many teachers, crazy making, one teacher, shantih is coming.” Pattabhi Jois
“One doctor curing, two doctors deathing”-Pattabhi Jois
After my article, “Learning Ashtanga From the Internet: A Cautionary Tale“, Someone asked,
“If people need social media sources and digital learning tools before they can access a certified ashtanga teacher in the flesh, what would you suggest? Are there teachers who will gladly answer their questions through email and social media? What advice would you give to these people so they can access the best of social media and the digital age without getting baffled bullshit?”
Before I answer this, consider these two things.
1. Just this morning, a wonderful teacher here in Charlotte was working with a student who came to her with some conflicting information from the internet and she asked the student this question, “are you practicing Ashtanga yoga or internet yoga?” This is an important question.
2. In my 13 years of practicing yoga, I have dabbled in many methods. Instead of becoming a master at one, I became mediocre at them all. I recommitted to Ashtanga about 2 years ago and I have grown mentally, spiritually and physically by leaps and bounds. People come up to me all the time and say that they have seen a huge improvement in my practice. No lie, I have even had people say that I am glowing and that they have seen a shift in how I carry myself. FYI, I am not pregnant. It is because I made a choice. While I still study and practice more than one type of yoga, my primary practice is Ashtanga.
The answer is choice. To move forward, it becomes necessary to make a choice. The question to ask is, who is my primary teacher and what is my primary method? Discipline is necessary on the path to yoga and is mentioned several times in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Here is one of them.
Abhyasa/Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility (1.13). To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break (1.14). From this stance the deeper practice continues to unfold, going ever deeper towards the direct experience of the eternal core of our being (http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-11216.htm).
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the foremost text on yoga, tells us that freedom from suffering is found by being completely present and absorbed in the moment. If we are battling conflicting advice during our yoga practice, we are not present, free or absorbed. We are only confused and suffering.
To keep the crazy making and deathing to a minimum, and to continue to progress at a good pace, you need one source that you can trust for your information. This doesn’t mean that you don’t play around with different techniques, styles of yoga or learn from other teachers. It just means that, at the end of the day, you understand what your primary practice and focus is and you are committed to that.
It is like declaring a major in college. You may spend the first few years of college messing around, but if you want to graduate and eventually get your Master’s degree, you declare a major. Even if you go on to declare a minor or take classes in complementary subjects outside of your major, your primary studies are in your major. In yoga terms, choosing a teacher and method is akin to declaring a major. Studying other styles of yoga,practicing with other teachers, reading information on the internet is a minor.
So the question I get all the time is, what if I don’t live near a teacher?
- Find the closest teacher you can find and practice with them as often as you can. Defer to them when you have a question.
- Traveling teachers. There are many teachers that now travel to the same cities once or twice a year. Make it a point to get to that workshop every time they come. Once they build a relationship with you, these teachers will make themselves available for questions via e-mail.
- Defer to the information coming from Mysore. I live in an area with no certified or authorized teacher. However, I am blessed to be in contact with many people who travel to Mysore on a regular. I trust these people and I defer to the information that they bring back. How do I know this information is true? These people don’t travel together and many don’t even know each other but they all come back saying the same thing. Because of where I live and my current practice situation, I practice with several different teachers. However, I defer to the information coming from Mysore.
- Get as close to the source as you can. If you have to get your yoga from books and the internet, get as close to the source as you can. Read the Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana by Sharath Jois or the Yoga Mala by Pattabhi Jois. There are videos online that feature Pattabhi and Sharath Jois. If you study with a teacher,who has written a book, done a video or is active on social media, check those sources first. Get as much information from these as you can before deferring to another source.
- Keep your practice simple. If you cannot get to a teacher regularly, do not start putting your legs behind your head or grabbing your ankles in a a back bend! Keep your practice simple. Do what you know until you can talk to a teacher. It is important to remember that the purpose of yoga is liberation from the suffering caused by uncontrolled thoughts. If you have to wait for your teacher to give you a pose, you can still practice controlling your thoughts! If you are just focused on the physical go to Cross fit, take up gymnastics or practice a style of yoga that is closer to your home. In the long run, It will be less frustrating.If you want to practice Ashtanga safely and effectively, you have to trust the process.
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 email@example.com.