Last night I had my world rocked by Peg Mulqueen of Ashtanga Dispatch. I can’t stop thinking about it. This line from the Ashtanga opening Mantra just jumped into my head.
SAMSARA HALAHALA MOHASHANTYAI
Remove the poison of conditioned existence
This line also popped into my mind.
“Many teachers, crazy making” Pattabhi Jois
I have chanted that line thousands of times and used the Pattabhi Jois quote at least 50 times but It didn’t’ really hit me until last night. Through a few simple exercises, Peg showed just how much BS I had picked up that had nothing to do with Ashtanga yoga. She used Sharath’s book, Astanga Yoga Anusthasana, to show us how clean, simple and to the point Ashtanga is and how complicated we had made it. She had us do exactly what the book said without adding any extra stuff we had picked up from other teachers, Instagram and You Tube.
An example would be Bujapidasana. Is there a Tittibhasana exit from Bujapidasana? Is there even a transitory movement into Titttibhasana after Bujapidasana? Lets look at both the Yoga Mala, written by Pattabhi Jois and the Astanga Yoga Anusthasana written by Sharath Jois. For clarification, puraka means inhale. Rechaka means exhale.
Then while coming into the 7th vinyasa, and using the strength of the arms, jump the legs around the shoulders without touching the floor, doing puraka, place one foot over the other, squeeze the shoulders forcefully with the thighs, and straighten the arms; this is the 7th vinyasa. Then, slowly doing rechaka and without touching the legs or feet to the floor, touch only the chin to the floor, and do puraka and rechaka as much as possible; this is the 8th vinyasa. Next, doing puraka, come back into the 7th vinyasa, this is the 9th vinyasa, Then, doing rechaka, take back both legs without touching the floor, and balance them on the backs of the arms-Yoga Mala by Pattabhi Jois
Nava 9: inhale, lift the head or chin up off the floor. Exhale.
Dasa 10: inhale, take bakasana position by bringing the legs back, pulling the knees into the armpits and keeping the heals together. Astanga Yoga Anusthasana by Sharath
Yep, its not there. It also does not say, and if you are advanced, It is cool to take 5 extra breaths here and pop up into handstand. It does say you can take as many breaths as you want in Bujapidasana itself but it NEVER mentions taking extra breaths in transitions.
I could really go on and on with these types of examples.
Also, using Bujapidasana, she explained to us how the breath supports the practice and if we don’t second guess ourselves and follow the count, you actually use less energy and it is actually EASIER. She had us jump into Bujapidasana with no hesitation and using the count. The majority of the class could wrap their legs around their arms in mid air where we had never ever been able to do that. Now, we may have fallen backwards shortly after but we got closer than we ever had. Why? We took out the lift up that most people have in their jump throughs, stayed low and just went straight around. Like it is supposed to be done.
Something I always say to people when they start to complain about yoga is that, yoga is not the problem, the people doing it have the problems. This workshop showed me this in a whole different way. We are hurting themselves, getting stressed out and pushing ourselves over stuff THAT IS NOT EVEN IN THE SEQUENCE. We are worried about getting it right we are worried about making it pretty. That was never the point.
Have you watched these videos of Sharath practicing? Probably not. At the time I wrote this post, this video had only 307 views and it was put up January 8 2015. I suspect it is because it is not pretty. It is simple. Oh, my goodness, dare I say that, his knee is not where the anatomy police would like it.
You have probably seen videos like this though of Sharath practicing. This was probably taken on someone’s I phone without him even knowing. Why are ones like this circulated? We love the fancy stuff! Or dare I say, our ego loves the fancy stuff.
I am not going to name any names but I checked one of the popular Ashtangi You Tube channels. One person posted a video YESTERDAY, and it already has 2,800 likes. The pose is visually beautiful. The person is visually beautiful.
I have suffered the pain of a conditioned Ashtanga practice. Maybe you have too. Over the years, I have collected a plethora of extraneous exercises, movements, transitions, anatomy cues, and breaths that have not served my practice. I thought they did until I was forced to take them out and then I saw them for what they were. Crutches and samskaras (deep mental imprints). I was conditioned to the point that, even though I have read the Yoga Mala and the Yoga Anusthasana numerous times, I could not believe that it could be that simple. Even though these books were written by the masters of Ashtanga Yoga, I doubted them and chose to pattern my practice after the more fancy practitioners. I chose to do the practices that fed my ego which wanted prettiness, grace and perfection. I chose to do the practices that brought up doubt and insecurity. Instead of trusting my breath, I added in extra ones so that I could do a half handstand, a pretty float or get deeper into a pose (why does it need to be deeper?).
I have been conditioned to the point that I had to talk myself into adding the top video of Sharath. My ego did not want to show the world such simplicity. My ego did not not want to defend that knee to the anatomy police. I will not be defending it either. You want to know why? Because Ashtanga yoga was never meant to be a workout. It was never meant to be some show stopping feat of beauty. It was never meant to be a platform to show off your beautiful body lines. Pattabhi Jois did not make a mistake when he named this practice “Ashtanga”. It was a very blatant way to say that this practice is about the 8 limbs of yoga. I don’t know how much clearer he could have been about it. In fact, he was so clear that he numbered the poses for us and gave us a whole map on how to do them and in what order. He took all the guessing out!
Pattabhi Jois purposely left no room for our egos to get involved in this practice.