Should Fiery Pittas Practice Ashtanga Yoga?

Via on Nov 18, 2010

I was inspired to write this blog in response to a question a student asked me a couple months back.

Hi David, My name is Emily, I am newly recommitted ashtanga practitioner and pharmacy school student in Salt Lake City. I have been lightly studying Ayurveda and yoga for 6 and 12 years respectively. I am always reading suggestions that pittas should do a cooling practice rather than such a heat inducing practice such as ashtanga. What are your thoughts on this? I have tried many styles of yoga with several teachers, but I am always drawn back to this self-practice.

Thank you for your message Emily.

I think that idea about pitta’s needing to avoid heat inducing practices such as Ashtanga is largely bunk. You’ll have to pardon me but I get a bit worked up on this subject. I really do hope my answer helps you. I don’t think enough people realize what kind of fire, grit and intensity it takes to crack the small self open and access the hidden treasure of fearless freedom within.

There is always someone who will try to contain or cool things, to ‘mellow’ things or ‘balance’ them or bring them to the center where the middle ground is. I personally don’t want the middle ground. I don’t want reason or reasonable. Reasonable arrives and eventually looks and feels like Walmart, Captain Crunch, continuous streams of ads for things that don’t offer us an honest place of really looking at ourselves. I say bring on the fire, let’s burn this stale, safe, known, fearful place to the ground.

Give me spiritual danger, give me the edge, give me something that makes me sweat, makes me breathe, makes me open inside and feel truly alive. Give me enough fire to face my apathy every day. Give me enough fire to burn my petty mind that continuously spins out just the right type of nonsense to hook me into fear, judgment and insecurity. Give me enough fire to care more about what’s inside me than any other thing. The following is an excerpt from a Rumi poem where God tells Moses:

I want burning, burning. Be friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression! Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.

In order to open spiritually, I believe each of must discover our gifts and strengths and then really use them to the full extent that we are capable of. To me being a pitta type and thus having an endowment of fire means you must use your fire, celebrate and develop your fire and see how far your fire can take you.

Of course you can over do fire and imbalance yourself. For example you could drive yourself in practice, work etc, become hot headed, walk around continually angry or stressed or frustrated, and thus thwart your higher purpose. But also fire might be the very key, the essential element that leads you into creativity.

As Rumi said fire is your friend. Can you explore the extent of your fire and simultaneously learn how to balance it? I am a lover of Ashtanga precisely because that practice takes me beyond my reasonableness, further than my neat, tidy boxed up world into a fiery, fluid, earthy world of possibility and insight.

I use a saying that goes: ‘every system of knowledge is also a system of ignorance’. This statement applies to any system one might adopt for health or soul work; it says each system, no matter how wise or seemingly complete will be erroneous and will not, if followed blindly, lead you to the end of the path.

Both Ayurveda and Ashtanga are amazing systems of knowledge, but both have their ‘blind spot’s or weaknesses. And anyone who uses these systems will also have their own system for using them and thus will bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses. However I’m not saying not to adopt a system just because it is also inherently ignorant. I’m saying think and act for yourself in accordance with what you experience, discover and what you’re drawn towards.

Though experts and ‘common’ wisdom are important sources of guidance, listen to your own feelings, intuition and inner promptings concerning the unfolding of your sacred, inner world. If you keep feeling that there is something significant for you within the Ashtanga system, then I’d listen to that feeling. The trick is to get to know the system and your own tendencies and then work at it passionately with soul and creativity.

Since you are a pitta type and you like Ashtanga, you may choose to practice it in a more yin or receptive way when you feel like it– for instance don’t practice in too hot of a room or in the sun or in the middle of the day. Do less vinyasa between seated postures or hold postures longer. Finishing postures are known as ‘cooling’ so you could spend more time with them. Also it could be helpful to keep your brain passive and relaxed while practicing.

In short, there are many things you can do to decrease fire in practice, learn what works for you day by day. Hari Om! ­­– David

About David Garrigues

David Garrigues is an international yoga teacher. He is recognized as one of a few teachers in the US certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by the late world renown yoga master Sri K Pattabhi Jois. As an Ashtanga Ambassador he bases his teachings on the idea that 'Anyone can take practice', a core idea in the teachings of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. David's mission is to help others flourish within the living, contemporary lineage of Ashtanga Yoga. He aims to be part of an ever wider circle of people who are committed to applying the teachings of ashtanga yoga in ways that promote physical, psychological, and spiritual growth in themselves and others. David's website and highly popular youtube video channel, Asana Kitchen, has a wealth of free, expert yoga instructional materials to inspire progress in beginner through advanced practitioners. He is the author of three Ashtanga Yoga dvd's, A Guide to the Primary Series, A Guide to the Ashtanga Yoga Pranayama Sequence, and A Guide to the Second Series. His book Vayu Siddhi: A Guide to Free Breathing was written and inspired by yogic sacred texts on the science of asana and pranayama, the two favorite subjects of students of ashtanga yoga. He is the director of the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia and the Ashtanga Yoga School of Kovalam in India.

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9 Responses to “Should Fiery Pittas Practice Ashtanga Yoga?”

  1. LotusMama says:

    "Give me spiritual danger, give me the edge, give me something that makes me sweat, makes me breathe, makes me open inside and feel truly alive. Give me enough fire to face my apathy every day. Give me enough fire to burn my petty mind that continuously spins out just the right type of nonsense to hook me into fear, judgment and insecurity. Give me enough fire to care more about what’s inside me than any other thing."

    Love this!!

  2. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Very nice, David–not only the commitment to "cracking open the small self," but to cutting through the hooey that can attach itself to yoga practice. Thanks!

  3. Thank You sooooooooo much for this!
    This is wonderful!

  4. Jason Gan says:

    How true. It's like saying that you cannot live in India because it is too hot.

  5. Kim Sequoia says:

    Thank you! I actually had slowly moved away from yoga as it was the approach of Ashtanga that moved me so, and yet I continued to be cautioned against it as I'm very Pitta. You've inspired me to pick it up again!

    Wonderful!

  6. miko says:

    "Though experts and ‘common’ wisdom are important sources of guidance, listen to your own feelings, intuition and inner promptings concerning the unfolding of your sacred, inner world. If you keep feeling that there is something significant for you within the Ashtanga system, then I’d listen to that feeling. The trick is to get to know the system and your own tendencies and then work at it passionately with soul and creativity."

    AMEN!!! We don't need to always look outside ourselves, our guidance and intuition is always there waiting to be felt and heard. We just have pay attention.

  7. [...] I did choose to follow one piece of advice from my teacher, David Garrigues. He suggested that I stop practicing Third series. David explained that “doing Third series [...]

  8. Daren says:

    I agree with the writer. I hold shoulderstand at the end for 20-25 breaths and my pitta fire is totally tamed and balanced!

  9. Michelle says:

    Erin, respectfully, I know many post menopausal women who practice Ashtanga. A great friend and fellow teacher in my studio is 55, post menopausal, and has a wonderful and beautiful Ashtanga practice. I have several women students who are post menopausal who love the practice and say that it has helped them navigate the changes their bodies have undergone. And, while not menopausal myself, I'm getting close, so I am curious as to how it will affect my "change"!

    I've been practicing Ashtanga for almost 15 years. I started when I was 30, a month or so after the birth of my third child. I have had my ups and downs with the practice. I used to exhaust myself more as a 30 year old than I do as a 45 year old, Erin. I have stuck with it, and early in my second decade, I began to understand how to work with the practice so that I didn't injure myself, and didn't feel depleted or enervated – or overheated – afterward. While I won't ever say, "Ashtanga is easy!" I will say that I have learned how to channel and control my energy – and how to intuitively listen to my body and treat it with ahimsa when I need to, so that the practice works well for me. I practice daily, and I plan on doing it through menopause and after – as long as I have breath in my body.

    I'm also Pitta, according to my Ayurvedic Consultant (who is also a Pattabhi Jois authorized Ashtanga teacher in her mid 40s, btw.) I agree wholeheartedly with David. It's all in the intent – Ashtanga can be done mindfully, lightheartedly and safely, even for older women. It's sexist and dismissive of the many women who have been practicing Ashtanga mindfully, beautifully, and righteously since the 70s to say Ashtanga is only meant for young, gymnastic men.

    Sure, based on your experience, Ashtanga was not a good path for you. There's nothing wrong with knowing that for yourself and seeking another path.The wise say there are many paths, but only one Truth. Ashtanga is one of these paths – and a highly proven, legitimate one, to boot, for those who choose it and love it. And you were right to move to another form of practice that did work for you if Ashtanga didn't feel good for you…you treated yourself with great care and compassion.

    Ashtanga is hard. It's vigorous, humbling, and challenging physically. It is a very old, complex system, and as such, takes a long time to learn – many, many, many years of practice. I still feel like a beginner. I've come to realize though that the survival/competitive mode of doing the Ashtanga practice – where competition with oneself or with others – is counterproductive and leads to discouragement and feelings of failure. It's the biggest reason people quit the practice, and the biggest reason it has such a bad reputation.

    Still, "Without effort, there is no benefit " (PJ said that, I believe). Approached with regularity, healthy curiosity, intuitive compassion for oneself, and consistency, Ashtanga is and can be a wonderful, healing and highly beneficial practice, for people of any age or ability. It's all in the intent of the practitioner.

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