Another perspective on Ashtanga yoga.
Ashtangis take themselves very seriously. They are bit like the military branch of the yoga community: ruthless training six times a week early in the morning, no deviation from the routine, no practice on Saturdays nor Moon Days. And for the ladies, no practice either on their “personal moon days”.
Ashtanga is seriously intense if you want to do it properly. Weakness (of the mind) is harshly looked down upon, so you need physical strength and discipline to keep up your daily practices.
And the practices are not for the faint-hearted; none of that lying down in between asanas (poses) and resting horizontally for 20 breaths after each forward bend. Oh no, you keep going, flowing from pretzel pose to pretzel pose, folding your shoulders under your knees and your ankles behind your neck in a constant, regular rhythm.
If you’re slow like me, it takes almost two hours to complete the Primary Series (ok, I like the resting part. A lot.).
It can take ages before you get to practice the full Primary. Traditionally, Ashtanga teachers don’t just teach you the entire Primary in one week. No no no—one by one, poses are “given” to you when you are well and truly ready to open up for a new asana. You have to deserve it.
True Ashtanga practitioners also must go to Mysore, which is where the guru of modern Ashtanga came from. You cannot pretend to be a serious Ashtangi if you have never been to Mysore and practiced with guruji or his descendants.
It’s almost like a cult and it scares me a bit, but at the same time, I really want to go there someday to see what the fuss is all about.
But to cut it short, the point I’m making is that Ashtangis take themselves rather seriously.
And this is where, in my opinion, it becomes crucial to consume only healthy foods when you practice Ashtanga. Not only because one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga dictates inner cleanliness and stuff, but simply to avoid loss of far…sorry, face.
Let me explain my trail of thoughts to you.
I will not start the debate here on what is healthy and what is not (such as fatty meat, refined sugars, processed foods, just to mention a few), but in the end we all know that unhealthy food drains you of energy, can give you a bloated feeling in the stomach followed by rumbling intestines and more of these discomforts.
And we all know this can lead to gas and we all know what happens when you get gassy: you fart.
The air has to come out and there is only one way—out of your anus. Everybody has the same embarrassing problem, even if they angelically pretend they don’t.
Meat farts definitely score high on the putrid scale and some veggies are highly combustible as well so choosing your pre-practice meal deserves some attention.
Anyway, a fart is a fart. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can control it, but most of the time it will come out anyway.
The pressure builds up; you’ve tried everything from relaxing your belly to cramping up your poo hole but ultimately… you let one rip.
And that can happen in any normal daily situation, like in the crowded tram during peak hour or during an interview for the job of your dreams.
Imagine cutting one loose during your yoga practice.
There you are, desperately trying to get into Pindasana, folded back leaning on your neck and shoulders, legs crossed in lotus, your arms hugging your knees and your ass pointing upwards as vertically as possible.
Do you feel the pressure of last night’s cheese fondue building up? Exactly.
Mulha Bandha or not, it’s straightforward physics (or is it biology? ).
It gets even better (or worse) when the teacher is adjusting you; somehow the ideal position for the teacher when assisting you puts him, more often than not, with his face towards your bum.
So when your teacher, your guru, the person you look up to like to a god because he can do amazing asanas that you can only dream of, slowly and intimately pushes you into the pose with his nose dangerously close to the hole you’re supposed to control with your Mulha Bandha, all you can think is:
“Please don’t fart, please don’t fart, no no no, pleeease don’t fart…”
The harder you think it, the more you cramp up, the higher the pressure and…yes, exactly.
So all these Ashtangis take themselves super seriously. They hardly smile during practice, because somehow I think it’s physically impossible to smile when you have to stare at an imaginary point 10 cm from the tip of your nose—without looking completely idiotic that is. They can’t sit down and relax in between poses, because it’s key to stay in the meditative flow.
They can’t look around and enjoy watching other peoples’ accomplishments, because it’s all about internal focus and concentration. But they know that beginners sneakily stare at them from under their armpits, so they need to look good.
It’s all very serious business.
Until all these efforts explode in the teacher’s face with a loud fart.
No wonder serious Ashtanga practitioners eat as healthy as possible…
Ashtanga is fun, really, if you look at it from the right perspective.
Note: I have to thank all the Ashtanga people I’ve met around the world who dared to share their windy stories with me, verbally or anally, voluntarily or not. So far, I’ve been lucky.
Like elephant Yoga on Facebook
Editor: Jennifer Townsend