I practice Ashtanga yoga, Mysore style. It’s my daily practice. But it almost wasn’t.
It took me nearly six years to work up the nerve to step into a class. There was always this cloud of mystery and falsehoods passed around that kept me, and I would guess many, from ever even trying.
So, pardon this reversion of a blog from long ago, but right now there’s many a person out there mulling around resolutions and since there’s no better time than winter to begin a Mysore practice, I believe it’s worth revisiting.
Time to once again, expose these crazy myths around Ashtanga, once and for all:
Myth #1: Ashtanga was designed for 12 year-old boys.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said it best, “Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice yoga.”
And yes, this includes 12 year-old boys. And 65 year-old girls.
And me too, I presume—
even though sometimes I can be lazy.
Myth #2: I have to memorize the sequence before I can start.
In the beginning, students learn the choreography. No big deal. We all start there. Anyway, this is not a test, explains authorized DC Ashtanga teacher, Keith Moore, “It doesn’t matter how much a student knows or doesn’t know . . . I tell each student, that where they are in their practice and knowledge is perfect. And so we begin with
Surya Namaskar A and simply go from there. When they forget what comes next, they look to me and I’ll tell them. If someone knows what’s next, then there’s nothing for me to do. It’s not until a student needs help that I get to do what I’m there for and what I love. Teach.”
Myth #3: Ashtanga is rigid.
Does Kino look rigid and inflexible to you?
Yes, there are rules. And it is a set series of postures, meant to be taught and learned in a sequential fashion—according to the individual.
That’s right: according to the individual.
That doesn’t seem so rigid to me. In fact, it sounds downright individualized, and ideally why it’s taught by a teacher, not memorized from a book.
Okay, sure, I’ve met a few teachers who put asana and dogma before their students. But they are the exception, not the rule. And those that do, are jerks who obviously need more yoga.
Though if you don’t believe me, I shall quote our guru and source again, who takes this idea of individualized teaching a step further by stating, “Some asanas are not suitable for particular people and may be painful. A Guru will understand this and be able to explain it, so the practitioner of yoga must be certain to follow his guidance.” (Yoga Mala, p. 30)
Ashtanga is hard.
Ooops, this one is true. (Sorry).
Ashtanga is a progressive system composed of six series and each is designed to give you the strength and flexibility for the next. And although the method requires you to get one posture in your body before you get the next, we
all get stuck somewhere along the way. And is that hard? Hell yes. Sometimes physically, though most of the time it’s our ego that takes the biggest beating.
Yet, we learn more from the challenging postures than we do from the ones that come with ease. Including qualities like commitment, patience, tenacity, and even faith. And as David Garrigues explains, the point of this practice is to grow,
to find our working edge and discover what’s possible in the impossible.
To get stuck—then
unstuck and to (hopefully) mature a little in the process.
Myth #5: Ashtanga injures people.
First of all, you are always at risk for injury. Whether you’re a runner, biker, mountain climber, yogi, or just out walking your dog. The difference here is that if you were walking down the street and tripped over a curb, you wouldn’t blame the curb for your sprained ankle. Yet a yoga student gets hurt, and immediately blames the practice.
Ashtanga yoga doesn’t injure people, but the way people practice Ashtanga yoga can. Adding postures, skipping postures, too much effort, and too little time do no student any favor.
But even for the most earnest, there will be times we experience pain or discomfort, especially around times of growth. So remember, not all pain is injury. This practice is designed to awaken deep sensations physically, emotionally, and mentally—bringing us closer to what’s real,
even if it is a bit uncomfortable.
Myth #6: Ashtanga is just a bunch of gymnastics.
Ugh. I hate this one.
Yes, it’s physical. Yes, in the beginning, it’s a lot of jumping around on the mat. And after a while, it’s even more jumping around on the mat.
And the problem with this is . . .nothing.
concur: Asana first. Get the body conditioned and healthy so you can actually work on the rest. The Upanishads
Ever had a headache? Kind of hard to be kind to the menace who is driving 20 mph in the left lane when your head is screaming. Ever have back pain? Try sitting and concentrating on some higher sense of self between spasms of pain and let me know how that works out for you.
Our first duty is to take care of the body. It’s the first step towards bringing about balance, building strength beyond the physical, and trying to become the kind of person who leaves this world a better place. Call it gymnastics, exercises, or whatever, but don’t be fooled in thinking that’s
all it is. It’s simply where it all begins.
(As an aside, yes, you can practice fourth series and still be an asshole. But, that’s not the practice, that’s the person.)
Myth #7: Ashtanga is boring.
I suppose. But only if you think gymnastics is boring.
Of course, there are other myths, often born of our own fears and insecurities.
Because as a forty-something-year-old woman with short arms and an exceptionally gifted derriere, this practice has time and time again, debunked for her the biggest life myth of all:
Myth #8: “__________________” is impossible.
Because nothing really is.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas