Dear Passenger: Don’t Sh*t on My Yoga Practice. ~ Andie Britton-Foster

Via Andie Britton-Fosteron Jul 19, 2013

Sun Yoga Sunset

In Defense of Asana: a Rant

I recently hopped a Greyhound bus to Montreal. The ride was long and the bus smelled of wet soda crackers. Now, I am admittedly a cranky asshole while on public transit, yet the discussion I got into (and the subsequent victim of my venom) caught me by total surprise.

       It was a fellow yogi I began speaking with. A devotee of tantra, a perceiver of chakras, and, at that moment, a pain in my ass.

When I shared with him that I was a Hatha yoga instructor, he asked ‘like Asana work?’ (Yah, dumbass, like postures). “So,” he chided, “you essentially lead a stretch class.” And this is where I started talking real fast and real loud on a really crowded bus. Cue my defense of asana.

But first, a disclaimer: I understand that yoga is not just about asana, or the physical practice of yoga. Patanjali made it clear in his sutras that asana is simply a tool to help us achieve a state that is more cohesive with Samadhi.

  This asana is not to be confused with enlightenment.

Consider asana more as the popcorn that helps you enjoy the new Die Hard movie. It greases the wheels of yoga. I would be the last to claim such higher knowledge after a vigorous round of sun salutations, or a few precious moments in child’s pose. But to belittle the practice of asana and kick it to the curbside because it doesn’t necessarily make your mind and heart implode and explode at the same time?!? (Obviously I am an unenlightened cat.)

Well, that’s just bullshit.

Yoga was not born in the West. Far from it, man. It was introduced and adapted to suit our needs. We bent it to compliment the environment it was being transplanted into. Just as we North American folks have taken a liking to chicken balls and Thai massage, so have we found a home in the asana side of yoga. And what’s so wrong with this?!

Admittedly, we Westerners are spending an hour bending and stretching. But it is better to bend than break, in a society where it is so easy to feel a bit broken.

I think we can all benefit from learning to bend compassionately. As for stretching, we are constantly fighting against time to fit everything plus their grandma into our days. To stretch out our afternoons so we can devote an hour to moving slowly and deliberately does not seem like such a crime.

People find peace in this hour of asana.

Sure it may not be meditation in the Himalayas, or chanting to awaken our chakras. Still asana offers a precious chance for reflection, for compassion and for acceptance that is accessible to us in the West, because it speaks in a language we understand.

Some of us yogis may never master Sanskrit, or relish in the words of the Bhagavad Gita. But we can all appreciate a deeper release in a forward bend, or a growing strength in plank, or a twist that leaves you feeling less cluttered.  This asana practice encourages pranayama (breath awareness,) a stilling of the mind, and a devotion to the present moment.  These don’t seem so out of line with what ‘real yoga’ is working towards.

We can cherish our time on the mat, not because of the toned legs or rippling biceps it leaves us with.

Rather, this asana practice floats on the principles of yoga; strength through release, mindful compassion, and above all, union.

So, I may be leading a bend and stretch class, but if that’s what draws people to yoga, then that is the medium which I will reach out to them.

Asana is not a compromise of yoga, it is an accessible entry point into a foreign practice and lifestyle. Almost like a ‘gateway drug’ to enlightenment, asana manages to be a relatable yet highly personal practice.  And I will continue to share this with anybody interested, and be confident that whatever they are taking from the class will feed positively into their personal yoga experience.

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

About Andie Britton-Foster

Andie Britton-Foster‘s father was a walnut and her mother was a sparrow. By sheer magic, she was born. She spends her summers planting forests and spends the rest of her seasons teaching yoga in Kingston, ON.

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8 Responses to “Dear Passenger: Don’t Sh*t on My Yoga Practice. ~ Andie Britton-Foster”

  1. I'm with you all the way, Andie. Even though my own personal practice revolves around yoga philosophy, my wife's revolves around asana, and I don't notice that either of our practices is more influential or profound in our lives than the other.

    I embrace the two extremes and everything in between. And I believe if people are exposed to everything, they will find the yoga that's just right for them.

    Your piece and its rant quality reminds me of a similar rant I wrote several years ago after someone wrote that asana is not "real yoga": My Wife Loves Yoga Journal Just the Way It Is, Thank You

    A really interesting discussion/debate ensued, too.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Demystified

    • dallas says:

      I’m also with you Andie. I can’t wait for you to join our community and share your spirit, passion and knowledge of yoga xx

  2. Jamielo says:

    As a Tantric chakra watcher myself, I'm sorry to hear that some asshole purporting to be a practitioner of Tantra had nothing better to do than try to belittle another person's path. I guess my Grandma was right, you should always watch out for creeps on the bus!

    • Andie Britton-Foster says:

      Ha! I am learning more about Tantra, and find my heart opening to it. Perhaps next time I will find a more patient passenger who can share some sweet knowledge with me.
      -Andie

  3. Martin says:

    I think one of the biggest problems is everyone in the West trying to take and “rebrand” yoga. I’ve been practicing asana and yoga and meditation for 20 years. Before the ‘Madonna Factor” you had to get around monks or swamis who knew something about the integration of all the branches of yoga to learn. (And even that wasn’t perfect – too many culties around – had to watch out).

    Now, anyone and their mother can get some piece of paper saying they are teachers, which to me, has deluded the strength of the practice – asana, tantra, etc. and made everyone feel like spokespeople for the “true path”. IN my experience, there is no need for me to go to any class that isn’t linked to a spiritual lineage. I find the classes generally, spiritually vacant, and abrasive in many cases – and there’s nothing worse than to sit and be subject to some self-proclaimed guru, like your bus partner, who maybe has traveled in India some, studied a lot, but still misses the mark.

    You cannot “become” Hindu, that is a fact. You can “become” a yogi, but I find that a lot of Westerners would rather pontificate and start “schools” for money than to actually abandon all or even some of the Western ways of living in order to truly practice. Sure, some asana is absolutely great, and if anything, people might be more relaxed and calm in life. For me, it was an absolute “gateway” – to quit drinking, eating horribly, smoking, and all that. Then I went further. It took 15 years.

    • Martin says:

      (finishing – window closed). So, I avoid self-proclaimed gurus. I have little to say at ashrams or gatheirngs, where I take classes. I don’t need someone telling me not to eat garlic. ANd I avoid classes and teachers that use the word ‘power’, or ‘gym’ in the title. I also stay far away from people who dress up like Krisna and play with fire, and quot espirirtual texts, who were born in Poughkeepsie or Birmingham. It’s just where I’m at, and where I think we are.

      I have, however, taugth asana in a jail, and in a community center. All I did was chant Om 3 times- and got on with it. Funny how attraction works rather than promotion – some were eager to learn more.

  4. Luís says:

    as tantra texts say "if you fall down to the floor,you use the floor to help you get up"..same with body and asana…what sense does it make to day-dream about chakras and meditation if you can´t even stay a few minutes sitted without aches and pains? :-)

    LF

  5. Leslie C says:

    Excellent article Andie!

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