I Almost Quit Ashtanga Yoga. ~ Peg Mulqueen

Via Peg Mulqueen
on Jan 15, 2013
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Takes My Pain Away

I realize I’m not about to make any friends with this disclosure.

Because even though I changed my mind, I must first lay bare the parts that nearly sent me packing.

First off, any practice so goal-oriented, linear, and bound by  rules is apt to be challenging—if not, down-right contest driven.

We practice at a certain time, have rigid rules and standards, and require mastery to move along in the practice instead of the other way around.

Ashtanga is not for the faint hearted as it actually prides itself in being a more rigorous, physical, and demanding practice. There is a high degree of athleticism inherent to the ashtanga method, which unavoidably leads to some level of competition—even if only within the student alone.

The ego is not only apparent, but some might argue necessary.

I’ll be the first to admit that ashtanga has brought a great deal of discipline into my life. It has left me more grounded, stronger, and definitely more humbled.

Problem is, as of late, I’m not sure it’s offered me a great deal of kindness.

What is "correct method?"
What is “correct method?”

You see, I’ve followed the rules and abided the standards for quite some time now. I’ve experienced the resentment of being held back and the pride of being moved forward—followed by the admonition of feeling both. I have practiced through pain and rested with guilt.

And though my body is more flexible, I fear my mind may be more rigid. Somewhere lost in all this “correct method” has been my compassion, some ease, and certainly balance.

Too much sthira (steadiness) and not enough sukha (softness).

But that’s when a good teacher steps in. Not the ones who use their dogma the way my grade school nuns used their rulers to keep  students in line.

A good teacher is one who focuses on the practice not the poses. One who greets me with an open mind and open heart. Because a good teacher understands that correct method is less about whether I exit a posture without my toes touching down, and more about how I can enter my life a better person.

This system is larger than its parts.

Postures are just postures. They hold no keys to the gates of heaven. But when linked together, they do offer us a path towards developing strength and health in the body and mind. That’s all—nothing more, nothing less.

So, thanks to my teachers, I’ve come home to my practice a little softer and more forgiving.

And that’s my correct method . . . for now.




About Peg Mulqueen

With a gentle warmth and contagious sense of humor, Peggy shares her passion of life and love with all those she meets. She was a counselor for many years before stumbling upon one of the oldest forms of healing therapies: yoga. Since then, she has been helping others lead lives of change and renewal, exploration and—all from a yoga mat. When not on her mat, Peggy (her husband and two children close at hand) can be found on a surf board in Maui—learning to fall off gracefully and get back up, or suspended 500 feet in the air on a zip line over a Costa Rican jungle—conquering her fear of heights, or searching for the perfect cast, fly fishing in the wilder places of Montana. You can follow her adventures in yoga on her blog here.


13 Responses to “I Almost Quit Ashtanga Yoga. ~ Peg Mulqueen”

  1. I think that there are three different forms of Ashtanga practice (and studios) that in some ways parallel the 3 main forms of Judaism, Othodox, Conservative and Reform. What you dewscribe at the beginning of your piece is the orthodox world of ashtanga. Totally teacher controlled, mainly focused on the asana and the vinyasa, what I sometimes hewaar called eka-anga yoga. The intent of yoga practice, the idea that practice leads to enlightenment is lost. Conservative studios retain the important parts of the form; doing poses in sequence, moon days, etc., without the rigidity of orthodoxy. I've been practicing for 12 years, but I'm 63. My body is somewhat beaten up, especially my knees. I can do the practice, but I use props for some poses, and modified versions of some. On the other hand I often find myself in a meditative state during and after I practice. The reform branch of ashtanga is all the vinyasa flow/rock and roll/make up a sequence stuff that's out there.

    It sounds to me like you are becoming conservative. Congratulations. Welcome to the middle path.

  2. peg says:

    I’ve never had it explained quite that way – thank you! and yes, it does seem I’m getting more conservative after all! 🙂

  3. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I want to give this post Eleven stars out of Ten … Magnificent!

    You have made my day … my month … my year …

    You have to do a practice you can live with. You have to feel supported by your practice …

  4. Helen says:

    The best piece of advice I've been given in Ashtanga yoga is "it's not about the end game". It makes so much more sense; I've never been competitive but I have gotten annoyed when unable to do certain postures, frustrated even; not really the place you want to be and kind of missing the point. I realised that this advice was twofold: it was given during teacher training for getting into postures but also in general terms, it was useful and sage advice; to use that old, overused phrase, it really is the journey.

    Great post, really enjoyed reading it.

  5. @pegmulqueen says:

    thank you!! you actually now made MY day … month … year!

  6. @pegmulqueen says:

    wow – thank you! and no, it's not about the end game. not at all.

  7. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Well, I guess my practice then must be Reconstructionist … it is a pretty rigid vinyasa sequence (owing a lot to OM Yoga, Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga and The Himalayan Masters–which actually brought it to the next level in their focus on contemplation and pinpoint alignment.), It's not-quite-rigorous, and open to a lot of cross-pollination from Pilates or from the cybersangha … the Cyber-Havurah, if you will ….

  8. @pegmulqueen says:

    the whole idea of ashtanga is to get you to a place where you struggle – even if it is with the practice itself. it's designed to make you question it all. it's how we not only find our way – but carve our way. i loved your note – thank you so so much!

  9. Kindness to others start with kindness to yourself….I love that you are bringing softness, the world is hard enough!

  10. @pegmulqueen says:

    i heart you jamie!!!

  11. […] an issue to jump and run to the yoga studio for my practice. Then, since my last journey to India to study Ashtanga Yoga at KPJAYI in Mysore (four months ago) I’ve become much better in alternating a home practice […]

  12. lashannasmall says:

    It is not just about the teacher, it is about you. If you are looking for the teacher to soften you, then you just have yet another crutch. You have to soften your own mind, your own practice and your own approach.

  13. @boodiba says:

    Great article.

    I almost quit too! In fact I did… for four months maybe. I'd been through the ringer. I was (and still am) 100% solo. I got ditched before a workshop, went anyway, and got injured. However, as I put it to a friend, I discovered that the pain of no yoga is worse than the pain of yoga. !!!

    I gave up advanced (for the time being). I practice entirely alone for reasons of personal physical and emotional therapy. It's INTENSELY personal now. There is no striving, because I've already voluntarily chosen to practice what seems to work out well for someone with a full-time job-job. There is no performance. Even when you have a teacher you see once a week, there's this sense of prepping for those visits.

    I guess I've been practicing about…8 years Mysore style preceded by maybe 3/4 years of twice weekly led classes. It's all good. My practice has evolved.