October 9, 2013

Are You in the Ashtanga Cult? ~ Elaine Oyang

To be an avid Ashtanga practitioner is like being part of a cult.

We wake up before the roosters crow, stick to the six days a week practice, we chant, we bow to Sri K Pattabhi Jois as our Guruji, and we think it’s a crime to practice on Moon Days. By seven, eight, or nine in the morning we would have finished a couple hours of this ritual, where each step needs to be performed in a specific order.

Without noticing it, Ashtanga yoga has seeped its juices into our lives, slowly and silently changing the way we eat, socialize, sleep, and poop (yes, you read that right).

Check off the list below. If you have more than half of them checked, then congratulations, you have officially become part of the Ashtanga cult!

1. You are addicted to it. You talk about it any chance you get with your friends (both the “normal” friends and your “yoga” friends), your mom and dad, your spouse, your dog, your cat, your fish, and strangers. You daydream and dream about the day you’ll be able to lift from sitting into a handstand. You get a certain high after your practice, and you simply just can’t get enough of it.

2. You think about your bandhas. A lot. When standing in line, at the BART station, or in the elevator, I sometimes subconsciously engage my bandhas. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to practice more of your pubococcygeus (PC) muscles, perhaps burn a couple additional calories, and it gives you a better posture. As Guruji recommended, use your bandhas for everything you do in your daily activities, including eating, walking, drinking, sitting, etc.

 3. You don’t mind routine. In fact, you cherish it. It throws you off if one day you step onto your mat for practice at 7 a.m. instead of your regular 6am. Perhaps you, like me, prefers to live a more routined, unspontaneous lifestyle, or that the practice is the only routined and predictable thing in your life.

4. You eat dinner religiously before 6 p.m. And it most likely looks like a pile of raw and lightly cooked greens with a little fat and protein. It might also look more like a snack or appetizer than a dinner to any other “normal” person.

5. You have high pain-tolerance. You know, the old “no pain, no gain” saying is kind of true for Ashtanga. Or, as Sharath likes to say, “new asana, new pain.”  Rarely will you meet a devoted Ashtangi who hasn’t gone through some sort of pain, injury, and the like. Yet, as long as you’re not near crippled, you continue your practice. Modify and adapt.

6. You can easily dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween. You’ve mastered the ujjayi breath, and you have your staple black tank top and black yoga pants. All you need now is a bad-ass looking mask/helmet and boots, a black cape, and yogi life saber.

7. Waking up at 7 a.m. is considered “sleeping in.” Check the Facebook statuses of your Ashtangi friends. I guarantee each of them have at least commented on how nice it was to sleep in on a Saturday until 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m.

8. You follow Moon Days religiously. Again, back to the cult idea. If you don’t follow them, you will be in trouble with the Ashtanga police, and bad omen will come get you.

9. You feel restless if you go two days without practice. Refer to point number one.

10. You drool when you watch Sharath, or Kino (besides the fact that she’s a gorgeous blonde), or Richard Freeman, or any other senior teachers on YouTube. While “normal” people share the latest adorable kitty videos, we share videos of people smiling and talking and putting their legs behind their heads all at the same time like they are merely sipping on a cup of coffee.

 11. You’ve had something with your hamstring attachments, or your SI joints, or your knees, or your wrists, or your shoulders, or your lower back, from Ashtanga practice. Deep forward bends, strong hip openings, caturangas, extreme back bends, and a somewhat inflated ego (or, unfortunately, sometimes a teaching lacking in knowledge and awareness) can come to these results.

 12. You live in the Ashtanga bubble. It’s hard to acquaint yourselves with other teachers or yogis from other styles. No offense, but you think some of the other styles of yoga are a total fluff, or you can’t get over the fact that they have Party Rock Anthem pumping in their classes. And what’s that? See your heart blossom towards the infinite sky? No thanks.

13. You care about how you look. Admit it, you came into this cult initially because you wanted to put your legs behind your head, and because you admired that strong, supple, perfectly sculpted body of that woman in front you, and who was also practicing Advanced A series.

14. You don’t do dinner parties anymore. The horror of eating past 7 p.m. and not being able to hit the haystack by 9 p.m. has made you become somewhat antisocial. Breakfast or lunch dates sound more like your type of thing.

15. Visiting Mysore, India is on your bucket list. Self-explanatory.

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Ed: Dana Gornall

Photo Credit: Flickr


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adel Mar 30, 2015 5:21am

The "no pain no gain" approach is outdated. There is no need to sustain or invite injury to learn a new exercise as it only weakens the body.

connor Mar 30, 2015 5:07am

I don't know of any other yogi types who behave as if they are an elite clique as I have encountered with some ashtangis. Hatha, kundalini, etc, practitioners do not overpublicize themselves as being special or advanced, and ashtanga like all forms of yoga is derived from and rooted in classical hatha, only it is a faster rigorous pace. Btw, kino is originally a brunette and imo uses the 8-limbs of yoga to rationalize every aspect her life, and when she is called on for a mishap she plays up her naivete, which is not believable given that she is successful business-wise. She has plasticized ashtanga yoga to her benefit, but is good at yoga. I choose not to practise ashtanga regularly because it truly does lead to repetitive stress injury, as with any exercise that is done too frequently and too fast. I have met instructors who teach it but can no longer do many of the postures because of wrist, back, etc, injuries. And if you overstretch your ligaments which may not spring back, the laxity can lead to destablization of the muscles. I wish instructors would offer words of caution to new students to make them aware. It is easy to be caught up in the hype and can be very cult-like, but perhaps a healthy cult lifestyle.

gina Jun 19, 2014 10:34am

To be a yogi is to let go of attachment and question everything…even the school to which we belong. It’s easy to become “obsessed” with ashtanga and that’s not healthy. One must ask themselves if too much attachment to the practice is actually pushing you away from the self-realization that a yogi strives for. Lota of injuries happen when we push ourselves because we are grasping too hard to achieve a posture or we’re not listening to our bodies. This doesnt bring you any closer to samadhi, and all these repetitive motion injuries that are happening are so silly because the asanas are not what it’s about anyway. Why are we wearing our joints out and stressing our nervous systems just so we can become gymnasts? Also, aside from fellow practitioners, it’s probable that hardly anybody else you know wants to hear you talk about yoga. I am an ashtangi and I’ve been through ALL of the points you stated but I dont think they’re anything to be proud of. Type A sort of people tend to be drawn to this practice and if it’s not approached carefully, it can reinforce certain obsessive and rigid personality traits and deepen samskaras/vasanas. Dedication is required but so is free thinking, even if that means you have to break the “rules” sometimes. Ashtanga police won’t come kick down your door.

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Elaine Oyang‏

Elaine is a yoga teacher and a kids culinary instructor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been an active member of the Ashtanga cult since 2007, and her passion and her dedication for it has not waned since. She has trained and studied with Paul Dallaghan, Adarsh Williams, and Sri O. P. TIwari in the Ashtanga vinyasa method, yoga therapy, and pranayama. As a foodie and a baker, she believes that (dark) chocolate should be a food group on its own and every household should have chocolate as a staple. You can connect with Elaine at her Facebook page or her website, where she regularly updates her blog and her teaching, including her signature “Yoga for Stiff People” class.