Updated: Feb 9
Note that there is not a traditional counted class in my offerings, there are plenty of those available on the internet already, which is great for those of us who know the practise, but most newer practitioners do not realise that this is not the way to LEARN the practise. We don’t learn how to do poses by being told what to do and when, the learning needs time, exploration and curiosity and a lot of not giving up aka perseverance and patience! Without knowing this it is no wonder that Ashtanga has a bad rep for being hard or strict! In fact it is the opposite, whilst in the learning process the practise and the teacher are sensitive to the individual's experience and the sequential nature of the poses acts as a safety measure. The problem is we are all used to running and forget that walking was even an option!
I believe that Ashtanga led classes offered online should carry a disclaimer or at least state how it is actually NOT the purpose to have a bash at the whole thing if you are new to it. In the hatha yoga texts there are plenty of warnings about practising incorrectly and we are advised again and again to learn from a guru. I wish I had received this warning! Remember that the internet is the most vastly available form of practising yoga and many do not have a guide or teacher at hand and probably do not realise they need one, yoga is just moving the body right?! Thing is when we come to yoga we are not at all used to observing what is actually happening, our minds are already grasping ahead to that thing which we have to do next and next and next... This is why people think Ashtanga is hard! They, and me too, do too much too soon. You wouldn't ask someone who is new to running to run a marathon right? This is an example of having the body developed to that thing which you wish to pursue and also stamina, but how about flexibility. With many of us sitting all day you'd be surprised how few people can actually even sit comfortably on the floor let alone perform folds, twists or binds on top! Yet we see these things and we copy, we effectively try to copy and paste somebody elses practise into our own. This is why I do not even like to demo as I teach in front of students. In the beginning this is what we do though until we start to realise we may be unknowingly causing harm to ourselves and THEN the yoga starts to happen, the SELF ENQUIRY. The alternative is disillusion, despair, believing we are not good enough or simply giving up. It took me years to tie the teachings of the greater YOGA into the physical practise, I think we all start as blind fools who then get wise!
'We live in a Western culture that is goal and achievement orientated. If we can be free from wanting our practise to be different than it is, then we can continue to find joy and contentment in it'
If you have read my Blog about Samsara and the Image of Yoga you will know already that the mind mostly perceives the world through unquestioning eyes. What is not perceived in what our eyes see as we watch a counted led class is the actual learning process, we just see the polished result. We also don't realise that the 'amazing' practitioners we are in awe of as we watch a led class unfold have probably been practising for years, and consistently. They are not people who just do yoga sometimes, and probably only practise Ashtanga which means they do the same thing time and time again, repetition gets you good! On YouTube you will find the full series' performed by most of the advanced teachers of our time, all seemingly graceful and effortless, we do not notice the effort because through immense practise gross has become subtle. I believe that the practitioners in Pattabhi Jois Full Primary Series video were practising this series twice a day at that time! The same level of competence can not be expected if you dabble in and out of yoga or do a different thing each time you get on your mat. I don't tell you this to discourage you but to give you hope that you are right where you need to be, more is not more! Trust me the greatest of all Ashtangis also started somewhere!
We often forget that Ashtanga Vinyasa is a PRACTISE. It is a uniquely individual journey where poses and challenges arrive one by one and once they have been learned then they become integrated into our practise and the correct vinyasa count and so on until we can follow the count correctly, even then it may only happen on a good day. In fact, the ability to do the perfect vinyasa count, or the finished product is the result of a long and winding learning process that could last longer than a lifetime!
A led practise is not a traditional practise. What you see in those led videos is self-practitioners coming together to share their inner experience. The led class is a novelty you could say, or a joyous union of a joined spiritual journey, and also an important opportunity to clean up any mistakes or bad habits in the sequence that arise from the individual nature in the self practise. Many of us nowadays may not be able to dedicate that much of our lives and energy to the practise and may not be able to ever achieve a whole Series, but what does it matter? I believe that the Eight Limbs of Yoga can be found in the most simple and heartfelt practise, I sometimes feel it simply having chanted and stood in Samastitih!!!!
In truth there is no end to this yoga and we should seek to relax our expectations and enjoy the process of yoga that is woven into this great practise. Remember that this Hatha Yoga, that is this physical work in the body provides a tangible and material framework for us to confront that which is not so easy to get a handle on; our true nature that waits behind our every day nature. We need to confine ourselves to a constant practise to put ourselves under the microscope, to know ourselves and better ourselves. We are ultimately here to gain control over over- reactive minds and journey inwards to the essence of yoga in our hearts.
'Then his soul is a lamp whose light is steady, for it burns in a shelter where no winds come'
-Bhagavad Gita 6.19
The practise must provide a challenge for self confrontation to occur yes, but not purely in the sense of pushing our physical limitations, I mean it it doesn't have to be a blind race from Samastitih to exhaustion or despair. I speak from experience of course, for years I was too stubborn or self righteous to realise that less would have been more, I actually used to struggle to carry the weight of my Lifeforme mat after practise and would be sore for days!!!! These lessons all will learn, especially those passionate A -types that that Ashtanga seems to draw like moths to a flame.
We live in a world where we see the mountain and having briefly wondered at its beauty, we want to get up it to see the view, or to say we achieved that… if we only see the destination we miss the journey as it flies by, we have blinkers on, we miss everything in the present moment, right here now! Every time we have a destination we miss enjoying the way there, man likes to have things for himself, the mind likes to say I AM, I DID, I HAVE .. Well how about letting Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga help you make two steps backwards to make one step forward? A humble and truthful step with your eyes fully awake and heart open and your mind and senses razor sharp. That is the nature of the process, it cannot be rushed, willed or forced, if you want results in your practise quite the opposite is required! What is not available online is how to practise in real time and truthfully, with respect to the individual. This practise is so so personal to YOU and my dharma as a yoga guide is to show you how to make the practise serve you and how to practise with kindness and joy.
I leave you with some beautiful words form the Svetasvatara Upanisad,
'Even as a mirror of gold, covered by dust, when cleaned well shines again in full splendour, when a man has seen the Truth of the Spirit he is one with him, the aim of his life is fulfilled and he is ever beyond sorrow'
Your faithful Ashtanga Geek.