If you are like me when I first started practicing Ashtanga Yoga you might not have many people to talk to about it. You've discovered this practice that has changed your life but who can you share it with?
Your friends humour you but don’t understand why you have to be in bed before 9pm and your family think you’ve joined a weird cult! It starts to seem that the only people who really talk your language anymore are other yogis.
That's what happened to me anyway.
That's why I started attending yoga retreats, teacher trainings and workshops, because I got meet and share space and time with fellow yogis. Basically I got to talk yoga 24/7!
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?
The trouble was that there is a common refrain amongst Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioners that reveals a deep misunderstanding of the process behind the practice.
"Oh, you practice Ashtanga Yoga, too? What series are you on?"
It was a trap I fell right into.
Those early interactions with other Ashtangis involved exchanging stories of achieving difficult postures almost as though they were a badge of honour to prove our worthiness, value and level of 'advancement'. To be honest, progression through the sequence had become an ornament to boost our own self-image.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I had started practicing 'anti-yoga'. Rather than a process to breakdown my ego structure Ashtanga Yoga had fuelled an attachment to my physical prowess.
And so for a while I couldn't wait to tell fellow students that I had started second series, or that I had done my first dropback, or whatever. It was actually a knee injury that taught me the lesson that I needed. Suddenly I was reduced to being a beginner again and my yoga ego had to crumble away and reveal the authentic nature of this practice.
It took me 4 years.
Sadly, because of how the postures are arranged (into what appear upon first glance as linear tiers of 'difficulty') it is almost inevitable that this superficial experience of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga will emerge in some students. There is a sense of linearity, but progression through the series does not go hand-in-hand with any form of 'spiritual evolution' or 'advancement'. Yet this is such a difficult message to convey, because we are often bombarded with visual imagery where yoga posture has become a performance act to be admired and idolised.
Without realising it we can find ourselves set up in competition with other yoga practitioners and teachers, feeling pressured to advance or master that bogey pose.
So perhaps a better question should be:
"Oh, you practice Ashtanga Yoga? Has it made you a better person?"
Are you kinder? Are you more centred? Do you get less road rage?
Are you a better mother/father/wife/husband etc. as a result of yoga? Do you love more than you hate?
These are the real barometers for an advanced practice, that you are a better person that before you started your yoga journey.
The rest is just nonsense!!
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