My Love/Hate with Ashtanga

“Hate” is not very Ahimsa, so maybe I’ll say I have problems with the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ashtanga. I’m the guy with his nose buried in the books trying to figure this thing out. I’m studying testimonials of students of Pattabhi Jois. I have the documentary video “Ashtanga NY” that I watch numerous times just to get a glimpse of Guruji. I’m watching Advanced A & B practice on YouTube with Guruji in his blue polyester shorts calling out the counts. I had a 6-day a week practice knowing that if I work hard, all will come to me. I’m fascinated by it all.

When I walk into a Rocket Yoga class, I know its going to be difficult. I know I’m going to be drenched in sweat. But I also know I’ll laugh, listen to jams, and celebrate tiny victories with my fellow yogis. It isn’t so seriously cultish that people either submit or are ushered away with their tails between their legs. In Rocket, I know there will always be something I can do better. But I always feel like that some day will come. And maybe that pose never clicks, but at least there are hundreds of other poses I still can call my own. There is always hope and positive vibes.

When I first started yoga, I was a CrossFit guy, ultra-marathoner, powerlifter. I never did things halfway. I jumped in head first. So if I went to a yoga class, I wanted the hardest it could give (at least that’s how I thought). I see this in beginners today. The Body Pump Gym Class has invaded our yoga studios with the mentality of go hard or go home! When my teacher first came in, she was stern and very disciplined. The Army DI in me understood this well. So that’s what I gravitated toward. Funny thing, this teacher also learned Rocket early on. When I finally took Rocket with her, I was like “oh, Ashtanga in a fun way!” Yeah that’s what I want!

I haven’t done the Primary series, whether Led or Mysore style, in more than a year. The last time I went, as a yoga teacher and regular practitioner of yoga, I felt belittled in class. My first teacher told me, when you go to Mysore with a new teacher, you have to turn the other cheek and take whatever that teacher is teaching. I guess I wasn’t willing to turn my cheek this time. The assumption was that I was clueless about yoga, that I didn’t practice enough on my own, and that I didn’t understand anatomy. Heck, I’ve done cadaver dissections in human gross anatomy, along with all the prerequisite classes I had to take to get there. I studied human movement in Kinesiology classes. I worked out with weights for 40 years. I know something about the human body. I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to explain all this to the teacher. Even worse, when some of my young Rocket yogis go to Ashtanga, they are treated the same way. Its no fun when your exploration of a pose is laughed at. No fun at all!

The go hard or go home mentality left me years ago since I learned what yoga really is. As my practice is honed, I realize the need for ahimsa and santosha, non-judgment and contentment. I realize Asana practice is only the 3rd limb of 8 limbs. And if we only focus on Asana and not develop a yogi’s full character, then it isn’t embracing ALL of yoga. This is where I depart from Mysore Ashtanga. I no longer feel freedom and enjoyment in an Ashtanga practice. It takes me back to a beginner’s mentality where the only thing important is forcing yourself into a mold in the most intense way possible.

As we market yoga to generations of students, I believe that we stay true to our roots and try our best to teach yoga that holds to the tradition and practice that has held for thousands of years. However, we can do this in a way that is also accommodating to where they are right now. We need to make it accessible and “fun”. It needs to produce results in minds and bodies. Words that should never enter into yoga are “prohibitive”, “restrictive”, “unattainable”. When we teach a general vinyasa class, when we get to Downward Facing Dog and you can’t put your heels down with a flat back, we don’t say “go sit in a corner and wait until the end when you can join us again”. That isn’t helpful to any student of yoga.

People don’t know yoga. People don’t know CrossFit. They think people are just showing off and out to hurt themselves. This is far from the truth. Both yoga and CrossFit are infinitely scale-able. If we prescribe a workout, we make sure everybody can do it no matter their limitations. And we make sure everyone is fully satisfied and encouraged in the end. That is what CrossFit is to me. And that is what Rocket Yoga is. Everyone is welcome to play. We laugh, we play music, we have fun…and we grow!


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