“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Friday, 22 July 2011

Would I be welcome at your Shala?

This relates to my two previous posts  A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1999  and  THE BOX : BEING INSIDE LOOKING OUTSIDE: AN ASHTANGA STORY by Norman Blair 

It often gets suggested to me that I should go to a shala, that I should practice with 'real live yogis '( not my expression I promise) rather than 'merely' practicing at home. Sometimes I think that would be a good idea too, I mean, I keep getting drawn back to Ashtanga, did primary today, loved it, either I completely kick the ashtanga habit, go cold turkey or just give myself up to it and embrace the whole thing, go to a shala, sign up for Sharath's Workshop, visit Mysore. Cant help wondering if I'd be welcome though ( and I actually have a week off next week and have been considering shalatime). So here's a thought experiment...

Let me ask you, would I be welcome at your shala?

So, I visit your shala, lay down my mat....

In standing I add a couple of one legged squats (good for building up the legs and strong legs helps with backbends). After Janu sirsasana A, I add maha mudra ( my teacher Ramaswami advised me to practice it everyday). I slip in a couple of extra seated wide angle variations because my hips happen to feel a little stiff that morning. In 2nd series I add a few extra bow poses as prep for backbends and before the leg behind head postures I add janusirsasana A, mahamudra as well as archer and heron, again extra prep that allows me to go deeper into the LBH postures, I'm not injured I just like the extra prep postures occasionally.

...would I be welcome in your shala?

Instead of five breaths in the three, sorry two, variations in paschimottanasana I stay for a full ten minutes. I spend five minutes each side in maha mudra, a pose I've added after janu sirsasana A. I spend ten minutes in Shoulderstand, twenty minutes in headstand, perhaps I include some leg variations while in those inversions.

.... would I be welcome in your shala?

After practice the finishing sequence I take a savasana and then do 108 rounds of kapalabhati then settle down to between twenty and forty minutes of Pranyama. After five minutes pratyahara I sit for twenty minutes silent mantra meditation.

.... would I be welcome in your shala?

After my meditation or perhaps instead of it, there on my mat, I pull out a copy of the sutras and quietly chant a chapter or two or perhaps I study the verses and/or a commentary.

...would I be welcome in your shala or would I be asked to leave?

You see, the way I was taught, the asana gets rid of the rajas, the agitation say, the pranayama gets rid of the tamas, the lethargy, putting me in a more satvic state. Supposedly this isTHE best state of mind for meditative practices, whether that be japa mantra meditation, sutra study, chanting. And it makes sense to me having meditated off and on over the years, it seems to work for me.

So it's NOW, right after my asana practice that I want to be doing my pranyama, not waiting till I get home an hour or two later or after work. And I want to be doing my meditation practice right after my pranayama and pratyahara not an hour or so after I've traveled by tube and train back home. As Krishnamacharya said, what's the point of cleaning the room (asana) if you don't use it.

I heard talk that Sharath might be freeing up the upstairs to the mysore shala in the future and that you'd be able to go upstairs and do pranayama or chanting or sutra study. Can't remember where I heard this, anyone else heard the same? If he does would that mean that all shala's would start offering that too.

Apologies for not getting around to responding to comments on the previous post, been running around lots and they are good long comments that i want to sit with for a few moments before  I respond. (this post is knocked off in the library).

35 comments:

  1. dear Grimmly
    what an interesting post. i should not be the one to comment, me with my out of the box current practice. i sure would love to pose your questions to my old teacher Catherine in SF. her answer would be acknowledge the tradition and also be respectful of everything else you do, possibly because she does a lot of meditation besides asana practice. you would be welcome in her room, in my opinion. she would be respectful that your practice was a little different. but why entertain the mind construct? i bet if you went into a traditional room, you would modify to fit what was expected of you there. you would probably not do exactly what you do at home. i hope i can capture a fraction of your dedication, me with my current busy demands from the world surrounding me.
    cheers
    Arturo

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  2. Put simply, when you practice in a shala you respect the teacher who runs it. If they are down with alternative versions of primary, then it's ok, but I suspect that spending 10 minutes in paschimo would attract a little attention from any teacher (and there *are* three variations, not two!). I suppose the fact you haven't practiced at a shala up to now (apart from once or twice) and the fact that you write this because "people say you should" means that you aren't planning to. If you don't want to be a by-the-book ashtangi who adopts the practice and just does it under the instruction of a teacher then why question it? Just do what you want to do.

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  3. I suspect that you will be welcome in any shala. All Ashtanga teachers I have worked with are quite respective of inidvidual practices. However, here are my caveats: (1) I suspect that at several points during your practice (for instance, after you have done that 10-minute paschimottasana), the teacher will come up to you and engage you in discussion about why you do what you do, (2) As Arturo speculates, if you go into a traditional mysore room, you will probably end up modifying what you do to achieve a better fit with what others are doing anyway. Unless, of course, you have super-powerful pratyahara, and can just shut out everything else that is going on in the room, (3) If you really do everything that you said you wanted to do (the super-long holds in the asana practice, pranayama, meditation, sutra chanting), you will be in the room the entire morning, if not longer! I don't think most mysore rooms are open for that long...

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  4. I meant to say in my second sentence that "All Ashtanga teachers I know are quite respectful of individual practices." You probably figured that was what I was trying to say anyway, but just in case... :-)

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  5. If you are ever in South Eastern Connecticut Grimmly, Totally welcome at our shala. I kept going: "check", "so and so does something like that", many times as a read your post. Either they have been reading you, or there are many like you....

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  6. You seem to have written this post with the assumption that all yoga shalas are rigid, strict and dogmatic about what is the 'proper' way to do the practice. I find this to be a problematic perspective. For one, every shala is not the same because each teacher is different. Each community is different. There may be some teachers that are more strict/fussy about how the practice the done, but at the end of the day, your practice is your practice. If you do want to do your usual practice in a shala that you've never attended before, I'd suggest speaking with the teacher in charge beforehand about what your usual practice is like and your intentions to do that in their room, to give them a heads up. It's only fair for both parties I feel, especially for the practical reason that the shala may not be open long enough for you to do everything as Nobel mentioned.

    But to go back to your original question of whether you'll be accepted in my shala? I don't see why not.

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  7. Me, too I think you'd be very welcomed in our shala. I know that teachers are different.

    I usually stick very much to the tradition when I'm in a shala around the globe. At home I do what I want.

    Both is good. I love to go to a shala and I love to practice at home. Once a week a led class complements the trio.

    Grimmly, you're an untamed, wild yogi. How wonderful........:)

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  8. Hi Grimmly, if you're ever in Toronto Canada your welcome at my shala. We would enjoy having someone who is open to new and old ideas. Perhaps your approach might stimulate the more "traditional" amongst us to open our minds as well as our hamstrings. ;•) Delia. http://deliatriolo.com

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  9. Hi Grimm,

    well, I will probably get into huge trouble for this but my question is:

    Why go to a Shala at all?

    I remember a workshop I went to with David Williams and one of the most pertinent things he said to me was, "you have to remember, this is a practice that you will mostly do all on your own".

    Unless you are really aching for the guidance and perhaps adjustments from a teacher, or the energy and goodwill that comes from being with other practitioners, I personally believe that quiet, solitary, highly introspective practices (i.e. those done completely alone )are the most peaceful, happy, yoga practices you can have.

    Shoot me, people, and I will understand, but I find practising with others highly distracting...

    But, if you were to go to a shala, my belief would be 100% that you would need to respect the wishes and style of the teacher present.

    On your own, well, it's what ever makes you happy!

    with every best wish,
    KateR

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  10. http://www.yogatemple.com/musings5.html

    By Matthew Sweeney. You'll probably find it interesting.

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  11. Thank you everyone for all your comments. first let me say that this post relates to the previous couple of posts regarding practicing the other limbs in an ashtanga shala environment and in the context of self practice.
    Obviously I have no intention of strolling into a mysore style class in a strange shala and doing my regular home practice, i agree with mel that would just be rude although of course the fact that I wouldn't and that I'd feel that way raises questions about the concept of self practice, why wouldn't we feel comfortable doing that. I'd love to open a shala on that principle and see if it can possibly work, perhaps not.

    I added a note Mel pointing out that this was a thought experiment but that I also have a week off and was hoping to practice with a friend at triyoga soho next week although it looks like I might be going away.

    As a thought experiment I exaggerated a little Nobel my practice including the pranayama to meditation runs at about two and a half hours, three on my day off but I think the practice I sketch out in this post would run to what four ; ), artistic licence.

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  12. Thank you Arturo, Nobel, Serene, Ursula, Savasana ( no I don't think all shala's are the same, all rigid and was hoping this post might show that. i suggested in my previous post that many senior teachers seemed to be encouraging meditation and starting to discuss pranayama more) and Delia for suggesting that I may well be welcome in your Shala giving me hope that the idea of practicing the other limbs in a Mysore room might be acceptable, hey perhaps one day encouraged.

    But I do agree with Kate that I'm probably better off with a home practice. I tend to agree with David Williams that ultimately yoga is a solitary act, though I know many would disagree.

    Thanks for the link Anon, I've read that before and have both of Matthew's books but it's always good to read again.

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  13. Hm, this is a very interesting article and the comments are very interesting too.

    I had a few experiences when tryin new things, for example in John's room he suggested i did not practice pranayama or preps after practice because it disrupts the flow of the class as in: people get curious, start to ask etc. When i asked Eddie in his shala he had no objection, but then he went into detail on what exactly i was doing and told me it was not correct... which left me in limbo as if I should continue to do so or not...

    If the shala is crowded as it is in pure these days with John, I doubt anyone would notice the paschimotanasana, I know cause I stay in head-stand for ages and ages... but, tell you what, i can try it...

    The other krama additions might start alarms ringing...

    I guess when you see it from the perspective of the teacher of a Mysore room it makes more sense, they generally want to keep the tradition and if everyone starts doing different things they would have to answer and it complicates their already complicated lives, so I suppose, just in the way the teacher asks how to adjust in a shala we sort of ask how we practice..

    Really enjoyed reading and thinking about this. Great post material!

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  14. At our shala there is a lot of room for individual variation (except on Fridays, obviously, when everyone does led primary with the counting, etc). I stay much longer in every pose than the rest of the students (8-10 long breaths as opposed to the 1-2-3-4-5 go! of most) and the teacher doesn't say anything. Does mean I take 2 hours to finish whereas they take more like 1 and a little bit. I also add in some non-ashtanga stuff as stretches e.g. before backbends doing some shoulder rolls in a seated position to open up a bit. I also like staying a long time in shoulder stand - dunno why, it's just a posture I get on with a lot.

    As others have said, it's the time that would be most against your thought experiment I think - most places either don't open early enough or would close before you'd finished.

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  15. hi Claudia. I think John has a point about the pranayama and meditation being disruptive to the class, you'd kind of need a separate space perhaps just as there often is for the finishing sequence. Can you imagine several people practicing pranayama at different rates and tempos etc let alone trying to meditate while that's going on around you, problematic.

    Your comment about Eddie scares me, great he allowed you to do your pranayama but it makes me dread the idea of pranayama being taken up by command central and there then being only one 'correct' way to practice pranayama. The ashtanga approach to pranayama is different from how Krishnamacharya taught Ramaswami and how I learned it from him. I have a feeling Manju teaches it it in yet another way.

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  16. Thanks for your comment Anon, as it happens I keep my friday primary by the book and always have.Good to have one day at least without any modifications i try to do the same with 2nd series. Same with modifications, i try not to overload my practice with them or, from experience, the whole thing falls apart. I think thats one of the reasons I still hold on to Ashtanga as a framework to build my practice around.

    Time is you say a problem, on a work day I keep my practice down to 2.5 hours but 3 on my day off, the thought experiment reflects an extended day off practice, an ideal. I the real world i can't spend as long as I'd like in every posture just a few key ones, headstand tends to be ten minutes on a work day or if twenty then I'll work on pranayama while up there and then cut back on the seated pranayama, all a balancing act.
    But shalas would I guess need to stay open longer if they made pranayama and meditation available but then most have work to go to after practice which brings us back to householder practice.
    I need to do a post on the problems of Vinyasa krama from an (ex) ashtangi's point of view.

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  17. I guess you could look at it from a different angle though, other than "would I be welcome..." and ask yourself "would it be more respectful to the teacher(s), to do what is expected of new, visiting, students?"

    You won't turn to stone if you leave your modifcations & deviations out while in a shala that is serving the purpose of teaching Guruji's system in the traditional manner.

    What is to be gained by being the one wheel that's out of kilter, when you're in the company of other students who may be trying to learn the traditional method. After all, do you take a week in France, and drive on the left, because 'that's what you usually do at home'?

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  18. Yes, John's approach made total sense to me too, but not so much because of fear of having people doing different ratios of pranayama etc, i think that is not really the issue cause we had that in Thailand where under Paul we all did our own custom made pranayamas.

    That was ok, I think the problem was in 'introducing' pranyama in a class that only focuses on asana, and the troubles that can bring.

    as per the pranayama as taught in the Jois tradition, I am curious, I do not know anything about how it is taught and I cannot wait to be introduced into their techniques, until then I am going with Ramaswami though...

    Gosh I could write a manifesto on this. There is something about what you say, perhaps the difference was, now that I think about it, that Eddie was trained by Jois on pranayama while Paul (Thailand) follows Tiwariji, from the Kaivalya institute in India... so maybe that is why there was a discrepancy...

    And yeah, the thing with shalas is that in the end the teacher is the boss...so to speak

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  19. You'd be very welcome to practice at my shala. Just expect to hear things like:

    "Grimmly2007, jump back, you've stayed in the pose for too long!!"
    "Grimmly2007, how many breaths did you take, you're losing time!!"
    "Grimmly2007, there are no half-handstands in the practice!!"
    "Grimmly2007, what are you doing!!??!!"

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  20. Hi Steve, kinda stressed the thought experiment aspect here. Obviously I'm not going to stroll into a new room and start playing up because obviously, in the current environment, it WOULDN'T be 'welcome'. I think even in those shala's mentioned here, where modified practices are accepted I imagine you'd need to get to know the teacher first, meet them half way as it where.

    Thing is I don't see the point of going to a shala at this point in my practice just for asana. My alignment could be improved, be nice to improve my kanadavasana a bit but it's just asana, great fun to play with and explore but these day it's the least important aspect of my practice.

    Also, as far as asana goes what I find most interesting about asana at the moment is how certain other postures, 'prep postures' allow you to get deeper into a particular asana or make something new available ie the modifications to the series I was talking about.

    I love my home practice, a nice room with good energy and cool people to practice with sounds great but what's the point if I can't do my practice.

    And no disrespect intended but I'm not convinced there is a traditional manner.

    Perhaps I should move to Toronto

    Not trying to get into an argument here.

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  21. I have something on the ashtanga pranayama Claudia will try and find it for you. But of course manju teaches pranayama on his workshops I believe, though I think that might be different.

    looking forward to your post on this area.

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  22. My teacher does teach some pranayama to individuals. I practice only primary, but said I would like to learn some pranayama, and one day he taught me. I think he felt my asana practice was too short and limited that day (because I was rushing to work)and i should at least do pranayama every day. What I do is limited, but others do some too, and I don't think it disrupts anybody. The regulars all know and accept the variety of practices in the room, as does the teacher.

    I think going to a shala does allow you to form relationships around the yoga much as you do through your blog. I like practicing at home too, it's very special, but having the moments to have exchanges about approach and dynamics as well as asana, and do some chanting, and see other people's practices and different attitudes is enlightening, and in a way grounding. It's a community.

    some people make it to my shala only once a week or once in a while, but the teacher has had a period of time to learn about their bodies and minds and come to understand their practices and needs enough to find a way to teach them. That is one challenge of bringing a different practice, you have to not so much meet the teacher half way, as allow him/her to understand the logic of your practice in a way that opens the door for bringing in some of his/her expertise so that teaching and learning, and working together can begin. Ultimately you go to a shala for the teacher's knowledge. you have to create an opening to receive it.

    (also he does chant with those who can stay at the end --very few)

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  23. Loved your comment Anon, great that your teacher taught you pranayama despite only practicing primary. That seems to me the ideal point, as soon as you have most of the sequence down or have settled into a practice even if it's only half primary. Sounds a nice place to practice. Nice that you can stay for some chanting at the end if it's something your into, not going to be everyone's cup of tea perhaps, never thought it would be something I'd get into. Thanks again, lovin' these shala stories.

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  24. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWOyzDfjo8E

    bns inyegar has an ashtanga yoga as taught by Krishnamacharya
    Vaishnava advaita the traditional system is authorized by the UK http://joelondonyoga.com/Joelondon/CONTACT_ME_% 7C_JOE_LONDON.html

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  25. Part 1 (due to char. limit): I think that to some extent you're missing the advantage to the Mysore-style class as a method. Can you put yourself in the place of the teacher, if you were to drop in one day and add a whole bunch of extra stuff? The teacher would not know what you were doing or why and would have to keep asking you every couple of minutes what you were doing. Otherwise, witht knowing what you're doing and why, how can they help you with it? At the same time, they need to keep track of the rest of the room. So, this approach would be distracting to the teacher, and thus to the rest of the students. Knowing what each person is going to be doing next a vast majority of the time allows the teacher to manage the room; I believe that to be one of the biggest advantages to everyone working from the same sequences (even if those sequences were not designed for every different variation of body type and such). It's when you come to a stumbling block or you have an injury or some other blockage that you would address it with the teacher, and the two of you could come up with a way to deal with it; that's where the modifications would be established, if necessary. But to go in already having extensive modifications is to essentially tell the teacher that you're not interested in their help; you've already worked out the issues you have, so you don't need to work on it with them.

    Similarly, the most appropriate thing to do as far as maha mudra goes would be to explain to the teacher that you were instructed to do this every day and that you'd like to know where or when they think you should do it. Some might say not at all, some might say before or after Ashtanga practice, some might be fine if you threw it in after Janu A. Regardless of what the answer is though, by even asking this question, you are to some extent telling the teacher that you don't want them to be your teacher, i.e., that you've already worked out your issues or established a different practice with someone else who is you *real* teacher. And in that case, why are you there in the Mysore room with that teacher? Also, what does maha mudra do for you that you don't get elsewhere? Don't you get the same effect in jnana mudra at the end of practice without breaking the flow so much?

    As far as other questions, I don't think 10 minutes in Paschimottanasana would fly in most rooms (and, yes, there are 2 nowadays, not 3, though I think some people are still teaching that...). Most teachers would probably think that would cool you down too much. Would love to know the reasonsing for that, though. I mean, isn't there already enough forward bending in Primary Series??? You really need to do THAT much more? You could get away with longer holds like 25 breaths in each variation, but after a while the teacher would notice and probably want to understand why you are doing that. Between this and the time spent in maha mudra, I wonder if perhaps you simply don't want to do a practice that's very heating as Ashtanga is.

    You could probably do 10-minute shoulderstand and 20-minute headstand in most rooms. Exceptions, I imagine, would be in rooms that often run a wait for a spot, in which case I think it would be rude to do that without talking to the teacher about it. But I don't know of too many rooms that run a wait. Only such place I've been to was Hamish's. I think Eddie's does too, though I've not been there. And I wouldn't be surprised if David Robson's does, though I managed to avoid any wait when I was there. Most places, from what I can gather, never really hit 100% capacity.

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  26. Part 2: One-legged squats? Why? "good for building up the legs and strong legs helps with backbends"? Perhaps. But without practicing with a teacher to assist you over an extended period of time, how do you know you need it this? And my sense is that most teachers would say that if you need a pre-back-bend exercise, that should come when you get to back-bends; you don't really need to be thinking about final back-bends when you're doing standing postures.

    I could go on. My point here is not to say that what you are doing is wrong, but that there are synergies to be gained by practicing with a teacher consistently and by developing (modifications to) your practice with them. The series as is are a starting point--and that is the best place to start if you want to establish a relationship with a teacher (though that doesn't really seem to be your intent here really). The series is like an off-the-shelf software system. The teacher is the then the programmer/developer who customizes it to meet your business needs, but leaving all the established essentials in place. They don't hack the whole thing apart unless they want to create mass confusion; nothing goes outside the established system unless it needs to. And they don't want to start with a piece of software that's only 3/4 compliant with, say, accounting laws and try to customize from that; they want to start with the established system work from there. (Sorry for the perhaps-odd analogy, but I work in information systems, and I find the parallels to my job striking!)

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  27. Thanks for the link Sadhaka will check it out.

    Hi Frank, thanks for the long comment ( long comments always welcome here ) I've responded to Steve along similar lines a few comments earlier.

    This post is in the context of the previous two. The idea being if the other limbs of yoga ( that I practice at home ) have been ....waylaid in recent practice what would happen if someone strolled into a shala and attempted to practice them...would he/she be welcome. A thought experiment as I said.

    I'm unlikely to visit a shala because I already have an established home practice, I'm not looking for an asana teacher. I might visit a shala very occasionally (next week perhaps) but obviously in that case I'd go with the room and that would be fine a couple of times a year, possibly even once a week if I was local, a Friday or Sunday say.

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  28. One more thing I want to add on this. Everything I've mentioned here is or was 'Ashtanga'. The other limbs are in the name for heaven sake. Pranyama was taught pretty much straight away in the 70's. Manju talks about the modifications to poses that his father would employ and as for the 10 minute paschimottanasana.... Didn't Jois recommend a ten second inhalation and exhalation as the ideal. There used to be eight breaths in a pose and four hand variations in paschi before it was dropped to three and now two, you do the math, i'm skimping, should be then and a half minutes

    So I'm not talking about wanting to do something that isn't or wasn't a part of Ashtanga at one time or another, certainly not suggesting bringing a hoola hoop to the shala Noble.

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  29. Grim, take your camera to a shala and get a pic of you proving your point!

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  30. Grimmly


    Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is purely a self practice and a shala is needed in the initial stages for guidance . If u are able to do your practice on ur own and do it with a top quality then there is no need for u to go to a shala .It is as simple as that .It is not just Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga , to practice any style of yoga , one must learn the discipline of doing the practice on one's own without getting addicted to a teacher / shala . Of course if one has doubts or needs help then definitely a shala or teacher is useful but if one is clear about what one wants then it is better to do a personal practice and develop one's own experience out of that .As BKS Iyengar say's "Self Practice is the real Guru" .

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  31. Your post looks like it is a letter from KP Jois to Yoga Journal where he complains that people tell him he should go practice yoga at a shala.

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  32. thanks Anon, your right it did, added the links to the previous posts because people seemed to be missing the context of this one but somehow the link to the letter ended up in block capitals. All fixed now.

    Thanks Krishna always like the idea of the guru within.

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  33. again this comes down to surrender. Surrender to a method. Surrender of the idea that "I" always know what's best for me. Without it you're always gonna be in conflict, be it with a teacher, school or just yourself.

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  34. Buddha of course didn't stick with one method, he rejected his first guru Alara Kalama and then Ramaputta . Inner guru every time. of course if i surrendered to that then i'd stick with vinyasa krama and stop allowing myself to get constantly seduced by ashtanga. knew the first time i practiced vk that it was what i should be practicing, do love that bouncing about though.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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