If this blog is about anything it's about the changing/shifting relationship to the practice and all it's aspects. Sometimes it's viewed in a positive light at other times less so while all the time continuing to practice. On the pages above you'll find a page devoted to reviews of workshop, this post questions them.
I put up some titles of posts in draft yesterday that stretched back years and asked if anyone wanted to see any of them turned into post, here's the first
Pattabhi Jois' letter to Yoga Journal is doing the rounds again, warning about Ashtanga being turned into a circus.
"I was disappointed to find that so many novice students have taken Ashtanga yoga and have turned it into a circus for their own fame and profit (Power Yoga, Jan/Feb 1995). The title 'Power Yoga' itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one's ego. Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the 'six enemies' (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one's heart. The Yoga Sutra II.28 confirms this 'Yogaanganusthanat asuddiksaye jnanadiptih avivekakhyateh', which means 'practicing all the aspects of yoga destroys the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discrimination shines'. It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out the essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations.
The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with 'power yoga' or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building."
-K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore, South India
See this post for a closer look at what Pattabhi Jois was responding to.
Krishnamacharya was turning the young boys into asana demonstrators in his school in the Mysore Palace, thus the strictness no doubt, the reports of beatings. The better demonstrators, Pattabhi Jois among them would perform asana while Krishnamacharya would give his Yoga philosophy lectures, perhaps his irritability at this time stemmed from knowing everyone was only interested in the circus and not the philosophy or what he found buried within asana. Pattabhi Jois took that circus aspect, the demonstration training and turned Krishnamacharya's flexible groups of asana into fixed sequences. We've been focused on demonstration ever since, it was what drew the early Ashtangi's to Mysore and no doubt continues to do so, perhaps it's the circus that draws us to the practice more than we care to admit.
Occasionally the practice, the asana, does it's/their job and we find ourselves in an asana, a group of asana and the world drops away, this happens even more in many pranayama find, attachment is loosened a little.... unfortunately it's no doubt around then that we get given (or choose) another asana and another sequence or another technique for achieving an asana beckons, or the possibility of teaching or giving a workshop or making a video, the bright lights of the circus moving from one town to another town and another and another.
Pattabhi Jois warned of it in his letter but it was built into or a trap hidden within the very system he was presenting, he got off the merry-go-round himself supposedly (to shift metaphors ) and focused, in his own practice, on the long stays, on the breath that his teacher no doubt stressed, why didn't he think we were ready for that. Perhaps he knew us too well and that if he made us stay in paschimattanasana for ten minutes or had us go to finishing after navasana and do 80 rounds of pranayama we wouldn't have come back, not stayed the course.
But how long are we going to work on our circus skills? Gymnast, Contortionists, Circus performers are all just as focussed, just as disciplined, just as devoted and dedicated to their art, how do we differ from them if not in purpose. Why are we practicing, why getting up every morning... why putting ourselves through this, we know there is something more, something deeper, why do we keep putting it off, finding ever more distractions. One asana is enough, one asana was no doubt always enough.
It was the same in Zen of course and in Vipassana too in the early days I hear, "...those westerners are not ready for meditation" and yet of course we were.... are. Aren't we?
Thank god, I thought I broke Ashtanga ......
I was worried....., I had this theory that I played a part in ruining Ashtanga, spoiling it, compromising the practice somewhat, how conceited.
When I started blogging nobody was really posting videos, YouTube was still pretty new, there were a couple of Videos on there, a clip from Lino's
The main reason I started the blog was to put up videos of working on/towards jumping back, videos that were less than perfect but perhaps signposts along the way. Lino's was awe inspiring but ultimately unhelpful. I wanted to catch on video my very first jump back and through, I thought that might help others to see the missing piece.
As it happens we all start on the jigsaw at a different place, my final piece might not be yours.
So I started posting videos, lots of them, working towards this, working towards that and all in black and white to cut down on the flesh-tone so as not to put you off your breakfast.
Around this time Tara Stiles started posting some videos with that perfect healthy looking skin of hers and a light, infectious 'hey lets do some yoga... anywhere'. It was appealing it took off, led to more and more videos, a studio of her own, books, DVDs.......
I know Kino occasionally looked at my blog, well at least once. I imagined she had seen my god awful videos of trying to get into asana and then looked at Tara Stiles, looked at my videos again and thought why not and started putting up some videos of her own. That same infectious, light "lets do (but this time) Ashtanga".
If Tara had that healthy natural look, Kino had primary colours. She also had good technique and quick, snappy explanations of how to get into an asana
The most popular from two years ago has over 19 million views.
You can go to Kino youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/kinoyoga and check out which are her most popular, how those receiving several million hits drove up the profile of Ashtanga. I'd tended to think it was Madonna who raised Ashtanga's profile others argue it was Kino, they may be right.
My theory continues that as Kino's videos took off so did her workshops, she started doing workshops EVERYWHERE, other Ashtanga teachers saw what Kino was doing and started posting their own videos, tutorials, and offering more and more workshops internationally.
I remember when a workshop seemed unusual, mostly students used to stick with their own teacher and there was discussion after discussion in the blogosphere about whether workshops were a good idea, if the new postures a certified teacher gave you on a workshop meant you could keep them in your own shala with your regular authorised teacher.
According to archived Ashtang.com pages...
There were 75 workshops offered by 14 teacher in 2003.
22 teachers offering 140 workshops in 2004
I thought perhaps I was partly to blame but as it happens, it wasn't me, wasn't Kino either.
In the year I started the blog 71 teachers were offering 340 workshops
This year (2016) 61 teachers are offering 371 workshops,
So around the same number of teachers offering workshops and a similar number of workshops offered from when I started the blog eight years ago as now.
Phew, not my fault, nothing to do with me.
Some teachers of course do a lot though, Arjuna, Manju, Kino, David Garrigues they probably account for around a quarter of all those offered.
But of course there are also all the workshops that aren't listed on Ashtanga.com and the retreats and the teacher trainings
It seems more likely that the increase in workshops is related to the jump in the number of Authorised teachers in the same period see this post Ashtanga Authorisation 1990-Present
So I didn't break Ashtanga but why am I suggesting that it's broken in the first place, and that it's workshops that broke it.
I've been to a few workshops myself, a fascinating Intensive with Richard Freeman, a weekend with John Scott, two TT's with Manju and another workshop with Norman Sjoman. All interesting, I learned a lot I'm sure.
.....and then pretty much forgot everything within a week and just got on with my practice. Perhaps some of what I picked up became internalised fed into the ongoing research on the mat but honestly I'm not convinced, A little more body awareness from Richard perhaps, a lighter attitude to my practice from Manju, I don't teach so have no need of the adjustments I learned from him.
But really.... what are we doing?
In the beginning there was a spreading of the practice ( I hope that was the intention behind my own on Krishnamacharya and Vinyasa Krama), if those early teachers hadn't gone out from their shalas and studios and spread the word through their workshop I'd never have heard about Ashtanga, I owe my practice to them and those early books and videos, many of us do.
But at what point did the workshop become less about the students and more about the person giving it, promoting a name. Workshops have become a norm, we've become convinced we NEED to attend them. We don't of course, a few are interesting perhaps, I'd love to go to Chuck Miller's workshop on Samastithi but mostly I'll pass, we can probably do without them.
All these workshops, all these youtube videos, Instagram and now something called Periscope, the fancy videos in pretty locations, muscles and bronzed skin and cinematic music.... is it just me but does anyone else miss those videos of David Swenson and Richard Freeman with their vests tucked in their pants. There seems to be a lot of reenforcing of self in the ashtanga community, carving out ones niche in the Ashtanga world.
Isn't it all a distraction.
All this money we spend on workshops and trainings and retreats we don't need any of it surely.
We know what the practice is, stand at the top of our mat, focus our attention,
and so on and so on.....
And we can actually do without the ekam and dve also, the count was only there to draw attention to the relationship between the breath and movement, it was never something we needed to worship as sacrosanct. All it did was show the minimum number of movements from standing to the posture and back again to standing.
All we have to do is move through our practice on the breath, keep bringing our attention back to whatever drishti we're employing, let the breath take care of our alignment and do our best with each asana without getting hung up on them too much.
Go as far as is comfortable in the time we have, eventually more asana will become available to our bodies, we don't need fancy tricks, we just need to listen to our practice.
And then do it again tomorrow and then the next day and the next....
...rather than look for shortcuts that probably lead us away from our practice instead of deeper into it.
We really don't need to think about it that much or (note to self) write 2000 posts about it.
I came across a workshop video recently It was standard fare and I could have chosen most any other workshop video but as I was watching the teacher I was thinking, what are you doing, leave everyone alone, was anything you did in this video really necessary, perhaps in the whole workshop?
It's not just workshops but in Mysore rooms generally, most of the time, why is the teacher even there (NB: Home practitioner perspective). Turn on the heating, open up the room and come back in a couple of hours to close up and just allow everyone to get on with their practice.
or just take a seat and hold the room.
OK, perhaps the beginners need a little help in the beginning but really not so much.
This for me is the main justification for going to Manju wherever he's teaching, some of the senior teachers (elders I've heard them referred to recently) or to Sharath in Mysore, an antidote to some of the fixations of Ashtanga in the West, not for parampara, not for lineage but just a reminder that it's really only about getting on with our practice. If Sharath didn't exist we may have had to invent him.
How do shala teachers feel about all the workshops, do they consider them a distraction from day to day practice?
And it's circular of course, we do our demonstrations, either live or in videos and photos and impress people such that they come to the practice. But then they want to do what they saw in the video, in the photo, they're in a rush not seeing the years of practice that lay behind it. They want the next asana, the fancy advanced one and shortcuts to get it and we go ahead and offer it to them and then the next and the next perhaps hoping that at some point along the way they will find something a little deeper.
There's a story about a man who comes to a monk and asks if it's true that if he attains enlightenment through meditation he'll get to make love to a thousand celestial virgins, the monk smiles enigmatically. So the man becomes a student and sits and every few months he asks again about the virgins and the monk continues to smile, and then it becomes years before he asks again until eventually he no longer asks and the monk, still smiling.
Rule of thumb
Is the workshop I'm considering concerned with the essentials of practice?
Is it about cake
(Note: Happy to take this photo down if anybody in ti doesn't want it on here).
M. and I practice together now. I gave her David Swenson's short form to work on in the beginning, mentioned a couple of things regarding safe practice, a couple of hints here and there occasionally, otherwise I just leave her to find her practice just as I did and get on with my own.
This practice isn't rocket science, it's painting by numbers.
If you want to understand it better, do research there on the mat, explore the breath in different asana, there's no need to attend a conference, all we need to know about the practice is right here on our mat in our breath in our attention and in how we step out into the world for the first hour or two after practice.
We don't need a blog, home shala teacher,Youtube, Instagram, periscope, Celebrity teacher...
or Sharath to tell us that, we just need to listen to our practice.
Manju probably says enough,
"Enjoy your practice"
Pattabhi Jois said it best of all
Mostly we all (certainly myself included) probably just need to keep out the way of everyone else's practice and stop convincing ourselves we are helping anyone, we're a distraction, a circus sideshow.
Early Workshop lists from Ashtanga.com
14 teachers offering 75 workshops.
1 Rolf Naujokat
2 Sharath Rangaswamy
3 Dena Kingsberg
4 Kirsten Berg
7 Tomas Zorzo & Camino Diez
8 Anthony Carlisi
9 David Garrigues
10 Louise Ellis
11 Govinda Kaile, Tina Pizzimenti, Gwendoline Hunt:
13 Paul Dallaghan
14 David Swenson
16 Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
17 Michael Gannon
22 teachers offering 140 workshops
Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
Juha Javanainen & Petri Raisanen
Radha Warrell & Pierre Seghir
Mike Berghan & Victoria Grouden
71 teachers offering 340 workshops
Dena & Jack
Graeme & Leonie Northfield
Philippa Gabrielle Asher
Anthony "Prem" Carlisi
Russell Case and Sally Evans
Ken Harakuma and Basia Lipska
Susanna Finocchi and Jens Bache
Radha Warrell and Pierre Seghir
Kristina Karitinos Ireland
Ananda Zorzo Diez
Joanne and Mark Darby
Cathy Louise Broda:
Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty
Tarik van Prehn
Borja Romero Valdespino
Jean Byrne and Rob Schutze
61 teachers offering 371 workshops