The disaffection continues…

February 26, 2009

OK, since I got myself started, I find that I want to say more.

There is something else, something more subtle, about the Ashtanga practice that I find disturbing. And that is the teacher-student relationship.

In the traditional Ashtanga system, the teacher “feeds” each pose, one by one, to the student, based on the teacher’s judgement of the student’s …. of the student’s what? Proficiency? Sure, it is supposed to be like that. But really now, isn’t there much more to it than that? Teachers will withhold “the next” pose from students based on…based on what? Why will one student be allowed to move past Kapotasana, for example when she (me) can barely touch her toes with help, when another student will be required to grab her own ankles before moving onto the next pose? Why is a solo Karandavasana required of some, but not all, students?

What is it based on? Who can tell when the very act of ASKING a teacher this question seems to imply that the student is “grasping” for more poses? Is “attached” to the asana practice? Is focusing on the “physical”, as if the physical isn’t really the point. Because it is. It is a workout that with any luck will bring the practitioner into a meditative state. Except that at some point, anyone who has practiced Ashtanga knows that the meditative state is difficult when you are busy trying to demonstrate your proficiency to the teacher.

And about that. This hand-feeding relationship between teacher and student not only creates a need to demonstrate, or perhaps, “perform”, but on a deeper level, it creates a neediness, as in:

  • Do you LOVE me enough to give me another pose?
  • Do you find me deserving?
  • What are you thinking?
  • Are you mad at me?
  • Do you hate me because I blogged about you?
  • Are you mad at me because I want the next pose?
  • Do you love me because I bound in Marichyasana Whatever?
  • Will you love me tomorrow if I can’t bind then? If I put on a pound? If I eat meat? If I enjoy the occasional action movie or trashy magazine?

Who hasn’t thought these thoughts? Really. Who?

Is any Ashtanga teacher really equipped to responsibly deal with this sort of transference? Did finishing X number of poses teach them how to be therapists? It’s not the fault of the teacher though. It is the fault of the system, which encourages “performance” in order to progess on the linear path.

I’m not a freakin’ Jedi. Do I really need to be treated like a Padawan?

I just want to move my body and feel good. The rest is “all coming”. I adore the Primary Series and I adore the challenge of the poses which follow, of the vinyasas that make those poses even more challenging. But I find serious flaws with the system.

I wish wish wish that I could ignore the flaws, because there was a time, a good long run of it, when I adored the system, when I believed in it, when the transference was part of the challenge, part of the fun, when I didn’t want a pose that I did not “deserve”, that I had not “earned” the hard way. And I won’t lie to you: if I had not been required to bind Supta Kurmasana before moving onto the rest of Primary, I might not be able to bind it today. But how important is that really? It was what I wanted desperately back when I was right smack in the middle of it. But now, it is hard to see where I was coming from.

The physical system makes good sense. When you can practice it. But when any part of it is withheld, what good is it?

YC


The prodigal ashtangini

February 26, 2009

I guess you could call me that, except for the fact that I haven’t really returned to the fold as yet, if ever.

I’m finding myself feeling increasingly alienated from Ashtanga culture and its quirks. To wit:

  • I no longer understand how I could have ever put up with having a teacher dictate to me what poses I can practice, and what poses I cannot. Would I put up with a professor telling me what books I can read? What papers I can write? Would I put up with a teacher telling my kids that they can’t work out the statistics on their baseball cards because they haven’t yet been “taught” algebra in school?
  • I no longer understand how there can be any such thing as “criminal” behavior in yoga. How can what is supposed to be a peaceful practice even have room for such a notion? How can any yoga be “wrong”?
  • I no longer understand how a teacher can tell a student that running or biking for fun and fitness is “not recommended”. Yoga may or may not be enough for an individual in terms of fitness, and let’s face it: fitness is important, and time is limited. And besides, sometimes learning is enhanced by breaks from learning.
  • I no longer understand how it could be that pranayama is taught only to students who reach a certain proficiency in asana. What does one have to do with the other? Why should any of the eight limbs of yoga be withheld from anyone? Does anyone HONESTLY believe that pranayama can cause DEATH? I mean, seriously?
  • I no longer understand how it is that so many yoga teachers have treated their friends and significant others in ways that I consider to be morally/ethically questionable. If teachers are supposed to lead by example, what are we supposed to learn from teachers who cheat on their significant others? I suppose that this goes beyond the Ashtanga world, so my yoga-alienation goes beyond the Ashtanga world, obviously.
  • I no longer understand how it is that yoga can be taught in a linear manner which, by its very nature, engenders competitiveness amongs its practitioners.
  • I no longer understand how it is that proficiency in practice is what separates one class of teachers from another or how it could be that in order to teach, one has to have been taught by one particular family in one particular corner of the world? And how can it be that those who break from that fold are held in such contempt?

I no longer understand how it is that I no longer understand how I could have ever believed such crap. As I distance myself from Ashtanga, I find myself recoiling at the very notions to which I clung in the past.

It feels as if I have left a cult. And I am deprogramming.

I want to believe what I used to believe. I want to feel that “my” yoga is superior to all others, like I used to feel. I want to believe that if I am practicing a pose, it is because I “earned” it. But I know better now. And I kind of wish I didn’t.

YC


Consider this a drive-by posting…

February 9, 2009

Back in school, have an exam Friday. I can’t believe how much I enjoy being in school. Thought stats would be difficult. But it’s pretty logical. And the profesora gives us a practice exam this week and goes over it with us, and I have a feeling that the entire universe of what will be on the test will be included in this practice exam. Reminds me of the way it worked when I took Micro-economics at Tufts. And that worked out quite well for me. I don’t exactly have a photographic memory, would that I did. But close enough.

Practice is just kind of blah punctuated by less blah here and there. I’m pretty much just marking off the days until it’s warm again. Until then, I have discovered that practicing right smack in front of my fireplace, with a fire going (duh), can help me get the tapas going. Still, even with that, it is hard to get going in the morning. I wake up creaky and sore and cold. And I can never seem to warm up unless I’m in the bath or in front of that fire. I hate winter. There, I said it. I hate winter. I love skiing, but I hate winter. I don’t understand it either. It just is what it is.

Speaking of skiing, heading out west on Saturday. Back to the Canyons in Utah. Spent last weekend in Vermont and got the ski legs going. And I’ve been running hills here and on the treadmill. And hiking. So, I’m hoping for some good athletic skiing. Specifically, I’m hoping for some good tree runs. I don’t know what it is about winding among trees, but I love it. Second favorite is bumps. Skiing trees is kind of like skiing bumps. But it leaves less options open – you have to turn to avoid trees. And I would say that my number one failing in skiing bumps is a failure to commit to my turns. So, that problem goes away when there are trees to tell you where you MUST turn.

What else? Let’s see…sister-in-law’s wedding was today. Really fun. Really happy she got married! Yay Jill! Really happy that I’m going to have family in Boston now! Me loves me some New England time. Not in February, of course, which is BRUTAL in Boston. But any other time.

And yeah, facebook is taking hold. More immediate gratification than blogging. And since I am more pressed for time lately, well, it makes sense. Plus, nothing new is happening in my practice. At all. Probably won’t be for some time. Or ever. I’m at that infamous crossroads, where so many people quit. Primary is “conquered”, and the rest of it just seems like an amplification of what has already been done. The excitement dwindles. But I don’t plan on quitting. And I hope those don’t prove to be “famous last words”. But I don’t plan on quitting, so there.

YC