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?