The disaffection continues…

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

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36 Responses to The disaffection continues…

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is the kind of crap you get in a community of any kind. If you want the good you must accept or at least acknowledge the bad. I’ve never been able to understand why people go to class. Just do it yc and let the other stuff go. You arent going to find what you need in a class or from a teacher who is just as flawed as we are unless… If you want yoga then wipe your ass with bare attention. You can’t chase down and kill everything.
    Olddude

  2. elise says:

    this is fun! i love who it’s calling out of the woodwork:)

  3. Yoga Chickie says:

    I know! And every day, as I read other blogs, I find more and more to gripe about…

  4. Heidi says:

    I practiced ashtanga for 7 years. It was the first yoga I ever practiced….I had a traditional teacher, and I slowly made it through second series. But I never believed the hype. When I practiced on my own I ALWAYS started on the left side, held poses longer, cut some vinyasas, added in more backbends.
    Went to Mysore, felt like I was in a factory, and wondered why no one talked about the mechanics of the pose. Didn’t make sense, watching a room of people do a hundred upward dogs in a way that looked—well painful.

    Tried other types of yoga, but the 20 year old teachers spouting wisdom and wearing lululemon wasn’t working for me. (I am grateful to ashtanga teaching me how utterly ridiculous some (not all) other forms of yoga can be☺)

    When I stopped practicing ashtanga is when–for me– the real yoga started. It is not that I COULDN’T do primary and second, but the order of poses just did not feel good after a while. I have found that there isn’t ONE magical sequence or essential order of poses. And I think I always knew it–I just wanted to be part of an elite group:)

    A pleasure to read your post. Probably only an ashtangi could understand.

  5. randi says:

    lauren

    love your posts

    i have ‘hamstring pulls’ in both legs, one of which occurred over 2 years ago by an ‘adjustment’ (not by my usual teacher)

    i am hopelessly addicted to practising ashtanga; taking time off to try other things left me miserable

    yet i fear these injuries will never heal completely…am i a masochist or what???

  6. fox-c says:

    I’ve been reading your Ashtanga rants with interest and can really only say that this hasn’t been my experience at all. But then, I’ve never had teachers who were “purists” either, so that probably makes the difference. The teachers I’ve had have always been willing to alter the postures and sequences as needed by individual students or individual classes or just the time of day. I’ve always been taught that your practice should be fluid and adapted to the present moment. That sort of detachment (I can’t remember the sanskrit word for it) has been really exhilerating. I’ve tried other styles, but always come back to Ashtanga for the “meditation in motion” state that it helps me achieve.

    Then again, I’m not horribly aggressive with my asana practice (never taught that I should be), and I wonder if that makes a difference as well?

    Not having experienced this “purist” side of Ashtanga it is difficult to know. But I am pretty sure that had I encountered it, I wouldn’t have stayed long either. Yikes. How much do you think is Ashtanga really and how much is the ego of individaul teachers?

  7. Anonymous says:

    hi, welcome back
    after reading both your posts, i can only say, there is a lot there that I agree with, but at the same time, you have a freedom to choose, nobody makes you do asthanga, but if you are deciding to do so, you know the procedure, if you can call it that. I have been practicing for quite a few years, i have seen people come and go, and then, come back sometimes. people seem to always look for something to fit their needs. But there are a few people that become totally obsessed, maybe addicted to this practice and it is kind of sad, that these types seem to be the “face” of ashtanga. I am fortunate that i have a great teacher, who, over the years stayed true to the practice, his students and (tee-hee) his significant other. Students at the school are very dedicated. People just show up, don’t keep blogs to whine about whether they get the next pose or not. I know people that have practiced at least 4, 5 year, still in first, still happy to just come and practice. I hope, yc, that you can just relax sometimes with whatever you find, instead of always asking asking asking, because nobody has the right answer.
    Jane

  8. Earth Patriot says:

    For a system and tradition of yoga that is working to maintain its vision, its integrity, its humility, as well as its effectiveness, in this culture of “get your groove on”, “radical relaxation” and “vinyasa and vino”; to all the teachers you’ve written favorably about on this blog who have been there for you with their time, energy, patience and understanding, this is the thanks they get- a rant from your aggitated mind. You have now graduated and joined the ranks of the thousands of neophyte yogis in America who know more than those who have devoted their lives to the path.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, over the past couple years of daily mysore practice with a teacher having “gotten” to the end of primary, there were many times when I felt the teacher was giving me a pose prematurely. I was hoping to kind of coast or get accustomed to what I had (particularly when kurmasana, gharba pindasanan, and bhada Konasana came along). Or I felt I didn’t deserve the next asana or wasn’t profiecient enough for it. Or, there was some fear and hesitancy that needed to be overcome on my part. Doing Bhada K in particular released some weird emotions having to do with intimacy I think. So for me (and at least one other person I know who is working through 2nd) the teacher provides a kind of kick in the pants or a push (sometimes literally a push) that demonstrates I have capabilities I’m not aware of. Some days, I don’t really want to do the whole series, and probably, alone, at home, I would cut it short. But with the teacher, and the other students there, I ALWAYS finish, and for the momement, for me, at least, that is a wonderful thing.

    crotty

  10. DebPC says:

    What’s wrong with vinyasa and vino? But seriously, I think that often we are our own best teachers.

  11. Yoga Chickie says:

    Hi Earth Patriot…I am SO glad that you brought that up because it gives me the opportunity to make clear that I willingly and joyfully submitted to the teacher-student relationship and feel grateful that they helped me to learn the yoga that will always be a part of my life. I don’t BLAME my teachers for the flaws in the system that I have identified. They are doing what they have been taught, and I sought them out for exactly that reason.

    But NOW, I can’t see myself in that relationship GOING FORWARD. Note, I stated “I do not understand why I do not understand…”

    I am grateful to my teachers. It is the SYSTEM that I am criticizing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hey YC,
    The first comment is really the best. Here in NYC there are mostly fundamentalist teachers. So different in other parts of the country, esp. California where you will see a lot more older people practicing safely.
    I don’t always like what you have to say, but these posts are brave in such a political environment. Hell, I wouldn’t leave my name on this!

  13. Margaret Burns Vap says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE all this. I am a former ashtanga junkie (pregnancy changed that in a big way) who has now taken what i want from primary and second series because i know what works for me. the purists would be horrified to see my “ashtanga” practice I am sure, but you know what, I love it and it makes me feel great. end of story.
    I never understood the sense in holding people back. while the system is beautifully designed, I’m not sure that I buy that, for example, if you can’t do marichi B you wouldn’t be able to do C. if you never get to try some of these poses how will you ever know if you can do them?! I always taught the primary series with lots of mods and everyone including me was happy. never had to have the conversation about why can’t i move on to such and such.
    thanks for such great reflection and sparking the interesting discussion.

  14. Carl says:

    Ha! You said not long ago that you’re satisfied with second series; you said you don’t need any more poses. And of course those of us who’ve read more than 2 paragraphs of your blog knew that you just wouldn’t be able help your pose-lust. It’s in your blood. Face it, you’re an asana jones. You have a sweaty, deep-breathing monkey on your back.

  15. lgr says:

    Blasphemy! Blasphemy! YC, are you familiar with ASHTANGA HELL!!

  16. Susan says:

    So much to love in this post.
    So much. And the last one.

    I love rants from agitated minds.

  17. Susan says:

    Carl. I don’t get you, and I doubt I ever will.

  18. Anonymous says:

    gossip question: Do you (or anyone who reads this blog) have any idea why Greg Tebb has disappeared off the Yogasutra teaching schedule, and if he has gone somewhere else, then where?

  19. Anonymous says:

    If you’re in a place where you still want rules, want an answer, respect authority, and want to please–maybe because you are (or were) in a vulnerable moment in your life, coming off an illness, etc, and maybe because that’s just where you are in development–then you will find the teachers who take the power that you hand to them.

    Not all teachers, even “ashtanga” teachers are like that. And it is even possible for two people to relate to the same teacher in a very different way.

    Starting practice when older (as I have) makes the physical practice harder but it insulates one from the emotional pull of the “transference.”

    I don’t know you, but it appears you had a “good girl” life before illness and yoga. You followed the rules, got approval for that and succeeded, and even managed to follow rules and authority at a big law firm (not easy for everyone). Maybe yoga, despite the crap, along with life, helped carry you to a place where you don’t have to do that any more. You can choose to follow some rules, but you’re not COMPELLED to do so.

    I hope that makes sense to you. I mean it in the best possible way. I’m just enough older than you are that I see things differently.

    It’s ok if you don’t publish this. Just think about it. You’ve matured. It’s a good thing. If you started an ashtanga practice today, you would not accept the same constraints and attitudes.

  20. Yoga Chickie says:

    Anonymous wrote the following, with my comments in CAPS.

    man Lauren, ashtanga did so much for you. THAT IS VERY TRUE. Many of your teachers were so selfless with you. I HAVE BEEN LUCKY TO HAVE TALENTED TEACHERS, BUT HOW IS BEING A TALENTED TEACHER AN ACT OF SELFLESSNESS? Now that it’s not doing so much for you anymore, because you refuse to let it, you have to jump on the critic bandwagon. I AM NOT JUMPING ON ANY BANDWAGON…I *AM* APPARENTLY THE BANDWAGON BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE REALLY WOULD DARE TO WRITE THIS, AND I CITE AS AN EXAMPLE, THE FACT THAT ALMOST NO ONE HAS COMMENTED WITH AN IDENTIFIABLE MONIKER. I feel very sorry for you. NO YOU DON’T BECAUSE YOUR COMMENT IS AN ATTACK ON ME AND SHOWS NO SYMPATHY AT ALL, NOT THAT I AM ASKING FOR IT AT ALL.

    Being a critic of the system is no different from being a round about way critic of your teachers, and other ashtangis that you seem to harbor much jealousy. WELL, I *COMPLETELY* DISAGREE WITH BOTH IMPLICATIONS. I AM NOT CRITICIZING MY TEACHERS AT ALL. I AM CRITICIZING THE WAY THAT THE SYSTEM CREATES MONSTERS OUT OF THE STUDENTS. IT IS NOT THE TEACHER’S FAULT IF A STUDENT BECOMES ASANA-OBSESSED. IT IS NOT THE TEACHER’S FAULT IF A STUDENT TRANSFERS HIS OR HER MOMMY OR DADDY ISSUES ONTO THE TEACHER.

    I bet they ( your teachers) are glad they don’t teach you anymore after seeing this.” I HOPE TO GOD THAT NONE OF MY TEACHERS IS SILLY ENOUGH TO READ ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THEMSELVES INTO MY BLOG. AND I ASSUME THAT NONE OF MY TEACHERS BOTHERS TO READ MY BLOG BECAUSE THEY ARE BUSY WITH THEIR OWN LIVES AND THEIR OWN PRACTICE, AND THESE BLOGS ARE PURE PIFFLE.

  21. cody says:

    oh please. you wrote these posts to boost traffic at your neglected blog and to start a fight. it’s been your MO for years and we love you for it. 🙂

  22. Anonymous says:

    What if “practice, and all is coming” really means “practice, and all YOUR SHIT is coming”…your shit being all those incessant questions about poses and teacher’s approval that are cleverly couched in self-justifying terms of analysis…what if the point is to recognize all these mental projections as the work of your monkey mind?

  23. Yoga Chickie says:

    Anonymous who talks about “practice and all [questions/doubts/monkey mind] is coming [for us to examine”…that sounds like an interesting way of looking at it. But it is quite masochistic, isn’t it?

    Must we suffer in order to learn? I think that many of us DO. For example, when you read Pema Chodron’s essays/speeches you see that there is a thread of masochism (see the essay about the best horse and the worst horse, as an example of the way a student learns by feeling like crap about herself).

    But do we have to choose suffering as a tool for learning? Do we have to ask someone else to set limits for us in order to learn humility?

    Just asking.

    And by the way, if any of my teachers ARE reading this, and I wholeheartedly doubt they are, I hope that they will come forward and speak to me DIRECTLY about any feelings they might have about it, rather than posting anonymously or sitting in hurt/angry silence.

    One of my teachers DID read something I wrote on the Huffington Post and emailed me about her disagreement with it, which opened up a good dialogue about the topic at hand. That was another topic though, maybe not quite so charged.

  24. Laura says:

    I actually want to thank you for this post. I have definitely been a little asana-obsessed at times and have ended up with an injured knee. I am grateful every day for that knee because I have learned the importance of listening to my body rather than punishing it, and my practice has become more spiritual and healing instead of ego-driven. I remember going to yoga and wanting to have my “butt kicked”. If I couldn’t master a pose, I felt like a failure. I therefore forced myself into poses and pushed to the point of injury. How is that yoga? How does that promote non-attachment and non-violence?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Suffering is not optional. We all suffer, whether we learn from it or not. It is in the nature of being human.
    Recognizing all the ways we create our reality with our monkey minds is the beginning of the end of suffering.

  26. Yoga Chickie says:

    I think you got that mixed up, anonymous number whatever: the CAUSES of suffering are inevitable. How we react to them and what we learn from them are choices we make. And while some causes of suffering are unavoidable, others are avoidable. We neednt inflict pain on ourselves just to learn the lessons that come with pain; hell no, pain will find us without us smacking ourselves in the head repeatedly. It is what we do with the pain that determines our suffering.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Lauren,
    there is nothing wrong with questioning this system. I think that is everyone’s inherent right. But you are trying to make yourself some kind of spokesperson for ashtanga anonymous or whatever. And it just really screams that you want some kind of attention that you are not getting or did not get in ashtanga land. just let it go. move on. Ashtanga got you to a certain point and that’s good, but you can’t have everything lady. Ashtanga is not for everyone.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I love this!

    I’ve heard things like this from many, and only, Ashtanga authorized teachers.

    “Ashtanga is not for everyone”

    “YOGA is not for everyone”

    but dig this:

    “There is no age limit for the practice of yoga and it can be practiced by anyone–by women, men, the weak, and by those who are sick or disabled.” -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the living Master of Ashtanga Yoga

    I think you are right that you are the bandwagon. People have taken a vow of silence on speaking about these things, as well as the endless injuries in those Mysore studios. Even authorized teachers have them. I’ve met so many practioners who have had multiple meniscus surgeries it was enough to make me understand that Ashtanga wasn’t for me after all. I love walking without pain, fancy that!

  29. Anonymous says:

    As Lauren says….”The physical system makes good sense…” BUT I would add that this is true when it’s modified as needed, used judiciously and flexibly, and not credited with divine powers, or used to justify the authority of teachers. Feelings about it, and one’s approach to it may change depending where one is in life/maturity, but so what?  Fox-c got it right.  It’s a lovely moving meditation, when approached with intelligence and flexibility, and not too much aggressiveness about “making progess” in asanas.  Working your edge–to varying degrees–is good, but where’s the race?  Yoga is a complement and support to life–it’s not your life, or shouldn’t be, as it will break under that weight. Namaste

  30. Anonymous says:

    of course jois would say yoga is for everyone. but everyone is not for yoga and thats okay too. ashtanga is a powerful tool if treated well and with perspective. If you dont want an injury from any physical practice, stay in bed. Thats a risk with any form of excersise, not just yoga

  31. Bineet says:

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  32. Carl says:

    If you find that Ashtanga, or any variety of yoga practice, has these disturbing problems then it’s due to your own participation in that kind of dysfunction. Really, who is to blame for your presumption of another’s authority? Even if that person presumes for his/herself some broadly arching authority, because s/he has more service stripes on his/her sleeve, or whatever reason, it’s your followership that got you into the problem.

    Yoga is all about non-authority and non-precedent. Straight up.

  33. Anonymous says:

    yeah lauren, it’s your folllwership that caused the problym!

  34. Anonymous says:

    [Do you LOVE me enough to give me another pose?…

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

    Of course, everyone has (or their own variations of them) – it’s part of being human. And that’s the point, yoga *does* bring up issues about how we (de)value ourselves (and other people) and why, how we want other people to value us, and how we manipulate other people to value us. A physical practice *does* plug right into ego and desire and competitiveness. But – as has been pointed out – these are precisely the things that, if you buy into them, result in injuries (physical and, from what you’re saying, emotional). Not so different from the rest of life, is it?

    You can’t ‘go beyond’ this stuff (sorry, that sounds a bit crystal and moonbeams, which is not what I mean) by hiding from it, or only putting yourself in situations where you don’t have to deal with it. You go beyond it by dealing with it head on. They keep telling us that yoga is not about looking a certain way or being able to do certain things with your body – these are (happy) side effects to a practice whose purpose is to make you so comfortable in your body that you can ignore it while you meditate. Ditto with the chatter in your mind – once you stop taking it so seriously, it doesn’t take up your attention to the exclusion of everything else, and you are more comfortable in your mind.

    It took me AGES to even consider the possibility that when I was given a pose I was just being given a pose – nothing more and nothing less. That was all the meaning it had. Not that a teacher liked me or didn’t like me, or that I was worth more or less. Of course I’m still happy when I get a pose, I still ‘feel liked and worthy’ when that happens, but it’s less of a big deal now that I can consider the possibility that really, all that is in my head, not anybody else’s.

    Rgds

  35. YogaDawg says:

    “Ashtanga Anonymous”

    Now that’s a funny bit I can work with…

  36. hyla says:

    …sharath is coming to my city to teach master classes…i feel this will make or break my ‘dedication/addiction’…wish me luck…

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